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Diaries and Related Records Held at the British Library, London

Part 1: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, c.1750-1842

Part 2: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, 1819-1859

Publisher's Note - Part 2

“The European Manuscripts of the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library are probably the world’s largest collection of private papers relating to India and South Asia. They comprise about three hundred collections of British statesmen, soldiers, administrators, scholars, missionaries, businessmen and others, and some three thousand smaller deposits.”

David M Blake

Consultant Editor

Former Curator of European Manuscripts, The British Library


By 1819 British supremacy in India was undisputed and became a source of great patriotic pride in the post-Waterloo years. In part, success in India compensated for the loss of America in 1783. However, it was at this point that changes in British policy and attitudes began to store up major problems for the future. The concept of remodelling the country along Western lines flew directly in the face of native religions and customs and the complex network of local privileges.

By the time of the Mutiny in 1857 almost two-thirds of India was under British control. The remaining provinces were ruled by princes and the East India Company drew up treaties with them, beneficial to both parties. The princes kept their privileges but had to cooperate with the British. The majority of the diaries in this part are concerned with the Mutiny itself and the years either side of the rebellion which had far-reaching consequences. Tapan Raychauduri, Emeritus Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford writing in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire (1996 Cambridge University Press), observes:

“The Empire was nearly destroyed by the great rebellion of 1857, described inaccurately as the Mutiny. The result of complex and multiple causes, the rising expressed the accumulated anger of many sections of the population in north and central India – dispossessed princes, disgruntled soldiers, and a harassed peasantry from whom the company’s army was largely recruited. The rebels committed acts of great brutality and were suppressed in equally brutal ways. The British in India bayed for even more bloody revenge. The rebellion created a legacy of racial hatred which permeated all aspects of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled”.

Dr Jane Samson, The British Empire (OUP 2001), comments:

“What began as a mutiny in some regiments of the EIC army quickly escalated to include a number of forms of resistance including renewed loyalty to the Mughal Emperor, or local political manoeuvring designed to restore rights lost to the EIC. Britain’s initial response to the rebellion was savage, especially after stories circulated about the rape and murder of British women and children. By 1858 the official policy had become more conciliatory. In that year the EIC’s political authority was replaced by direct rule from London, and Queen Victoria reassured her Indian subjects about Britain’s benevolent intention to improve and protect India. But despite the government’s promise to separate the state from missionary activities, this imperial benevolence still meant an escalating process of Westernization. By the later nineteenth century, that Westernization had helped to create a new Indian nationalism and increasing demands for independence”.

The diaries covered here provide good evidence on all of this. They reveal the extent to which the Mutiny shook British power in India, particularly in the north and the centre. Providing insights into the ways in which Britain contributed a more complex conservative system of government with a Civil Service, Viceroy and Governors, aiming to be fair and efficient, these source materials allow scholars to study how this process was received and how successfully it was implemented. Hundreds of millions of pounds were invested in India which continued to be regarded as the “jewel” in the Empire.

Part 2 comprises around 50 diaries and related records of many different styles, from a wide variety of authors taken from the European Manuscripts Section. These diaries provide us with a vivid insight into life in India during the Raj just prior to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, during the Mutiny and in the years shortly afterwards.

Although there were deeper social, religious and political reasons, it is generally believed that the immediate cause of the Mutiny, which began on 10 May 1857, was the result of the introduction of a new rifle by the British. The cartridge which carried the bullet had to be bitten off and the rumour among the Sepoys (the Indian soldiers) was that the grease covering the base of the bullet was made out of cow or pig fat. The cow is sacred to the Hindu and the pig is an unclean animal to the Muslim. The Sepoy rebellion started at Meerut near Delhi but quickly spread to the garrisons at Lucknow and Cawnpore. Cawnpore saw the slaughter of around 200 women and children by the Sepoys and Lucknow endured a long siege during which 1800 British men, women and children endured months of terrible conditions trapped in the Residency. However by 1858 the Mutiny had been crushed and the Crown had decided to take over the control of India from the East India Company. 

Over thirty diaries in this part are concerned with the Mutiny itself and offer researchers first hand accounts of this event which had far reaching consequences for the British in India. Included are military diaries of both low and high ranking officers, diaries of engineers, surveyors and medical staff, of East India Company civil servants, indigo planters, members of the clergy, travellers’ diaries and diaries of wives of East India Company officials and military personnel. In addition to the diaries we also include Urdu Manuscript 132 which is an important contemporary document describing the events of the Mutiny.

Members of the British Army and Navy

We include diaries of rank and file soldiers of the British army in India as well as high ranking officers. Some diaries describe only the everyday routine of the army but many give us detailed accounts of engagements and blow by blow accounts of the events which took place during the Mutiny.

The excellent diaries covering 1852-1858 of Captain William Robert Moorsom (d 1858) cover his journey out to India and his time as aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Sir Henry Havelock, during which time he surveyed Lucknow. He travelled widely in Kashmir and Ceylon and kept detailed diaries with pencil sketches of the animals he saw and local scenes. The following extract dated 28th September 1855 describes a hunting trip and an encounter with a group of nomads:

“…. Killed a muskdeer in the early morning: saw some female Ibex with young feeding among the rocks, but of course did not follow them, went up a tremendous height, but saw nothing more; in coming down fell in with a ‘nomade’ encampment, consisting of 2,000 sheep, some ponies, 5 or 6 of the finest limbed men I ever saw, 2 women (very pretty – something like Mrs Hamilton) & a lot of boys – most hospitable they were….”

He was present at the relief of Lucknow in October 1857 and his letter to his mother telling of the good news was sent by native messenger to Cawnpore and then to England, finally arriving on Christmas Day 1857. It was taken straight to the Queen as it was the first news of the safety of those in the British Residency. He was killed in action at Lucknow in March 1858 and at the end of his diary is a copy of a very sad last letter he wrote to his father telling of his love for the family and for his country.

The diary for 1857 of Captain Edward Montgomery Mason recounts his experiences fighting the rebels in the events leading up to the relief of Lucknow. He vividly conjures up for the reader what life was like for a middle ranking soldier:

“August 1st 1857 Arrived at our camping ground about a mile beyond the village of Shawpore and pitched tents in a mangoe tope. We here found a planter’s bungalow, which had been partially looted by budmarshes, but as they had left a few cases of preserved meat, pickled salmon etc… we made the house headquarters and made a good breakfast, thanks to the poor planter. Having a pucka house over one’s head I slept well until the first bugle….

September 16th Went to see Wheeler’s entrenchment. It was a wretched position; the houses are all knocked to pieces, the ground strewed with skulls, pieces of shell, ladies’ dresses, music, books etc. In the afternoon very heavy rain – our tent full of water – had to dine sitting on our beds with a servant holding an umbrella over one’s head….”

There are many other diaries which give details on the Mutiny. Major (later Lt Gen Sir) John Blick Spurgin (1821-1903), who was the military commander of the first armed steamer which ascended the Ganges above Allahabad, describes the siege and relief of Lucknow; Lt-Col Chardin Philip Johnson in his diary for 1857-1858 tells of Cawnpore after the massacre; Captain (later Major-General) Henry Parlett Bishop
(1828-1908) of the Bengal Artillery gives us full details of the fighting in Ambala, Gungeerie, Puttiali, Mynpoorie, Cawnpore and Lucknow and tells of the moment he first realised that something was amiss:

“12 May Tuesday 1857 At 8 o’clock this morning heard that a despatch had been received from Meerut by sunrise, by runner (telegraph wires having been cut) that serious disturbances had taken place, collision between sepoys and European officers, in which several of the latter had been killed….”

His diary is accompanied by interesting photographs and postcards.

Included in the journal of Lt (later Lt-General) Octavius Ludlow Smith (1828-1927) is a letter written to his mother with his reactions to the Mutiny:

“Lucknow June 6th 1857

Dearest Mother

If my writing is illegible my descriptions wild and the least bit disconnected and my letter otherwise a failure you must attribute it to the ‘Mutiny’ and its effects….. News has just come in…that a plot was overheard concocting in the 13th lines to murder all the officers in the Native Regts tonight…. We all have pistols, some revolvers, others horse pistols….”

For the period prior to the Mutiny we include several diaries. Those of Lt George Godfrey Pearse (1827-1905) of the Royal Horse Artillery describe his experiences during the siege of Mooltan, the Punjab War and the fighting on the Afghan Frontier. He travelled all over the country, from Simla to Mooltan, to Bhawalpore and to Dera Ismael Khan. The diaries are extremely clearly written with maps of siege works and newspaper cuttings describing events he had experienced. He also recounts all the rumours and activities of life in camp and reveals details of the different personalities he encountered.

For the same period Lt-Col (later General) David Birrell (1801-1878) of the Bengal Army gives us a vivid insight into a battle in the Sikh War in 1847:

“….The next day we halted, making arrangements to attack the enemy in their entrenched camp at Ferozeshah…. It was arranged that the entrenchments should be attacked that afternoon in conjunction with General Littler’s force…. At 3pm our Artillery opened fire upon the enemy, but after an hours work it was clearly seen that they could do little with 9 and 6 pounders against 12, 18 and 24 pounders with which the Sieks batteries were defended inflicting a heavy loss in men and horses upon our Artillery. It was then decided that the Infantry should carry the entrenchment at the point of the bayonet….”

East India Company Civil Servants

We include a mix of diaries ranging from those of young civil servants recently arrived in India to those of high ranking members of the East India Company. Some diaries are pragmatic describing the minutiae of daily life while some give vivid details of the busy social lives of a civil servant of the Raj. Many of the diaries also provide wonderful detail and illustrations of the Indian landscape, architecture and local customs.

The diaries and papers of Arthur Herbert Cocks (1819-1881), a member of the Bengal Civil Service from 1837-1863 give us a good idea of the career progress which could be made over fifty years in the Indian civil service. Inserted in his diaries are newspaper cuttings charting his career and also Indian political events. He rose from administrator to judge at Mainpuri during the Indian Mutiny. Particularly interesting are his diaries concerned with the Mutiny in which he describes the movements of the mutineers and the troops. He includes also letters from his brother-in-law, Lt Eckford who describes hearing of the start of the Mutiny:

“…. About six o’clock on Sunday afternoon, the 10th of May last, I heard a great uproar in the direction of the Native Infantry and cavalry lines. It increased and I heard shots fired. On enquiring from my servants and Chuprassies, they said the Native Troops had mutinied and were setting fire to their lines and Officers’ houses. I sent a man to find out and he said the Sepoys were murdering their Officers….”

 Richard Henry Clifford who worked for the Bengal Civil Service from 1853-1878 explains his reaction to the aftermath of a fight between the rebels and the army during the Mutiny:

“Oct 11th 1857 Sunday I rode with Capt Meade to the field. Dead were lying about all along the road and in the fields, the enemy’s camp 5 miles off was burning…. It is strange I thought I could not bear the sight of blood, and passed by all the dead frightfully cut up and felt nothing…”

The diaries of Henry Gonne (1831-1857) of the Bengal Civil Service give us an insight into, not only the work of a civil servant of this period in Oudh, but also his personal thoughts, particularly on his own personality:

“…. My temper is certainly better nor have I for a long time been tempted to strike my servants….”

Many of his staff were enlisted at the outbreak of the Mutiny:

“May 28th 1857 …. Orders for enlisting - discharged retainers 100 and sending in the military police to Lucknow. I am very glad of the movement and shall feel much safer without them. A crisis has indeed come over us in this country, what will India be in the year/57 surely the European forces must be doubled in India….”

He died during the Mutiny in September 1857 and ends his diary by indicating that he intended to hand it over to his servant so that it could be passed on to a European and be sent on to England.

John Russell Colvin (1807-1857) was Private Secretary to the Governor-General Lord Auckland from 1836-1842 and Lt-Governor of the North Western Provinces from 1853-1857. His diaries covering 1825-1857 give very exact details on the day to day work of a high ranking civil servant. The following extract dated 15th June 1837 shows that a Private Secretary had a considerable amount of influence on the Governor-General:

“…. Suggested to Lord Auckland to commence discussion of establishing a contingent of Cavalry in the protected Sikh States. He approves the principle, but would take time, beginning with Pattealah when the question of boundaries may require us to restore something….”

The diaries give vivid details on the countryside the army marched through:

“Sunday April 1st 1838

Marched about 11 miles to ? The country along the Ganges….well watered with fine crops, thickly interspersed with Date trees – the road alive with Pilgrims to the Devi Temple…women in coloured and chequered and gilt flowered silk…carrying or leading goats for sacrifice….”

Engineers, Travellers, Medical Staff and Members of the Clergy

Assistant Surgeon James Alexander Caldwell Hutchinson (1828-1895) of the Bengal Medical Service describes his experiences during the Mutiny. Included also in his papers are accounts of the adventures of his brother, Robert Faure Hutchinson, also a medical officer at the time of the Mutiny.

Surgeon-General Patrick Gerald Fitzgerald (1820-1910) of the Madras Medical Service recounts his experiences during the fighting at Lucknow in March 1858:

“Lucknow Sunday 14th March 1858

Heavy firing in the town all last night both musketry and large guns – went out after dinner to watch the shells curving over the city. Counted as many as five in the air at one moment. The firing continued until about 10 or 11 this morning. We are to move tomorrow morning to Dilkoosha and the Ghurkas are to come here….”

The diaries of James Fenn Clark (b 1823) give fascinating detail on his travels in India on a visit to his father Hezekiah Clark of the Bengal Medical Service. He describes the Moslem festival, Muharum:

“Dec 1846 The Great Mussulman feast called the ‘Muharum’ took place about Christmas time, it lasts for 10 days; during the whole of which time there is an incessant beating of tum-tums: (an instrument not unlike the kettle drum). On the last day of the feast there are processions, firing of guns, beating of breasts and all the Mussulman world are crying out, some Hassan, others Hassein, the names of the two brothers famous in Mahommedan history, nephews of Mahommed – it is customary during this festival to fast throughout the day and feast at night….”

Included with his papers are interesting extracts from the diary and letters of Azubah Clark (his Aunt?) who died in Benares aged 20 in 1826.

Thomas Machell (1824-1862) was a merchant seaman and later an indigo planter. His diaries contain fascinating detail on his time in India as well as beautiful watercolours and pen and ink drawings of animals, plants and local scenes.

The diary of George Latham, an engineer of the Madras Railway Company from 1855-1862 gives us his first impressions of India with details on Indian customs and lovely pencil sketches of local scenes.

Wives of East India Company Officials and Soldiers

Women’s diaries are very important as they give us a completely different perspective on life in India during the Raj. Women reveal personal feelings and emotions when describing their family and social lives and their environment. In Part 2 the women’s diaries also give us an intimate view of how they dealt with the hardships of the Mutiny.

The journal and commonplace book of Grace Maxwell Hardy, wife of Lt-Col Edmund Armitage Hardy of the Bombay Cavalry (1824-1903), describes the mutiny at Nasirabad, one of the first places to take part in the revolt. She was present at the fort at the time of the Mutiny but managed to escape, having to leave all her possessions behind. The journal which covers the period 1857-1871 is continued by her husband who gives details on subsequent events.

We also include the diaries of the couple for the earlier period, 1824-1850. Grace describes the landscape and architectural sights of India in letters to her sister written between 1824 and 1829. A lovely sketchbook of watercolours by Grace of Indian scenes and people is also included.

The diary of Maria Vincent Germon, wife of Captain (later Lt Col) Richard Charles Germon of the Bengal Army gives a detailed description of the siege of Lucknow and their escape to Calcutta.

An excellent diary for a harrowing description of the Lucknow siege is that of Katherine Bartrum, wife of Surgeon Robert Henry Bartrum (1831-1857). After taking refuge at the Residency in Lucknow with other women and children they suffered great deprivation and emotional torment as slowly those around them died of hunger and illness:

“June 12th We received letters from our husbands telling of their escape from Gonda. Very grateful were we, to think that they had thus far been preserved, & we began to hope, that ere long we might meet them again….

July 16th The second of our household taken away – Mrs Thomas died today; she leaves one little girl who looks as if she would not long outlive her….

August 17th ….. Everyone is getting dispirited; no news of relief; they say we are forgotten & that re-inforcements will never appear….

Sept 23rd Oh! Such joyfulness! A letter is come from Sir J Outram in which he says we shall be relieved in a few days. Everyone is wild with excitement and joy….

Sept 25th Firing in the city all day, at 6pm our gates were thrown open for the first time since June 30th. We heard a tremendous cheering, & our relief had arrived….

Sept 30th to Nov 16th The relief which came was no relief; only a re-inforcement but it saved us from destruction….

Nov 17th Heard we are to leave Lucknow tomorrow night with just what we can carry….”

The diary of Maria Amelia Vansittart, wife of Lt (later Major) William Jervis of the Bengal Army, includes notes on family and personal life in Bengal and the Punjab with a fascinating account of her experiences in Agra during the Mutiny:

"June 16th 1857 Reports strong that Delhi has fallen. The whole district around Agra is disorganised, we are living as if in a state of siege. Not a letter from any part of the country comes. No news from Calcutta for 3 weeks…. Yesterday a party of armed Volunteers on horseback went out to Fultiabad to help escort in the ladies who are coming in from Etawah….”

The diaries of Mrs Hannah Ellerton detail her social life and good works over a period of thirteen years from 1843-1856 just before the outbreak of the Mutiny. She was the mother-in-law of Bishop Daniel Corrie, Bishop of Madras, the widow of an indigo planter and was instrumental in the establishment and running of schools in Calcutta.

In contrast the diary for 1856-1860 of Maria Adelaide Cust (1833-1864), wife of Robert Needham Cust of the Bengal Civil Service, describes the social life of the wife of a servant of the Raj just after the Mutiny. Life, it appears, continued as normal with a daily round of driving, dining and visiting!

The astonishing range of information found in the diaries in Part 2 will enable scholars to build up a multi-faceted view of life in India during the Raj, particularly around the time of the Mutiny of 1857. Rich in sociological and historical detail the diaries will be invaluable to historians, sociologists, military experts and gender historians. They offer much for the impact of the Raj on Britain and vice versa.

For reference we have also included on the first reel of Part 2 biographical notes on the authors of the diaries. 


May we take this opportunity to express our thanks to David Blake, former curator of European Manuscripts in the Oriental and India Office Collections and to Dr Jill Geber, Curator of the India Office Private Papers for all their help and advice in the selection and preparation of this collection of diaries. We would also like to thank the descendants of the diarists who have placed their family papers on permanent loan at the British Library and have very kindly given us permission to reproduce them in this collection.



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