* Adam Matthew Publications. Imaginative publishers of research collections.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
News  |  Orders  |  About Us
* A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z  

Diaries and Related Records Held at the British Library, London

Part 3: Diaries and related records describing life in India, c1861-1891

“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


Part 3 covers a period in Indian history which saw the start of great changes: political awareness was steadily growing and Indian leaders were emerging at both national and provincial levels. India began to think of itself as a “nation”. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was hailed as India’s first war of independence by the growing number of nationalists and was the start of a feeling of mistrust against the British which was to escalate slowly over the coming years. In turn British attitudes towards Indians changed from openness to insularity. The British families and their servants lived in cantonments and no longer openly socialised with Indians.

The Indian Congress, founded in 1885 when seventy-three delegates met in Bombay, was initially similar to a debating society which voiced the opinion of the urban elite and supported the British, but by 1900 it had emerged as an all-India political organisation. Muslims, however, were underrepresented in the Congress and in 1906 the All-India Muslim League was founded to promote their interests.

The late nineteenth century saw a time of great famines in India: in Bengal and Orissa in 1866, 1869 in Rajputana, 1874 in Behar and the terrible famine in Bombay, Madras and Mysore, from 1876-1878, in which five million Indians perished. The British government had no formalised policy on how to deal with famines until the Famine Commissions of 1880, 1898 and 1901 which, coupled with the expansion of the railways and increased irrigation of the land, helped to prevent future shortages on such a huge scale.

Evidence for all the above topics can be found in the diaries in this part. They reveal how the British interacted with the Indians, how the growth of nationalism affected political affairs and how the modernisation of the railways and communications improved the standard of life and the economy.

Part 3 comprises around 60 diaries and related records of many different styles, from a wide variety of authors taken from the European Manuscripts Section. They cover the period directly after the Mutiny of 1857 to the close of the nineteenth century.

Included in this part are military diaries of both low and high ranking officers, diaries of engineers, of Indian civil servants, members of the clergy, coffee planters and diaries of wives of members of the civil service and military personnel.

The diaries are described below under the following headings:

Members of the British Army

We include diaries of rank and file soldiers of the British army in India as well as high ranking officers. Some diaries describe merely the everyday routine of the army but most offer us also a vivid depiction of Army social life and impressions of the people and the scenery of India.

The excellent diaries of Major William Croker describe in vivid detail his shooting trips in Kashmir and the Punjab,1846-1864 and 1870, noting the amount of game he shot daily. Moreover the diaries, which are accompanied by photographs of India, give detail on the countryside and the Indian people he came across on his trips:

“Thursday 26th July From Hokoar to Gunolla – two marches- in all 18 miles about. Started early and breakfasted at the village of Kilmuy about 3 miles from this before coming to Leeso the regular march. At Leeso I got fresh coolies, chiefly women only three men out of the eight required; but the women appeared to make light of the loads and travel as well as the men and much better than the Kooloo men. We are now amongst people with a strong dash of the Tartar and they appear to possess much of the good humour and strength of the race. They are dirty and ugly in the extreme the dress of men and women much like that of Kooloo; but the latter go nearly always bare-headed, the hare being worn in plaits down the back and hanging loose like the “girls of the period”, at home. Dirty as they are they are very fond of ornaments of kinds; all wear a peculiar silver….”

Descriptions of the food, fauna, animals, people and scenery are accompanied by lovely ink sketches in Lt- Colonel Frederick Bailey’s diary of a two month vacation in the mountains:

“9 June Marched 12 miles to Yangpa (8500) steep ascent at first & a very rocky road – saw no game but chikore…. The coolies did not come in till about 6pm. We had a little food before starting at 6-ten & got very hungry – so we had some chuffatis (cakes) made in the village & also got some excellent milk and butter. We killed a snake 5½ ft long…. Some beautiful wild roses & yellow jasmine along the roads and lots of horse chestnuts…. Saw some curious people, pygmies I believe. The women all had headdresses… a hoodpiece of scarlet cloth from the forehead hanging down behind and studded over with stones – some lapis lazuli and some malachite or very like it….”

The journals for 1877-1890 of Major-General William Henry Noble (1834-1892), who served as Staff Officer in the Second Afghan War, are written in a very informal conversational manner and give tremendous detail on his life and the places he saw over a thirteen year period:

Monday 19 July 1877 By Jove! Wasn’t it cold last night. I was very glad to put on my big Inverness coat and cover myself up well with a thick rug. The morning was beautiful – cool with a nice warm sun. I stood at the window and sunned myself. We got to Allahabad at 8am and had ‘little breakfast’. Allahabad (the city of Allah) is one of the largest and most sacred Hindoo cities in India. It is built at the junction of two great rivers….”

Lt-Col Sir James Dunlop-Smith (1858-1921) was Private Secretary to the Lt-Governor of the Punjab and Commissioner of Lahore at the time he wrote his 1883 diary. He gives an account of his duties which included the enviable task of checking spirits at the Distillery:

12 November 1883 After leaving some cases fixed for this date I went over the Distillery which might be kept a little more tidy. I tested the various jars of spirit… found all the spirit to be full proof….”

Included are statistics on the amount of spirits drunk in the area and how it was made.

We include the excellent diary for 1884 of Sir Francis Younghusband (1863-1942) who served in the Indian Army and the Indian Political Service for twenty years. In 1884 he embarked on a series of travels which made his name as an explorer of Central Asia. He describes a journey from Dharmsala to Kulu and Simla and his favourable impressions of the scenery and places he passed through:

“May 1 1884 Palampur
Road leads through several Tea Plantations. The hedges on the roadside being of wild roses – pink & white in full blooms - towards the plain the hills are barren & like ash heaps. Palampur itself is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen & seems more like a park with a bazaar at one end and the Europeans’ houses scattered about amongst the trees…. The roads are wide and very clean & on each side of these are bamboo trellis with railings about as high up as the knee….”

As a contrast to journals of high-ranking members of the army we include Private William Atkinson’s diaries for 1878-1880, giving great detail on the daily routine of long marches and camp life of a rank and file soldier in the 67th Regiment during the Second Afghan War. Also included are the diaries of Private Thomas Melsom who took part in an expedition by the Marri Field Force from Kabul to Kandahar in 1880. He lists and describes the stages of the march and includes delightful illustrations of the scenery they passed through.

Many members of the Army took on other roles which took them away from the purely military side of army life. Colonel Richard Strachey (1817-1908) was appointed Inspector of Irrigation in the Bombay district in 1866. His journals include a description of his tours around the irrigation works:

“23 Dec 1866 Went with Mr Mereeather Assist Supt of the Harbour works to Mamora & look at the Harbour & Bar. I had 2 days discussion of the subject before. Opinions are much divided on all the more important topics that require consideration in connexion with the operations taken up….”

Captain John Tisdall Annesley (1820-1873), of the Bombay Army, became Paymaster of Pensions in Bombay and gives us a very detailed description of his daily life, both work and social:

“1st January 1861 Tuesday Day breakfasted with us. Remained at home till evening, it being a Government holiday, when I accompanied the Coovies (I with Lena in the carriage- Coovie on horseback) to the Heyesachs at Worlee where we drank tea & spent the evening….

2nd Wednesday Today office where saw Col Ban & had a chat with him about new engagements in the Financial Department. To dinner at Altamont at 5.30pm….Prayer meeting afterwards….”

Sir Frederick John Goldsmid (c1818-1908), who entered the Madras Army in 1839, undertook special missions for the Bombay government before becoming Director of the Government Indo-European Telegraph in 1865-1870. His diary for 1864 describes his journey from Bombay to Constantinople during which he supervised the laying of the first telegraph cable from India to Europe.

Members of the India Civil Service

We include a mix of diaries ranging from those of young civil servants recently arrived in India to those of high ranking members. 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 long run of diaries covering 1865-1880 of Sir Frederick William Richards Fryer (1845-1922) describe his daily work and social life as a member of the Indian Civil Service whilst in the Punjab. His later posts included that of Lt-Governor of Burma from 1897-1903. His tours of the district and impressions of the amenities are described in somewhat desultory terms:

Mon 16 October 1865 Stayed this morning and the whole of yesterday at Sohawa. It is not a very nice place. Rather too dirty. The Police Bungalow here is a wretched affair.”

Also described are his school inspections which he often combines with a spot of hunting!:

“Thurs 13 Feb 1868
Examined the school & inspected Kuhoota this morning. Also have a few cases. In the afternoon went out shooting. Bad sport 2 hares & e partridges only….”

He also gives details of cases he had to oversee and his thoughts on political events:

“Mon Sept 8 1879 Had a big rape case to try today. Home Mail in….

Tues Sept 9 1879 Rumour that Sir L Cavagner and the whole cabul mission have been killed by the Kerad troops. I hope it is not true….”

His diaries give us a good idea of the difficulty of living in the extreme heat:

“ Wed 5 July 1876 Did not go to badminton or anywhere else. It was too hot. My house keeps partly cool but it is too damp & ? to be healthy….

Wed 26 June 1878 Went to the library & got some books. Had not so much work today. Got no letter from Fanny. There was a heavy storm at Fort Munro on Sunday night which I hope has cooled the air….”

The 1865 diary of Sir George Campbell (1824-1892) describes a visit to Kashmir with details on the local people, places, crops, animals and the weather. In 1858 he had become Commissioner of Oudh and in 1862 Judge of the High Court, Calcutta.

The diaries of C B Clarke, Inspector of Schools in the Bengal Education Service, contain accounts of his school inspections in Assam in 1885-1886:

“17 March 1885 Nellie loves Primary at W Poysons tea garden – 9 present out of 15. The people altogether despise the school. First class of 2 can read a little and can do compound multiplication…. The head-boy who pays 1 rand a month and gives no present to the guru is the son of a man whose estate is worth Rands 200 a year….”

The extensive papers for 1867-1887 of Sir William James Herschel (1833-1917), a member of the Indian Civil Service for twenty five years, depict problems which he encountered during his time in Bengal. He was Secretary to the Board of Revenue, then in 1872 Commissioner of Dacca and finally in 1874 Commissioner of Cooch Behar. There is much detail on taxes collected, standardisation of Indian measurements, cases brought before him and proposals for a new tax system. In his role as Collector of Taxes he had first hand experience of the terrible famines that affected India and reports written by him on the famine in Midnapore and in Calcutta in 1867 are included together with a detailed account of the famine of 1887 written for the Commissioner:

“March 1887
…. A man in my position must be a hard hearted man who does not admit seeing what a calamity has happened that more might have been done if he had had the single strong desire to prevent the famine…. I estimate that in round numbers 50,000 persons in this district were reduced to starvation, & that of these our relief reached from 20,000 to 25,000 of whom one half died and the other half were saved by our measures….”

An interesting list of his expenditure for March to June 1869 reveals a good deal on his way of life:

“Food - Wine, Ice Machine
House - Rugs, lamps, toast rack, croquet set, charcoal
Locomotion - Pony, garry hire, stable tax, railway
Amusement - cricket, tiffin, rifle powder, boat club, racket club
Charity – Burdwan School, clergy, Baptist Missionary Society, Chaprassi cyclone”

Also included in his papers are around twenty photographs of Indian temples, street scenes and the mountains in Mysore and the Himalayas.

Sir Courtenay Peregrine Ilbert (1841-1924) was a Parliamentary draftsman and legal member of the Governor-General’s Council from 1882-1886. His diaries, covering 1875-1886, contain notes on a myriad of topics ranging from infanticide to importation of explosives, from recruiting staff corps to the elephant preservation act, from the political situation in Burma to the Assam land regulations.

Sir Richard Temple was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces in 1862 and in 1867 became Resident at Hyderabad. His political diary for this period, written at the Court of His Highness the Nizam of the Deccan, provides revelations on his dealings with local Moslem leaders:

“Abdul Kureen, the Talookdar of Nulgonda came to see me. He is of an old Jageerdan family in the Guntoor / now Kistna district; where it was under the Nizam. He is a Mahommedan gentleman; of refined manners; and superior education…. He then spoke with greater frankness than might have been expected about the Nizam’s Government. He said that he believed & that others believed that the only chance which the Nizam’s Government had of keeping its independence lay in it being a good Government; if it became bad it would only follow the fate of Mysore & Oude; if it remained good as at present the British Government would leave it alone….”

The diaries of Herbert John Maynard (1865-1943), who rose to become Financial Commissioner and a member of the Governor’s Executive Council, give tremendous detail on his work and life in the Punjab, the Mandi and the Suket States and a stay in Central India. He describes the towns and villages and gives details on subjects such as the type of musical instruments played and gods worshipped. The following is an extract from an account of a visit to the marble rocks at the village of Bhera Ghat:

“Sunday Nov 28th
We reached the Dak Bungalow after a two mile walk in the boiling sun. These Dak Bungalows are established by government in every out of the way place to serve instead of inns…. We had three chairs put out in front and sat under a tamarind tree, with the white rocks of the river in front…. There we sang, smoked and ‘bucked’ until Tiffin after which we went up to look at the waterfall….”

In his diary for 1890 he describes a meeting with a Rajah at Suket station:

“He is a man not more than 22 or 23 years of age but immensely stout and with the throat of a prize bull…. He was very nervous and humble…. As he is charged with virtual murder, amongst other misdemeanours his anxiety to conciliate is quite intelligible….”

Sir Walter Roper Lawrence (1857-1940) was to become Private Secretary to the Viceroy in 1898. However the diaries and letters we include date from his first years in India in 1879 and record his early thoughts on the country. Writing from the Punjab Club at Peshawar to his father he says:

“April 11th Peshawar
My Dear Father
This is a wonderful country all surrounded by mountains….The People are quite different to the Lahore folk. All fine tall fellows, Pattars, cruel & treacherous & hating us like poison….”

Members of the Clergy, Coffee Planters, Engineers

Rev J B Wheeler’s delightful journal detailing a journey from Lucknow to London by land and sea from 1861-1862 not only gives outstanding descriptions of the people and scenery but also includes over thirty drawings and watercolours of subjects such as animals, boats on the Ganges, buildings, flora and fauna and life on board on ship.

Rev William Carey (b1849) was a medical missionary for the Baptist Missionary Society in Northern India and his journals describe his daily activities, his work, his health and journeys he undertook in the Indian countryside around Delhi:

“!2 May Wed 1880
The scenery was magnificent. Being 9000 ft above sea level we had good views of the snow. Shortly after starting we entered a magnificent forest of pines, tall majestic cedars, oak, filbert, holly, willow, bamboo etc through which the road winds. Innumerable birds kept warbling their morning song…. On the way we passed some mineral springs strongly impregnated with probably sulphured of iron, we also overtook some flocks of sheep….”

H A K Wright (b1850) describes, in his journal covering 1870-1873, his first years in India as a coffee planter in Northern Madras. Included are descriptions of places visited and animals reared.

Railways were rapidly extending over more of India in the second half of the nineteenth century and the 1867 diary of Middleton Rayne (1830-1882), Chief Engineer of the Indus Valley State Railway, gives details on the difficulties encountered in building them:

16 March 1867
Launched the South Space girder at Sectua today. We were troubled with the chains breaking several times – otherwise the launch was most successful. The actual time occupied in putting the travelling stage across the 110 feet travelled was probably not more than an hour.

An accident occurred afterwards in lowering the trollies by which the front end had been run forward the chains broke & actually fell 5 feet the other about 35. The latter was a good deal damaged & one wheel broken – but no one hurt….”

Thomas Harding Going (1827-1875) arrived in India in 1857 at the age of 30 with two years experience of railway construction in the USA and worked as Assistant Engineer for the Madras Railway Company on the construction of the North West line. Included are two of his diaries describing his life and work in 1864 and 1867, plus a summary of his whole career in India written by his grandson, Lt-Col R J Going.

William Cameron (1854-1938) was a member of the Indian Service of Engineers, rising to become Chief Engineer and Secretary of the Bombay Public Works Department from 1904-1911. His diary describes his journey from Sholapur to Kashmir in 1887.

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’s diaries complement the diaries by their men folk, revealing their personal feelings and reactions to events and describing in detail their family and social lives and their responses to the new environment they found themselves in.

Sarah Ann Fitzgibbon was the wife of Lt Richmond Fitzgibbon of the Madras Army and her journal describes her teaching at the local Sunday School. She begins her journal, which covers over twenty years of her life in India, with the following words:

“It was a warm afternoon in March in one of the hottest stations of S India that I was first introduced to what was to be my own class in the Sunday Schools. It consisted of the older girls of best Indian families….”

In the following extract, describing Christmas 1865, she gives us a vivid snapshot of how they tried to recreate a British lifestyle in a foreign land:

“Christmas 1865 First Xmas on my own Estate. Had a nice ride in the early morning…. I saw a small brown bear, the first wild animal I have seen on the Plantation. Very happy to have a nice sheep killed for the house servants Xmas supper. Not the cold frosts and snow and the sharp wintry winds of old England, but as cold as man can well bear, in the early morning and evening…. Could not manage to have a fine Devonshire ‘figgy puddin’ but Cook made a nice plum cake iced for tea and English gooseberry tart for dinner on which we managed to put some cream….”

The journal of Mrs Cawley, wife of George John Cawley, District Superintendent of Police in Assam from 1876-1883, gives a detailed account of the siege of Kohima by the Nagas and describes her eventual escape in 1879. She reveals one of her servants, herself a Naga, was prepared to save the Cawley children from being murdered by the attackers:

“…. My Naga woman – Rhema – promised me from the first day we were surrounded that she would save the children. She had some biscuits ready in a cloth & a bottle of water & showed me how she would carry little Ernie in her cloth on her neck & lead Gertrude by the hand; they were 3½ & 5 years old. She explained how she would slip out at the small door at the back of the stockade…. She said her people were sure to kill us all & they would not care to look for the children until our heads had been taken so she could get the children away and hide in the jungle until the night & then make her way to either Dokka or Murripur?...”.

The 1872-1873 diary of Annette Beveridge (1842-1929), the wife of Henry Beveridge, a member of the Indian Civil Service, covers the first two years of her life in India and contains her initial impressions on the country. She was the mother of Lord Beveridge, the founder of the welfare state and founded a school for girls in Calcutta, the Hindu Mahila Bidyalaya. She kept a diary for sixty-three years, from 1865-1928 following her daily life in India and as a school mistress. The extract below describes a first meeting with a zemindar and his family:

“Tuesday 21st January 1873
…. Mrs M took me to see a zemindar at Tachapoodi six miles south of Calcutta whose name ends in Roy Chowdry. I found Mrs M a most pleasant companion…. When we reached the house we were met by several young men & their unhealthy looking boys who led us to a room containing a sofa, a bed, table with bottles, books etc & soon a crowd of women assembled. I was amazed at their bright intelligent faces & at their real beauty. They gathered around Mrs M…sitting close on the floor with their babies amongst them….”

Lillian Lawrence was married to Sir Walter Roper Lawrence whose early diaries we also include in this collection. She wrote regular letters to her parents in England describing her journey out and her life and experiences in India, mainly in the Punjab, Simla, Calcutta and Kashmir. In March 1885, shortly after her arrival in India, she and her husband accompanied the Lt-Governor by train from Lahore to Rawal Pindi. The following is her description of the welcome at the railway station and the camp they stayed in:

“…. The Lt-Governor was met at the station by a number of their great chiefs & the station looked so pretty with all the soldiers & natives: at all the places we stopped at on the way all the people came to meet him. This camp or rather camps extend for a tremendous distance…. But first I must tell you what kind of tents we are living in. We have four allowed us…first is our drawing room, then bedroom, 3rd dining room & 4th a spare tent….”

She was most impressed with the local chiefs who arrived for a meeting with them:

“…. They each arrive with a flourish of trumpets & cannons are fired. The jewellery some of the chiefs wore was magnificent, huge diamonds & emeralds and pearls & dressed in the most gorgeous silks & satins such bright colours as we never see in England….”

She describes riding in a carriage drawn by four to six camels and expresses her delight in all things Indian:

“They are so intensely interesting & I feel so incapable of describing them so as to give you any idea of what they are really like, the word that expresses everything best is gorgeous, from the sunshine & flowers down to the natives….”

Katharine Way was only twelve when she began her diary describing her journey out to India and her first months there which were spent staying at a hotel in Benares. She enjoys a march with the 7th Rapputs Regiment, commanded by her father Colonel Way, from Benares to Saugor:

“We had 15 miles march and we came to an awfully pretty camping ground. After breakfast we went out paddling in an awfully pretty river, we caught some fish and had great fun. In the afternoon we fished but did not catch anything. Father went out to shoot a tiger but didn’t get it….”

We also include her sister’s fascinating diary of school life in India in the 1880’s.

The amazing range of detail found in the diaries in Part 3 will enable scholars to build up a multi-faceted view of life in India during the Raj at a period when India was undergoing immense changes. Rich in sociological and historical detail the diaries will be invaluable to historians, sociologists, military experts and gender historians. They offer much for research both on the impact of the Raj on Britain and the impact of India on Britain.

Background details on the Collection

The Directors of the East India Company established a Library in 1801 for the safe keeping of books and manuscripts placed in their care and the European Manuscripts Section began as a place of deposit for the private papers relating to India as distinct from the Company’s official archives. In 1858 the Company was abolished and its Records and Library were taken over by the newly appointed India Office. When the India Office was abolished in 1947 the material, after passing through various other repositories, was transferred to the British Library in 1982 and in 1991 was merged with the Oriental Collections Department of the British Library to form the Oriental and India Office Collections. OIOC is now part of the Asia, Pacific and Africa Department.

Included in the European Manuscripts Section are documents of every type: diaries, private letters, memoirs, official correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs and paintings. The diaries form a large and important part of the collection and provide us with a first-hand account of the official, military, business, social and private life of a wide variety of British people living and working in India between the late-eighteenth and the mid-twentieth century.

Biographical Notes

For reference we have also included on the first reel of Part 3 biographical notes on the authors of the diaries.  


May I take this opportunity to express my thanks to David Blake, former curator of European Manuscripts in the Oriental and India Office Collections, for his help and advice in the selection and preparation of this collection of diaries. I 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..

Digital Guide
* * *
* * *

* *© 2019 Adam Matthew Digital Ltd. All Rights Reserved.