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Some Sources on Early Colonial South Asia

James Simon, Mary Wilke, and Lawrence Mancini
Center for Research Libraries


"Native Pastors" featured in American Madura Mission, Jubilee Volume, published by S.P.C.K. Press, Madras, India, 1834-84.

Early Colonial Records

Great Britain. India Office. India Office records, home miscellaneous series, 1631–1859.

This 814-volume collection of primary resources highlights the early trading activity of the East India Company, expansion of territory and Company administration in the region, and transfer of governance to the crown following the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It includes the "East Indies Series," consisting of correspondence on Indian affairs from 1748–1784 received by the Secretary of State's office.

East India Company. Selection of papers from the records at the East-India House relating to the revenue, police, and civil and criminal justice, under the Company's governments in India. London: Printed by order of the Court of Directors, 1820–1826.

The period from the Battle of Plassey (1757) to the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) brought consolidation of power and territorial control for the Company, which was transformed from a mainly commercial endeavor into a governing body headquartered in Calcutta. By 1833, the Company was divested of its commercial functions, but maintained its political and administrative authority.

Memorandum upon current land revenue settlements in the temporarily-settled parts of British India. Calcutta: Printed at the Home, Revenue and Agricultural Dept., Press, 1880.

A vast body of valuable data can be found in the land settlement reports issued by the Company and the British Raj. The system of land taxation in India was an ancient tradition by which a predetermined portion of revenue would be returned to the state for public use. The system was taken over by the British by the mid-19th century, and land revenue accounted for nearly 39 percent of the total income for the state.

"Settlement" generally refers to the cadastral survey of the land and surrounding environment, and the fixation of an assessment for revenue generation. These survey and settlement reports contain information on a variety of subjects, including boundaries and administrative divisions existing at the time, their physical features, quality of soils, condition of communications, markets, population growth, and information about caste and social groups.

The "Imperial Gazetteer of India" (vol. 4, pp. 204–240) provides a detailed history and summary of the settlement process. SAMP holds a near-comprehensive set of available reports, and numerous items are now available in electronic format.

South Asian Culture

As England integrated its civil servants and population into the region, the need for greater knowledge of the culture of the subcontinent produced a large quantity of material relating to India. Early publications included primers, grammars, and readers in various languages. Early vernacular publications include early Bible translations from mission presses and texts for educational instruction. Academic societies "for inquiring into the history and antiquities, the arts, sciences, and literature of Asia" were formed in Calcutta, Bombay, and Colombo.

Garcin de Tassy, M. (Joseph- Héliodore-Sagesse-Vertu), 1794–1878. Mémoire sur des particularités de la religion musulmane dans l'Inde d'après les ouvrages hindoustanis. Paris: Imprimérie royale, 1831.

Garcin, considered one of the foremost Orientalists of his period, devoted himself to the study of Arabic, Hindi, and other Muslim languages. Many of his early publications were drawn from contemporary Muslim accounts, such as Hindustani and Urdu poetry, rather than Western sources.

SAMP 19th-century Hindi project.

A large variety of vernacular works have been preserved and acquired in partnership with the South Asia Microform Project (SAMP). Through a series of grant-funded efforts, SAMP preserved major collections of 19th-century regional language literature. One example of these efforts is the "SAMP 19th-century Hindi project," which microfilmed critical early source material held by the British Library.

The Sepoy Revolt or Indian Mutiny of 1857

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 preciptated a major change in the history of British colonial rule in India. Sparked by the vast cultural difference between the East Indian Company and Indian troops, known as "sepoys", the conflict became known as the Indian Mutiny to the British, and the First War of Indian Independence to the Indians. Although the revolt was suppressed, it did bring about the end of the East India Company's rule, and the beginning of the British Raj.

Roy Choudhury, Pranab Chandra, 1903–. Muzaffarpur old records, by P. C. Roy Chaudhury.

Roy Choudhury, Pranab Chandra, 1903–. Gaya old records [by] P. C. Roy Chaudhury.

These two publications contain official documents and correspondence from the 18th century up to and including the Indian Mutiny of 1857. These documents cover economic, social, communication, and other aspects of the two regions.

Sherer, John Walter. Private correspondence of J. W. Sherer, collector of Fatehpur, 19th May 1857 to 28th July 1857. Editor: O. P. Bhatnagar.

This collection contains letters written by J.W. Sherer to his wife and brother. The letters describe his personal experiences in India during the Indian mutiny, as well as movements and events of the actual revolt.

Barrow, E. G. The sepoy officer's manual (Lieut. Barrow's) [microform]: a book of reference for infantry officers of the Indian Army / [by E.G. Barrow].

This manual was given to all military officers. Although written and distributed after the Indian Rebellion, it provides valuable insight into British attitudes and the opinions of native inhabitants.

Rise of Nationalism

India. Imperial Legislative Council. Proceedings of the Legislative Council of India (1854–1927).

Following the events of 1857, the British abolished the East India Company and replaced it with direct rule under the British crown. The administration was accountable to the newly created Secretary of State for India, with a governor-general overseeing administration in India, assisted by executive and legislative councils. The British Raj moved to include more participation from native populations in local governance. In a series of legislative acts starting with the Indian Councils Act of 1861, the British widened participation in legislative councils and provincial affairs to Indian representatives.

Banerjea, Surendranath, Sir, 1848–1925. Speeches. Calcutta: S.K. Lahiri & Co., 1890–1891.

Surendranath Banerjea founded the Indian Association in 1876, the first political organization of its kind and a forerunner of the Indian National Congress. As a moderate voice, Banerjea favored dialogue with the British on the path to Home Rule. In later years his strong opposition to the partition of Bengal in 1905 led to its eventual reversal.

Indian National Congress. Proceedings of the . . . Indian National Congress. . . . Bombay: The Congress, [1886].

Indian National Congress. Detailed report of the proceedings of the . . . Indian National Congress. . . . Calcutta: The Congress, [1887–1892].

The continued rise in political awareness brought about the birth of national political parties. In 1885, the Indian National Congress was formed as an outlet through which Indians could voice their political views and concerns. The Congress was largely comprised of moderates in its early sessions, with limited influence over British governance. In later years, however, the INC became increasingly radical resulting the face of continued resistance from the government. The INC came to be the dominant organization in the freedom struggle in India.