These records are the archives of the British Residency at Bushire, 1763-1948; and of the Political Agencies at Bahrain, 1899-1951; Sharjah, 1930-51; Kuwait, 1904-49; and Muscat, 1828-1951; these dates being those for which archives survive, which are not necessarily those during which the posts existed. They provide a fairly complete record of the administration of each post from its establishment until 1947 when, with the advent of Indian independence, control over them was transferred to the Foreign Office. Record keeping especially in some of the subordinate Agencies was sometimes rather haphazard. Little systematic weeding appears to have been done, and the gaps in the records are more likely due to indiscriminate destruction, accidental loss, and adverse climatic conditions. The Bushire and Muscat records, which begin earlier than those of the other Agencies, at first consist of annual volumes of letters received and sent. From about 1850, both posts began to develop a primitive form of subject filing. By 1900 this had evolved into a modern subject file system which was subsequently adopted by the newly established Agencies at Bahrain and Kuwait.
The records comprise five main types of correspondence:
(i) Correspondence between the Resident/Agents and the authorities to whom they were responsible (e.g. the Resident, the Bombay Government, the Government of India, the India Office).
(ii) Correspondence between the Resident/Agents and their subordinates either at posts under their authority (e.g. the Residency Agent, Trucial Coast, or the Assitant Political Agent, Gwadar), or within the post itself.
(iii) Correspondence with other British authorities of similar status within the area with whom it was the practice to exchange information (e.g. the Senior Naval Officer).
(iv) Correspondence with non-official bodies such as oil companies, trading companies, etc.
(v) Correspondence with local rulers and their officials and advisers, often in Arabic and sometimes in Persian.
The files also contain copy correspondence circulated to each post for information as well as a variety of miscellaneous manuscript and printed material including treaties, administration reports, trade statistics, oil agreements, hydrographic surveys, memoranda, printed pamphlets, and occasional photographs and maps. In addition, the Agencies at Bahrain, Kuwait and Muscat maintained libraries of reference materials, such as administration reports, gazetteers, confidential prints, etc, which were normally retained at the posts after 1948 but selected items from which have since been returned to the India Office Records.
The primary responsibility of British officials in the Gulf was the representation of British and British Indian interests and the maintenance of peace with and between the rulers. The main focus of their reporting was therefore concerned with diplomatic and political relations and with related questions of administration. In practice, however, the material covers a much wider range of subjects, and the more able officers, many of whom were trained orientalists, provided their superiors with a mass of historical, geographical, economic, anthropological, archaeological, literary and linguistic data. During the twentieth century the Agents at Bahrain, Kuwait and Muscat became more involved with the internal development of the states and therefore in economic and social matters including oil exploration, financial arrangements, and the improvement of medical and educational facilities. The Bahrain Court Records (R/15/3) are a rich source of information on social, religious and economic questions.