Catalogue description Records of the British Residency and Agencies in the Persian Gulf

This record is held by British Library: Asian and African Studies

Details of IOR/R/15
Reference: IOR/R/15
Title: Records of the British Residency and Agencies in the Persian Gulf

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.

Date: 1763-1951
Held by: British Library: Asian and African Studies, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Physical description: c15,350 volumes and files
Access conditions:

Normally unrestricted, with the exception of a few personal files

Publication note:

Penelope Tuson, 'The Records of the British Residency and Agencies in the Persian Gulf' (London, 1979)

Administrative / biographical background:

The East India Company's earliest contacts with the Persian Gulf were made in 1616 when the Agent and Council at Surat despatched an expedition to Jask with the intention of finding new markets for trade in Persia. Within a few years Factories had been opened at Shiraz and Isfahan (1617) and Bandar Abbas (1623), and the connections established in Persia were soon extended to Turkish Arabia where trading began at Basra in 1635. These Factories, administered at first by the Council of Bombay, formed the basis of British economic activities in the Gulf for a hundred and fifty years.


From the late eighteenth century onwards the Factories were superseded by a complicated network of Residencies and Agencies whose primary functions were no longer economic but almost entirely political - their chief raison d'etre being the protection of the sea and overland routes to India and the preservation of the imperial status-quo in the face of growing interference from other European powers. Between 1763 and 1947 Residencies or Agencies were maintained at Bushire, Muscat, Basra and Baghdad, Bahrain, Kuwait and Sharjah (i.e. the Trucial Coast). The most senior officer was the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf stationed at Bushire to whom the Political Agents elsewhere were normally subordinate. The posts were responsible either wholly or partly to the the East India Company and after 1858 to the India Office, and were normally administered either by the Government of India direct or through the Presidency Government of Bombay. Both the British Indian Governments and the India Office continued in varying degrees to play a part in the general formation of policy towards the area until the transfer of power in India in 1947.

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