The Indian papers of the 4th Earl of Minto

including his service on the North West Frontier during the Afghan War of 1879 and as Viceroy, 1905-1910
Gould, William
Date published: 
December 2007

The papers of Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the 4th Earl of Minto, (1845-1914), Viceroy of India between 1905 and 1910, cover a period of dramatic and momentous change in the history of colonial India. The beginning of Minto's tenure in India was marked by unprecedented anti-colonial protests against the partition of Bengal, initiated by Minto's predecessor, Curzon. It ended with the crucial 'Morley-Minto reforms' contained in the Government of India Act and the Indian Councils Act, both of 1909. These two new laws established, among other things, the constitutional principle of separate electorates for India's Muslim communities. This rich, varied and complex collection of documents forms part of a larger archive now held at the National Library of Scotland, and which covers almost the entire Elliot family of Minto. The 4th Earl's great-grandfather was the first family member to build an official connection with the Indian subcontinent, assuming the office of Governor General in 1807. Almost a century later, the 4th Earl was confronted with the sensitive political situation surrounding the partition of Bengal and the rise of radical nationalism in that same province, as well as in Maharashtra and Punjab. A key part of this collection contains weekly reports on the 'political situation', which reflect not only specifically Indian preoccupations, but also their impact on British domestic politics. For example, the correspondence of March and April 1906, between Minto and John Morley, Secretary of State for India, document how the latter had interviewed a deputation of fifty textile workers who were calling for the institution of health and medical inspectors into the Bombay factory system, ostensibly protesting against the 'callous inhumanity to children' working in India, but with one eye on British employers' concerns about Indian competition. There is also material here for the researcher of Indian social and educational history including, for example, detailed discussions on the founding of Aligarh Muslim University and on educational reform. Other parts of the collection move beyond India, to India's empire in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, including for example, letters relating to Minto's early personal experience as an officer fighting on the North West Frontier in 1879, as well as correspondence with Cromer in relation to Egypt, Earl Grey in relation to wider colonial and imperial affairs and correspondence with governors of other imperial territories, for example Canada, around wider Indian migration. This collection therefore covers a period in which the confidence of high imperialism in India was facing some its first real challenges, and when the whole basis of British imperial power in its most important possession was being adjusted and reformed in response to changing imperial priorities. A notable inclusion in these documents which provides the context for this, is a full survey of the turn of the century administration of Lord Curzon - Minto's predecessor. Beyond this, the Minto collection offers to the research a unique insight into a formative period of radical Indian nationalism, Muslim separatism and Indian constitutional reform. Accompanied by an introduction by Dr William Gould, University of Leeds, and a full contents list derived from the catalogues of the manuscript collections of the National Library of Scotland.