Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online.
Online Edition copyright 2000 by Anthony Hern.
Records of the British Government's Surveillance
An Introduction by Anthony Hern.
This research, undertaken in 1993, seems with hindsight to have been destined to occur. I live on the same street as the IOL building then was, and my long time friend Leslie Price had asked if I would do some research for him at the IOL, to follow up a lead he had been given in 1983 by Peter Hopkirk, author of a number of very readable books ('The Great Game' and 'Silk Road to China' etc.), that there may be records relating to Blavatsky in the IOL. I looked for and found the secret records of the British Government in India relating to HPB and Col Olcott's visit to India in 1888/89.
In addition K. Paul Johnson, who has known Leslie since 1986, was keen to see if there were any records in the IOL that would be relevant to his own research for his then forthcoming book 'The Masters Revealed' (SUNY Press 1994 ISBN 0791420639). Therefore, it was serendipity that we were also able to offer him the results of the main research that I had done at the IOL and it subsequently formed the basis of the third section of his book. Leslie Price and I considered that by allowing him to make use of the material we had found relating to HPB and Col. Olcott's visit to India in 1888, we would be able to make the information widely available in the shortest possible time. We were also aware that we did not have the time, resources or enough subject matter to be able to produce a full blown book project. We also thought that, as K. Paul Johnson's book dealt with the topic of likely candidates for HPB's Masters, the information of the British India Government records relating to her travels in India at an important time, would be relevant to the theme of Paul's book. Happily, Paul was amenable to our suggestion.
Recent releases of secret records to the IOL by the British Government had also revealed a file on Professor Nicholas K. Roerich, who, in common with HPB, was also Russian. There is also a file on Swami Yogananda and his activities in the USA.
What I intend in this article is to give an account of the IOL library, the background and work done to uncover these records together with a brief summery of the content of each of the records. I am not qualified to, and have not attempted to give, any opinions about the material or its content in the context in the theosophical landscape.
The British Library.
The India Office Library is part of the British Library ( http://www.bl.uk ). The IOL integrated with and moved to a new site for the British Library in St.Pancras, in the northeast corner of central London. Where it retains its separate identity and has been renamed the Oriental and India Office Collection (OIOC). I have continued to use the reference 'IOL' as documents are marked IOL and are unlikely to have been renamed yet.
The area administered from British India was huge. It extended on a north south line from Zanzibar, off the East Coast of Africa to Syria in the west and then east across to Burma. Its areas of interest and activity extended beyond this into Africa, China, Tibet, Afghanistan and Persia.
The collection is dedicated to the archive of the British involvement in India and the East. It contains almost all of the archive records of British India and the East from 1600 to 1947. I say almost all, as there are still records in the archive of the Indian Government in India that were not taken back to the UK in 1947 when India became Independent. In addition the IOL, as it was known, has had more records relating to it subject area's added since 1947. It also contains a very large collection of books, manuscripts, and texts in the various languages together with personal archives and photographs that have been given to the Library.
Photocopies of the material are available by post from the library, which will send you a quotation for any material you may wish to see. Better to go along to the library of course, but not always possible. Where the material is available on microfilm I have given the reference number and it may be cheaper to get a copy of the whole microfilm than to have separate paper copies made, and to get your own prints made. You are also advised to order the film in 'negative' copy, as this is easier to read and to print from. If you order from the IOL ask for both paper and film quotes.
The records in the IOL are a ganglion affair covering a huge range and various levels of detail accumulated as the administration expanded, reorganised a number of times and contracted over the period. The records of the 1870's - 1890's are organised in some detail, but are split. The records that came to London at this time were mainly printed summaries of the large quantities of routine administrative documents.
Inter Government (there were 3 governments in India as well as the UK government) and inter department records however, were kept in more detail combining originals and hand-written copies, which were meticulously indexed, cross referenced and filed. They are bound together in large volumes by years. Many of the years having more than one volume. Each volume is indexed and in addition there are index reference volumes called registers. These are compiled either by department and /or classification. The registers, indexes and documents are all in chronological order, though some records may be separately collected together where they follow a theme, and they may also be put into a separate topic file if they were thought special in some way.
The HPB Records.
It was into this gold mine of fascination and interest that I plunged. A great deal could of course, be eliminated. Ecclesiastical records for example, could be ignored. As we knew from Olcott's own account of his time in India - 'Old Diary Leaves' - they were under surveillance, and as this was likely to be a non routine and covert occurrence, the obvious place to look was in the Political and Secret Department records ( P & S. )
The library reference for these records is L/P&S/ and covers the period 1875 - 1930. Both the registers and the indexes are listed in one volume, the 'Z' volume - Z/L/P&S, and this is listed in three periods, 1875-1896, 1897-1911 and 1912-1930. The target dates for my search were the mid 1880's to the mid 1890's.
The L/P&S/ records are divided into four sections, one for each of the governments involved in the administration of British India. These are: the UK government in 'Home correspondence', volumes entitled 'Letters from India', 'Letters from Bombay' and thirdly, 'Letters from Madras'. Each with a separate index and containing originals, and copies where originals were not available, of letters, telegrams and hand-written notes. Each of these sets of records are further divided by a parallel set of records contained in there own volumes called - 'B' proceedings - and known as 'The Proceedings'. These contain printed short summaries of documents which were retained in India. Some of the documents to which the Proceedings refer were bought to the UK in 1947. Many however, remained in India and are held in the India National Archive. In addition there are separate records for the British Protectorate of Aden, which was a vital bunkering station for shipping enroute to India, and for other, smaller, British detachments. (Here I found a reference, in a letter from Zanzibar, of rumours of a white man living in the african jungles and thought to be Dr. Livingston and possibly still alive, before he was found by Stanley)
Within the records there are copies and originals of different documents bound together. Some of the originals were in other files that I was not able to locate, but as there were the copies, I am fairly satisfied that I have found all of the important documents in the IOL that pertain to HPB. No other references were found in a search of other records in the IOL thought to be relevant. However, there is a letter (Simla 11/1/1884) from A. O. Hume in the collection of his correspondence held at the British Library that makes reference to a meeting he had with HPB. In addition, I am of the opinion that there may be material to be found in the India National archive. These would include the correspondence that Olcott had with the British in India including his Letters of Introduction and Henderson's reports and those of his agent's, on the surveillance of HPB.
The following India Office Library references are relevant to the HPB/Olcott visit to India 1879 to 1880.
Volumes title:- Political and Secret Foreign Office Home Correspondence.
Indexes and Registers.
Document reference: Z/L/P & S/3/ Volume 16 1879
Document reference: Z/L/P & S/3/219
Main material found is contained in the following records:
Document reference IOR: L/P & S/3/218 or on Microfilm: IOR NEG 31851
Document Title: Home Correspondence. Volume 31 - Feb/Apr 1879 -
Document page 156 - documents sub numbers 39 to 51. (12 Text Pages.)
This document contains letters and memo's about HPB from the British ambassador in Washington, to the Foreign Office in London. It includes a copy of a letter in French from the Ottoman ambassador in Washington drawing the attention of the British to HPB.
Document reference IOR: L/P & S/3/219 (Not yet on microfilm.)
Document Title: Home Correspondence.Volume 32 - Apr/Jun 1879.
Document page 831 to page 842. 9 pages of text.
This document contains originals and hand-written copies of reports, memo's and correspondence from Washington and New York to the Foreign Office in London.
Dispatches to India, Madras and Bombay with Index.
Document Title: Index reference.
Document reference IOR: Z/L/P & S/7/5 1875 - 1879.
Document Title: Dispatches to India, Madras and Bombay
Document reference IOR: L/P & S/7/324 - Volume 5 - Feb 1879.
Document reference IOR: Microfilm: IOL NEG 32399.
Document page 51 and 52. Russian agents: movement of.
This file contains information about the movements of 'Pachino' who was known to be a spy and was initially thought, by the British, to be associated with HPB. It illustrates the high level of vigilance and concern of the British about espionage activity within their bailiwick.
Document reference IOR: L/P & S/7/344 - Volume 3 - 1879 1880.
Document reference IOR: Microfilm: IOL NEG 32445
Document pages 32 and 104.
This file only contains references to correspondence about HPB. Dated June 1879.
Government of India General and Financial 'B' Proceedings.
Document reference:- IOR: P 1549
Document Title:- Index to Foreign department proceedings 1880: General.
Sub Heading:- General 'B' Tabular statement.
October - part III - No. 86.
November - Part IV - 261 to 266.
Sub Heading:- Monthly Index.
Page ii, Page ix, Page xii. Blavatsky, Madam.
Theosophical Society, Proceedings of - in connection with.
Colonel Olcott & Madam Blavatsky 7th Oct.
Page ii, Page viii, Page xi.
Withdrawal by the Government of India of the measures taken regarding the proceedings of.
Olcott, Col. H. S. (USA)
Withdrawal by the Government of India of the measures taken regarding the proceedings of.
In this record the year is divided into General and Financial. The General section is divided into months and each month is divided into General 'A' and 'B' sections, Though the 'A' section is not always referred to as 'A'. The record is an Index of other records. There are constant references and cross references given in the correspondence, and so far as I could, I tried to find these. In addition this document contains reference to Major P. D. Henderson. In the Index for General 'B' January 1880 page ix. it has the following entry: 'Henderson Major P. D. Thuggee and dacoitee dept.' (sic), which refers to index No 7 and states 'additions to the history of services of General Superintendent Thagi and Dakaiti (sic) - no orders.' It is thought that Major Henderson was responsible for the surveillance of HPB and Olcott.
The Surveillance of HPB.
What will not be available to the remote reader of this material, is the background to the surveillance of HPB and Olcott on the ground in India. I give here therefore, a brief outline that may be of interest.
From my reading of the records the surveillance was carried on in two ways, by direct surveillance and through social contacts. A. O. Hume's letter of January 1884 makes a number of observations about them, even though direct government surveillance had stopped in November of 1880. Reports must have been written and surveillance organised. These records may still survive in the records of the India National Archive. The surveillance was organised by a man Olcott correctly identified by the name of Major Henderson and the records bear out this assertion.
I undertook to check the IOL archive about Henderson to see if I could find any references that might lead to finding these surveillance reports.
The earliest reference I found was in the Henderson papers, given to the library by his family (Document reference:- IOR: Mss EUR D1201/6). This was a personal note to Henderson from the Viceroy Lord Northbrooke in May 1873, reassuring Henderson about an unusual appointment that he had been given. This may have been because he was appointed in 1872 as an Under Secretary to the Government of India whilst still, unusually, retaining his service rank (He rose in rank to become a Major General on retirement). By 1880 it is clear that Henderson is the Superintendent of Operations for the suppression of Thug and Dacoity (Document reference:- IOR: Z/L/P&S/7/6 - Judicial Department 1880 and Judicial report No 1 - 1878). A Thugee was it seems, someone who would join up with a group of travellers and offer to do the cooking. They would then poison everyone and make off with all their goods. A Dacoit was a bandit or group of bandits.
Hendersons remit was much wider than this however, for in (Document reference:-) IOR: L/P&S/7/6- Vol.26 - part 6 - 1880 we can read an attached memo signed by him concerning 'intrigues' between 'Constantinople and Mohammedans (sic) in India'.
By 1888 Henderson is making arrangements for the collection of secret and political information across the whole of the Indian Empire (Document reference:- IOR: R/1/19/80 and IOR/R/1/1/80). I was unable to locate any records of this department and these are the records that are probably retained in India and contain the surveillance records, though they may also be retained by the UK government in a separate secret archive of the security services. In the book 'Government Archives in South Asia' published by Cambridge University Press in 1969, it states that a large number, about 20 bundles, of records lie in the India National Archive.
Secret records of other personalities.
A search of some secret material released (some still withheld) by the British Government relate to the Special Intelligence Service (SIS), a branch of MI5. These files have been classified by the IOL as Document reference:- IOR: L / P & J / 12 series. They have revealed one file that is relevant here, and two which may be of passing interest to readers of this article.
These files are
Document reference:- IOR: L/P & J/12/244 Rabindranath Tagore at Bolpur School.
Correspondence concerning the purchase of a property for use as a school.
Document reference:- IOR: L/ P & J/ 12/358 Swami Yogananda; activities in the USA.
British diplomats report on Yogananda (a British citizen). There are probably files on Yogananda in the archive of the US government.
Document reference:- IOR: L/P&J/12/291(File 273/26) Nicholas K. Roerich proceedings.
This file dates from February 1926 to March 1934 and is 67 pages and contains telegrams, correspondence and reports relating to Roeriche's movements, his status and reputation as an artist, his relationship to Russia and discussion on whether or not he was a Russian agent.
The file on Nicholas Roerich fits in with two other files on him, which are already in the IOL. These files are
Document reference:- IOR: L/P & S/ 10/ 1145 (File 1229/1925 part I)
or on microfilm Document reference:- IOR NEG 16537
Kashmir: The Roerich Expedition to Leh (Lhadak).
This file contains 566 pages, some single, some double sided pages of text and dates from April 1925 to September 1930 and deals with Roerichs movements from Leh, and covering the same themes as the above file. There is considerable doubt about Roerich's veracity because of his apparent reconciliation with Soviet Russia and his continued association with known communists, and he was suspected of being a front for them, but it could not be proved. His standing as an artist is also discussed.
Document reference:- IOR: L/P & S/ 10/ 1146 (File 1229/1925 part II)
or on microfilm Document reference:- IOR NEG 16538
Professor Nicholas Roerich. July 1930 to April 1935. 266 pages.
The file contains the same type of information as the two preceding files, but also contains a few pamphlets of the Roerich Museum dated 1930, and copies of correspondence from numerous supporters. One report states "The Roerichs are indefatigable if not very skilful wire pullers" (page 200) as he lobbied to acquire a visa that had been refused. There is also correspondence about a land purchase in India and about Roerichs 'Banner for Peace' movement.
These three files represent a considerable record of Professor Roerich. Leslie Price is of the opinion that there is probably more which have not yet been released. Having seen the documents I agree, as there are top of page references to other documents which I was unable to locate. There are almost certainly files on Roerich in the archive of the US government.
HPB's visit to Tibet.
A further point of note concerns HPB's visit to Tibet and her acquisition of Tibetan texts. It was, by every account, very difficult to visit Tibet. The Tibetans actively obstructed travellers, though it was dangerously possible in disguise. The British for example, in order to map Tibet, trained people from the borders of Tibet in surveying techniques and disguised their surveying equipment and compasses in everyday Tibetan objects such as prayer wheels, and attached these people to caravans travelling through the region.
The most well known traveller into Tibet at that time was Saret Chandra Das of Bhutan in North East India. The Das Collection is still extant. He made a number of journeys into Tibet and an account of one his journey's was ghost written for him by a local British official. This account was called 'Narrative of a Journey to Lhasa in 1881 - 82'. The Bengal Secretariat Press published it in Calcutta, with maps, in 1885. (Document reference:- IOR V/27/69/12). Chandra Das knew and travelled with Ugyen Gyatso (see 'Masters Revealed'). They bought out of Tibet what is thought to be the first Tibetan texts and which by all accounts were mainly the biographies of previous Dalai Lhama. I saw no reference, in a long list, to any philosophical texts. I have formed the opinion that given that Chandra Das's travel account was ghosted, and the British supported Chandra Das, it is unlikely that HPB travelled with this party. No mention is made of any foreign travellers in their party. If she went, the British would surely have come to know about it. It is more than probable that any texts that HPB may have acquired would have been bought locally along the boarders, perhaps with the help Ugyen Gyatso, if not directly from his hand.