Indian official publications in the University Library

Examinations for entry into the Indian Civil Service were conducted by the Civil Service Commission from 1858 to 1947. From 1875 the University of Cambridge was closely involved in these examinations. In that year a Syndicate was appointed to consider what steps should be taken to give further facilities for the education at the University of candidates for the Civil Service of India. One result was the establishment of a Board of Indian Civil Service Studies with the brief to provide assistance and supervision for selected candidates for the Indian Civil Service.

An important aspect of this assistance was the establishment of a series of lectures. Lectures on some of the languages of the Indian Empire – Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Persian – were held alongside others covering Law, Political economy and Indian history. In support of the non-language lectures, the India Office, and later the Central and Provincial Governments of India, donated their publications to the University Library, and continued to do so until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Nothing was discarded and the result is a magnificent collection of some 35 to 40,000 volumes of pre-independence Indian official publications. Second only in size to the British Library collection – which itself is an amalgam of the holdings of the India Office and the British Museum – it embraces all aspects of the history and administration of British India, 1858-1939. The range includes the debates of the various legislative assemblies, annual departmental reports, manuals for Revenue Officers and other officials, census and demographic reports, official gazettes and the gazetteers of the Central and Provincial Governments, acts, regulations and law reports, and many ad-hoc papers and studies.

The subject range is equally broad covering, for example, an Annual report on the Assam dispensaries, 1874-1946, and another Annual report on the Government Observatory at Colabra, Bombay, 1868-1900. The Annual report on Horse-breeding in Bombay covers the sixty-four years, 1887-1940, while the Report on the working of the Government Gardens of the United Provinces only five years, 1921-1925. The ad-hoc reports are likewise very varied and 1903 alone saw a range published, including a report on the Registration of ozone in Bombay and a new edition of the Manual of vaccination. And size, too, varies from the massive forty-eight volumes of the 1931 All-India census to the slim pamphlet on The effects of lightning on buildings on elevated sites which was published by the Public Works Department in Calcutta in 1864. All in all these publications are a veritable treasure-trove for anybody working on the history of British India.

The University’s Library’s official publications should be requested and consulted in the┬áRare Books Reading Room, where the card catalogue to the Official Publications collection is also situated.