Gazetteers of British India, 1833-1962

The Gazetteers of British India, 1833-1962

The gazetteers of British India are among the prime reference resources of scholars whose interest is the Indian sub-continent.
Burton Stein, Ph. D., (Late) Prof. of Indian History, University of Minnesota / University of Hawaii

This collection
This collection of Indian gazetteers of the British colonial period, contains the two editions of the series The Imperial Gazetteer edited by W.W. Hunter (1881 and 1885-87 respectively), as well as the revised edition of 1909, which also covers the description (physical, meteorological, human), history, economy, and administration of the entire sub-continent. A parallel series consisting of gazetteers for each province, the Provincial Series (1908-1909), is also included in the collection, along with a District Series (1903-1914) for the districts within each province.

A newly developed list of contents provides a quick overview of available gazetteers by edition (Imperial), province (Provincial Series) and district (District Series).

Historical background
In 1815 The East India Company began publishing a series of gazetteers designed to further the knowledge of its territories. This practice continued after 1858 and lasted until 1947. Some of the gazetteers continued to appear after Indian independence. This series of gazetteers which have been valuable for officials of the East India Company and subsequently the Crown Colony of India, have also proven of immense value to scholars to this day. The typical gazetteer is a treasure house of data.
Fifty years after the Battle of Plassey the East India Company saw the need to learn about the land it had acquired in the subcontinent of Asia. In a Despatch of 1807 are these words: "We are of opinion that a Statistical Survey of the country would be attended with much utility; we therefore recommend proper steps to be taken for the execution of the same." This was the beginning of a series of gazetteers, which, valuable they may have been for officials of the East India Company and subsequently the Crown Colony of India, have also proven of immense value to scholars to this day. Some gazetteers were commercially published while others were governmental or quasi-governmental documents.

The Imperial Gazetteers
Sir William Wilson Hunter (1840-1900), Father of the Gazetteers of India, brought out his Imperial Gazetteer of India in 1881 in nine volumes. Four years later a fourteen-volume work was produced, the fourteenth volume of which was an index. In his preface the author wrote: "Every article in the original edition has been submitted to the Provincial Government of India, and through them to the District Officers for criticism and suggestions." Sir Herbert Risley, W.S. Meyer, Richard Burn and J.S. Cotton compiled the monumental twenty-six volumes Imperial Gazetteer of India after Hunter’s death. The first four volumes are devoted to descriptive, historical, economical and administrative aspects of the Colony. Volumes five to twenty-four go from A to Z, describing district by district and town by town. The twenty-fifth volume is an Atlas and the twenty-sixth an Index.

The Provincial Series
Published simultaneously with The Imperial Gazetteer was The Imperial Gazetteer of India: Provincial Series. Unlike any of the gazetteers mentioned above which were published in London either by Trübner or Wm. H. Allen, the Provincial Series was published in Calcutta by the Superintendent of Government Printing. There are nineteen volumes in this series, published in 1908-09. Each volume is devoted to at least one country, province or Indian state, and some include two. Afghanistan and Nepal make one volume as do Andaman and Nicobar Islands, East Bengal, Assam, Mysore and Coorg.

The District Gazetteers
It is the part of irony that district gazetteers, which were manuals for use by Collectors and Officials, were designated as manuals in only one of the provinces: Madras. Beginning in 1853, district manuals were published there. Then in the late nineteenth century Madras followed the lead of the rest of the Colony and brought out district gazetteers. From 1894 to 1919 Madras published district gazetteers, followed in the 1900s by a series of four "Statistical Appendices," each a decade apart making use of the decennial census. The Buchanan-Hamilton Series of Bengal, which begun in 1833 were not called district gazetteers but Accounts of the District. Between 1822 and 1904 there were the Bengal Statistical & Geographical Reports. Hunter edited a twenty-volume set of Statistical Accounts in 1875-77. Then in 1906-23 there is the O’Malley Series, authored mostly by L.S.S. O’Malley. Whatever titles they went by, they qualified as district gazetteers of the highest order. The United Provinces provided the best-organized series in India. There were forty-eight districts in the province. Forty-eight district gazetteers were brought out between 1905 and 1911. Then, ten years after the district gazetteers, came four sets of B series, each a decade apart. Like those of Madras, they are supplements bringing statistics up to date.

A Treasure House
The typical gazetteer is a treasure house of data. The author and his contributors are likely to be members of the Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.). Typically, a gazetteer contains a table of contents telling the scholar that he/she will find information on history, topography, cultivation, livestock, manufactures, trade, population, migration, religion, language, education, crime, etc., preceded by a list of sources and followed by an index.

Guide lists all series of gazetteers: Imperial; Provincial and District.

Bibliographical note
The District Gazetteers of British India. A Bibliography by Henry Scholberg (Zug, Switzerland, 1970)