Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 February 2009
The Afghan war blue books of 1839 have usually been regarded as classic examples of the way official documents can be mutilated by skilful and unscrupulous editing almost to the point of forgery. Sir William Kaye's monumental and authoritative history of the first Afghan war, published in 1851, contains this crushing indictment:
I cannot, indeed, suppress the utterance of my abhorrence of this system of grabling the official correspondece of public men-sending the letters of a statesman or diplomatist into the world mutilated, emasculated-the very pith and substance of them cut is palmed upon the world has not one redeeming feature.
2 See below, pp. 250–1.
3 See among many others, Chavda, V. K., India, Britain, Russia: a Study in British Opinion, 1838–1878 (Delhi, 1967), pp. 16 and 44Google Scholar; Flournoy, F. R., Parliament and War (London, 1927), pp. 20–1Google Scholar; Jenks, M. H., The Activities and Influence of David Urquhart, 1833–56 (unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, London, 1964), p. 243Google Scholar; Law, A. (ed.), India under Lord Ellenborough (London, 1926), pp. [19–20] and Google Scholar; Nairn, M. A., Anglo-Afghan Relations, 1809–1839 (unpubl. B.Litt. thesis, Oxford, 1965), p. 125Google Scholar; Archbold, W. A. in Cambridge History of India (Cambridge, 1929), v, 499.Google Scholar
5 Kaye, J. W., The Life and Correspondence of Henry Tucker (London, 1854), pp. 490 ff.Google Scholar
6 I[ndia] O[ffice Library, London] Court Minutes B 197, fos. 256 and 271; Lushington (chairman of directors) to Hobhouse, , 19 Jan. 1839, IO Home Misc[ellaneous] 836, to. 58.Google Scholar
8 Letter of 5 Dec. 1838, IO Home Misc. 839, fo. 36.
10 Only a few days after Hobhouse's letter, Cabell complained to him that he was finding the burden too heavy ‘at his present time of life’, B[ritish] M[useum] Additional] MSS 36,470, fo. 1. It is clear from the evidence in this volume that he was working a very long day indeed. The extra clerk arrived only in April 1839 when the worst of the rush was over.
11 Hansard['s Parliamentary Debates, 3rd ser.] XLV, 19–20, 35–8. It should always be remembered that at this time Hansard is not to be relied upon as a strictly verbatim record.
12 On 9 Feb., IO Home Misc. 839, fo. 95.
13 Undated memorandum, B.M. Add. MSS 36,470, fo. 20, cited in full in Norris, pp. 221–2. Cf. Hobhouse, to Auckland, , 19 Feb. 1839, 10 Home Misc. 839, fo. 99.Google Scholar
18 ‘ Memo. on the principle of a selection of Papers for Parliament in explanation of our proceedings in Persia and Afghanistan, and in vindication of the conduct of the Governor General, and of the British Minister in Persia’, undated, B.M. Add. MSS 36,470, fo. 103.
19 East India, Copy of the Treaty with Runjeet Singh and Shah Shujah-ool-Moolk; Accounts and Papers 1839, XL, 40.Google Scholar
23 See Cabell, to Peacock, , 6 and 9 Mar. 1839, IO L/PS/3/2. Much of the first editing was done on the MSS copies of the letters from India in IO Enclosures to Secret Letters from India, vols. xLViii and XLIX. Some of the first printed versions from which the final editing was done are in IO L/Part/1/87.Google Scholar
24 Indian Papers no. 2, Treaties; Accounts and Papers 1839, XL, 100. It was later discovered that the texts of some of the treaties were faulty and the whole thing had to be run off again.Google Scholar
27 Indian Papers no. 3, Extracts relative to the Expedition of Shah Shooja-ool-Moolk into Afghanistan in 1833–4 etc.; Accounts and Papers 1839, XL, 113.Google Scholar
28 Indian Papers no. 4, Correspondence relating to Afghanistan 131–I; Indian Papers, Copy of a Despatch from the Court of Directors of the East India Company etc. 20 Sept. 1837 131–III; Indian Papers no. 7, Occupation of Karrak 131–V. All in Accounts and Papers 1839, vol. XL.
29 Indian Papers no. 6, Correspondence relating to Afghanistan; Accounts and Papers 1839, XL, 131–IV.Google Scholar
30 Indian Papers no. 5, Correspondence relating to Afghanistan; Accounts and Papers 1839, XL, 131–II.Google Scholar
32 On the preparation of this collection, see Palmerston, to Hobhouse, , 28 Jan. and 20 Mar. 1839, B.M. Add. MSS 46,915, fos. 151 and 161. Palmerston's own copy of a Cabinet confidential print annotated in pencil in his own hand is in P[ublic] R[ecord] O[ffice] F.O. 539, 1 and 2.Google Scholar
33 Foreign Office, Correspondence relating to Persia and Afghanistan; Accounts and Papers 1839, XL, 171.Google Scholar There is some confusion about the date when this was laid, originating in an erroneous entry in the Commons Journal, xciv, 155.Google ScholarTemperley, H. and Penson, L., A Century of Diplomatic Blue Books, 1814–1914 (Cambridge, 1938), p. 71 also give the date wrongly as 26 Mar. 1839. It must have been about 15 April. See Cabell to Peacock, 12 Apr., IO L/PS/3/2.Google Scholar
34 The bound vol. XL of 1839 also contained papers on the seizure of Aden (98 pp.) and some accounts of the East India Company (28 pp.).
37 Notes on the relations of British India, p. 3.
38 Report of the East India Committee of the Colonial Society on the causes and consequences of the Afghan War (London, 1842), Appendix D.Google Scholar
39 See his very gloomy letters to Auckland, , 16 Mar. and 11 Apr. 1839, IO Home Misc. 839, fos. 109 and 121.Google Scholar
40 Memo, of 23 Apr. 1839, P.R.O. 30/12/15/5, reprinted in full in Law, , Ellenborough, pp. 1–9.Google Scholar
42 Disraeli to Urquhart, 23 Mar. 1839, Balliol College, Urquhart Bequest I/J/I; Urquhart to Disraeli, 25 Feb. 1839, Hughenden Papers B/XXI/U/i.
45 Parker, C. S., Sir Robert Peel from his private papers (London, 1899), 11, 373ft.Google Scholar There is scarcely a reference to Asian affairs by Peel or his correspondents at this time in the B.M. collection of Peel correspondence. The main issues were domestic. See Close, D., ‘The formation of a twoparty alignment in the house of commons between 1832 and 1841’, English Historical Review, LXXXIV (1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
46 See the conflicting explanations on offer in Torrens, T. M., The Life and Times of the Right Honourable Sir fames Graham (London, 1863), 11, 165Google Scholar; Reeve, H. (ed.), Greville Journal, 11, 99Google Scholar; Hansard, Lxiv, 246Google Scholar; Gladstone, in Quarterly Review, ci (1857), 252Google Scholar; Graham, to Peel, , undated (Apr. 1839?)Google Scholar, B.M. Add. MSS 40,318, £0. 143. Ward, J. T., Sir fames Graham (London, 1967), p. 174 completely misunderstands the affair.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
47 The arch-tory Blackwood's Magazine, XL (1840), 246 could only argue rather lamely that ‘these glorious successes’ at least ‘emanated from Conservative principles’.Google Scholar
48 The Quarterly Review, xci (1852), 36 said not unfairly that many whigs regarded the Afghan expedition as ‘the war-horse of their party’.Google Scholar
49 To Macnaghten, , 2 June 1839Google Scholar, Accounts and Papers 1859, Session 2, xxv, 1, 242. Auckland attached a great deal of weight to this opinion from the man who knew Afghanistan best and had supported Dost Mohamed so loyally, letter to Hobhouse, 17 June 1838, IO Home Misc. 841, fo. 180.Google Scholar
51 3 Mar. 1841, p. 139. The book is Cabool: being a personal narrative of a journey to, and residence in that city, 1836–8 (London, 1842).Google Scholar
52 Letter of 1 Apr. 1841, Buist, Burnes, p. 63.
53 Bombay Times, 30 Mar. 1842, p. 206. The papers were subsequently sent home to Burnes's father.Google Scholar
55 On the night of 6 July 1841 Bombay received the London mails of 6 June - a record. On the political effect of these improved communications, see Wellington, to Ellenborough, , 4 Feb. 1843, B.M. Add. MSS 40,864, fo. 26.Google Scholar
57 Editions of 29 Dec. 1841 and 1 Jan. 1842. 2000 copies of this were later reprinted as a pamphlet and sent home.
58 Bombay Times, 30 July 1842, p. 489. See especially the editions of 26 Jan., p. 60, 23 Feb., p. 124, 30 Mar., p. 206 and 2 Apr., p. 213.Google Scholar
59 By Dr Kennedy, author of the first hostile book on the Afghan war. Reported in Bombay Times, 20 Aug. 1842, p. 537.
60 The Friend of India, 9 Feb. 1842; The Englishman, 18 Jan., 11 Feb. and 2 June 1842; Bombay Times, 23 Feb., 30 Mar., 14 May, 15 June, 18 June 1842. The Calcutta newspapers naturally made great play with Burnes's unqualified statement in favour of Shah Shuja cited above, p. 237.
61 Atlas, 14 May; Morning Herald, 16 May; Colonial Magazine, 1 June 1842.
64 ‘Copies of the correspondence of Sir Alexander Burnes with the Governor-General of India during his mission to Kabul in the years 1837 and 1838; also copies of the correspondence of the Governor-General of India with the President of the Board of Control, and with the secret committee of the East India Company, from the 1st day of September, 1837, to the 1st day of October, 1839, relative to the expedition to Afghanistan’.
67 There is a considerable literature on different aspects of David Urquhart's life but the most useful general accounts are Robinson, G., David Urquhart (Oxford, 1920)Google Scholar and Jenks, M. H., The Activities and Influence of David Urquhart, 1833–56 (unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, London, 1964).Google Scholar
68 Published as Urquhart, D., Diplomatic Transactions in Central Asia from 1834 t0 1839 (London, 1841). Urquhart sent part of this to Disraeli on 24 Mar. 1841, Balliol College, Urquhart Bequest I/J/I and invited him down to Southampton so that he could brief him. It is clear from the Disraeli papers at Hughenden B/xxi/U that they were working very closely together at this time.Google Scholar
71 Hansard, LXIII, 1021. Hobhouse's diary account is B.M. Add. MSS 43,744, fos. 46, 47, 49–51.Google Scholar
72 Fitzgerald had succeeded Ellcnborough at the end of 1841 when Ellenborough went to India to replace Auckland as governor-general.
74 Report of the East India Committee, Appendix A.
75 Urquhart was probably behind this too. He and Burdett were both members of the Colonial Society and he had been a recent dinner-party guest at Burdett's house, Diary, Hobhouse, 18 June 1842, B.M. Add. MSS 43,744, fo. 61.Google Scholar
80 Above, p. 237.
81 Hansard, LXIV, 481. Hobhouse printed the italicized words in capitals in the pamphlet version.Google Scholar
83 25 June 1842, B.M. Add. MSS 43,744, fo. 65.
84 Bombay Times, 13 Aug. 1842, p. 522.
85 Ibid. 20 Aug. 1842, p. 538. A week later, p. 553, he suggested that the refusal to produce papers was a sordid put-up job between Peel and the opposition leaders.
87 The Times, 7 Feb., p. 5; 9 Feb., p. 5; 10 Feb., p. 5; 14 Feb., p. 4; 6 Apr., p. 4; and 25 June 1842, p. 6.
89 Morning Herald, 15 Oct. 1842, p. 4; Standard, 12 Oct. and 14 Oct. 1842, no pagination; Bull, John, 15 Oct. 1842, p. 49.Google Scholar
91 On 3 Feb. 1843, B.M. Add. MSS 46,915, fo. 275.
92 Leader, R. E. (ed.), Life and Letters of John Arthur Roebuck (London, 1897), p. 147. See, too, p. 179.Google Scholar
95 In a letter to his sister, cited in Monypenny, W. F., The Life of Benjamin Disraeli (London, 1912), 11, 159.Google Scholar
96 Peel's speech in Hansard, LXVII, 182–91. The passages quoted are 184–5, 188 and 190–1.Google Scholar
99 Lord Grey and Lord Palmerston (London, 1846). On p. 21Google Scholar is written “ …I cannot forget the Affghan Papers …I cannot forgive fraudulent nay, almost, literally forged documents - I cannot forgive that which Sir Alexander Burnes said he could not forgive, the true words expunged from his despatches and their contrary meaning infused - and this not as to a detail, but, on the very crowning point of all, the sum total and essence of the justification attempted’.
103 History of the War in Afghanistan (2 vols., London, 1851). The 1858, 1874 and 1890 editions were all in 3 vols.Google Scholar
106 Hobhouse stated categorically that he did, in his diary on 15 Feb. 1852, B.M. Add. MSS 43,756, fo. 113. Kaye refers at different times without explanation to ‘Private Correspondence of Sir A. Burnes’, ‘Unpublished Correspondence of Sir A. Burnes’, ‘Ungarbled Correspondence of Sir A. Burnes’, ‘Correspondence of Sir A. Burnes - privately printed’.
107 Maule, Fox to Hobhouse, , 15 Feb. 1852, B.M. Add. MSS 36,472, fo. 84. Hobhouse was created Baron Broughton in 1851 but his birthname will be used in the rest of this article to save confusion.Google Scholar
111 Address of the men of Birmingham to the people of England … unanimously passed at the great public meeting held at Bingley Hall, 14 August 1855 (no date, reprinted from the Birmingham Daily Press). This was carried after hearty cheers for Urquhart, the Queen and the People (in that order!), ‘concluding with three heavy rounds of groaning for Lord Palmerston’.
112 The original document is apparently unobtainable but its conclusions are quoted in Robinson, G., Urquhart, pp. 144–5.Google Scholar
113 B.M. Reports of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Public Petitions, 1857–8, pp. 269, 270, 519, 625 and 723.
119 Some of them, marked in red ink, are in IO Enclosures to Secret Letters from India, XLVIII and XLIX.
121 East India (Cabul and Afghanistan), Copies of the correspondence of Sir Alexander Burnes with the Governor General of India, during his Mission to Cabul, in the years 1837 and 1838 etc.; Accounts and Papers 1859, 2nd session, xxv, 1.Google Scholar
122 B.M. Reports of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Public Petitions, 1860, 1, 1118, 1173 and 1197; 11, 1220, 1246, 1270, 1333, 1359, 1518, 1551 and 1670. There were 22 petitions in this period bearing 95 signatures and the wording of all of them was practically identical.
123 Falsification of diplomatic documents. The Affghan Papers. Report and petition of the Newcastle foreign a fairs association (London, 1860).Google Scholar
127 19 Mar. 1861, B.M. Add. MSS 43,763, to. 126.
128 Palmerston, to Hobhouse, , 19 Mar. 1861, B.M. Add. MSS 46,915, fo. 343. It is typical of Palmerston's energy that he could at the age of 76, after a long debate and well after midnight, sit down and write a letter like this.Google Scholar
135 Bright had been developing an interest in Indian affairs in the 1850s, Smith, G. B., The Life & Speeches of John Bright M.P. (London, 1881), 1, 472.Google Scholar There is no reference to this debate in the Bright Papers at the B.M. but the speech is reprinted in Rogers, J. E. T. (ed.), Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by John Bright M.P. (London, 1868), 1, 113.Google Scholar
138 See the confusions revealed in Hobhouse's Diary for 21, 23 and 24 Mar. 1861, B.M. Add. MSS 43,763, fo. 129ff.
139 ‘… upon a retrospective discussion no Parliament ever has condemned, probably no Parliament ever will condemn, an Administration’, Gladstone in Quarterly Review, ci (1857), 252.Google Scholar
140 Diary, 21 and 22 Mar. 1861, B.M. Add. MSS 43,763, fos. 128 and 131. Burnes's letter makes an allusive reference to a remark Hobhouse made before a select committee in 1850. Report from the Select Committee on Official Salaries; Accounts and Papers, 1850, xv, 611, p. 203.Google Scholar
142 Correspondence with Lord Palmerston relative to the late Sir Alexander Burnes (London, 1861).Google Scholar
143 Bell, H. C. F., Lord Palmerston (London, 1936), 1, 289Google Scholar; Southgate, D., The Most English Minister (London, 1966), p. 158.Google ScholarSirWebster, C. (Palmerston, 11, 744 n)Google Scholar denies that the Burnes blue books were exceptionally garbled but does not argue that Palmerston was not responsible for them.
145 Burnes, A., Travels into Bokhara (3 vols., London, 1834).Google Scholar Nearly 900 copies were sold on the first day and it was soon out of print. It was widely and enthusiastically reviewed and French and German translations soon appeared. See Bombay Times, 1 Jan. 1842, p. 4; Gleason, J. H., The Genesis of Russophobia in Great Britain (Harvard, 1950), p. 163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
148 See the various pencilled comments in IO Enclosures to Secret Letters from India, XLVIII, especially nos. 87 and 105 of no. 1 of 8 Feb. 1838; Cabell, to Maitland, , 10 Mar. 1839 and other evidence in IO L/PS/3/2.Google Scholar
149 Norris, pp. 222–4; Chavda, , India, Britain, Russia, p. 44Google Scholar; Yapp, M., British Policy in Central Asia, 1830–43 (unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, London, 1959), pp. 231–2. This thesis is much more amply documented than Norris's book and anticipates many of its conclusions. Norris appears not to have used it, nor indeed any of the available unpublished doctoral theses which bear upon his subject.Google Scholar
150 B.M. Add. MSS 43,744, fos. 46, 50–1.
151 Kaye, , Afghanistan, 1, 358Google Scholar n and elsewhere argues that the views of Wade were distorted ‘almost as shamelessly’ as those of Burnes but this view played no part in the garbling story. The best account of Wade's view is Kapadia, E. R., The Diplomatic Career of Sir Claude Wade (unpubl. M.A. thesis, London, 1938), ch. 7. Kapadia is critical of Burnes but accepts Kaye's views about the garbling of both Burnes's and Wade's despatches without investigation.Google Scholar
152 Friend of India, 25 Oct. 1838; Bengal Hurkaru, 23 Oct. 1838.
154 Hobhouse to Auckland, 10 Home Misc. 839, fo. 99; Palmerston, to Hobhouse, , 28 Jan. 1839, B.M. Add. MSS 46,915, fo. 151.Google Scholar
157 The enclosures to Burnes, to Macnaghten, , 31 Oct. 1837 are shown as omitted in 1859, pp. 50–52Google Scholar, whereas they were published in 1839, no. 5, pp. 13–14. Similarly, the enclosures to Burnes, to Macnaghten, , 15 Nov. 1837 are shown as omitted in 1859, pp. 58–9, whereas they were published in 1839, no. 6, p. 3.Google Scholar
158 Burnes, to Macnaghten, , 19 Nov. 1837 and 18 Feb. 1838, given in 1839, no. 6, pp. 4 and 10 and, with omissions correctly marked, in 1859, pp. 60 and 148.Google Scholar
160 1839, no. 6, p. 4 and, with omissions correctly marked, in 1859, p. 80.
162 Macnaghten, to Burnes, , 20 Jan. 1838, given in 1839, no. 6, p. 8 and, with omissions correctly marked, in 1859, p. iii.Google Scholar
164 To Macnaghten, given in 1839, no. 5, p. 22 and, with omissions correctly marked, in 1859, p. 120.
165 Hansard, LXVII, 144 and 209; xcvi, 1209; CLXII, 50–3Google Scholar; Buist, , Burnes, pp. 29 and 49–56Google Scholar; Kaye, , Afghanistan, 1, 199 n and 203Google Scholar; Newcastle, , Falsification of diplomatic documents, p. 8Google Scholar; Flournoy, , Parliament and War, p. 21 n.Google Scholar
166 Norris, p. 447.
167 In i860 a suppressed despatch on the Savoy-Nice affair was only known about because it was referred to in another collection, Hansard, CLVI, 2225.Google Scholar
169 Both of them were critical of the Indian Government's policy precisely because, on the evidence of the blue books, it rejected Dost Mohamed's friendship. See Urquhart, D., Diplomatic Transactions, p. 131; Report of the East India Committee, pp. 41–3.Google Scholar
170 No. 5, pp. 32 and 37; no. 6, p. 8.
171 As for example Wade toMacnaghten, 21 Mar. 1838, 1859, p. 198.
172 See his gloomy letter to Auckland of 16 Mar., IO Home Misc. 839, fo. 109.
174 Only a few months later he was complaining about the number of Indian officials who were corresponding privately with members of the opposition, to Auckland, 22 Sept. 1839, ibid. fo. 187. And this included Kaye, Burnes, Tucker, p. 503Google Scholar; Norris, , p. 228Google Scholar; McAlister, F., Memoir of the Right Hon. Sir John McNeill (London, 1910), p. 249.Google Scholar
175 Anonymous letter from ‘Zeta’ to Hobhouse, , 1 Jan. 1839, B.M. Add. MSS 36,470, fo. 1.Google Scholar
176 Above, p. 232, n. 18. The italicized words were underlined and ticked, presumably by Hobhouse.
177 The Newcastle pamphlet, pp. 9–10, cites an interesting example of this.
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