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III. The ‘Garbled’ Blue Books of 1839—Myth or Reality?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

G. J. Alder
Affiliation:
University of Reading

Extract

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.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1972

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References

1 Kaye, J. W., History of the War in Afghanistan (3rd edn, London, 1874), 1, 204–5.Google Scholar

2 See below, pp. 250–1.

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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

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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.).

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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

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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

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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

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53 Bombay Times, 30 Mar. 1842, p. 206. The papers were subsequently sent home to Burnes's father.Google Scholar

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56 Bombay Times, 9 Oct. 1841, p. 651.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.

62 To Peel, 12 Apr. 1842, B.M. Add. MSS 40,506, fo. 153. See Hansard, CLXII, 93.Google Scholar

63 To Baillie, 15 Apr. 1842, ibid. fo. 155.

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’.

65 Hansard, LXIII, 686.Google Scholar

66 Diary, Hobhouse, 22 June 1842, B.M. Add. MSS 43,744.Google Scholar

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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

69 Jenks, pp. 250–1. Disraeli's connexion with Urquhart was an open secret. See Jennings, L. J. (ed.), The Correspondence and Diaries of John Wilson Crofter (London, 1885), III, 9Google Scholar; Diary, Hobhouse, 18 June 1842, B.M. Add. MSS 43,744, fo. 61.Google Scholar

70 Hansard, LXII, 1028.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.

73 Rules and Regulations of the Colonial Society (London, 1842).Google Scholar

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

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81 Hansard, LXIV, 481. Hobhouse printed the italicized words in capitals in the pamphlet version.Google Scholar

82 Ibid. pp. 517–23.

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.

86 Ibid., 30 July 1842, pp. 491–3, and 3 Aug. 1842, pp. 499–500.

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.

88 Ibid., 14 Oct. 1842, p. 4.

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

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92 Leader, R. E. (ed.), Life and Letters of John Arthur Roebuck (London, 1897), p. 147. See, too, p. 179.Google Scholar

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95 In a letter to his sister, cited in Monypenny, W. F., The Life of Benjamin Disraeli (London, 1912), 11, 159.Google Scholar

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97 Ibid. pp. 206–12.

98 An Appeal against Faction (London, 1843), p. 20.Google Scholar He returned to the charge the following year in his magazine The Portfolio (new series), 11, 513.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’.

100 Hansard, xcvi, 11321242 and xcvii, 66123.Google Scholar

101 Hansard, xcvi, 1208.Google Scholar

102 Robinson, G., Urquhart, pp. 121 and 143n. Even the D.N.B. author is puzzled.Google Scholar

103 History of the War in Afghanistan (2 vols., London, 1851). The 1858, 1874 and 1890 editions were all in 3 vols.Google Scholar

104 See for example Quarterly Review, xci (1852)Google Scholar, n and ibid., ci (1857), 258; North British Review, xvi (18511852), 230.Google Scholar

105 To Maule, Fox, 16 Feb. 1852, B.M. Add. MSS 36,472, fo. 86.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

108 On 16 Feb. 1852, ibid. fo. 86.

109 Hansard, cxix, 652–3.Google Scholar

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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.

114 Journals of the House of Commons, cxiii, 304.Google Scholar

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117 Ibid. p. 80.

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120 Hansard, CLIV, 184–5.Google Scholar Useful background is given by S. Lambert, ‘The presentation of Parliamentary Papers by the Foreign Office’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xxiii (1950), 76.Google Scholar

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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

124 Ibid. p. 6.

125 Ibid. p. 11.

126 Ibid. pp. 16–17, 19.

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

129 Hansard, CLXH, 37.Google Scholar

130 Ibid. p. 38.

131 Ibid. p. 55. Dunlop subsequently reprinted his speech as a pamphlet entitled Aflghan Papers (London, 1861).Google Scholar

132 Diary, Hobhouse, 20 Mar. 1861, B.M. Add. MSS 43,763, fo. 127.Google Scholar

133 Hansard, CLXII, 58.Google Scholar

134 Ibid. pp. 63 and 62.

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

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137 Ibid. pp. 74 and 76.

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

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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.

144 In another context, Reeve, H. (ed.), Greville Journal, 11, 149.Google Scholar

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

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147 Kaye, , Afghanistan, 1, 204.Google 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.

153 Auckland, to Hobhouse, , 13 Oct. 1838, B.M. Add. MSS 36,473, fo. 331.Google Scholar

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

155 Norris (pp. 221 and 227) rather labours this point but he is less original than perhaps he thinks. See for example Jenks, , Urquhart, p. 244Google Scholar, and Chavda, , India, Britain, Russia, p. 100.Google Scholar

156 Dunlop's words, Hansard, CLXII, 41.Google Scholar

157 The enclosures to Burnes, to Macnaghten, , 31 Oct. 1837 are shown as omitted in 1859, pp. 5052Google 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

159 Burnes, to Auckland, , 23 Dec. 1837, given in 1839, no. 6, p. 7 and, with omissions correctly marked, in 1859, p. 89.Google Scholar See Hansard, CLXII, 4750Google Scholar; Newcasde, , Falsification of diplomatic documents, p. 9.Google Scholar

160 1839, no. 6, p. 4 and, with omissions correctly marked, in 1859, p. 80.

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163 Buist, , Burnes, pp. 56–7Google Scholar; Kaye, , Afghanistan, 1, 191 nGoogle Scholar; Newcastle, , Falsification of diplomatic documents, p. 8Google Scholar; Hansard, CLXII, 50–1.Google Scholar

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165 Hansard, LXVII, 144 and 209; xcvi, 1209; CLXII, 50–3Google Scholar; Buist, , Burnes, pp. 29 and 4956Google 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

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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.

173 To Auckland, ii Apr. 1839, ibid. fo. 121.

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.

178 Norris, , pp. 423 and 442.Google Scholar

179 Lambert, S., The Influence of Parliament upon the Foreign Policy of the Gladstone Government (unpubl. M.A. thesis, London, 1949), pp. 58ff.Google Scholar

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