While undertaking reclassification of the Institute of Historical Research Library’s colonial collections, library staff recently uncovered a strikingly bound volume entitled, ‘An Abstract of the Regulations Enacted for the Administration of the Police and Criminal Justice in the Provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa‘.
The work comprises two volumes bound together, with Volume I published in Calcutta by A.G. Balfour in 1824 and Volume II published from the Government Gazette Press by G.H. Huttmann in Calcutta in 1826. However, it is noted that both works were ‘originally compiled by W. Blunt Esq. (formerly superintendent of police) to the year 1818; and continued by H. Shakespear, Esq (superintendent of police in the lower provinces).’
The Library’s accession registers record that the volume arrived into the Library’s collections in March 1925 after being transferred from the India Office in the House of Lords Library. The work is relatively rare with only three other copies in the UK, held at the British Library and SOAS respectively.
The volumes document regulations and administration in British colonial India. As the abstract notes, the work comprises ‘the Regulations enacted for the Administration of the Police and Criminal Justice, in the Provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa, from the Year 1793 to the end of 1823’. Consequently, the work serves as an invaluable resource in documenting not only colonial administration and the implementation of vehicles of power, but also the social history of life in these provinces. For example, the work records the names of witnesses at trials and a regulation of 1823 to prevent the ‘Establishment of Printing Presses without License; and for restraining under certain circumstances the circulation of Printed Books and Papers.’ Similarly, the work illuminates the economic history of the regions during this period, with many regulations concerning revenue collection, trade provisions and ‘what gold coin is to be considered a legal tender of payment.’
The IHR’s copy holds additional interest however, due to the signature in the top right-hand corner on the frontispieces of both volumes I and II. The signature appears to be that of Thomas Fisher, an artist and antiquary who worked in India House. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records, ‘at the age of fourteen Fisher was given employment by the East India Company at East India House, Leadenhall Street, in the City of London. In 1789 he was appointed as an extra clerk, and in 1816 he was placed on the establishment in the newly created post of searcher of the records in the examiner’s department.’
In the 1820s and 30s, Fisher wrote extensively for the Gentleman’s Magazine, penning several memoirs of Anglo-Indians and missionaries. In addition, Fisher was a supporter of the campaign to abolish slavery in the British colonies and in 1825 he published ‘The Negro’s Memorial‘, or, ‘Abolitionist’s Catechism‘ a copy of which is held in Senate House Library’s Special Collections. It is likely therefore that the IHR’s copy of ‘An Abstract of Regulations…’ was of interest to Fisher for the regulations on slavery in colonial India documented within the two volumes. The work contains a regulation from 1811 entitled ‘Preventing the Importation and Sale of Slaves from Foreign parts’ which records that ‘the importation of slaves by land or by sea prohibited. Offenders liable to be criminally prosecuted.’ It is further documented that ‘Captains of Ships or Vessels (except the Company’s) importing at Calcutta, shall previously to landing their Cargo, execute a penalty Bond for Rs. 5000, not to sell slaves.’ (Vol. I, p 127, 1811 Regulation X)
Fisher died in London in April 1836 with his collection of drawings, prints, and books sold at auction at Southgates in 1836 and by Evans in May 1837 and dispersed.
For more information on Thomas Fisher see Bernard Nurse, ‘Fisher, Thomas (1772–1836)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.
Please consult the Library’s History of Slavery Collection Guide for further information on the IHR’s holdings documenting the history of slavery and the campaign to abolish it.