Indian papers of Colonel Clive and Brigadier-General Carnac, 1752-1774

The University of Cambridge now has online access to the Indian papers of Colonel Clive and Brigadier-General Carnac, 1752-1774.  This collection from British Archives Online is made available thanks to an agreement for Higher Education institutions between JISC Collections and British Archives Online for the duration of 2017 only.

This new resource is available via this link:

The papers of two leading actors in the East India Company in mid-18th century Bengal from the National Library of Wales. Chiefly in English, but with an array of original correspondence with local figures in Indo-Persian and occasionally Bengali, Marathi and Tamil, this collection allows researchers to understand the complex political web in the subcontinent as the power of the Mughal Empire began to wane.

Essential for those studying the life and career of Robert Clive (1725-1774), a man who stands in the very first rank of historical figures, this resource is also of the greatest importance to anyone exploring the often hotly debated events that preceded, accompanied and followed the establishment of Britain’s Indian empire during the mid-18th century, especially the periods 1756-1760 and 1765-1766. By reproducing in full Clive’s English and Persian correspondence, it is possible to compare firsthand Indian and European accounts of Clive’s resounding victory in 1757 at Plassey over the superior French-backed force of the Nawab of Bengal in the aftermath of the notorious ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ incident; of the conclusive routing of the Dutch in 1759; or of the ill-fated career of Clive’s chief administrator of revenues, Maharaja Nandakumara, including supplementary material on his trial and execution in 1775 for forgery drawn from the 1st Earl of Minto’s papers at National Library of Scotland.

First an officer in the EIC’s private army, and then later twice governor of Bengal, Clive was the leading actor in the political and military events of the 1750s and 1760s that served to lay the foundations of the British Raj. But he was also a highly controversial figure who, during an often troubled lifetime, attracted much unwanted attention from the public, Parliament and the press. Many in Britain came to revile him and, tainted by accusations of corruption and the abuse of power in India, he was condemned for spending his enormous private fortune on houses, estates and possessions, acquired in an attempt to carve out an elevated position for his family in English landed society. Even in death Clive remained controversial, with many believing that he committed suicide in 1774 at the age of 49.

Originally part of the Clive family’s Powis estate, these immensely rich and varied papers facilitate close study of a highly complex and enigmatic man, as well as the contested origins of Britain’s Indian empire. In addition the papers contain invaluable material on the economic, social and political history of Britain during the 18th century.

Complementing our understanding of this turning point in the history of British power in South Asia, are some 2,000 items of John Carnac’s correspondence. Carnac joined the EIC army with the rank of Captain in 1758, after his service with the 39th infantry regiment. As Commander-in-Chief between 1760 and 1761, he fought and defeated the French-supported forces of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II, near Bihar. Made Brigadier-General in 1764, Carnac again assumed command, defeating the Marathas in 1765 before handing control back later that year to Robert Clive. This correspondence’s emphasis on the years between 1763 and 1766 helps to fill the gap in events during Clive’s absence from India between March 1760 and April 1765, when he returned to Britain. At the same time, the collection amplifies our understanding of Clive’s third and final tour of duty, providing an opportunity to contrast how two senior British figures set about implementing the EIC’s new approach, combining commercial with growing political power.


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