One of the unique and interesting collections housed at the Cleveland Public Library is the East India Company Manuscript Collection. The British East India Company was formed by a group of London merchants through an Elizabethan royal charter in 1600 under the name Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. Initially, the Company focused on the trade of silks, cotton, indigo dye tea, opium, and saltpetre, but over time the Company came to rule over large areas of India. The Company rule in India lasted from 1757 until the 1858 Sepoy Rebellion, after which the British government took over control of India. The Company was formally dissolved in 1874.
The Cleveland Public Library’s East India Company Manuscript Collection is roughly composed of 250 manuscripts and includes documents, letters, memoirs, accounts, inventories, and other primary sources. There are materials dated from the late sixteenth century, but the majority of the items are from around 1750 to 1850. Topics covered include rebellions, mutinies, public scandals, Company policies, Indian customs (from a British perspective), and political and military activities.
One document in the Collection is a ciphered letter, which was written to Thomas Grenville by George Barlow. At the time the letter was written (February 12, 1807), Barlow was the acting Governor-General of India and Grenville was the President of the Board of Control, the Company’s chief official in London.
The document consists of nineteen pages. The majority of the content is ciphered numerically. The page displayed here and pages four through nine are available on the Cleveland Public Library’s Fine Arts and Special Collections’ Flickr page. The entire letter, entitled “Two letters to Thomas Grenville (in cipher) and to George Tierney on affairs in India,” is available in the Special Collections Department.
Additional materials on this page and the Flickr page include a journal of the siege of the Fort of Onore, a letter discussing the expeditions to Rodriguez Island and against the pirates in the Persian Gulf, and a journal of an officer in the Indian army.
Other material of interest in the Collection includes items covering conflicts with Hyder Ali, Tippo (Tippu) Sultan, and Cheyt Singh, accounts of the Sepoy Rebellion (Indian Rebellion or First War of Indian Independence) of 1857, the activities of Hyder Ali and Tippoo Sahib, the Pindari Wars of the early nineteenth century, Napoleonic designs on India, and the administrations of Wellesley, Moira, and Bentinck. British Officials’ correspondence and writings are also a large part of the Collection; the Officials include Clive, Hastings, Lord Macartney, Bentinck, Henry Dundas (Lord Melville), Elphinstone, Macleod, Robert Orme, Sir William Jones, Henry Malcolm, Wellesley, Prinsep, Cornwallis, Lord Moira and others.