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MS 308 Papers of Sir John Malcolm

Sir John Malcolm

Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), Indian administrator and diplomat, obtained a commission in the East India Company’s forces at the age of 12. He served in India from 1783 to 1792 and became interested in diplomacy and the study of Persian as a result of association with the diplomats at the court of the Nizram of Hyderabad. After a stay in Britain in 1794-5, he returned to India and held a succession of appointments of importance: 1797, secretary to the Commander in Chief; 1798, assistant to the Resident of Hyderabad; political officer with the Nizam’s forces in Mysore in 1799, co-operating with Arthur Wellesley, later first Duke of Wellington, at the siege of Seringapatam. He was the envoy of the Governor General (Lord Wellesley) to Persia, 1799-1801, negotiating a commercial treaty; and subsequently private secretary to Lord Wellesley, during which time he was sent on special missions to Madras and to Bombay. Malcolm had very considerable influence with Lord Wellesley and he was spoken of as ‛Lord Wellesley’s factotum and the greatest man in Calcutta’. In 1803 he joined Arthur Wellesley on campaign, effectively as the representative of the Governor General, but he was called away to Bombay during the critical months of August to December that year, thus missing the actions at Assaye and Argaum. He returned to assist with the negotiations with Scindia in 1804. He was again engaged in negotiations with Scindia the following year; and he then held further diplomatic and military appointments, most notably as the Governor General’s envoy to Persia, in 1811-12. He had two further periods of service in India, concluding as Governor of Bombay, 1827-30. He was Member of Parliament for Launcestor, 1831-2. 

Wellington and Malcolm

Malcolm was one of Arthur Wellesley’s closest friends in India, and their friendship continued until Malcolm’s death in 1833. Malcolm was particularly important to Wellington as a confidant, for his connection with Lord Wellesley, and, later in life, as a trusted correspondent on Indian affairs, which was of considerable importance to the Duke in his political career through the 1820s and early 1830s. The correspondence with Wellington in MS 308 provides important evidence for Wellington in India, at a formative stage of his career, in comparatively informal and personal correspondence with a friend and political colleague; it includes Wellington’s letters written in the field throughout the Assaye campaign. Malcolm’s own paper have been dispersed. His letters to Wellington also survive at Southampton in MS 61, the Wellington Papers. Wellington Papers 3/3/70-4 contain about 700 pages of correspondence for the period 1803-5 alone; and there are in addition in Wellington Papers 1, approximately 100 letters from Malcolm to the Duke for the period 1819-32.

The letters in MS 308 were used by Lieutenant Colonel John Gurwood in his edition of Wellington’s Dispatches, in the early 1830s. Some were marked up by Wellington at this point (e.g. MS 308/2). Around 1860, during the preparation of the Supplementary Despatches, the collection was worked through by the second Duke of Wellington. Some excisions were made at this point, but it seems likely that these relate as much to Richard Wellesley, first Marquis Wellesley, as the first Duke. The Supplementary Despatches were edited by R.M.Martin, who had earlier worked extensively for Lord Wellesley, editing his papers.

The correspondence was purchased as lot 700 at Messrs Hartung und Hartung’s sale in Munich on 15 May 2001, with support of the J.H.Hansard Trust and the Resource/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.

About the collection

135 letters from Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to Sir John Malcolm, 1801-16, predominantly 1801-5, on Indian affairs.

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