National Archives of Scotland. Tsvetelina Haralampieva.

Author: Tsvetelina Haralampieva

Editor: Mariya Prokopova-Gochova






The National Archives of Scotland (NAS) has one of the most varied collections of archives in the British Isles. It is the main archive for sources of the history of Scotland as a separate kingdom, its role in the British Isles and the links between Scotland and many other countries over the centuries. Before 1999, the NAS was known as the Scottish Record Office, whose antecedents in turn date back to the 13th century. The organisation is headed by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland and formally became a Government Agency in 1993. The early history of the national archives of Scotland reflects Scotland's own troubled history. Many records were lost as a result of being taken out of the country first in the 13th century by Edward I during the Wars of Independence and later by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. As a result many records disappeared or were damaged during the wars or during their moving to London and subsequent return to Scotland. The earliest surviving Scottish public record dates back to 1189 and the oldest private record - to 1127. The first reference to a government official responsible for looking after the records dates from 1286 when the office “a clerk of the rolls of the royal chancery” was established and later developed into that of Lord Clerk Register.

In the middle of the 18th century the need of a separate building for the national archives was widely recognized. Its construction started in 1774 but due to lack of money it was finished and opened to the public in 1789. General Register House is one of the oldest custom built archive buildings still in continuous use in the world. It was designed by the eminent architect Sir Robert Adam. During the next two centuries new buildings were founded because of the increasing number and variety of the records and nowadays NAS has three buildings in Edinburgh.

In 1806 the office of Deputy Clerk Register was created to oversee the day to day running of the office and from this time on a programme of cataloguing and repair of the older records was carried out. It included also the start of a series of record publications. All this laid the foundation of the modern record office.

Far from expectations that useful sources about Caucasus in the 19th century can be found only in the National Archives of United Kingdom in London, the NAS contains very important documents such as the archive of Sir John McNeill (1795 –1883). Who is he and how he got involved in the politics in this region?

Sir John McNeill

 was a Scottish surgeon and diplomat. His professional career started in 1816 when he was appointed assistant surgeon in the British East India Company's Bombay establishment. There he became a surgeon in 1824 and was on medical service till his retirement in 1836. Between 1824 and 1835, Sir John McNeill was attached to the East India Company's legation in Persia, at first in medical charge, and latterly as political assistant to the Minister, John Macdonald Kinneir.

On 30 June 1835, he was appointed secretary of the special embassy sent to Tehran under Henry Ellis to congratulate Mohammad Shah Qajar on his accession to the Persian throne. McNeill received permission to wear the Persian Order of the Lion and the Sun of the first class, and on his return home in the spring of 1836 he published a pamphlet “Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East”.

McNeill returned to Teheran as Britain's envoy in 1837. The ruler of Persia at that time was Mohammed Shah, who wanted to attack and capture Herat in western Afghanistan. The British did everything in their power to hinder that plan. For his exemplary work in Persia, McNeill was awarded a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath (civil division). In 1841, he led a new mission to Persia in which a commercial treaty was concluded between Britain and Persia.

At the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, Sir John McNeill published revised editions in French and English of his pamphlet “Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East”, with supplementary chapters dealing with the progress of events since 1836, and insisting on the importance to Britain and to Christendom of the autonomy of Turkey and Persia. In 1855 he presided over the Commission of Inquiry into the Administration of Supplies of the Army, which was in a mess. The report he made was rejected by the Army. 25 years later, McNeill rebuked that judgement, given the appalling disease suffered by the soldiers because of the Army's incompetence.

It was his foreign service that makes his archive extremely interesting containing plenty of letters, memorandums, reports, essays, notes, copies of treaties, maps, etc. They span the years 1824 – 1842.

Sir McNeill’s correspondence includes letters from the Persian shah, from and to Persian and British diplomats, British generals and so on. There are letters from British diplomats in which they give an account of their meetings with Russian generals and Governors of Caucasus for example Ermolov, Evdokimov, Rosen, Golovin etc. The entire correspondence concerns the relations between Russia, Persia and Great Britain and in this context sheds light on the Russian activities in Caucasus. 

The archive contains memorandums about Caucasus in general as well as about the state of social and political affairs in Circassia, Daghistan, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Sir McNeill’s essay on the “Commerce of Russia on the Caspian Sea” is extremely interesting. It is surprising to find notes of proposals of preliminary treaty with Russia – the future Turkmenchai treaty, made by McNeill which can make us think about the influence of British diplomats in Persian foreign policy. The copies of Turkmenchai treaty (10 February 1828) between Persia and Russia are also available. 

The maps in the archive are very curious. They not only present the geographical characteristics of the Caucasian region but also show the positions of the Russian fortresses there.

 All these sources reveal the British policy in the region and its mechanisms of achieving aims in foreign relations, as well as the countries affected by it. The sources can be used also for an extensive research of Russian-British-Persian relations in the 19th century. 

While I was searching by keyword in the NAS public online catalogue, the word “Caucasus” was highlighted in another archive – that of the Scotsman Fox Maule Ramsay, 2nd Lord Panmure, 11th Earl of Dalhousie (1801 – 1874).

Sir Fox Maule

 was a British politician. His career started with service in the army where he remained until 1832, rising to the rank of Captain. In 1835 he entered the House of Commons as member for Perthshire. In the ministry of Lord Melbourne (1835–1841), Maule was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and under Lord John Russell, he was Secretary at War from July 1846 to January 1852. In April 1852, he succeeded his father as 2nd Baron Panmure. Maule was appointed Secretary of State for War (1855-1858) in Lord Palmerston's cabinet which made him responsible for the conduct of the latter part of the Crimean War. He was also Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland from 1853 until his death.

In 1860, Fox Maule inherited the Earldom of Dalhousie from his cousin, the Viceroy of India, James Broun-Ramsay (1812-1860) and the following year assumed the Dalhousie family surname, Ramsay, which had been his grandfather's.

The documents I was interested in from Maule’s archive were: printed memorandum by James Brant, consul at Erzeroom, concerning Georgia (1st February 1855); printed copy of extracts from reports by Capt. Stoddart and Dr. Riach concerning the frontier territories of Russia and Turkey and of Georgia and the Caucasus, dated 1836 and 1837 but printed for the use of Foreign Office in 7th February 1856; printed memorandum by Lord Wodehouse concerning Circassia from 1739 to 1857, dated 19th December 1857.  It is obvious that all the documents date back to the period when Sir Fox Maule was a Secretary of State for War. Probably they were indispensable to him because of the information they contained about Caucasus and the political and military situation in the region. 

And now to some useful administrative information for those who are going to conduct a research in the NAS. The reader’s card is free of charge and valid for 3 years. Though most of the archives are available for public use, there are special restrictions to some of them. This means that for some of them you may need to obtain an official permission from the owner for making a copy or quotation of the documents. Another important thing concerns the preparation of the visit in the NAS. It is much easier to prepare the documents needed for the research by using the online catalogue of the archive. This will optimize the work on the spot, having in mind the regulation that only 6 documents can be read per day.

As is evident from the short stories of one young researcher, Edinburgh should not be underestimated as a destination for developing the historical science in the field of Russian studies and Caucasus in the 19th century as part of them. As it turns out, Scotland has had long-standing historical connections with Russia which means that a lot of information is still waiting to be explored. Books, sources, meetings with the right people can lead your research to new heights and give you the balance of points of view which makes it more objective.


© 2012-2021 VIA EVRASIA All rights reserved. site by: Св. Мирчева almanach "via evrasia", issn 1314-6645