Tamil Nadu Archives

Postal address
28/29, Gandhi-Irwin Road
Chennai - 600 008
Tamil Nadu
+91 (0)44 2819 21 54 
+91 (0)44 2819 43 38
Policy Note 2004-2005


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Opening hours

onday-Friday 8.00-20.00 hrs,
Saturday-Sunday 10.00-17.00 hrs.

Application for records and assistance by the staff:
Monday-Friday 10.00-17.00 hrs;
closed on national holidays (15 days per year).

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he Tamil Nadu Archives building is located diagonally opposite Chennai Egmore Station. Foreigners who wish to consult records in the Tamil Nadu Archives need a research visa and a letter of recommendation from their embassy. In addition, they have to pay a small sum as enrolment fee as well as a caution deposit in the Postal Savings Bank on their name. The latter is refundable on production of a copy of their research work in the Archives. Part of the holdings is of a confidential nature; access to these papers is restricted. These are usually records less than thirty years old.

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he main objectives of the Tamil Nadu Archives are to centralise, arrange, preserve and make accessible the records pertaining to Tamil Nadu State and its legal predecessors: Madras State and Madras Presidency. In addition, the institution aims at publishing records of historical and administrative interest.

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he holdings of the Tamil Nadu Archives include the records of various departments of the Secretariat of Tamil Nadu (erstwhile Board of Revenue) and of a few heads of department, records of defunct departments, pre-mutiny (1857) records of various departments (such as Collectorate and District Courts), records in Dutch, Persian, Danish and Modi/Marathi, and other non-Secretariat records.

The holdings include non-current and semi-current records (the latter are only accessible to the department they originate from). Thirty years after their creation, records are transferred from the "Interim Repository" to the regular stacks, where the archives are kept that are open to the public. The records are made up of approximately 4,886,000 files; 747,000 volumes and 2160 bundles (in 1997).

Inside view of the stackroom with VOC archives

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n 1801 the whole of Madras Presidency had come into the hands of the British East India Company. The past decades had witnessed a great increase in Government records. Therefore, in 1805 Lord William Bentinck, Governor at Fort St. George at Madras (present-day Chennai), ordered for the centralization and preservation of the Secretariat records. A special establishment with its own office was set up on the north side of the Fort Square. Muthiah, the principal native servant in the Political and Military Department, was appointed Record Keeper. In 1823 the records were moved into several rooms on the first floor of the Secretariat. Later on, the office was shifted to the "Pillar-godown", and in 1888 it moved to the ground floor of the Secretariat building. Thus, the record administration continued to function as a section of the Secretariat under the immediate charge of an officer, who was either designated as Record Keeper or Superintendent of the Central Record Department.

The increasing mass of records and a better appreciation of their value as public archives led the government to establish an independent Record Department in 1909. Therefore, the Madras Record Office was built in the Egmore area of Chennai. This neo-Gothic building was planned with open spaces for future expansion and constructed to provide maximum protection to the records. It is still occupied by the Tamil Nadu Archives today. After India's independence, the institution was named as Madras State Archives in 1969. It acquired its present name in 1973, following the renaming of Madras State into Tamil Nadu. Currently, a new library building is under construction.

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he Tamil Nadu Archives are subordinate to the Education, Science and Technology Department of the State of Tamil Nadu. It supervises several District Record Centers in a number of district capitals in Tamil Nadu. At present, the Archives are headed by the Special Commissioner and Commissioner of Archives and Historical Research. Among other sections, the institution has sections dealing with preservation, binding and microfilming as well as a machine wing, a publication section, an editorial wing, and an educational center. In addition, the Archives have a research hall and a library consisting of 240,000 titles in various languages, of which the oldest dates from 1633 and is in Dutch.


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he Tamil Nadu Archives and Historical Research have been recognised by the University of Madras as a research institute where a Ph.D. degree in Modern History can be obtained. The Tamil Nadu Council of Research, of which the Commissioner of the Archives is the secretary, offers four fellowships per year. The Commissioner is also chairman of four regional Committees for Survey of Historical Records that aim at making available valuable manuscripts and records in private custody. Furthermore, the Archives provide training in "Record Management", a thirty-day course on the theory and practice of the mending and binding of records.

The Tamil Nadu Archives are an institutional member of the Association of Indian Archivists, the British Records Association and the International Council on Archives, seated at Paris. Besides, the Commissioner of the Archives is a member of the federal Indian Historical Records Commission, which advises archival institutions in India.

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he Tamil Nadu Archives regularly publish records and documents of their holdings. In the early twentieth century, the institution has published a limited number of records of the Dutch and British East India Companies, some of which are still for sale. For details concerning these publications, see the section on the VOC archives (Dutch Records) in the Tamil Nadu Archives. The editorial wing of the Archives compiles Gazetteers ("handbooks") in both Tamil and English. Each Gazetteer covers one district in Tamil Nadu and deals with every imaginable aspect of it.

Publications concerning the Tamil Nadu Archives and its holdings include:

  • Archives Week Celebrations (Chennai 1997)
  • Bes, Lennart, 'Hundreds of Rosetta Stones and Other Patient Papers. The Dutch Records at the Tamil Nadu Archives, Chennai (Madras)', Itinerario, 26, 1 (2003)
  • Catalogus van Hollandsche handschriften, brieven, en officieele stukken (List of Dutch Manuscripts, Letters, and Official Documents) (Selections from the Records of the Madras Government. Dutch Records No. 6. Number in Press List, 1629), ed. P. Groot (Madras 1909)
  • Dodwell, H., Report on the Madras Records (n.p. 1916)
  • Ghose, S., Archives in India. History and Assets (Calcutta 1963)
  • A Guide to the Records Preserved in the Madras Record Office (n.p. 1936)
  • Heyligers, A.J.M., Press List of Ancient Dutch Records from 1657 to 1825 (Beschrijvende catalogus van de hele Hollandsche massa te Madras) (Madras n.d.)
  • Kan, J. van, Compagniesbescheiden en aanverwante archivalia in Britsch-Indië en op Ceylon (Batavia 1931)
  • List of Volumes of Dutch and Danish Records Preserved in the Madras Record Office (Madras 1916)
  • Low, D.A., J.C. Iltis and M.D. Wainwright, Government Archives in South Asia. A Guide to National and State Archives in Ceylon, India and Pakistan (Cambridge 1969)
  • Meilink-Roelofsz, M.A.P., R. Raben and H. Spijkerman (ed.), De archieven van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie. The Archives of the Dutch East India Company (1602-1795) (The Hague 1992)
  • Supplementary Catalogue of Dutch Records (ed. J. Fruytier) (Madras 1952
  • Talboys Wheeler, J., Handbook to the Madras Records (n.p. 1907)

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The VOC archives in Chennai

he Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, Dutch East India Company) was active in India and Ceylon throughout its existence (1602-1795). It established numerous trading posts along the coast as well as a few inland stations. Virtually all these settlements were administered as part of five kantoren (regional establishments): Surat (headquarters at the city of Surat), Malabar (Cochin), Ceylon (Colombo), Coromandel (initially Pulicat, after 1690 Nagapatnam) and Bengal (Chinsura). The commodities of India, especially textiles, played a vital role in the VOC's lucrative inter-Asian trade. After the dissolution of the VOC, various successive institutions administered the few remaining settlements in India until they were abandoned in 1825.

Map of India in the early 17th century, when the VOC started to displace the Portuguese merchants.

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Parts of the archives created by the VOC at various places in India are now kept at the Tamil Nadu Archives, where they are referred to as the Dutch Records. They consist of about 1800 volumes and bundles (item nos. 1-1763; 64 meters) and date from the period 1643-1852. They comprise the bulk of what remains of the archives that were left in India by the Dutch to be taken over by the British. A large part, however, seems to have disappeared in the course of time.

The biggest section of the Dutch Records (item nos. 1-1633) is formed by the archives of the VOC establishment at Cochin on the Malabar Coast (roughly speaking the present-day State of Kerala), which cover the years 1657-1825. These are the only archives of a Dutch establishment in India that have been preserved relatively intact. Incidentally, this does not mean that these records only deal with the Malabar region. For instance, the archives include correspondence with VOC settlements on the Coromandel and Fishery Coasts and thus also relate to modern-day Tamil Nadu. (The Fishery Coast, which refers to the area between Cape Comorin and Point Calimere, was administered as part of the Ceylon establishment.)

The original structure of the archives has been lost as they were rearranged chronologically by the British. Record no. 1629, however, is an original inventory, which provides insight into the original structure. It has been transcribed by Rev. P. Groot and published as List of Dutch Manuscripts, Letters, and Official Documents. Catalogus van Hollandsche handschriften, brieven, en officieele stukken in 1909 in the series Selections from the Records of the Madras Government. Dutch Records (no. 6). At present, the most detailed finding aid is the Press List of Ancient Dutch Records from 1657 to 1825, compiled by A.J.M. Heyligers around 1900. This is a chronological shelf list, with remarks concerning some of the documents which were considered important, and therefore of limited use. Another finding aid is the List of Volumes of Dutch and Danish Records Preserved in the Madras Record Office, dating from 1916. This shelf list is less detailed but includes a few records not mentioned in the Press List by Heyligers.

Of the original Cochin archives, most of the seventeenth-century documents have disappeared. The remaining records consist mainly of correspondence with Batavia, other VOC establishments and the Dutch Republic, resoluties (proceedings), annexes to the resoluties, and the reports of diplomatic missions. There are only a few fragments of the dagregisters (diaries) of the establishment itself. Book-keeping and accounts for the later years are available but not as complete series. There are also a number of documents from the Raad van Justitie (Court of Justice) and documents relating to the local Dutch establishment such as protocollen van civiele akten (protocols of civil deeds) and records from the local weeskamer (orphan board).

Item nos. 1612-1621 and 1634-1642 are referred to as Coromandel Records. They date from the period 1663-1771. Together with item nos. 1632E-1633, these records are only mentioned in the List of Volumes of Dutch and Danish Records Preserved in the Madras Record Office of 1916. Item nos. 1634-1641 are copies that were supplied by the Dutch Government at Batavia and all consist of memories van overgave (final reports or memoirs). No. 1643 consists of political consultations at Nagapatnam from 1755-1756.

The Dutch Records also include small portions of the VOC archives of Surat and Bengal, which were transferred from Bombay and Calcutta in 1932. The records from Surat (item nos. 1643-1672) cover the years 1748-1798. Those from Bengal (item nos. 1673-1763) date from the period 1643-1852 and seem to include a few documents that are not of Dutch origin, as these date from after 1825. The finding aids to these archives are each rather limited, but when used together they provide quite an accurate picture of the contents. These finding aids are: Rev. J. Fruytier, Supplementary Catalogue of Dutch Records (Madras, 1952); Rev. A.J.M. Heyligers, Résumé of the Contents of the Dutch Diaries in the Agency Records of the Surat District, Bombay (no place, no date); and J. van Kan, Compagniebescheiden en aanverwante archivalia in Britisch Indië en op Ceylon (Batavia, 1931), pp. 59-105. For more information, see the introduction to the provisional inventory. Among other records, these archives include protocollen van civiele akten, church registers and judicial and notarial documents.

Example of VOC document in Tamil language, 1747

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Publications of Dutch Records in the series Selections from the Records of the Madras Government. Dutch Records (nos. 1-15):

  1. Gedenkschrift of memorie van J.V. Stein van Gollenesse, commandeur op de Malabaarsche Kust, samengesteld in het jaar 1743 A.D., ed. A.J. van der Burg (Madras 1908)
  2. Officieel afschrift van het oorspronkelijk gedenkschrift geschreven in 1781 A.D. door Adriaan Moens, buitengewoon lid van den Hoogen raad, gouverneur en directeur van de Malabaarsche Kust, Canara en Wingurla, nagelaten aan zijnen opvolger, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1908)
  3. Memorie van den afgaanden commandeur Frederik Cunes aan desselfs vervanger den Weledelen Heer, aankomende commandeur Casparus de Jong overgegeven de dato laatsten December 1756, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1908)
  4. Memorie van den raad ordinair van Nederlandsch-Indiën en geëligeerden goeverneur van Ceilon Johan Gerard van Angelbeek aan zijn opvolger in het bestuur van Malabaar den Heer Jan Lambertus van Spall overgegeven 1793, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1908)
  5. Verhaal van den nabab Aider Alij Chan van 1763, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1908)
  6. Catalogus van Hollandsche handschriften, brieven, en officieele stukken, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1909)
  7. Copie memorie door den afgaanden commandeur Cornelius Breekpot aan desselfs vervanger den Edelen Heer aankomende titu.-gouverneur en directeur Christiaan Lodewijk Senff overgegeven de dato laatste Februarij 1769, ed. J. Fruytier (Madras 1909)
  8. Dagboek der gebeurtenissen gedurende den oorlog met den Zammorijn (4 December 1716 - 25 April 1717), ed. P. Groot (Madras 1910)
  9. Uittreksels uit de algemeene transports van de jaren 1743, 1761 en 1780, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1909)
  10. Dag Register gehouden door het hoofd der expeditie D.E. capitein Johannes Hackert geduurende den train tegen den koning van Trevancoor beginnende den 18 October 1739 en eijndigt den 8 Junij 1740, ed. A.J. van der Burg (Madras 1909)
  11. Memorie nagelaten door den afgaande E.E. commandeur Casparus de Jong aan desselfs vervanger den E.E. Agtb. Heer Godefridus Weijerman, gedagteekend den 7 Maart 1761, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1910)
  12. Memorie door den afgaanden commandeur Godefridus Weijerman aan desselfs vervanger den WelEdelen Heer aankomende commandeur Cornelis Breekpot overgegeven de dato 22 Februarij Ao 1765, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1910)
  13. The Dutch in Malabar being a translation of selections nrs. 1 and 2 with introduction and notes, ed. A. Galletti, A.J. van der Burg and P. Groot (Madras 1911)
  14. Officieel afschrift van het oorspronkelijk gedenkschrift geschreven in 1677 A.D. door Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede commandeur over de kusten Malabaar, Canara en Wingurla nagelaten aan zijnen opvolger (ed. A.J. van der Burg) (Madras 1911)
  15. Verklaringen van brieven gezonden van Negapatnam, ed. P. Groot (Madras 1911)

A relevant publication of one of the records of British origin is: Selections from the Records of Fort St. George. Papers relating to Cochin with Special Reference to the Dutch Possessions and Claims to the British Rights arising therefrom (Madras 1915).

In the framework of the TANAP (Towards A New Age of Partnership) programme, the physical condition of the Dutch Records in the Tamil Nadu Archives is currently being assessed according to the UPAA (Universal Procedure for Archival Assessment). While about one-fifth of these records has been restored in the past, three-quarters is severely damaged and hardly fit for consultation. In the near future the records will be microfilmed, restored and provided with an inventory.

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