Introduction to the print volumes
The House of Commons set of Parliamentary Papers, as Dr Erickson said in his Library Journal article of January 1953, "compose the richest and most important nineteenth century collection of printed government records in existence in any country."1 They contain a wealth of sources not only for the student of constitutional and administrative history, but also for economic, social, military, ecclesiastical and diplomatic historians. But the sheer bulk of the material, the quantity of relatively minor miscellaneous returns and accounts listed, and the lack until now of a comprehensive subject catalogue to the complete Bound Set of the nineteenth century Parliamentary Papers has prevented all but the most dedicated students from making thorough use of the collection.2
The Subject Catalogue
The aim of the catalogue is to provide a comprehensive listing of the entire output of nineteenth century Parliamentary Papers in the form of a thematic subject catalogue. The previous attempts to supply a subject listing of the papers, from the Hansard Catalogue and Breviate of Parliamentary Reports, 1696-1834, through the various Ford Breviates and Select Lists, to the Irish University Press Catalogue of the 1000-volume and Area Studies series, have concentrated exclusively on 'policy' documents. These are undoubtedly important, but they reflect a small fraction of the whole collection, which consists of some 80,000 numbered papers in the nineteenth century, divided amongst over 100 parliamentary sessions. Among the categories of documents commonly excluded from earlier subject catalogues have been the Bills, general correspondence, statistical series, many annual reports and administrative returns. Some papers are serial publications, but most are single titles. The number of papers printed per session significantly increased after the 1832 Reform Act. All but six sessions had some form of indexing, none of it either uniform or compatible.
The fact that the papers were indexed sessionally, and that the consolidated indexes followed the layout of the sessional indexes, has produced a formalised alphabetical arrangement in the official indexes, by keyword rather than by subject. This arrangement worked satisfactorily for individual sessions, but in the consolidated indexes it has become unwieldy and intractable. For example, the General Index to Accounts and Papers, 1801-52, divides "Army" into forty-eight sections, and adds seventy-four cross-references. (The present catalogue divides "Army" into twelve sections, with no cross-referencing.) The number of separate entries in the official indexes has made the task of constructing bibliographies of papers on similar or related topics particularly onerous. There are also discrepancies in the form of entry between one index and another. The idea of compiling a catalogue of Parliamentary Papers for the entire century on an alphabetical-index plan was therefore discarded.
In order to provide an alternative to the published indexes, complementary to but not duplicating them, it was decided to follow the precedent of the thematic subject catalogue format used by the Fords in their Breviates and Select Lists.3 But whereas the Fords have concentrated on policy documents, mainly the reports of Select Committees and Royal Commissions, in their specialist subject fields (political, social and economic policy), the present catalogue covers every document irrespective of subject, including dominion and colonial issues, foreign relations, military policy and ecclesiastical affairs.
This would seem a relatively straightforward, albeit lengthy and laborious, undertaking, assuming that the papers had clearly defined titles. Sir Robert Ensor offered this advice to his readers, "As no library which files the Papers will fail to have the indexes, it suffices to know the name of the item and the year of publication, in order to ascertain the number of the volume in which any particular item will be found."4 Unfortunately the Parliamentary Papers are issued in numerical series, arranged in the order of their assigned paper numbers, and without recognised author and title entries. They cannot easily be catalogued by title alone, since the majority begin with the same form of words. Since the papers cannot be arranged by author or title, they are therefore catalogued sessionally by number and by series. The present catalogue is based on an analysis of the Parliamentary Papers in sessional and paper number order within each series, whether Bill, House or Command Papers.
Any subject catalogue or classification, which aims to be complete, must follow this numerical and chronological sequence. Any attempt to catalogue by subject or by title which ignores the sessional or numerical arrangement risks serious omissions. This catalogue has been compiled from the original sessional indexes and numerical lists, supplemented by information derived from the contents pages of the volumes in the Bound Set or from the papers. It is not a rearrangement of material derived from the general alphabetical indexes. The papers have been catalogued session by session and paper by paper. They have then been sorted by subject, and printed in chronological/ sessional and numerical/serial order. It is therefore now possible for the reader to research each subject discussed by the Parliamentary Papers exactly as it was originally examined.
The Arrangement of subjects
There are certain subjects on which students of Parliamentary Papers will find little to argue or disagree, such as central government, agriculture, trade, transport, local government, education, public health, the colonies, India, diplomacy, the army and navy. These subjects are fairly well-defined fields explored in considerable detail in the Parliamentary Papers. There may be arguments about emphasis and how the subjects might be internally organised and arranged, since no cataloguer can claim a monopoly on how the papers should be classified, and which subjects legitimately catalogued. In other words the standard cataloguing and classificatory authorities alone are insufficient. It is essential to gain experience first of what has been published and when, and how the collection has been organised.
It was decided next to compile a list of potential subject-groups, each to be self-contained, to eliminate cross-referencing as far as possible, and to carefully structure each subject-group. This has reduced the number of entries, which made the original official indexes so difficult to use. In order to decide on the number of subjects and what to include in each a detailed inventory was made of all the available indexes, catalogues and finding aids and the subject-groups finally chosen reflect the concerns and interests of nineteenth century administrators, rather than those of modern cataloguers.
A total of nineteen subjects were selected, ranging from central government to foreign relations, each forming one chapter of the catalogue. Certain less well-represented subjects, not warranting separate treatment, were amalgamated with the subject-group to which they were most closely related, with one notable exception. Slavery and the slave trade was deemed such a "peculiar institution" that it merited special treatment as a separate chapter.
The nineteen subject-groups chosen are:
- Central government and administration, including the constitution, the crown,
Parliament, the Houses of Lords and Commons, the representative system, government departments,
and the civil service.
- Finance and financial institutions, including government finance, public income and
expenditure, the National Debt, overseas debts and loans, taxation, and money, banking and insurance.
- Population and demography, including the census, parish registers, civil registration
of births, deaths and marriages, emigration and immigration, mortality, and other statistical series
pertaining to population, production, consumption, etc.
- Agriculture and landed society, relating land-ownership and land tenure to agricultural
production, and including related subjects such as land use, tenancy customs and the marketing of foodstuffs.
- Industry and industrial society, relating factory production and other forms of industrial
production to the development of labour laws, the organisation of the workforce and other problems
affecting employment. The chapter deals also with production and employment in the minerals, fuel
and water industries. Other related subjects include patents and inventions, trade marks, international
exhibitions, and the standardisation of weights and measures.
- Trade and commerce, relating overseas trade, import duties, commercial reports and trade
treaties to domestic commerce, company and commercial law, taxation of commodities and the development
of the domestic economy. Related topics include the development of ports and docks, and smuggling.
- Transport and communication, covering not only railways, roads and canals but also the
various types of shipping fleets - merchant, passenger, coastal and fishing, and the related subjects
of postal communication and tunnel construction.
- Law and order, relating the legal administration of the English and Scottish systems to
crime and punishment, and the development of police forces; including also the related subjects of
civil liberties, extradition and the penal colonies.
- Local government and local finance, in the Metropolitan district, the English and Scottish
boroughs and burghs, counties and parishes, with the development of representative institutions and
the financial resources to deal with new responsibilities.
- Poverty and social administration. The most important of the new responsibilities dealt
with by local institutions was the reformed system of poor relief, under the impact of rural
depopulation, urbanisation and trade depressions. The chapter deals also with other aspects of welfare -
the friendly and benefit societies, charities and philanthropy. It also includes social problems,
including child welfare, prostitution, liquor licensing, gambling, marriage and divorce, drugs,
animal cruelty and refugees.
- Education, information and recreation, dealing not only with the creation of new schools,
school boards and state regulations, but also with public and endowed schools, technical and scientific
education, teachers, and the universities in England, Wales and Scotland. Related subjects include
other forms of provision for public enlightenment, such as libraries, museums, art galleries, newspapers,
publishing, learned societies, and the regulation of theatres and places of entertainment.
- Health and housing, including the impact of improved sanitation and better housing on public health,
the regulation of the medical profession, and the provision of facilities for the sick, the aged
and the mentally ill.
- Ireland, presenting every paper dealing specifically with Ireland, with sections on
order and government, agriculture and landholding, trade and industry, and Irish society.
- The churches and religious affairs, including the Churches of England and Scotland,
organisation and ritual, and the religious disabilities of Dissenters, Roman Catholics and Jews.
- India and the Indies, including the East India Company, the extension of the Indian
Empire, trade and agricultural production, religion, education, health, famine, the Indian army
and naval services, and papers on Ceylon, Burma and Afghanistan.
- Dominions and colonies, with a section dealing with colonial policy, and other sections
on the dominions, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and the major colonial groupings in the West
Indies, Africa, Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
- Slavery and the slave trade, including the attempts to abolish both.
- Defence and the armed services, including military policy during the major conflicts
of the century, and sections dealing with the army, the militia and other reserve forces, the navy,
and the ordnance, commissariat and fortifications.
- Foreign affairs and diplomacy, including the Foreign Office and the diplomatic and consular services, international affairs, and the documents on every country covered by the Parliamentary Papers, arranged by continent.
The aim of this subject catalogue is to provide the only complete subject classification of all Parliamentary Papers. It will make the collection accessible for the first time to every student. It will provide something new for the experienced specialist, and an easier entry into nineteenth century British studies for the newcomer. Such accessibility is important, because these papers form the single most complete historical record of Britain's transformation into a modern, industrialised society: The "first industrial nation" the "workshop of the world".5
1. Edgar L. Erickson, "The Sessional Papers". Library Journal Vol. 78, No. 1, January 1, 1953, p.13
2. For a fuller examination of the Bound Set and the problems of collating its contents, see House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1801-1900. Guide to the Chadwyck-Healey Microfiche Edition, by P. Cockton. Chadwyck-Healey, Cambridge, 1988
3. P. and G. Ford, Select List of British Parliamentary Papers, 1833-1899; A Breviate of Parliamentary Papers, 1900-1916; A Breviate of Parliamentary Papers, 1917-1939; A Breviate of Parliamentay Papers, 1940-1954. (All IUP, Shannon)
4. Sir Robert C. K. Ensor, England 1870-1914 (Oxford, 1936), p.577 (My italics)
5. Peter Matthias, The First Industrial Nation. An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1914 (London, 1969). J. D. Chambers, The Workshop of the World. British Economic History 1820-1880 (Oxford, 1961)