Records of Kuwait 1899–1961

ISBN:  (5 (13) 978-1-85207-200-1      Extent:   8 volumes, 5,000 pages, including 1 map box

Editor:  A. de L. Rush      Published: 1989
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available

In these 5000 pages Archive Editions presents a key selection of facsimile original British government documents detailing the history and development of Kuwait from 1899 to modern times. The set includes a map box containing 11 maps dated between 1910 and 1956 including a table of the Al Subah (´Atbi), Ruling Family of Kuwait and a table showing the descendants of Mubarak I (ruled 1896–1915).
In compiling this work the editor has selected documents focusing on Kuwait itself – on the events that occurred there and on the lives of the people in the region, including international trade, oil negotiations, Islamic affairs, tribal affairs, labour movements, boundary questions, and the role of the Al-Sabah family. It is intended that the work should function as an aid to scholars and Gulf Arabs, in the absence or unavailability of relevant Arab records.


The present State of Kuwait was founded less than three hundred years ago when the ancestors of today’s leading Kuwaiti families arrived in boats to establish a new homeland. These settlers are said to have inhabited central Arabia before moving to the Gulf littoral to take up a new life as pearl-divers and fishermen. As their community grew Kuwait became a busy pearling and trading centre. Besides supplying the tribes of the Arabian interior, deals were made with European merchant-adventurers and some prosperity was achieved as cargoes of ‘Bengal Soosies, Coffee, Pepper…and Cotton Yarn’ were transferred from ships to camel caravans bound for the Levant and Europe. In the late nineteenth century the Ottomans, previously content with nominal suzerainty over Kuwait, tried to establish direct control. Russian and German interest also developed when Kuwait was suggested as a terminus for a proposed railway linking Europe and the Gulf.
The British, viewing the Gulf as their special preserve, deplored these trends and formed an alliance with Kuwait’s rule, Mubarak Al-Sabah, who had seized power in 1896. In 1899 an Agreement was signed by which the Shaikh exchanged promises of non-alienation of territory and the exclusion of other powers for the ‘good offices’ of Britain. Five years later the first British Political Agent arrived to promote British interests in the area.
Ottoman support for Germany in World War I prompted a declaration of Kuwait’s independence under British protection. Subsequent threats from expansionist neighbours and the discovery in 1938 of local oil reserves sustained the pact until 1961 when the Ruler and the British acknowledged that it had become obsolete and announced the State’s attainment of full sovereignty.


Kuwait has never been a colony of formal Protectorate and its Agreements with Britain extended no British right to intervene in internal affairs. Nevertheless, given that the period of these records spans the heyday of British power in the Gulf, it is not surprising that the reality was often different.
Installed in an imposing Agency overlooking the harbour, Britain’s Political Agents were conspicuous figures – ostensible friends of the shaikhs and notables, but strangers and ‘infidels’ to most Kuwaitis who regarded them with a blend of suspicion and awe. Undeterred, the Agents persevered in monitoring local developments and in countering any hint of a challenge to Britain’s regional hegemony.
As this publication shows, their correspondence and reports form an impressive memorial to their service to the British Crown – and it is satisfying in the present age to resurrect their work so that it can assume a new function through helping scholars and Gulf Arabs, in the absence or unavailability of relevant Arab records, to understand Kuwait’s national development. For, taken together, these documents – reports and letters, instructions to the Agents from their superiors and the correspondence between yet loftier figures in the hierarchies of the Foreign Office, India Office, Colonial Office and Government of India – offer invaluable insights into all aspects of Kuwaiti life including oil negotiations, Islamic affairs, labour movements and boundary questions. Insofar as such issues remain alive and sensitive, these volumes not only make fascinating reading but provide an indispensable reference tool for policymakers and other experts and protagonists operating in the Gulf region today.
Understanding the Series
The three titles in the Records of Kuwait series combine to create a large collection which offers historical evidence for the political, economic and social evolution of Kuwait. Such evidence improves our understanding of the modern political position of Kuwait. It includes, for example, examination of frontier negotiations and questions of sovereignty; constitutional, military and defence developments. .


In compiling this work the editor has selected documents focusing on Kuwait itself – on the events that occurred there and on the lives of the people in the region. Non-Kuwaiti matters such as the advancement of Britain’s economic and strategic interests take second place.
Apart from issues standing quite clear of the mainstream, material is presented chronologically. The subjects treated fall into the following main categories: 

The rulers

  • The structure of the Al-Sabah dynasty
  • Power sharing and the succession
  • Inheritance and business activities

Internal affairs

  • Municipal affairs and political participation
  • Justice, nationality and immigration
  • Land acquisition and construction
  • Education and health

Economic activities

  • Banking, investment and financial reports
  • Oil revenues, taxes and customs
  • Shipping and entrepôt trade
  • Pearling industry and boatbuilding
  • Aviation
  • Posts and telegraphs

Islamic affairs

  • Sunni/Shi’a relations
  • Religious endowments

Tribal affairs

  • Composition of the tribes and their alliances
  • Role in armed forces and Ikhwan crisis 1927-30

Foreign relations

  • The British connexion; U.S. interests; territorial disputes; treaties

Petroleum affairs

  • Oil exploration, negotiations and concessions
  • Construction of oil refineries and Ahmadi
  • Labour relations and workers’ strikes


Besides sketch maps in the main volumes, maps of special importance area located in the final, boxed volume. They include:
Heming’s Map of Kuwait Harbour and Approaches (1905).
Dickson’s Kuwait Hinterland (1939).
Admiralty Chart showing limits of Kuwait’s territorial waters (1948).