Rumour as Information: British Forces, Control, and Communication on the Indian North-West Frontier


India during the nineteenth century was a rumour rich-society. For the British authorities these rumours were difficult to control and had the ability to weaken their prestige. This point was highlighted during the Frontier ‘Uprising’ of 1897 when a British official ignored a report he had received because it contradicted his own information. The report of potential trouble proved to be correct. Rumours were also misunderstood with these misunderstandings connected to the authorities’ sources of information being inadequate. However, despite the inadequacy of information gathering, rumours were the only sources available for the authorities to make decisions. This illustrates the fragility of rule and the challenges that the officials on the Frontier encountered. The consequence of these shortfalls was that the British had to respond to events reactively and miscalculations were made. The paper will exemplify the importance of rumour on the Frontier through two case studies: The First Afghan War (1838–42) and the 1897 Frontier Uprising. These two examples, by setting original archival documents in their historical context, illustrate the extent to which rumours were free to circulate leading to responsive and ill-prepared actions by the British.

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Morton, L., (2015) “Rumour as Information: British Forces, Control, and Communication on the Indian North-West Frontier”, Identity Papers: A journal of British and Irish studies 1(2). doi:


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Liam Morton





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