About the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSORP)
The records of the Chief Secretary’s Office constitute one of the most valuable collections of original source material for research into Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They offer a rich source for scholars of Irish political, social, economic, labour, and women’s history, as well as for local historians and genealogists.
The registered papers in the ‘regular series’ mainly comprise incoming correspondence of the Chief Secretary’s Office.
The clerks in the Chief Secretary’s Office, for the most part, assigned a consecutive number to each item of correspondence received, which was recorded in an annual ‘Index’ or ‘Register’ with an accompanying brief description – hence the name ‘Registered Papers’. This resulted in a mainly chronological numbering system and arrangement.
This incoming correspondence consisted of letters, petitions, memorials, memoranda, affidavits, recommendations, accounts, reports and returns, usually addressed to one of three officials – the Lord Lieutenant, Chief Secretary or Under Secretary.
The documents were often circulated to officials for opinions or approvals and these officials usually wrote their comments in annotations on the back of documents. The most common annotations are from the Lord Lieutenant, Chief and Under Secretaries, Attorney and Solicitor Generals and crown law advisors. Annotations shed light on the administration’s response to a wide variety of subjects, demonstrate the chain of command and the decision-making process in the Irish administration. Occasionally, separate memoranda or draft replies are also included in the files; these are rare, however.
During the period 1818-1830, there were only limited attempts to categorise or separate correspondence from the ‘regular series’ by subject matter, thereby creating sub-series. As a result, in the ‘regular series’, official government correspondence appears side by side with unofficial correspondence from private citizens, representing all strata of society and concerning all manner of topics.
The sub-series are as follows:
From 1821, documents relating to ‘outrages’, namely serious crimes usually of a political or organised nature, were separated from the main ‘regular series’. Known as Outrage Papers or State of the Country Papers, these documents mainly consist of reports from chief constables of police, magistrates and similar local officials. Between 1821 and April 1826, they were known as ‘State of the Country Papers’, from May 1826 they were termed ‘Outrage Papers’.
There were also a number of smaller separations or sub-divisions made – these include Treasury Letters, Whitehall Letters and Irish Office Letters1; Catholic Association Papers2; Yeomanry Papers, Military Papers, Police Reports and Supplementary Index Papers3 and Distress Papers4.
As the century progressed, the registered papers became more complex and voluminous and as a consequence more elaborate filing systems were devised. During the 1830s, in particular, the Chief Secretary’s Office experimented with various sub-series classifications until, in 1840, a new system of registering incoming correspondence was adopted.
From 1840 onwards, incoming correspondence was sub-divided into two series, known as ‘1st Division’ and ‘2nd Division’ papers. The ‘1st Division’ papers included correspondence from magistrates and police concerning law and order (much like the Outrage Papers), while the ‘2nd Division’ contained all other communications (much like the ‘regular series’). Further classification was done within each of these divisions. In a significant improvement, however, registers and indexes were kept for both divisions – this double-entry registry system enabled clerks to keep track of the ever increasing volume of documentation entering the office.
The system was changed again in 1853. This involved a simplification of the process of allocating reference numbers to incoming correspondence. Classification and sub-divisions were abandoned and incoming items were allocated a reference number from a straight numerical sequence and a complex indexing system with headings and sub-headings was introduced.5
The Registered Papers commence in 1818 and conclude in 1924. The current cataloguing project is limited to the years 1818-1852.
- 1 Treasury letters, Whitehall letters or Irish Office letters: Documents sent by officials of HM Treasury at Treasury Chambers; HM Home Office in Whitehall or the Irish Office, London, mainly to the chief or under secretaries or senior clerks in the Chief Secretary’s Office. These were all separated from the main correspondence upon receipt and given separate numbering systems. The numbers were registered separately at the end of the main registers. These documents are relatively few in number. It was decided not to assign an additional sub-number/code to these letters but instead to code them with the ‘Regular Series’ numbering. The original numbers are noted in all cases.
- 2 Catholic Association Papers: This sub-series consists mainly of handwritten accounts of meetings of the Catholic Association and its successor associations, held between 1823 and 1831. There are over 190 documents, many of which are small bound volumes. The archival history of these documents is not certain – some of the accounts were probably created by newspaper reporters employed by government. Many contain underlined passages and annotations from government officials. The papers are coded as follows: CSO/RP/CA/year/number.
- 3 Yeomanry Papers exist for the year 1832. Military Papers exist for the years 1832-1835. Supplementary Index papers exist for the years 1832-1837. Police Reports papers exist for the years 1836-1839. All have separate indexes and coding systems.
- 4 Distress Papers is a sub-series of papers created during the Famine years of 1846 and 1847. Separate registers/indexes and numbering systems were created for these papers.
- 5 Quinlan, Tom, The Registered Papers of the Chief Secretary’s Office in Journal of the Irish Society for Archives, Autumn 1994. http://www.nationalarchives.ie/topics/Chief_secretary/CSORP.pdf Accessed April 2016.