Following a degree in History at Oriel College and a short spell teaching Martin took up a temporary post at the India Office Library then part of the Commonwealth Relations Office in Whitehall in 1961. Two years later he was appointed Research Assistant in the India Office Records to assist Joan Lancaster, then Assistant Keeper, in her total reorganisation of the historic records on archival principles. With parts of her arrangement Martin was later to express serious misgivings. In Whitehall the offices were small, ill-lit, badly heated and dark, and there was insufficient space for the records parts of which had to be out housed. The move of the library and records to Orbit House on Blackfriars Road in 1967, made it possible to bring all the records together and to shelve them according to their new arrangement. Perhaps for the first time the size and extent of the records could be fully realized occupying as they did nearly nine miles of shelving and extending in time from the foundation of the East India Company in 1600 to the demise of the India Office in 1947 following the independence that year of India and Pakistan. Equally importantly the records were far more accessible for research than they had been in Whitehall.
In 1972 Joan Lancaster took over the role of Director, her previous deputy role being divided between Martin who became Deputy Archivist and Ray Desmond, Deputy Librarian. By this time there was a full complement of staff working on different sections of the records – Biographical, Legal, Military, Middle East, Maps and Official Publications, so that Martin’s role now included staff management and a considerable degree of administration. Several former staff members have spoken of his exceptional kindness and understanding as well as appreciation of his distinctive sense of humour. They particularly remember tales of his mishaps which he would relate on his return from travel mainly in South Asia. There was the time when he lost his false teeth and had to have another pair run up overnight so that he could deliver his lecture the next day. On another occasion when in Goa he stepped back to admire a particularly fine example of Indo-Portuguese architecture, fell into a large hole in the road and woke up in hospital being interrogated about his father’s occupation. And then there was the time when he was bitten by a rabid dog…!
It would be fair to say that the administrative requirements of his post somewhat overtaxed Martin’s skills. But he was a scholar archivist to his fingertips and his unstinting and meticulous assistance to researchers has been acknowledged in numerous publications. Several scholars have written to express their gratitude; one remarking that he still hears Martin’s words of warning whenever he is tempted “to argue beyond what the textual evidence of a document indicates.” In addition to all these and many other calls on his time Martin continued to work towards the completion of his authoritative and comprehensive General Guide to the India Office Records published in 1988, shortly before his retirement. That it took twenty-five years to complete is testimony both to the vastness of the undertaking and to Martin’s dedication.
Nor did retirement mean a severing of links with the records. Martin had long been interested in the career of John Stuart Mill in the Examiners Office of the East India Company. Together with John Robson and Zawahir Moir née Noorally, whom Martin had married in 1980, he edited Mills’ Writings on India published by the University of Toronto Press in 1990. He then embarked on a happy partnership with Lynn Zastoupil of Rhodes College, Memphis resulting in an important publication The Great Indian Education Debate, Documents Relating to the Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy, 1781-1843. He also with Zawahir undertook a survey of district archives in Pakistan in 1990, the resulting report being published by Sindh University Press in 2002. All this was achieved despite several painful episodes of mental ill-health. Records did not occupy all his time because he wrote a novel – Not Exactly Shangri-La – which was published in 2011 and is still selling well on Amazon. The novel is set in the fictional country of Kalapur in the Himalayas and opens with these words: ‘Though not exactly a part of what geographers call “the Roof of the World”, Kalapur may be fairly described as a kind of earthly attic.
Martin had left the IOLR long before the move from Orbit House to the new British Library building at St Pancras in 1998 but he had strong feelings on the matter and wrote the following poem which was later published in the Newsletter of the Friends of the British Library, No 96 (Spring 2017).
The lights are out
The racks are bare.
A pall of dust hangs in the air.
Security has long since fled
No need to guard what’s in the head.
What’s in the head.
What’s in the wings.
So many lost forgotten things.
But why conserve what’s gone for good?
The past is best misunderstood.
Misunderstood or built anew?
Constructed for millennial view.
Revived, unpickled, Pancras bound.
The books and records underground.
Yet raised protected against the sun,
The East and West at last are one.
His voice lives on - in the spring of 2013 he was interviewed no fewer than five times for the Library’s oral history archive, detailed descriptions of which can be seen in the main catalogue http://explore.bl.uk.
Richard Bingle and Rosemary Seton