The Judicial Notebooks of John Hyde and Sir Robert Chambers, 1774-1798, are a unique source of primary historical information for the early years of the Supreme Court and life in India. The court notebooks do not tell a single story but are a dense repository of legal and social action over time.

Navigating the Notebooks

To navigate the notebooks, use the Browse link in the upper right of each page. They are chronologically arranged, covering the years 1777 to 1798.

Note: Not every month has entries. The number of pages per month ranges from 10 to 610. There are also significant gaps in the court proceedings. For instance, Hyde wrote nothing from January to June 1780, for a reason. See the link to Navigating the Notebooks for an overview of page distributions.

Note also:

  • Term beginnings are January, March, June, and October 22
  • Vacations are May and September
  • Sessions (criminal trials) begin June and December

The source of Hydebooks is eighteen reels of microfilm, made from approximately 72 volumes held at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, India. Although neither the microfilm nor the volumes are in chronological order, this Browse function is ordered by year and month. The chronological progression is imperfect. Notebooks for Terms and Sittings were kept by individual judges, so sometimes two judges cover the same date. Only the Sessions (criminal) trials were a group effort, when the judges handed a single notebook back and forth to keep up with the testimony.

The reader will see different writing styles throughout the court’s history. When Hyde was the only writer the notebooks are predictable and organized, but when the full court began to take part, the chronology became more complex. Then the dates come from different reels and different volumes. A record of original locations is available on request.


Justice John Hyde

John Hyde (1738 – 1796) was a Judge on the first Supreme Court in Calcutta, India. He is the primary author of the court notebooks and the only author during the court’s tumultuous years (1774 – 1784). Hyde's secret shorthand.


Judges Wrote in Court?

Judges kept their own records in court until stenography developed as a profession in the late 1800s. Prior to that time, shorthand was not used except as a secret code (Hyde used shorthand to hide his comments about court crises and scandals). Judges needed to have a record of what had gone before and the notebooks provided precedent for cases in the future.


Other Authors

Sir Robert Chambers

Sir Robert Chambers was an early legal academician and Vinerean Professor of English Law at Oxford. He traveled to Calcutta with the first Supreme Court in 1774. Sir Robert Chambers began writing in 1785 during the landmark case of Rex v Humphrey Sturt.

Sir William Jones

Sir William Jones, Philologist, joined the Supreme Court in 1784. He was not a primary contributor but his handwriting is present, especially during criminal Sessions trials.

Other Judges and Scribal Handwriting

Two other judges, Sir William Dunkin and Sir John Royds, joined the court in 1791 and 1796. In addition, there is handwriting from court clerks and scribes that has yet to be identified. Sir Elijah Impey, the first Chief Justice, was a frequent subject in the notebooks.


There are thousands of cases in the notebooks. Below are several examples of criminal Sessions trials during which the witness testimony was recorded by the Judges.

Rex v. Sekkeena, 1788-06-12

In this complex case, the witnesses are one man and six women. It begins "The prisoner (who is a woman) is indicted for having feloniously and of malice aforethought struck beat & kicked with hands & feet one Noorun (another women) on the head stomach, back, belly, & sides, & having cast her on the ground" and yet, gradually during the testimony, a different reality is revealed.


Rex v. Faustino Antonio & Rinaldo Martino, 1788-07-16

In a Portuguese sailor's boarding and punch house, mixing men, women and money, there is bound to be trouble. Testimony begins with the murdered man, Augustino de Souza warning an Englishman that he was in danger of being robbed and murdered. Although he begged for secrecy, the Englishman told others and then Augustino was murdered. However, the reason may have been an ongoing rivalry with other men.


Rex v. Humphrey Sturt, 1785-06-16

This was a pivotal case for the Supreme Court because it is the first in which all the judges recorded the testimony in the notebooks. Humphrey Sturt, and an English Gentleman and company writer, was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of a servant.


Rex v. Hoolass Matre, 1788-06-14

Hoolass Matre, a servant in a British house, is accused of murdering his wife. Although he provided a defense in which he blamed his wife of committing suicide with a tulwar (sword), the verdict was guilty and the sentence hanging.