the Irritation Office [UK colonial service, 19th century]


Senior Member
English English
Okay, here's a puzzler: the Irritation Office.

I've just read a short story 'To Let' (1890), by a certain B. M. Croker.

The thing I'm asking about comes in paragraph 3. A young Victorian lady is going out to India to live with her brother who works for the colonial service, and his wife [Mrs Shandon]:
The chief of Tom's department—have I said that Tom is in the Irritation Office?—has placed it solemnly on record that he considers little Mrs Shandon a surprisingly clever woman.
The Irritation Office? I nearly fell off my chair: was there really a civil service department called that? If so, what could it have been? There's no further mention at all of Tom's job or employer, so the story offers up no further clues. The tone of the story is far from light-hearted: was this some kind of joke name? The OED and googling (in that order) produce nothing useful.

Can anyone shed any light?
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    AH! that never occurred to me, CyberP. The closest I could get was immigration, which seemed extremely unlikely. Irrigation is a lot more likely:)
    Now the question is: is it typo or jokey name? I read it on paper (in The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories), but as the online version has the same maybe we can assume that's how it was in the original and it's a jokey name.


    Senior Member
    English UK
    I suspect it is a jokey name, ewie - possibly deriving from the fact that some Indians mispronounced/misspelled "Irrigation" as "Irritation".

    I base this suspicion on some (sketchy!:D) evidence google has thrown up about "Irritation Department":

    The Indian journal of public administration - Volume 43 - Page 15
    "When I was in the Irritation Department, I worked on a dam ...

    The Educational trends - Volumes 2-6 - Page 78

    I have seen the seal of a principal with the word spelled as 'principel'. And, Irrigation Department became 'Irritation Department'. It would be better if doctors mention the diseases in Hindi, rather than [...] terms which most patients cannot understand.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English English
    They ought to award medals in Creative Googling, Mrs L ~ it never occurred to me (either:eek:) to try department instead of office:) It seems Mrs Croker was having a moment of levity then. (The story's pretty pedestrian, by the way, but has some nice details about colonial life in India.)
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