The Oriental Club began on 24 February 1824, following a proposal by Major-General Sir John Malcolm. A committee was established with the Duke of Wellington as President. On 8 July 1824 the Club was opened to members at 16 Lower Grosvenor Street, London.
The original primary qualifications for membership of The Oriental Club ‘were to be present or previous residence, or employment present or previous either in the King’s or East India Company’s service, in any part of the East; membership of the Royal Asiatic Society; or any official connection with the administration of this country’s Eastern Governments abroad or at home. Members of the Bengal, Madras, Bombay, India, and China Clubs were invited to join the Oriental; and all persons who had travelled in the East were declared eligible.’ (Wheeler, p. vii) Indeed, the Oriental Club’s very roots were to be found in the Royal Asiatic Society’s house in Grafton Street, where Sir John Malcolm first proposed the formation of the club, and members of the Asiatic were invited to join the newer organization. Members of the Alfred Club were also invited to join the Oriental after the dissolution of the former in 1854.
The majority of members in the Club’s first decades were members of the East India Company. The Club also boasted the membership of Governors-General, Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, and later Viceroys of India. Membership was originally restricted to men; in 2009 the website states: ‘Whilst the Club has maintained its tradition as a Gentlemen's Club, associate membership is encouraged for wives, unmarried sisters and unmarried daughters of members’ (www.orientalclub.org.uk, accessed August 2009). Indeed until 1937, women were wholly excluded on Thursdays. In the early 1950s the Club faced financial ruin as membership fell; an extraordinary general meeting rejected a suggestion to go into liquidation, and the Club instead embarked on a recruitment drive. The move to Stratford House ten years later reinvigorated the club, whose primary function has been social rather than political. The Club’s symbol is an Indian elephant.
Non-British subjects could be granted honorary member status from 1831. Throughout the nineteenth century they included the likes of Oman Effendi (1831), The Prince of Oudh (1839), Dwarkanath Tagore and Mohun Lal (1842), H. H. Maharaja Duleep Singh, son of Ranjit Singh, ruler of Punjab (1854), Sir Cursetjee Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy (1860), H. E. Nazim Bey, Prime Minister of Turkey (1862), and Nawab Nazim of Bengal (1869).