The British Empire Library

Administering The Empire 1801 -1968: A Guide To The Records Of The Colonial Office In The National Archives Of The UK

by Mandy Banton

Courtesy of OSPA

John Smith (Nigeria 1951-1970, Western Pacific 1970-1978)
Dr Banton has been in charge of the Colonial Office records at Kew for many years and has produced an indispensable and comprehensive guide for anyone interested in those records. It is in itself a valuable contribution to colonial history showing how the archival process has developed and changed over the years, even though the author modestly refers to it as a user-friendly introduction. User-friendly it certainly is, as is the whole Kew experience.

Beginning with a brief introduction about the Empire, Dr Banton usefully sets out colonial government structure and relations with London, something that so many get wrong, and explains how colonial affairs were administered before and after 1801 when colonial business was transferred to the third secretary of state in charge of the War and Colonial Department, a department that split its responsibilities in 1854 with the establishment of the Colonial Office.

She then turns to the records themselves, explaining what is and is not available, classification systems, how records were kept, the meaning of technical terms such as 'entry books' and 'precis books', where to look, how to identify minute writers and provides advice on many of the things that can fox a researcher. As well as the Colonial Office and its successors, she covers records of relevance to dependencies of other departments and agencies, such as Special Branch and the Empire Marketing Board. There is an excellent chapter devoted to maps and plans and another concerned with private papers, such as those of Sir Christopher Cox, the Educational Adviser some readers will remember with both affection and awe.

About half the volume is devoted to useful appendices. These list records by dependencies and by subject matter, newspapers deposited, explain the Colonial Office List, demonstrate a specimen search, list sources for biographical and family history, a major use these days of the National Archives, and explain the online catalogue. There is a glossary, a bibliography and an index. While Dr Banton's guide is always readable, it is essentially a reference book to be consulted as necessary and one that can be warmly commended both to the newcomer, using Kew for the first time, and to the more experienced whose visits will be greatly enhanced.

British Empire Book
Mandy Banton
Institute of Historical Research, University of London / The National Archives of the UK
978 1 905165 29 2


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