Catalogue description Records created or inherited by the Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations

Details of CAOG
Reference: CAOG
Title: Records created or inherited by the Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations

Records created or inherited by the Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations relating to the transaction of colonial governments', and later foreign governments', official business with Britain.

They comprise General records, records of the Finance Department, records of the Appointments Department and Pay Department and records relating to establishment matters.

The Crown Agents, both before and after their reconstitution as a statutory public corporation, are listed in schedule 1 part ii of the Public Records Act 1958 as a body which produces public records. However, this applies only to the records of the administration of the Crown Agents, and many of the records held by the Crown Agents are not public records, being disposed of in accordance with the instructions of their principals (clients or customers). Records held at the Public Record Office are therefore largely those detailing the United Kingdom operations of the organisation.

Very few records of the Crown Agents' office before 1863 survive in the Public Record Office.

Date: 1834-1995
Related material:

For additional records relating to the operation of the Crown Agents in particular colonies see Colonial Office, Division within CO

Warrants of appointment for Crown Agents are in T 52

Separated material:

A collection of records of principals of the Crown Agents, including some records of the original colonial agents in London, are kept by Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations Limited.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, 1954-1997

Crown Agents for the Colonies, 1863-1954

Crown Agents Holding and Realisation Board, 1980-

Joint Agents General for the Crown Colonies, 1833-1863

Physical description: 26 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1958 Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations

Administrative / biographical background:

Joint Agents General for the Crown Colonies (1833-1863)

It was a constant problem for Britain's earliest colonists abroad to maintain proper control of their affairs in London, given the length of time it took for communications to pass between Britain and the Colonies. The most usual solution was to appoint 'agents' to handle their affairs. This was a system also adopted for the transaction of official colonial business. Crown agents were appointed on the recommendation of the Treasury.

In 1830, the Commissioners of Colonial Enquiry, in their general report, recommended that the system be put on a more rational basis. In line with these recommendations, all the Agents were dismissed with two of their number being re-appointed as the Joint Agents-General for the Crown Colonies in 1833.

In 1858 the word 'Joint' was removed from the title of the office, which became the Agents-General for Crown Colonies. In 1863 there was another change of title to Crown Agents for the Colonies, designed to demonstrate that the Agents could act for all colonies, and that their services were of an official nature, and not for the conduct of private business.

Crown Agents for the Colonies (1863-1954)

In 1905, the Crown Agents were for the first time appointed to act for a body other than a colonial government, when they became the agents for the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board. Further appointments of this kind followed.

The general effect of the First World War was to reduce the work and the revenue of the office, as development work in the colonies slowed down or ceased, and the War Office took over many of the Crown Agents' overseas supplies duties.

In 1918 to 1919, a formal departmental structure was introduced. There were a few changes to this structure over the succeeding twenty-five years, but it remained basically intact until after the end of the Second World War.

The immediate post-war period was one of great business activity, as both goods needed for colonial development projects, and the money to finance them, were obtained via the Crown Agents. This boom was short-lived, however, and the rapid fall in prices, and volume of business, quickly resulted in the Office accounts passing into deficit, from which they did not recover until 1926.

The economic crash of 1931 saw the volume of the Crown Agents business decline rapidly once more. The recovery of the Office's fortunes did not commence until 1934.

In 1932, the Crown Agents undertook work for their first foreign as opposed to colonial country when Iraq became independent, but her new government pressed strongly to retain the Crown Agents as their procuring and loan raising agents.

For the financial side of the Agents' business, the outbreak of the Second World War was followed by an immediate decline, and then a dramatic increase in workload and responsibilities. The Agents began to take on many new responsibilities. The global nature of the Second World War led to increasing work to meet strategic needs in the colonies.

Towards the end of the war, planning began for the expected upturn in contract work from the colonies wishing to repair and develop their infrastructure. However, the plans had little effect as, at the end of the war, the Crown Agents suffered a serious staffing crisis.

Following delays with a major engineering project in Nigeria, the Crown Agents were investigated by the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury between October 1948 and March 1949. The report, when issued, made no major suggestions for reorganisation, only a few practical reforms being suggested. However, the report did prompt the Crown Agents to institute a major overhaul of their own internal organisation, especially on the engineering side.

The proportion of work being performed by the Crown Agents for non-colonial government principals continued to grow after the war, so that by 1954 the number of these principals was approaching 150.

As a result of the increasing proportion of this business, and the trend for colonial business to decrease as more British colonies moved towards independence or representative self-government, it was decided to free the Crown Agents to make agreements with any principals, and from April 1954 the name of the office was changed to the Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations.

Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations (1954-1997)

In 1967, responsibility for Crown Agents' affairs passed from the Colonial Office to the newly formed Department of Technical Co-operation, although the Colonial Office retained responsibility for the financial policy of the Agents where it affected colonial territories. Responsibility for Crown Agents' affairs has remained with the Department and its successors, the Ministry of Overseas Development and the Overseas Development Administration, and with them has passed under the indirect control of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

By 1967 the structure of the Crown Agents' office had altered dramatically. The number of overseas offices had increased to five.

Towards the end of the 1960s the Crown Agents decided to expand their own reserves and began to build up an investment portfolio in the stock markets. The investments proved to be disastrous, and following the collapse of the fringe banking sector the Crown Agents met with severe financial difficulties in the early 1970s.

An investigation was subsequently carried out into the Agents' finances. Simultaneously, a committee of inquiry examined the general operations of the organisation.

Following these investigations, the Crown Agents Act 1979 established two statutory corporations in succession to the previously unincorporated agents. From January 1980 the Crown Agents continued their traditional business while a Crown Agents Holding and Realisation Board was appointed to hold and manage the remaining assets of the unincorporated Crown Agents.

Under the Act, while the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs remained responsible to Parliament for the activities of the Crown Agents, in practice powers continued to be exercised by the Minister of State for Overseas Development. Following the findings of committee of enquiry, a tribunal was set up to examine the question of maladministration and corruption at the Crown Agents. The report of the tribunal was published in 1982.

The decision was taken in 1994 by the Minister of State for Overseas Development that the Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations would be privatised. The final privatisationt took place in March 1997, when the Crown Agents were converted to a limited company, the Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations Limited, the shares in which were passed from the United Kingdom Government to a newly established body, the Crown Agents Foundation.

The government retained special membership of the Foundation with powers to block certain decisions. The Crown Agents Holding and Realisation Board was unaffected by these changes.

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