Catalogue description Records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, Empire Marketing Board, and related bodies

Details of CO
Reference: CO
Title: Records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, Empire Marketing Board, and related bodies

Records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, Empire Marketing Board, and related bodies relating to the administration of Britain's colonies.

Comprises records of:

  • Board of Trade responsibilities for colonial affairs before 1801
  • Chief Clerk's and General Departments
  • Correspondence with the colonies, entry books and registers of correspondence
  • Acts, ordinances and proclamations from the colonies
  • Government gazettes from the colonies
  • Sessional papers from the colonies
  • Local bodies and other colonial miscellanea
  • Confidential print
  • Emigration departments
  • Dominions Division
  • Economic departments
  • Social Service Department
  • Defence departments
  • Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees Department
  • Information Department
  • Welfare and students department
  • Communications Department
  • International Relations Department
  • Research Department
  • Accounts Department
  • Patronage and personnel divisions
  • Legal Department
  • Colonial research councils
  • Private office papers and private collections
  • Constitutional commissions, etc.
  • Advisory and research committees, etc.
  • Empire and colonial marketing boards
  • Irish Office and Northern Ireland Office
  • Chartered companies
  • West Indies Development and Welfare Organisation
  • Appeals to the Prize Court

CO 413 is a number not used.

Date: 1570-1990
Related material:

See also the records of the Dominions Office: DO

For later records see Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and predecessor: FCO

Separated material:

For further correspondence of the War and Colonial Department see:

WO 1

WO 6

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

Colonial Office, 1854-1966

Commonwealth Office, 1966-1968

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1968-

War and Colonial Department, 1801-1854

Physical description: 1073 series
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1968 Foreign and Commonwealth Office

from 1966 Commonwealth Office

from 1860 Colonial Office

Publication note:

For a fuller account of the history and records of the Colonial Office see Anne Thurston, 'The Records of the Colonial and Dominions Offices' (London, 1995).

Administrative / biographical background:

In 1794 a Secretary of State for War was appointed to manage the war with France. After the peace of 1801 his responsibilities appeared to have declined and the administration of the colonies was transferred to him and he became Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. When war was resumed in 1803 military activities again became his main pre-occupation, but he retained the colonies.

The restoration of peace in 1815 and the increased demands which the acquisition of new colonies during the war had imposed meant that his colonial responsibilities then became paramount, and by 1822 the office included four Geographical Departments dealing with colonies in different areas of the world. Between 1804 and 1836 the War and Colonial Department was responsible for relations with the Barbary States, but in 1836 this responsibility was transferred to the Foreign Office. On the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 colonial and military affairs were divided and a separate Secretary of State for the Colonies was appointed.

In 1854 a separate Colonial Office, headed by a Secretary of State for the Colonies, was established. The division of the office into geographical departments was continued, general business being entrusted to the chief clerk. In 1870 a General Department took some of the work of the chief clerk, an Accounts Branch was set up in 1869, and there was a separate Emigration Department from 1878 to 1894.

In 1907 a Dominions Division was set up; in 1925 this became the separate Dominions Office, though until 1930 and again briefly in 1931 and 1938 to 1939 the offices of Secretary of State for the Colonies and Secretary of State for Dominions Affairs were held by the same person. The remaining geographical departments were grouped in a Crown Colonies Division. The territories mandated to Britain following the First World War were also administered by the Colonial Office. From 1907 to 1925 it was responsible for the work of the Imperial Institute.

From 1930 the number of subject departments increased considerably, a trend which accentuated during the Second World War. The granting of independence to growing numbers of colonies in the post-war period and the termination of mandates led to a decrease in the responsibilities of the Colonial Office. Relations with the former colonies became the concern of the Commonwealth Relations Office. In July 1961 responsibilities for overseas aid and development formerly borne by certain departments and committees of the Colonial Office were transferred to the new Department of Technical Co-operation, and a number of technical advisers were transferred with them.

In March 1962 responsibility for relations with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland was transferred to the Central African Office, which was under the personal control of the Home Secretary. From July 1962 to October 1964 the titles of Secretary of State for the Colonies and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations were combined, and in 1966 the Colonial Office was merged with the Commonwealth Relations Office to form the Commonwealth Office.

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