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Malcolm MacDonald photograph collection

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/MM

Scope and Contents

The photographs fall into four groups:

1. Those received with the papers temporarily received by the historian of the Royal Commonwealth Society prior to their transfer to the University of Durham, where Malcolm MacDonald was Chancellor 1971-1981. These photographs comprise the bulk of MM 1-13, 24, and 27-30.

2. A small number of photographs which had been included in the papers and listed with them. It was agreed by the Trustees of the papers that these should form part of the photograph collection, but to avoid confusion notes were inserted in the papers at the appropriate points, and photocopies of the photographs included there. Subsequently, duplicate photographs have been sent to Durham, and the position is summarised in an addendum to this introduction.

3. Further items given by Mrs. Sheila Lochhead, MacDonald’s sister and the MacDonald family trustee of the papers, in 1989 and 1991 included prints added to MM 6, 7, and 11, and the whole of MM 14-23, 25-26.

4. A few miscellaneous items from various sources, e.g. a framed photograph given by Sir Ralph Hone (MM 5/49), some other photographs of Malaya from the RCS collection, and several prints of the University of Malaya transferred from Y3011UU.

However, the collection contains very few of MacDonald’s own photographs, whereas it is clear from several of his published books, e.g. ‘Borneo people (1956) and ‘Angkor’ (1958), that he was a keen photographer. Many of the photographs are routine official records of receptions at airports etc. - this is particularly so in MM 6 - or of official routine visits, e.g. MM 19 and MM 23.

A few of the photographs are captioned by MacDonald, several of the official photographs have descriptions attached, and some have presentation inscriptions, but the majority lack any identification.

MacDonald’s early career, to 1941, when he went to Canada as High Commissioner, is covered by MM 1, together with albums MM 2, on his visit to Fiji in 1925, MM 14, photographs of New South Wales presented to him in 1936, and MM 3, a visit to the Royal Canadian Air Force in Britain before departing. MM 4 covers the years in Canada 1941-1946, with one or two earlier photographs of that country. MM 5-6, 15-18 relate to his years in South East Asia, 1946-1955. The loose prints have been divided into two sequences, MM 5 dealing with Commonwealth Asia and MM 6 with non-Commonwealth countries which he visited following the extension of his responsibilities as Commissioner-General in 1948. In each case, the section has been broken up to leave gaps for added material on different territories. MM 5 has Malaya and Singapore (see also MM 16), Sarawak; North Borneo; Brunei; and Hong Kong. MM 6 has French Indo-China (also in MM 17-18); Burma; Thailand; and Indonesia. MM 16 was an album (relating to 1950) in bad condition which has been discarded, and the contents stored as separate prints. Three photographs of MacDonald’s work at the Geneva Conference on Laos 1961-62 are at MM 6/251-253; scenes during his visit to South East Asia late in 1962 are at MM 5/140-143 and 346-348.

MM 7 contains the loose prints relating to India 1955-1959, and albums MM 8-10, 19-22 are also from this period. MM 11 has loose prints of Africa, chiefly Kenya, during MacDonald’s period as Governor 1963, Governor-General 1963-64 and High Commissioner 1964-65. MM 12-13 and 23 also relate to this period. There are some photographs from his time as Special Representative in Africa which ended with his retirement in 1969. MM 27 and 28, on Cambodia, probably relate to this period.

MacDonald’s retirement years are covered in MM 24 (loose prints), MM 25 (loose photographs of China) and albums MM 26 and MM 29. MM 30 contains a miscellaneous collection of photographs and paintings.

Photographs too large for inclusion with the main sequence have been housed in a separate box as follows: MM 5/48-50, 316, 330, 332-335; MM 7/90; MM 24/13-15.

MM 31-44 were numbered and boxed subsequent to their arrival at the Cambridge University Library.


  • Creation: 1930 - 1981


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Malcolm John MacDonald was born in Lossiemouth on the 17th August 1901, the second son of James Ramsay MacDonald - later Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister. Educated at Bedales and Queen’s College, Oxford, he took a degree in Modern History in 1923 and stayed for a post-graduate year. This was followed by a tour of the United States, Canada and the Pacific in 1924-5 as a member of an Oxford debating team. He visited Hawaii (1927) and Kyoto (1929) as Secretary of the British Delegation to the Institute of Pacific Relations Conference. Entering the House of Commons in 1929 as M.P. for Bassetlaw in the election which brought the second Labour Government to power, he supported his father’s formation of a National Government in 1931 and was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Dominions Office. In this capacity he moved the third reading of the Statute of Westminster, an appropriate action for a man whose career so uniquely epitomises the transfer from Empire to Commonwealth. He entered the Cabinet as Dominions Secretary in 1935 and held that post, or that of Secretary of State for the Colonies, sometimes jointly, until 1940. Though defeated at the 1935 General Election, he won a by-election at Ross and Cromarty in 1936. He became Minister of Health in Winston Churchill’s Government in 1940 - a post involving him in a variety of duties including air-raid shelters during the Blitz.

His party political career ended with his appointment as High Commissioner to Canada in 1941, though he remained an M.P. until 1945. In 1946 he became Governor-General of Malaya and in 1948 his title altered to Commissioner-General for the United Kingdom in South East Asia. From 1955-60 he was High Commissioner in India, from 1961-2 co-Chairman and Leader of the British Delegation at the Geneva Conference on Laos. His last official posts were in Africa, as Governor and then Governor-General, of Kenya, British High commissioner to that country and finally Special Representative of the British Government in Africa - a post from which he retired in 1969. From then until his death in 1981, he was active in a variety of voluntary posts, particularly those concerned with the Commonwealth and with young people.


1800 item(s) (1800 images)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Following Malcolm MacDonald’s death in 1981, his widow decided to sell his house, Raspit Hill, and pending a decision on the ultimate ownership of his papers, these were accepted by the Librarian of the Royal Commonwealth Society for immediate custody, and numerous photographs were also transferred to the R.C.S. at the same time. It was eventually decided that the papers should be given to the University of Durham, of which Malcolm MacDonald was Chancellor 1971-1981, but that the photographs should be added to the substantial existing collection of the R.C.S. The papers were catalogued by Elizabeth Cory and Sheila Hingley.

Existence and Location of Copies

A complete copy of the original typescript catalogue has been deposited with Malcolm MacDonald's Papers at Durham.

Duplicate copies of the following were also sent to Durham in August 1993:

MM 1/22 MM 5/50 MM 6/40, 41, 43, 47, 50, 52, 56, 58, 60, 62, 67-69, 72, 76, 122-126, 128-136, 136A, 137-139, 141-142, 147, 150-164, 170-174, 177-178, 180-181. MM 7/3 MM 20/1-5, 7 MM 25/68

Related Materials

The R.C.S. Manuscripts Collection includes two university theses concerning MacDonald, RCMS 42 and RCMS 43. RCMS 41 consists of photocopies made from the Malcolm MacDonald Papers prior to their transfer to the University of Durham in 1986. This includes a copy of MacDonald's unpublished typescript autobiography written in the 1970s, 'Constant Surprise’ (RCMS 41/1).


For a biography of Malcolm MacDonald, see: Sanger, Clyde (1995), ‘Malcolm Macdonald: bringing an end to empire,’ McGill-Queen's University Press.

For the published catalogue of the Malcolm MacDonald papers see: Cory, Elizabeth (1988), ‘List of the Papers of Malcolm MacDonald,' Durham: Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic, University of Durham.

The following of Malcolm MacDonald’s works were consulted to establish the identity of some photographs, or to provide his own account of episodes or people portrayed:

MacDonald, Malcolm (1956),‘Borneo people,’ London: J. Cape.

MacDonald, Malcolm (1958), ‘Angkor’, London: J. Cape.

MacDonald, Malcolm (1969), ‘People and places: random reminiscences of the Rt. Hon. Malcolm MacDonald,’ London: Collins.

MacDonald, Malcolm (1980), ‘Inside China,’ London: Heinemann.

MacDonald, Malcolm (1972), ‘Titans & others,’ London: Collins.


This collection level description was entered by WS using information from the original typescript catalogue, which made use of entries in the 'List of the papers of Malcolm MacDonald' (1988), and also MacDonald’s unpublished typescript autobiography ‘Constant Surprise’ (1970s). In addition, helpful assistance with information and the supply of photocopies has been given by Dr. Joseph Fewster of the University of Durham. Thanks are due to him and others who assisted with identifications; specific acknowledgements are included in the introductions to the appropriate sections in the original typescript catalogue.


MacDonald, Malcolm John, 1901-1981, politician and diplomat

Includes index.
2006-11-03 16:31:34+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom