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Watercolours and drawings of Edward Frome

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/RCMS 40

Scope and Contents

This is a collection of art work created by the Royal Engineer Edward Charles Frome (1802-1890). In 1929 Frome’s surviving daughter, Mrs Frank Wynne, presented some of the South Australian drawings to the Royal Empire Society through the good offices of Sir Harry Wilson, to whom she bequeathed the rest of the collection. He presented it to the society in 1931. The majority of Frome’s individual watercolours and drawings, varying in size from 250 to 450 mm, were then housed in eight specially constructed albums. Frome had also created a series of sketchbooks of various formats during his travels and most of the more finished pieces were removed to the albums.

In 1970, all of Frome’s Australian artwork was sold to the Art Gallery of South Australia and Australian pieces by other artists he had acquired were sold at auction. This included the entire contents of albums 1-2 and sketchbooks 2-3. In 1975, the society sold five of the Canadian items depicting early Kingston, Ontario, to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre of Queen’s University, Kingston.

When donating the collection, Wilson had presented a few items to the countries they represented, and over the years the RCS loaned others to high commissions, some of which were never recovered. One drawing was destroyed during the bombing raids of the Second World War. Sketchbooks 1 and 4-5 were missing when the collection was acquired by the University Library and sketchbooks 6-7 and 11 had never been presented to the society. Many individual items from the albums and sketchbooks were found to be missing when the collection came to Cambridge. This catalogue provides a detailed list of the remaining watercolours and sketches.

Albums 3-8 have been catalogued as RCMS 40/1/3-8:

Album 3 RCMS 40/1/3 Mauritius
Album 4 RCMS 40/1/4 Channel Islands and Gibraltar
Album 5 RCMS 40/1/5 Gibraltar and Tangier
Album 6 RCMS 40/1/6 Africa, Heligoland, Canada
Album 7 RCMS 40/1/7 Germany and Scotland
Album 8 RCMS 40/1/8 United Kingdom and Ireland

Sketchbooks 8-10 and 12-15 have become RCMS 40/2/8-10 and 12-15:

Sketchbook 8 RCMS 40/2/8 Heligoland and Scotland
Sketchbook 9 RCMS 40/2/9 Ireland and sundries
Sketchbook 10 RCMS 40/2/10 Ireland, Gibraltar and miscellaneous
Sketchbook 12 RCMS 40/2/12 Tangier and Gibraltar
Sketchbook 13 RCMS 40/2/13 Gibraltar and Tangier
Sketchbook 14 RCMS 40/2/14 Gibraltar
Sketchbook 15 RCMS 40/2/15 Miscellaneous sketches


  • Creation: 1827 - 1975


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

Edward Charles Frome was born on 7 January 1802 in Gibraltar, where his father, the Rev. J.T. Frome, was a military chaplain. After being educated at Bexley and Blackheath, he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1817. In 1827 as a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, Frome was posted to Canada and spent nearly six years on the staff of Lieutenant Colonel John By, who was engaged in the construction of the Rideau Canal connecting the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. The settlement founded by By to support the canal's construction, known as Bytown, was incorporated in 1855, but became the city of Ottawa in 1855, and the capital of Canada in 1857. During a distinguished career, Frome later served as Surveyor-General of South Australia (1840-49) exploring large tracts of unknown territory, and of Mauritius (1852-58); Commanding Royal Engineer in Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar (1858-68); Inspector-General of Fortifications (1868-69); and Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey (1869-74). Frome’s hobby was drawing and painting, and from the time of his earliest travels he recorded the places he visited by pen and pencil sketches and water colours. Some are mere impressions of a scene quickly made in camp or upon the march, but most are detailed records recalling the accurate eye and thorough professional skill of the engineer and surveyor, and are of considerable historical importance.


.13 cubic metre(s) (6 albums and 7 archive boxes) : art work

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Good condition unless otherwise specified

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by General Frome's daughter Mrs Frank Wynne in 1929 and by Sir Harry Wilson in 1930.

Existence and Location of Copies

7 watercolours from this collection were digitised for the online exhibition 'Celebrating 150 years of the Royal Commonwealth Society (1868-2018). The images are available to view on Cambridge Digital Library by clicking the digital object links.

Related Materials

Photographs of the Australian material were taken before it was sold, and colour prints and negatives are stored at RCMS 40/7-8. Some of Frome’s watercolours have been digitised and can be viewed on Cambridge Digital Library along with digitised glass lantern slides of some of the Canadian sketches (Y3062T).

Papers relating to Frome's career may be found at RCMS 22/39, RCMS 59/1, RCMS 59/4, RCMS 113/56 and RCMS 278/10.

Related Materials

Frome's Australian artwork is held by the Art Gallery of South Australia and some Canadian sketches are held by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.


This archival description was created by MJC.


Frome, Edward Charles, 1802-1890, General

2018-11-20 12:11:55+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