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Colonial, Imperial and Commonwealth Conferences photograph collection

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/CC

Scope and Contents

Collection of more than one thousand photographs, including negatives and colour transparencies with numerous duplicates, on meetings from the first Colonial Conference of 1887 to contemporary Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.

Origin of the collection:

A miscellaneous collection which was built up over the years, with significant acquisitions from the Central Office of Information and elsewhere for use in ‘United Empire’ and its successors. Some images were given by those attending meetings such as Derek Ingram, Prue Scarlett, and Molly Mortimer. The signed photograph of the Imperial Conference of 1926 was given by the late Eric Bonner.

When planning the 1982 exhibition ‘Commonwealth in Focus’ it became clear that the sequence of conferences would be an important part of the sections ‘Empire to Commonwealth’ and ‘The Commonwealth today.’ Some early photographs were copied from originals in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in books, and some gaps filled from the Central Office of Information collection. The Australian News and Information Agency gave a good set on the Melbourne Conference of 1981 (CC 856-869). Perhaps the most comprehensive published collection of Conference photos (twenty in all) is that in the first edition of Nicholas Mansergh’s ‘The Commonwealth Experience’ (1969); this was checked, and, where they filled a gap, photocopies were taken.

In preparing the ‘Commonwealth in Focus’ exhibition it was noted that there was a lack of informal photographs of Commonwealth-wide activities, and the Library was glad to accept the offer made through Sir Cyril Pickard by Jan Hammond and Neil Cooper, who were going to India to photograph Tibetan refugees, to take a collection on the New Delhi Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) of 1983. Despite the restrictions of security precautions, they were successful in producing a collection of 130 coloured slides and 388 black and white photographs. The Commonwealth Secretariat had a very inadequate pictorial record and was pleased to copy seventeen colour and numerous black and white photographs from the record.

Some notes on the arrangement of the collection are appropriate. Firstly, what Conferences should be included? Maurice Ollivier’s ‘The Colonial and Imperial Conferences’ (1954) lists sixteen between 1887 and 1937: Colonial Conferences in 1887, 1894, 1897, 1902, 1907, Imperial Conferences in 1909 and 1911, Imperial War Conferences in 1917 and 1918 and Imperial Conferences again in 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1931, 1933 and 1937. 1894 was on trade and communications, 1909 on defence and 1932 was an Imperial Economic Conference, but all have formal reports published by HMSO and have been included. There are no photographs for 1909. In 1944 a Commonwealth Prime Ministers Meeting was held, the first of a series continued in 1946, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, two in 1966 - one in Lagos in January to discuss Rhodesia and one in London in September - and 1969. Sometimes referred to as Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conferences, they were always described as ‘Meetings’ in official communiqués. There were also two other gatherings - a Commonwealth Statesmen’s meeting to discuss peace terms in April 1945, whose communiqué was published in ‘The Commonwealth at the Summit’ (1987) and a Commonwealth Economic Conference in 1952, which was not. However, as both include a majority of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, they have been included here. In 1971 the title was changed to Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and they were held in different Commonwealth cities - Singapore (1971); Ottawa (1973); Kingston, Jamaica (1975); London (1977); Lusaka (1979); Melbourne (1981); New Delhi (1983); Nassau, Bahamas (1985); and Vancouver (1987). In 1981 a review meeting of seven leaders to discuss sanctions against South Africa was held in London and that too has been included.


  • Creation: 1887 - 1987


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 (


1603 item(s) (1603 images)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

All items are in good condition unless otherwise stated.


For a summary of this collection see: 'The Commonwealth in Conference: a graphic record 1887-1977' in 'Royal Commonwealth Society library notes', no. 225, January-March 1978, pp. 3-5. For a list of conferences between 1887 and 1937 see: Ollivier, Maurice (1954), 'The Colonial and Imperial Conferences from 1887 to 1937,' Ottawa: E. Cloutier, Queen’s printer. For the most comprehensive published collection of Conference photos see: Mansergh, Nicholas (1969), ‘The Commonwealth experience,’ London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.


This item level description was created by MJC using information from the original typescript catalogues.


Royal Commonwealth Society

Includes index.
2006-11-03 11:13:38+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom