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Fisher photograph collection

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Fisher

Scope and Contents

Collection of 29 albums consisting of approximately 3864 photographs taken or collected by A.H. Fisher for the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee 1907-1910. The numbering of the collection is problematic and details are provided for each separate album.

Some of the names which appear are:
Hutchins: donor of some photographs of India, but not otherwise identified
Firebrace: donor of some photographs of India, but not otherwise identified
Righi: A.R. Righi, Woodlands Hotel, Darjeeling, from whom two photographs were purchased
Robson: source of photographs of Niagra Falls
Afong: source of several high quality photographs of Wei-hai-wei; presumably a local Chinese photographer
Sir Joseph James Kinsey (1852-1936) arrived in New Zealand in 1890 and formed the shipping firm Kinsey and Co. His varied interests included agriculture and Antarctic exploration. He supplied 50 high quality photographs including New Zealand alpine scenes and examples of houses in Christchurch, the majority whole-plate.

It is supplemented by a further 22 files containing another 959 photographs. These have been classified according to geographical location under the Y30 classification scheme and include the following: Y3011V (Britain); Y3022Y (Aurangabad Agrihorticultural School); Y3022SS (Calcutta, Malaya and Singapore); Y3045C (album of photographs of Uganda); Y3047A (Zanzibar); Y305J (South Africa); Y30546A (High Commission Territories); Y3061B (Newfoundland and Labrador); Y3070B (Bermuda); Y3072A (Barbados); Y3073B (Jamaica); Y30742A (St Kitts); Y30745A (Dominica); Y3075C (Trinidad); Y30771B (Grenada); Y30773B (St Vincent); Y3078A (British Honduras); Y3081A (2 albums of geology of Western Australia); Y3080 (Queensland); Y3086U (New South Wales); Y3091C (Fijian coconut industry).


  • Creation: 1900 - 1910


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

The Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee: In 1902 a Visual Instruction Committee was set up by the Secretary of State for the Colonies at the suggestion of Professor Michael Sadler. Its purpose was to produce lectures illustrated with lantern slides on the United Kingdom for use in the overseas Empire. The Earl of Meath, founder of Empire Day, was the Chairman and the members included Sir Charles Lucas of the Colonial Office and Halford Mackinder, nominated by the newly-formed Victoria League, who was responsible for the first set of lectures.

Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) was at that time Reader in Geography at Oxford University and later became Professor of Geography in the University of London. From 1903-1908 he was Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science and in his later career he was a Member of Parliament, Chairman of a number of Royal Commissions and public committees and a writer and speaker on the political aspects of geography. It was on his initiative that the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee embarked on a much more ambitious scheme, the provision of lecture materials about the Empire for use in British schools. They approved the idea, but the first priority was the raising of funds, since the Colonial Office provided very little material support. A committee under the patronage of the Princess of Wales was set up and collected nearly £4000. In 1907 it was possible to appoint an artist and photographer to obtain the necessary illustrations in the course of Empire-wide tours. The plan was that the entire scheme would need some 1800 slides, elected from an average of 3 originals each, and an artist and photographer working 180 days a year might take 3 years to complete the work. Priority was to be given to Canada, India and South Africa, with Australia and New Zealand, the West Indies, East and West Africa, the Mediterranean and ocean routes as further areas.

Fisher and his work: On 29 July 1907 A. Hugh Fisher was chosen out of 10 applicants. Alfred Hugh Fisher was born in London in 1867 and educated at the City of London and University College schools. After 9 years in a city office he relinquished business for art and studied at Lambeth, South Kensington and Paris under Laurens and Constant. His appointment was up to 3 years from 1 September at a salary of £25 a month, plus travelling and subsistence allowance and the Committee reserved to themselves absolute control over the work produced by him during his engagement. He would work under the direction of Mackinder, who was to be paid a salary of £300 for his general oversight of the project, in addition to fees for preparing lectures. As Fisher was an artist and not a photographer, he was trained in photographic techniques by the two senior employees of Emery Walker of Sussex House, at a fee of 5 guineas for 10 lessons. The original aim was to send Fisher to Ceylon and India, then through East Asia to Canada, returning to the United Kingdom in May 1908, with a subsequent journey on the reverse route returning via the Mediterranean; this would enable him to photograph India and Canada at different seasons. However, it was later decided to cover the whole of India in one visit, and Canada the following year. Mackinder issued detailed instructions to Fisher in October. His itinerary included several stops of two or three days in one place since it was thought that he would be able to absorb the atmosphere better than at too rapid a movement from place to place, and he was given authority to purchase photographs for important areas he could not visit. He was to have the educational rather than the pictorial aspect in mind and was to present both the 'native characteristics of the country' and the 'super-added characteristics due to British rule.' He was advised to give a feeling of movement where possible by having people engaged in some activity in the foreground rather than static views of buildings etc. The negatives were to be sent to Newman and Guardia, who would develop them and prepare one print each; the list of photographs taken and the paintings were to be sent direct to Mackinder. Fisher's journey to Ceylon, India and Burma was originally intended to include Somaliland, Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar, but he was instructed to omit the last two in order to arrive back in London in time for a projected showing of slides in the presence of the Princess of Wales. This did not in fact take place. Fisher resumed his travels on 24 July 1908 and went to Canada, in which he followed a rather complicated route before sailing from Vancouver on 28 October to visit Wei-hai-wei, Hong Kong, part of the Chinese mainland, Singapore and North Borneo. March 1909 found him back in Canada where he saw something of the end of the winter. During the summer of 1909 the Princess of Wales attended a meeting on the project at Caxton Hall. £150 was spent on renewing and improving Fisher's equipment and he spent six weeks in the U.K. trying out the apparatus and taking photographs of British scenes for use in lectures for Canada and South Africa (Albums 16, 21-22). At this time too he married Lillias Wyman. His final tour was via Gibraltar and Malta to New Zealand, the Pacific and Australia, but money was running out; he was instructed to omit Papua and in 1910 he was informed that no more money was available for expenses and he could not be offered a further engagement. Fisher produced vivid and interesting descriptions of his journeys but did not produce any more travel books. His later writings appear to have been chiefly poetry. Lillias Fisher died in 1930 and Hugh Fisher died 2 July 1945.

The lecture scheme: Though Mackinder had undertaken to write the text books, these were held up by his slow progress, probably partly owing to his many commitments and partly through lack of funds. In 1910 some donations were obtained from the Rhodes Trust and city companies. The India volume appeared in 1910, but subsequent volumes on Canada (1914), Australia (1913), the Sea route to the East, and South Africa were written by A.J. Sargent. Fisher himself had obtained additional photographs of places he was unable to cover. After the end of his engagement the Committee corresponded with official and unofficial bodies and individuals to augment its photograph collection, particularly for those areas Fisher had not visited at all - South Africa, tropical Africa and the Caribbean. Sir Algernon Aspinall agreed to write the West Indies lectures (published 1914) and provided specific lists of subjects for which he required photographs. Material was gathered for Tropical Africa and A. Wyatt Tilby agreed to write this seventh volume, but it does not seem to have been published.

The whole enterprise was an ambitious and imaginative one, but the lecture books, with their accompanying set of slides, were expensive and do not seem to have been widely purchased.


29 album(s)

2 archive box(es) (2 boxes)

17 file(s)

2 envelope(s)

1 item(s) (1 image)

Language of Materials



The photographs in the geographical sequence have been included in this collection for the purposes of the creation of this database.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

At some unknown date before 1970, presumably while the material was in the strong room, it suffered water damage; Fisher 18 was particularly badly affected with some photographs being discarded. There is less serious water damage to other volumes.

Existence and Location of Copies

The Fisher photograph collection has been digitised. The digital images are gradually being made available online via Cambridge Digital Library. Follow the digital object links to browse available images.

Related Materials

The RCS Manuscripts Collection includes additional material relating to Fisher, RCMS 10 and 195: Fisher's paintings; 60 notes giving supplementary information; Fisher's letters to Mackinder on his travels, correspondence between COVIC and members of the British Association requesting permission to use their South African photographs for lantern slides; 37 sheets of water colours and colouring instructions for work in preparing the South African slides. Cambridge University Library also holds Fisher, A.H., (1912), 'Through India and Burma with pen and brush', London, and six published text books.

Related Materials

Accounts of the Colonial Office's project can be found in CO885/17, 19, 21, 22, 23, 1908-1915. Other material relating to Fisher's work with COVIC forms part of the Herbert F. West Collection in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


This collection level description was entered by PJ using information from the original typescript catalogue. The albums have been captioned by Fisher and the original typescript catalogue was based on those captions, Fisher's additional notes and his diary. Original titles and captions, including the names of institutions, have been recorded as found and may include language which is offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate. They have been retained to reflect the context of the collection's creation. Captions and other explanatory notes supplied by the cataloguer are enclosed in square brackets.

Date information

DateText: Predominant dates represent Fisher's own journeys 1907-1910..


Fisher, Alfred Hugh, 1867-1945; Great Britain. Colonial Office. Visual Instruction Committee

Includes index.
2002-02-20 14:33:15+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