Colonial Office

The Colonial Office was a government department of the Kingdom of Great Britain and later of the United Kingdom, first created to deal with the colonial affairs of British North America but needed also to oversee the increasing number of colonies of the British Empire.

It was headed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, known as the Colonial Secretary.

Foreign and India Offices, London, 1866 ILN
The building of the Foreign, India, Home, and Colonial Offices in 1866. It was then occupied by all four government departments.

First Colonial Office (1768–1782)

Prior to 1768, responsibility for the affairs of the British colonies was part of the duties of the Secretary of State for the Southern Department and a committee of the Privy Council known as the Board of Trade and Plantations.[1]

In 1768 the separate American or Colonial Department was established, in order to deal with colonial affairs in British North America. With the loss of the American colonies, however, the department was abolished in 1782. Responsibility for the remaining colonies was given to the Home Office, and subsequently (1801) transferred to the War Office.

Second Colonial Office (1854–1966)

The War Office was renamed the War and Colonial Office in 1801, under a new Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, to reflect the increasing importance of the colonies. In 1825 a new post of Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was created within this office. It was held by Robert William Hay initially. His successors were James Stephen, Herman Merivale, Frederic Rogers, Robert Herbert and Robert Henry Meade.[2]

In 1854, the War and Colonial Office was divided in two, and a new Colonial Office was created to deal specifically with the affairs in the colonies and assigned to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Colonial Office did not have responsibility for all British possessions overseas: for example, both the Indian Empire (or Raj) and other British territories near India, were under the authority of the India Office from 1854. Other, more informal protectorates, such as the Khedivate of Egypt, fell under the authority of the Foreign Office.

The increasing independence of the Dominions – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa – following the 1907 Imperial Conference, led to the formation of a separate Dominion Division within the Colonial Office. From 1925 onwards the UK ministry included a separate Secretaries of State for Dominion Affairs were appointed.

On 16 April 1947 the Irgun placed a bomb at the Colonial Office which failed to detonate.[3][4] The plot was linked to the 1946 Embassy bombing.[5]

After the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the Dominion Office was merged with the India Office to form the Commonwealth Relations Office.

In 1966, the Commonwealth Relations Office was re-merged with the Colonial Office, forming the Commonwealth Office. Two years later, this department was itself merged into the Foreign Office, establishing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Colonial Office had its offices in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Main Building in Whitehall.

The Colonial Office List

From 1862, the Colonial Office published historical and statistical information concerning the United Kingdom's colonial dependencies in The Colonial Office List,[6] though between 1926 and 1940 it was known as The Dominions Office and Colonial Office List.[7] It later became known as the Commonwealth Relations Office Year Book and Commonwealth Office Year Book. In addition to the official List published by the Colonial Office, an edited version was also produced by Waterlow and Sons.[8] It can be difficult to distinguish between the two versions in library catalogue descriptions. For example, The Sydney Stock and Station Journal of 3 December 1915 commented:[9]

This used to be the "Colonial Office Journal," but it looked – or sounded – too official, so they changed it to "The Colonial Journal." But it is still edited by Sir W. H. Mercer, K.C.M.G., one of the Crown Agents for the Colonies, but it is printed by Waterlow and Sons, London Wall. It comes as near to being an "Official publication" as possible, but we'll assume that it isn't.


History of United Kingdom government departments with responsibility for foreign affairs
Northern Department
Foreign Office
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Southern Department
Colonial Office
Home Office
War Office
War and Colonial Office
Colonial Office
Colonial Office
Commonwealth Office
Southern Department
Dominions Office
Commonwealth Relations Office
. India Office
India Office
Burma Office

See also


  1. ^ Colonial Office, The Canadian Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Roy MacLeod (13 February 2003), Government and Expertise: Specialists, Administrators and Professionals, 1860–1919, Cambridge University Press, p. 168, ISBN 978-0-521-53450-5
  3. ^ "Time Bomb Found in London after British hang Gruner as Terrorist in Holy Land". Google News. St. Petersburg Times. Apr 17, 1947. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  4. ^ "Police Say Woman Bomb "Planter" Now in Custody". The Age. A.A.P. 13 June 1947. The woman, who is a Jewess, claims French nationality. Officers of the special branch of Scotland Yard who have been investigating Jewish terrorist activities are satisfied the man who made the bomb is also under arrest.
  5. ^ "EUROPE-WIDE SEARCH FOR MAN WHO MADE BOMB". The Argus (Melbourne). A.A.P. 19 April 1947. Retrieved 26 May 2018. The bomb was of the same type as that used in the explosion at the i British Embassy in Rome last year and in several other outrages by Jewish terrorists.
  6. ^ Great Britain. Colonial Office (1862–1925), The Colonial Office List for [year], London: Harrison and Sons; Great Britain. Colonial Office (1946–1966), The Colonial Office List, London: H.M.S.O.
  7. ^ Great Britain. Office of Commonwealth Relations (1926–1940), The Dominions Office and Colonial Office List for [year], London: Waterlow & Sons, Ltd..
  8. ^ See, for example, "Publications received: The Colonial Office List", The Queenslander, Brisbane, p. 3, 26 June 1915.
  9. ^ "The Colonial Journal", The Sydney Stock and Station Journal, p. 4, 3 December 1915.

Further reading

  • Beaglehole, John C. "The Colonial Office, 1782–1854." Australian Historical Studies 1.3 (1941): 170-189.
  • Egerton, Hugh Edward. A Short History of British Colonial Policy (1897) 610pp online
  • Laidlaw, Zoë. Colonial connections, 1815-45: patronage, the information revolution and colonial government (Oxford UP, 2005).
  • McLachlan, N. D. "Bathurst at the Colonial Office, 1812–27: A reconnaissance∗." Australian Historical Studies 13.52 (1969): 477-502.
  • Manning, Helen Taft. "Who Ran the British Empire 1830-1850?." Journal of British Studies 5.1 (1965): 88-121.
  • Shaw, Alan George Lewers. "British Attitudes to the Colonies, ca. 1820-1850." Journal of British Studies 9.1 (1969): 71-95.

Primary sources

  • Bell, Kenneth Norman, and William Parker Morrell, eds. Select documents on British colonial policy, 1830-1860 (1928)
British Mandate for Mesopotamia (legal instrument)

The British Mandate for Mesopotamia (Arabic: الانتداب البريطاني على العراق‎) was a Mandate proposed to be entrusted to Britain at the San Remo, Italy-based conference, in accordance with the Sykes–Picot Agreement.

The proposed mandate was awarded on April 25, 1920, at the San Remo conference in Italy, but was not yet documented or defined. It was to be a Class A mandate under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. A draft mandate document was prepared by the British Colonial Office in June 1920. The Mandate with British administration was enacted via the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty.

The proposed mandate faced certain difficulties to be established, as a nationwide Iraqi revolt broke out in 1920, after which it was decided the territory would become the Kingdom of Iraq, via the Anglo-Iraq Treaty. The Kingdom of Iraq became independent in 1931-1932, in accordance with the League of Nations stance, which stated such states would be facilitated into progressive development as fully independent states.The civil government of postwar Iraq was headed originally by the High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, and his deputy, Colonel Arnold Wilson. British reprisals after the murder of a British officer in Najaf failed to restore order. British administration had yet to be established in the mountains of north Iraq. The most striking problem facing the British was the growing anger of the nationalists, who felt betrayed at being accorded mandate status.

Charles Alexander Harris

Sir Charles Alexander Harris (28 June 1855, Wrexham, Wales – 26 March 1947) was a British colonial administrator, Governor of Newfoundland from 1917 to 1922.

Harris spent much of his first ten years in St. John's, Newfoundland after his father, the Rev. George Poulett Harris, moved to the island when Charles was a young boy. Harris began his schooling in Newfoundland before returning to England where he attended Richmond School in Yorkshire.Harris graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge in 1878 and qualified for the bar at Lincoln's Inn. He began his career as a clerk in the Colonial Office in 1879.

From 1896 to 1899, he worked on a Boundary Arbitration between British Guiana and Venezuela, for which he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1900 New Year Honours list on 1 January 1900, and was invested by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 1 March 1900. From 1901 to 1904 he worked on another boundary commission between British Guiana and Brazil.Harris became Chief Clerk of the Colonial Office in 1917. The same year, he was knighted and appointed governor of Newfoundland. Harris wrote essays on the history of Newfoundland and was a contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography. He was offered the position of Governor-General of Australia but turned it down in favour of retiring from the colonial service in 1922 at the end of his term as Governor of Newfoundland.In 1928 he edited for the Hakluyt Society Robert Harcourt's A Relation of a Voyage to Guiana by Robert Harcourt 1613.

Colonial Nigeria

Colonial Nigeria was the area of West Africa that later evolved into modern-day Nigeria, during the time of British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. British influence in the region began with the prohibition of slave trade to British subjects in 1807. Britain annexed Lagos in 1861 and established the Oil River Protectorate in 1884. British influence in the Niger area increased gradually over the 19th century, but Britain did not effectively occupy the area until 1885. Other European powers acknowledged Britain's dominance over the area in the 1885 Berlin Conference.

From 1886 to 1899, much of the country was ruled by the Royal Niger Company, authorised by charter, and governed by George Taubman Goldie. In 1900, the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate passed from company hands to the Crown. At the urging of Governor Frederick Lugard, the two territories were amalgamated as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, while maintaining considerable regional autonomy among the three major regions. Progressive constitutions after World War II provided for increasing representation and electoral government by Nigerians. The colonial period proper in Nigeria lasted from 1900 to 1960, after which Nigeria gained its independence.

Colonial Secretary of Western Australia

The Colonial Secretary of Western Australia was one of the most important and powerful public offices in Western Australia, in the time when Western Australia was a British colony. The Colonial Secretary was the representative of the British Colonial Office in Western Australia, and was usually appointed from Britain. He was responsible for all official correspondence between the colony and the Colonial Office. He was at all times a member of the Western Australian Legislative Council and the Western Australian Executive Council.

After Western Australia gained responsible government in 1890, the office of Colonial Secretary became a ministerial portfolio. The responsibilities of the office changed substantially, and it was no longer such an important role. Colebatch (2004) described the office of Colonial Secretary in 1917 as

responsible for a large number of departments including Aborigines, Public Health, charities and many of the state trading concerns including the State Shipping Service. The position required a great deal of detailed work and would always attract many Parliamentary Questions, but did not allow the minister much scope for initiative or achievement.Since Western Australia was no longer a British colony after 1901, the office of Colonial Secretary was misnamed after this date. In 1924, the office was renamed to Chief Secretary.

Colonial Service

The Colonial Service, also known as His/Her Majesty's Colonial Service and replaced in 1954 by Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service (HMOCS), was the British government service which administered most of Britain's overseas possessions, under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Colonial Office in London. It did not operate in British India, where the same function was delivered by the Indian Civil Service.

Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands

The Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands was a British colony constituting the archipelago of the same name (currently officially named Haida Gwaii) from 1853 to July 1863, when it was amalgamated into the Colony of British Columbia.

The Queen Charlotte Colony was created by the Colonial Office in response to the increase in American marine trading activity resulting from the gold rush on Moresby Island in 1851. No separate administration or capital for the colony was ever established, as its only officer or appointee was James Douglas, who was simultaneously Governor of Vancouver Island.

Falkland Islands and Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition

The Falkland Islands and Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition (FIDASE) was an aerial survey of the Falkland Islands Dependencies and the Antarctic peninsula which took place in the 1955–56 and 1956–57 southern summers.

Funded by the Colonial Office and organised by Peter Mott, the survey was carried out by Hunting Aerosurveys Ltd. It was based at Deception Island, using the Oluf Sven, two Canso flying-boats and several helicopters.The photographic collection, held by the British Antarctic Survey as the United Kingdom Antarctic Mapping Centre, comprises about 12,800 frames taken on 26,700 kilometres of ground track.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), commonly called the Foreign Office, is a department of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for protecting and promoting British interests worldwide. It was created in 1968 by merging the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office.

The head of the FCO is the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly abbreviated to "Foreign Secretary". This is regarded as one of the four most prestigious positions in the Cabinet – the Great Offices of State – alongside those of Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary.

The FCO is managed from day to day by a civil servant, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who also acts as the Head of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service. This position is held by Sir Simon McDonald, who took office on 1 September 2015.

Gairdner River (Great Southern, Western Australia)

Gairdner River is a river located in the Great Southern region of Western Australia.

The river was first recorded by Surveyor General John Septimus Roe in 1848, when carrying out exploration of the area, noting that natives referred to it and its numerous branches as "Jeer-A-Mung-Up". Roe later named the same river near its mouth the Gairdner River, not realising they were the same, after Gordon Gairdner, Senior Clerk of the Australian and Eastern Departments in the Colonial Office, later Chief Clerk of the Colonial Office and Secretary and Registrar of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. Roe also named Gordon Inlet and Mount Gordon after Gairdner.The river originates in farm land north of the South Coastal Highway between Needilup and Jacup on the Yilgarn plateau at about 320 metres (1,050 ft) above sea level. It flows in a south-easterly direction crossing the South Coast Highway east of Jerramungup then through the Fitzgerald River National Park until it terminates in Gordon Inlet, where it discharges an average of 9,400,000 cubic metres per annum.

The tributaries that flow into the river are Cobomup Creek, Needilup River, Pingamup River, Spring Creek, Wilgerup Creek, Scott Creek and Duleep Creek.

About 60% of the catchment has been cleared for sheep and grains farming and as a result the water quality has become saline. Salinity levels vary from 3‰ (3,000 ppm) after rains when the river is flowing to 50‰ (50,000 ppm) during the summer time.

Gairdner River (Kimberley, Western Australia)

The Gairdner River is located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The river is located in the west Kimberley, and is a 42 km long tributary of the Glenelg River.

The river has two main tributaries - Fish River and Dunedale Creek.

The Gairdner River was named in 1838 by Lieutenants George Grey and Franklin Lushington, on Grey's first disastrous exploratory expedition along the Western Australian coast.Grey named the river after Gordon Gairdner, Senior Clerk of the Australian and Eastern Departments in the Colonial Office, later Chief Clerk of the Colonial Office and Secretary and Registrar of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.Gairdner also had named after him, on Western Australia's south coast near Bremer Bay, another Gairdner River, Gordon Inlet and Mount Gordon.

George Gipps

Major Sir George Gipps (1791 – 28 February 1847) was Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Australia, for eight years, between 1838 and 1846. His governorship was during a period of great change for New South Wales and Australia, as well as for New Zealand, which was administered as part of New South Wales for much of this period. Settlers at the time were not happy with his move towards responsible government, although contemporaries at the Colonial Office found him to be an able administrator.

John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverley

John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverley, (8 July 1882 – 4 January 1958) was a British civil servant and politician who is best known for his service in the Cabinet during the Second World War, for which he was nicknamed the "Home Front Prime Minister". He served as Home Secretary, Lord President of the Council and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Anderson shelters are named after him.

Newfoundland Colony

Newfoundland Colony was the name for an English and later British colony established in 1610 on the island of the same name off the Atlantic coast of Canada, in what is now the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This followed decades of sporadic English settlement on the island, at first seasonal rather than permanent. It was made a Crown colony in 1854 and a Dominion of the British Empire in 1907. The economy collapsed during the Great Depression and Newfoundland relinquished its dominion status, becoming once again a crown colony, governed by appointees from the colonial office in London. American forces occupied much of the colony in World War II, and prosperity returned. In 1949 the colony voted to join Canada as the Province of Newfoundland, but in 2001 its name was officially changed to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Secretary of State for the Colonies

The Secretary of State for the Colonies or Colonial Secretary was the British Cabinet minister in charge of managing the United Kingdom's various colonial dependencies.

Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, 1st Baronet

Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot, 1st Baronet (21 February 1783 – 3 February 1847) was a politician in the United Kingdom who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for North Warwickshire and then as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land (later called Tasmania).Eardley-Wilmot was the son of John Eardley Wilmot (1748–1815), barrister, and grandson of Sir John Eardley Wilmot, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. He was educated at Harrow School, called to the bar in 1806, appointed High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1818 or 1819 and created a baronet in 1821 and in 1822 published An Abridgment of Blackstone's Commentaries. This was followed in 1827 by A Letter to the Magistrates of England on the Increase of Crime, by Sir Eardley Eardley-Wilmot, Bart. F.R.S., F.L.S. and F.S.A. He was a member of the House of Commons, representing North Warwickshire from 1832 until March 1843. In 1840 he attended an international meeting on 12 June 1840 on anti-slavery. A large painting in the National Portrait Gallery records that event and Eardley-Wilmot is shown with Dr Stephen Lushington, a judge, behind the main speaker.

Eardley-Wilmot was appointed lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land, and arrived at Hobart on 17 August. He probably owed his position to the interest he had taken in the subject of crime; his plea that prisoners under the age of 21 should be segregated and a special endeavour made to reform them suggests that he was in advance of his period.

Soon after his arrival he came into conflict with one of the judges by reprieving a prisoner sentenced to be hanged. His justification was that he would not inflict death for offences not on the records of the court, and that in this case only robbery had been proved. He visited various parts of the island and seemed likely to be a popular governor. Many prisoners were arriving, expenses were rising, and the governor was much hampered by instructions received from the colonial office. In 1844 Eardley-Wilmot suggested that the 1842 Act (setting a £1 per acre minimum land price) should not apply in Van Diemen's Land – to which the British government agreed in 1845. He endeavoured to raise the duties on sugar, tea and other foreign goods, but the opposition from the colonists was great and the new taxes were withdrawn. The colonial office was unable to understand that convict labour could not be made to pay its way, and Wilmot was made responsible for the faults of a system he had no power to amend. He endeavoured to save expenses by reducing salaries of officials, but the chief justice for one denied the power of the council to reduce his salary. Six members of the council objected to the form of the estimates and withdrew from the council which reduced the number present below a quorum, and much public feeling arose against the governor.

In April 1846 Wilmot was recalled. The official statements relating to his recall were of the vaguest character, such as that he had not shown "an active care of the moral interests involved in the system of convict discipline". Privately Gladstone, the new colonial secretary, informed Wilmot that he was not recalled for any errors in his official character, but because rumours reflecting on his moral character had reached the colonial office. There was no truth in these charges nor was there time for Wilmot to receive any reply to his indignant denials, and requests for the names of his accusers. He died on 3 February 1847, worn-out by worry and anxiety. Gladstone endeavoured to make some amends in a letter to one of Wilmot's sons.

Wilmot married (1) Elizabeth Emma, daughter of Caleb Hillier Parry in 1808 and (2) Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Chester in 1819. There were sons and daughters of both marriages, including John's successor John and the clergyman Edward Revell Eardley-Wilmot. There is a monument in memory of Wilmot at Hobart, erected by public subscription.

Wilmot features as a main character in T.S.Flynn's historical novel "Part an Irishman: The Regiment".

The Royal Tour of the Caribbean

The Royal Tour of the Caribbean is a 1966 documentary film, produced by the Colonial Office to record the royal visit of Elizabeth II to the Crown Colonies of the Caribbean.The film recorded pre-independence footage from several of stops of the tour. The tour included visits to Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, British Guiana, the Caicos Islands, Dominica, Grand Turk Island, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Tortola, and Trinidad and Tobago. The film was one of a relatively few documentaries shot in the area in the 1960s. It had a contemporary in The Lion of Judah (1966), which covered a state visit of Haile Selassie I to Jamaica.The Colonial Office's documentaries typically covered population and health issues, and the film stands as an exception to this rule.

Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was a junior Ministerial post in the United Kingdom government, subordinate to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and, from 1948, also to a Minister of State.

War Office

The War Office was a Department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army between 1857 and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence. It was equivalent to the Admiralty, responsible for the Royal Navy, and the (much later) Air Ministry, which oversaw the Royal Air Force. The name "War Office" is also given to the former home of the department, the War Office building, located at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall in central London.

Prior to 1855 'War Office' signified the office of the Secretary at War. In the 17th and 18th centuries a number of independent offices and individuals were responsible for various aspects of Army administration. The most important were the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, the Secretary at War and the twin Secretaries of State (most of whose military responsibilities were passed to a new Secretary of State for War in 1794). Others who performed specialist functions were the controller of army accounts, the Army Medical Board, the Commissariat Department, the Board of General Officers, the Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces, the Commissary General of Muster, the Paymaster General of the forces and (particularly with regard to the Militia) the Home Office.The term War Department was initially used for the separate office of the Secretary of State for War; in 1855 the offices of Secretary at War and Secretary of State for War were amalgamated, and thereafter the terms War Office and War Department were used somewhat interchangeably.

William Allardyce

Sir William Lamond Allardyce (14 November 1861 – 10 June 1930) was a career British civil servant in the Colonial Office who served as governor of Fiji (1901–1902), the Falkland Islands (1904–1914), Bahamas (1914–1920), Tasmania (1920–1922), and Newfoundland (1922–1928).

Allardyce Range on the island of South Georgia is named for him.

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