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Description found in Archives

Colonial Office fonds [textual record (chiefly microform), graphic material, architectural drawing]. [Great Britain]

Date(s)

[1580]-1926

Place of creation

No place, unknown, or undetermined

2,787 microfilm reels.
93.0002 m of textual records transcripts or photostats.
2 p. of textual records.
3 technical drawings

Scope and content

The Colonial Office fonds documents aspects of the structure and functions of the Colonial Office, the political and geographical development of the British North American colonies both before and after the American Revolution, the development of colonial governing bodies, e.g., the legislatures; relations between Great Britain and the United States and between the United States and Canada; relations between colonial authorities and native peoples; the social, economic, constitutional and political landscape of the colonies; relations between Great Britain and Canada as a dominion; trade and commerce, immigration and settlement, boundaries, fisheries, military and naval defence, etc. For more detail on the themes or subject matter documented by these records, consult descriptions of the series. The fonds consists of copies of entire classes of records or selections of classes of records of the Colonial Office which relate to Canada's British colonial and dominion government. For the most part, this is correspondence received by the Colonial Office from officials in British North America. Colonial officials wrote on matters which they deemed important or upon which they were required to report. The Colonial Office records include not only incoming correspondence but also registers of that incoming correspondence, copies of replies transcribed into entry books and files of telegrams, circulars and secret correspondence. In addition, some classes of records consist mainly of printed volumes sent to the Colonial Office such as acts, sessional papers, miscellanea and government gazettes.

Textual records: microform
90: Open
Textual records
90: Open
Architectural: technical drawings
90: Open
Archival reference no.
Former archival reference no.

Terms of use

Textual records: There is no restriction on the consultation of either the microfilmed transcripts or microfilmed originals. Requests for copies of original documents on microfilm for research purposes are permitted. However, the copying of original documents on microfilm for publication or exhibition purposes, must be directed to the Public Record Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU.

Finding aids for Colonial Offices classes are described at the class level of description. There are several major finding aids for the Colonial Office classes. (Paper)

Architectural, technical drawings Please consult lower level descriptions. 90 (Paper)

Biography / Administrative history

Throughout the seventeenth century, various committees of the British Privy Council provided advice to the King on plantations or colonial affairs including, in 1670, the Colonial Council which assumed two functions: the review of colonial laws and the preparation of instructions for colonial governors. In 1672, the parallel Council for Trade was joined to the Colonial Council and the two became a joint Council for Trade and Plantations. The instructions for the new council formed the basis for subsequent councils. In 1674 the Privy Council Committee once again assumed responsibility for control of the colonies. In 1675, a special Privy Council committee, the Lords of Trade and Plantations assumed authority until 1696. The secretaries of state conveyed the King's will to the Lords of Trade and the colonial governors but did not acquire a monopoly of correspondence with the governors.

The Board of Trade (abbreviation for the Lords of Trade and Plantations), established by William III in 1696, consisted of Ministers of State and was led by a president. It was to advise the Crown on questions relating to plantations, trade and poor law. In practice, it confined its activities to plantations, investigating colonial administration of justice, the governors' instructions, candidates for colonial appointments, colonial legislation and the activities of the colonial governor himself. The Board was subordinate to the secretaries of state but they were dependent upon it for effective action in many fields of colonial affairs. The secretaries, northern and southern, relied on the Board of Trade's advice regarding colonial affairs. A third secretary of state was created in 1768 responsible primarily for the colonies.

With the loss of the American colonies, the Board of Trade was abolished in 1782 as was the third secretaryship but were revived in 1784 and in 1794 respectively. The office of the third secretary was revived to supervise war with France and nominally also the colonies, setting the scene for the actual union in 1801 of the War and Colonial Departments under one secretary of state. While the Colonial Office did not emerge as an entirely separate department of state until 1854, save for the fleeting existence of the third or American secretary of state during the revolutionary period, it is common to refer to 1801 as the birth date of the Colonial Office. In this year, responsibility for colonial affairs was transferred from the Home Office to the secretary of state for the new department of War and the Colonies.

From at least 1822, the work of the Colonial Office was organized into four geographical departments, one of which being North America (including Bermuda). However, not all the work fitted a territorial framework since some matters affected the colonies collectively. In 1854, with the onset of the Crimean War and reforms in the British civil service, the Colonial and War Offices were split from one another and a separate Colonial Office, headed by a secretary of state for the colonies, was established. By the 1870s events in the British Empire, including the growth of autonomy in British North America, the Australian colonies and New Zealand, provided the Colonial Office with diplomatic responsibilities.

In 1907, pursuant to a decision of the Imperial Conference, the Colonial Office was divided in two: the Crown Colonies Division for dependencies and the Dominions Division for the self-governing parts of the empire. Thereafter, the role of the Colonial Office in relation to the dominions declined. This arrangement ended in 1925 with the establishment of a separate Dominions Office for self-governing colonies, which included Canada. In 1966, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office merged to form a single Commonwealth Office. In 1968, the Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office merged and any vestige of the old Colonial Office disappeared. R.B. Pugh, The Records of the Colonial and Dominions Offices. Public Record Office Handbooks, No. 3, London, 1964.

Additional information

The microfilm for originals of the Colonial Office classes are available on "B" microfilm reels; the microfilmed transcripts are on "C" microfilm reels. Microfilm reels are available for consultation through the inter-institutional loan service offered by the National Archives of Canada. Information about our microfilm loan service may be found on the website of the Archives. Loans must be requested by institutions participating in the loan service on behalf of their patrons and must specify the microfilm reel numbers required.

Custodial history
From the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century, the National Archives of Canada acquired mostly copies of records in various classes of the Colonial Office. This material initially took the form of transcripts or photostats but by 1950, the Archives began copying various classes or selections of classes by microfilming original records. Microfilming took place from about 1952 until the last decade of the twentieth century. In many cases, there is a considerable degree of overlapping in the records copied by these various techniques.

Related materials
A major source of related material is found in Record Group 7, Records of the Governor's Office. Communications between the governor and the Colonial Office may be found in a number of series in RG 7 particularly: G1 to G3, G5, G9, G9A, G10, G12 and G13.

Related material may be found in other Public Record Office groups such as those described in Manuscript Groups 11 to 16 at the National Archives of Canada. Special mention should be made of MG 13, War Office, because of the close relationship between colonial and military officials.

Arrangement note
Dominion Archivist Douglas Brymner imposed a chronological arrangement on the transcripts no matter in what series the documents might be found. However, Brymner instructed the copyists to include the reference of the original item on each copied document. In addition to Brymner's imposition of a chronological arrangement, the Colonial Office transcripts are distinguished by the inclusion of transcripts from sources other than the Public Record Office.

In the period 1908 to 1910, the Public Record Office reorganized records of Colonial Office classes, which "blurred the old systems of arrangement and classification." Transcripts prepared and received by the Archives before the PRO's reorganization were unaffected by this reorganization, e.g., the Q Series.

The papers were separated into geographical groupings so far as was possible and some of the material was divided by type. The geographically defined classes are known as the "colony" classes. Documents which did not fit properly into such classes required the adoption of other types of classes which might be called "artificial", "register", "subject" and "private papers". Once the records had been divided geographically, artificially, and so on, they were subdivided internally, predominantly by the type of record, but with the inclusion of a "Miscellanea" category. Following is the basic division of records common to most geographically defined Colonial Office classes, and even to some "subject" classes. The first is "Original Correspondence" (in-letters), which normally includes the despatches from governors or other senior officials responsible for administering a colonial government, as well as interdepartmental and private communications. The second is "Entry Books" (out-letters), which usually consists of copies of letters, representations, official instructions, warrants, commissions, reports, interdepartmental communications, abstracts of letters received and drafts of out-letters to British governmental offices, to colonial officials, individuals, companies and other organizations having business with the Colonial Office. The third is "Acts" embracing governors' ordinances and proclamations as well as manuscript or printed bills and acts of the colonial legislatures. The fourth is "Sessional Papers" which comprises the journals, proceedings, minutes and some reports of colonial legislatures. The fifth is "Government Gazettes" which includes the official gazettes published in the colonies. The sixth is "Miscellanea" which generally encompasses such elements as Blue Books of Statistics, shipping returns, colonial newspapers, accounts, reports and memoranda of various kinds.

Citation / reference note
A major source of information about the Colonial Office is the following: Thurston, Anne. Sources for Colonial Studies in the Public Record Office, Volume 1, Records of the Colonial Office, Dominions Office, Commonwealth Relations Office and Commonwealth Office. It is a revised and expanded version of Public Record Office Handbook No. 3: Records of the Colonial and Dominions Offices by R.B. Pugh. London: The Stationery Office, 1997. This work provides information on the internal organization of the Colonial Office from 1795 to 1966, as well as information on the records of the Colonial Office and its predecessors, 1660 to 1966. It includes information on the CO geographical departments, the CO subject departments and the CO internal services and other departments, and their records.
Another major source of information about the Colonial Office is: Andrews, Charles M. Guide to the Materials for American History, to 1783, in the Public Record Office of Great Britain. Volume 1. The State Papers. Washington, D.C. : 1912. Reprinted with the permission of the original publishers by Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York : 1965.
The following may also be consulted to obtain information regarding the Colonial Office: Paullin, Charles O. and Frederic L. Paxson. Guide to the Materials in London Archives for the History of the United States since 1783. Washington, D.C. : 1914.
There is also the General Inventory, Manuscripts, Volume 2, MG 11 to MG 16. Ottawa : 1976. It provides very detailed background information on the origins and records of the Colonial Office as well as very detailed class descriptions of material acquired by the National Archives of Canada.

Preferred citation note
Cite as: National Archives of Canada (hereafter NA), Manuscript Group 11 (hereafter MG 11), Colonial Office. A citation for a specific item would be, for example, MG 11, CO 5/283, microfilm reel B-6181.

Reproduction note
The transcripts lack marginalia in parts of the series. When the National Archives began its programme of transcription late in the nineteenth century, British authorities prohibited the copying of marginal notes and minutes. The prohibition was waived fairly soon after the copying programme began.
Although the National Archives holds various forms of copies, microfilm constitutes the most accurate and extensive part of the Colonial Office fonds. A substantial portion of the collection, however, was acquired in transcript and photostatic forms before the introduction of microfilming. In many instances, there is a considerable degree of overlapping in the records copied by these various techniques.

Location of originals note
The original records represented by the microfilms, transcripts and photocopies are almost exclusively held by the Public Record Office, London, England.

Subject heading

1. Great Britain. Colonial Office
2. Grande-Bretagne. Colonial Office
3. History North America
4. Histoire Amérique du Nord
5. Relations Grande-Bretagne Canada.
6. Relations Canada Great Britain.
7. Relations Canada Grande-Bretagne.
8. Relations Great Britain Canada.

Private

Related control no.

1. 1978-021 PIC
2. 1978-030 PIC