State Papers Online Colonial

State Papers Online Colonial is a programme digitising the British Colonial Office’s files and documents for researchers across the globe. 

The Administrators

The Colonial Office was formed in 1854. Prior to that colonial affairs were managed by the Secretary of State until 1768 when a dedicated Secretary of State for the Colonies was appointed. This changed in 1782 when the State Paper Office closed and a Home Office and Foreign Office were created. Colonial affairs were managed by the Home Office until 1801, when responsibility transferred to a Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, a post that lasted until 1854 when the two roles were separated, and the Colonial Office became an independent, if under resourced, department.

In 1966, the Colonial Office was merged with the Commonwealth Relations Office to form the Commonwealth Office, under the secretary of state for Commonwealth affairs. Two years later, that Office was merged with the Foreign Office, to form the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). India, the “Jewel of the British Empire” had its own secretary of state from 1858 until Indian independence in 1947.

The Colonial Secretary was supported by a team of civil servants in London, who together supported a network of Governors, Commissioners, and civil servants in the territories. As with any domestic administration, the degree of commitment to, interest in and sympathy for the people they were administering varied from person to person. Some officers were described as “going native” for the degree to which they adopted the local way of life and assimilated into local society. Others had successful careers moving from post to post and up the ranks. The handwritten comments, recommendations, elucidations, or approvals made to the documents reveal the judgements, grasp of the issues, conflicting views, humour, prejudice and sympathies of these officers.


The Documents

Most researchers will access these documents for what they reveal about the local people of all ranks, their customs, culture, work patterns, agriculture, trade, markets, arts and crafts, skills and learning. Also, for how they were affected by being administered by a remote people speaking another language who imposed new laws, taxes, industries, customs and social structure.

This programme starts with Asia. Asia for the Colonial Office meant the British Colonies: Hong Kong, Wei-Hai-Wei, Ceylon, Malaya, Singapore and Borneo. It is their administration and governance, and their relations with surrounding countries in the region and across the globe that are the subject of the documents.

The majority of the documents date from the twentieth century and cover the colonial period up to World War II, the war period when the Japanese army occupied most of Southeast Asia, and the ending of colonial rule and development of independent nations as part of the commonwealth or otherwise. Preceding those, however, are important sixteenth to eighteenth century documents from the discovery and engagement with the “East Indies”, but only a small proportion of the total. The remaining materials are the nineteenth century documents of the early days of colonial administration.

The State Papers Online Colonial archive for Asia includes:

  • State Papers Online Colonial: Asia, Part I: Far East, Hong Kong, and Wei-Hai-Wei
  • State Papers Online Colonial: Asia, Part II:  Singapore, East Malaysia, and Brunei
  • State Papers Online Colonial: Asia, Part III: Malay States, Malaya, and Straits Settlements

Product Features & Tools

Cross-Search Capability

Search across State Papers Domestic, Foreign, Ireland and the registers of the Privy Council from 15th to 18th centuries.

Comparative Analysis

View two manuscripts side by side to compare drafts or handwriting.

Multiple Ways to Explore

Search across the Calendar entries and link to the manuscript, or browse each manuscript volume folio by folio.

Learn more about the Gale Primary Sources Platform » »