The Society, known successively as the Colonial Society, the Royal Colonial Institute (1882) the Royal Empire Society (1929) and finally the Royal Commonwealth Society in 1958, was established in 1868 with the objective of providing a meeting place for gentlemen connected with, or interested in, the British colonies. Its founding members were keen that the Society be seen as an intellectual endeavour and the creation of a colonial library was considered essential to the Society's aims.
Collection of more than 2000 prints, transparencies, photocopies, and half-tone illustrations relating to the Royal Colonial Institute, Royal Empire Society, Royal Commonwealth Society and depicting individuals, buildings, and events. The number is inexact; some additional items have been inserted in the numerical sequences, a few single entries cover an album (e.g. VIII 1) or sheets of prints (e.g. V (e) 13-16) and new items are added from time to time. A guide to collections of photographs taken for special occasions and publications will be found before II (d) in the typescript catalogue.
Since this is not merely a collection of photographs but a graphic archive of the Society, greater comprehensiveness has been achieved by augmenting the actual prints with photocopies or actual examples of published photographs and prints. This has enabled the collection to include a complete record of Presidents, Chairmen and Secretaries, and numerous portraits of Branch officials gathered for the Centenary Journal of 1968. Pictures of the exterior and interior of the Headquarters, particularly the old building (of which there are few actual prints) and the construction of its successor in 1934-36, have been gathered from many sources, notably the 'Proceedings of the R.C.I.,' 'The Yearbook' of 1913 and 'United Empire.'
The arrangement of each section is chronological, with the exception of II (e) in which photographs of the 1934-36 building are arranged in a sequence beginning with the entrance hall and continuing with the basement, first floor, and so on in sequence to the sixth. It should be noted that all photographs of the Library, in the old and new building, are in V (a).
Section IV, while primarily of Royal Colonial Institute/Royal Empire Society/Royal Commonwealth Society activities, includes some joint functions with other Commonwealth societies, and section IV (b), on the observance of Empire/Commonwealth Day, is largely concerned with events sponsored by Joint Commonwealth Societies.
Many of the photographs are the work of a small number of photographers, namely:
John R. Freeman
Sydney W. Newbery
James A. Sinclair
Somewhat random collections of photographs assembled in albums have been removed and filed as loose prints, and one album of Secretary-general Stephen Kemp's visit to Sri Lanka in 1969 (VII (b) 32-39) and one of the CISGO to India in 1968 (VII (a) 27), both water damaged, have been disbound. Two albums have been retained, one of the Companion's activities 1948-1954 (VIII 1) and one of the CISGO to India in 1975 (VII (a) 69).
Numbers of photographs are approximate, and fuller details for each category are given in the relevant introductions in the typescript catalogue.