Collection Spotlight: British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives

The award-winning collections of the former British Empire & Commonwealth Museum were transferred to Bristol City Council’s Museum and Archives when the original museum closed in 2012. Dating from circa 1850 to the 1970s, thousands of unique photographs, films, documents and artefacts provide a range of perspectives on life in the former British colonies and subsequent Commonwealth. 

Three Massai men in British East Africa, c.1906 (b/w photo) [2003/222/1/2/94] / British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives, UK / Forster Collection

 

Following a grant from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, many of the most significant image collections have been catalogued and made available at Bristol Archives. Many of these were donated by families who lived and worked in the Empire. The amateur, “unofficial” nature of the images is their main strength, making this one of the richest collections internationally of material on ordinary people’s lives overseas.

 

 Empire Day sports, Jumping, May 1954 (b/w photo) [2012/001/6/7/AM6] / British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives, UK / Ruel Collection
 Drumming, c.1958 (b/w photo) [2012/001/6/2/27A] / British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives, UK / Ruel Collection

 

The images come from every corner of the Commonwealth, from Aden to Zanzibar and Bermuda to Burma, and include material from countries where little evidence of the Empire survives, such as the Andaman Islands, Honduras and the Solomon Islands.Themes include:

·      stunning scenery, wildlife and the environment

·      family life, both colonial and indigenous

·      historical events and notable people

·      military campaigns and demonstrations

·      ceremonial and sporting occasions

·      feats of engineering, buildings and infrastructure

The images are used by academic researchers, students, publishers, artists, film makers and community groups.

 

 Koala bear eating leaves, 1925 (b/w photo) [2005/010/1/2/72] / British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives, UK / Morey Collection
 New Calabar Bride, c.1900 (b/w photo) [2003/174/1/47] / British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives, UK / Jones Collection

The Commonwealth:
Legacy of the Empire in Britain today

After the Second World War and the Indian Independence in 1949, the British Empire evolved into the ‘Commonwealth of Nations’, a phrase used to describe the new relationships between Britain and increasingly self-governing colonies.

The British Commonwealth still continues its legacy today with an association of 54 independent member states, aiming to promote peace, democracy and development.

 

Kibuko as dancer, c.1958 (b/w photo) [2012/001/6/2/13A] / British Empire and Commonwealth Collections, Bristol Archives, UK / Ruel Collection

 

Looking for more images? 

From posters designed by the Empire British Marketing Board to promote trade and maps detailing the expansion of the colonies, to images of slavery and oppression, Bridgeman's collections offer insight into both the conflicting and connecting cultures across the Empire.

If you are working on a project and need help sourcing a specific image, email us at uksales@bridgemanimages.com.

View all images in the British Empire and Commonwealth Collections

 

 


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