The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Alaine Low; Judith M. Brown et al. | Go to book overview

11

Bureaucracy and 'Trusteeship' in the Colonial Empire

RONALD HYAM

How was the central bureaucracy of the Empire organized, and what was its role? 1 Colonial affairs had been dealt with in Whitehall by a Secretary of State since 1768, though sometimes in combination with other ministerial portfolios. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Secretaryships of War and Colonies were combined and not finally separated until 1854. At this time the Colonial Office operated out of 12 Downing Street, a seriously dilapidated building, later pulled down and replaced by the Whips' Office. In 1875 the Office was moved to the north-east corner of the prestigious block containing the Home, Foreign, and India Offices. There was a further move to Great Smith Street in 1945. Plans for a grand new Colonial Office building in Parliament Square were abandoned in 1954 because of Winston Churchill's objection—not on the grounds that the Empire was contracting, but that it would ruin his own grandiose scheme for an enlarged Parliament Square, 'to be laid out as a truly noble setting for the heart of the British Empire'. 2 Before the routine use of the typewriter and telegraph from the 1890s, the Colonial Office was a sleepy, humdrum place. It was also, before the arrival of Joseph Chamberlain (Secretary of State, 1895-1903), a political backwater. In 1870 incoming communications totalled a mere 13,500 items. By 1900 this had risen to 42,000 and by 1905 to 50,000 a year. It was one of the smallest departments in Whitehall, with a staff of 113 by 1903. Numbers were to increase, although the Office remained comparatively small:

1935
1939
1943
1947
1954
1964
372
450
817
1139
1661
530
____________________
1
Sir Charles Joseph Jeffries, Whitehall and the Colonial Service: An Administrative Memoir, 1939-56, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Paper, no. 15 (London, 1972); Joe Garner, The Commonwealth Office, 1925-68 (London, 1978); R. B. Pugh, 'The Colonial Office, 1801-1925', in E. A. Benians and others, eds., Cambridge History ofthe British Empire, Vol. III, 1870-1919 (Cambridge, 1959), pp. 711-68; Ronald Hyam, 'The Colonial Office Mind, 1900-14', Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, VIII (1979), pp. 30‐ 55, reprinted in Norman Hillmer and Philip G. Wigley, eds., The First British Commonwealth: Essays in Honour ofNicholas Mansergh (London, 1980); The Colonial Office List (London, annually), passim.
2
David Goldsworthy, ed., The Conservative Government and the End of Empire, 1951-1957, British Documents on the End of Empire Project (BDEEP) (London, 1994), II, pp. 87-89.

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