The Colonial Office was a government department of the
Kingdom of Great Britain The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain,"After the political union of England and Scotland in 1707, the nation's official name became 'Great Britain'", ''The American Pageant, Volume 1'', Cengage Learning (2012) was a s ...
and later of the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shortha ...
, first created to deal with the colonial affairs of British North America but needed also to oversee the increasing number of colonies of the British Empire. Despite its name, the Colonial Office was never responsible for all Britain's Imperial territories; for example protectorates fell under the purview of the Foreign Office,
British India The provinces of India, earlier presidencies of British India and still earlier, presidency towns, were the administrative divisions of British governance in India India (Hindi: ), officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a countr ...

British India
was ruled by the East India Company until 1858 (thereafter being succeeded by the
India Office 275px, The western or St. James's Park, park end of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's building in 1866. It was then occupied by the Foreign and India Offices, while the Home and Colonial Offices occupied the Whitehall end. The India Office w ...
as a result of the Indian Mutiny), whilst the role of the colonial office in the affairs of the Dominions changed as time passed. It was headed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, also known more informally as the Colonial Secretary.

First Colonial Office (1768–1782)

Prior to 1768, responsibility for the affairs of the British colonies was part of the duties of the Secretary of State for the Southern Department and a committee of the Privy Council known as the Board of Trade and Plantations. In 1768 the separate American or Colonial Department was established, in order to deal with colonial affairs in British North America. With the American Revolutionary War, loss of thirteen of its colonies, however, the department was abolished in 1782. Responsibility for the remaining colonies was given to the Home Office, and subsequently in 1801 transferred to the War Office.

War and Colonial Office (1801-1854)

The War Office was renamed the War and Colonial Office in 1801, under a new Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, to reflect the increasing importance of the colonies. In 1825 a new post of Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was created within this office. It was held by Robert William Hay initially. His successors were James Stephen (civil servant), James Stephen, Herman Merivale, Frederic Rogers, Robert Herbert and Robert Henry Meade.

Second Colonial Office (1854–1966)

In 1854, the War and Colonial Office was divided in two, the War Office and a new Colonial Office, created to deal specifically with the affairs in the colonies and assigned to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Colonial Office did not have responsibility for all British possessions overseas: for example, both the British Raj, Indian Empire (or Raj) and other British territories near India, were under the authority of the
India Office 275px, The western or St. James's Park, park end of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's building in 1866. It was then occupied by the Foreign and India Offices, while the Home and Colonial Offices occupied the Whitehall end. The India Office w ...
from 1858. Other, more informal protectorates, such as the Khedivate of Egypt, fell under the authority of the Foreign Office. After 1878, when the Emigration Commission was abolished, an Emigration Department was created in the Colonial Office. This was merged with the General Department in 1894, before its complete abolition in 1896. The increasing independence of the Dominions – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa – following the 1907 Imperial Conference, led to the formation of a separate Dominion Division within the Colonial Office. From 1925 onwards the UK ministry included a separate Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. On 16 April 1947 the Irgun placed a bomb at the Colonial Office which failed to detonate. The plot was linked to the 1946 British Embassy bombing, 1946 Embassy bombing. After the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the Dominion Office was merged with the India Office to form the Commonwealth Relations Office. In 1966, the Commonwealth Relations Office was re-merged with the Colonial Office, forming the Commonwealth Office. Two years later, this department was itself merged into the Foreign Office, establishing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Colonial Office had its offices in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Main Building in Whitehall.

''The Colonial Office List''

From 1862, the Colonial Office published historical and statistical information concerning the United Kingdom's colonial dependencies in ''The Colonial Office List'', though between 1926 and 1940 it was known as ''The Dominions Office and Colonial Office List''. It later became known as the ''Commonwealth Relations Office Year Book'' and ''Commonwealth Office Year Book''. In addition to the official ''List'' published by the Colonial Office, an edited version was also produced by Waterlow and Sons. It can be difficult to distinguish between the two versions in library catalogue descriptions. For example, ''The Sydney Stock and Station Journal'' of 3 December 1915 commented:.


See also

*Colonial Service *List of British Empire-related topics


Further reading

* * Egerton, Hugh Edward. ''A Short History of British Colonial Policy'' (1897) 610p
* Laidlaw, Zoë. ''Colonial connections, 1815-45: patronage, the information revolution and colonial government'' (Oxford UP, 2005). * * *

Primary sources

* Bell, Kenneth Norman, and William Parker Morrell, eds. ''Select documents on British colonial policy, 1830-1860'' (1928) {{Authority control 1768 establishments in Great Britain 1782 disestablishments in Great Britain 1854 establishments in the United Kingdom 1966 disestablishments in the United Kingdom Defunct departments of the Government of the United Kingdom Governance of the British Empire Colonial ministries