Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association

HISTORY CONCEALED, HISTORY WITHHELD: THE STORY OF THE FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE ‘MIGRATED ARCHIVES’ AND THE DECADES-LONG INTERNATIONAL SEARCH FOR REDRESS

Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association (2020), 55, (1), 1–29.

Abstract

In 2011 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) reluctantly admitted its possession of documentation created by the governments of 37 former colonial dependencies, removed to the UK at independence, and held clandestinely for decades. The status of the papers, always uncertain, was sporadically debated within the FCO and in discussion with the Public Record Office/National Archives until the FCO obtained a legal opinion, details of which have not been made public, that they are UK public records. Papers concerning the drafting of the 1958 Public Records Act do not mention colonial governments, bodies which were never considered part of UK central government. In the immediate pre-independence years, changes in document security classification and records management, introduced by the colonial administrations to keep sensitive papers from local ministers and officials, paved the way for the destruction or removal of papers vital for continuing good governance. As ‘displaced archives’, the records are of continuing concern to the independent states, which seek repatriation, or the provision of free copies, and who are supported in their efforts by the international archival community. This article concludes with a brief discussion of the apparent lack of interest demonstrated by both media and the public, in stark contrast to the concern for museum collections similarly removed from British colonies.

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Author details

Banton, Mandy