Show themes

Voyages of discovery: the Commonwealth

Curious Objects

Founded in 1868 as a place for the exchange of knowledge and information about Britain’s overseas interests, the organisation known today as the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) quickly established a large library of newspapers, statistical reports, maps, literature, illustrations and ephemera. A museum too had been envisaged to promote and encourage scientific, literary and statistical investigation but following the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington, the Imperial Institute was created and the RCS plans were dropped.

Many members of the Society worked overseas in countries which now form part of the Commonwealth. They were employed in fields as varied as medicine, forestry, agriculture, engineering, education, trade, mining, the diplomatic and civil services, and mission work, and they donated a fascinating range of artefacts alongside printed and manuscript items to the RCS library, many of which are included in this exhibition.

The history of these objects has yet to be explored in any detail, but they appear to fall into three categories: items collected as souvenirs whilst living abroad, items which once served a practical purpose, and items the donors received as diplomatic gifts during the course of their employment. To view additional objects from the RCS library, please go to the collection in the Cambridge Digital Library. Learn more about the RCS collections in general here. Bon voyage!