The first RCS President - Viscount Bury
The Society, known successively as the Colonial Society, the Royal Colonial
Institute, the Royal Empire Society and finally the Royal Commonwealth Society,
was established in 1868 with the objective of providing a meeting place for
gentlemen connected with, or interested in, the British colonies. Its founding
members were keen that the Society be seen as an intellectual endeavour and the
creation of a colonial library was considered essential to the Society's aims.
Indeed, at a meeting to discuss its foundation, the Right Honourable Chichester
Fortescue declared: "the formation...of a colonial library, to which
all interested in the welfare of the colonies should have access...would be one of
the most useful portions of your proposed scheme" (RCI, Proceedings 1869, p.6;
also quoted in: Mackenzie 1998, p.168).
The early years saw a slow but steady increase in library holdings. One of the
Society's first acts was to petition colonial governments for parliamentary and
financial papers (RCI, Council Minutes, 3rd November 1868). However, it was not
until the 1880s that the Society's attention truly began to focus on its library.
In January 1880 the Library Committee met for the first time, recommending an
annual grant of £25 for book purchases (RCI, Library and Museum Committee Minutes,
27 Jan. 1880). This meeting heralded a period of significant progress and the
following year saw the appointment of the first salaried librarian -
J.S. O'Halloran (RCI, Proceedings 1880-1881, p.403). These developments were reflected in terms of acquisitions
and by 1887 the library had grown to 5507 volumes and 1784 pamphlets
(RCI, Library and Museum Committee Minutes, 25th Jan. 1887).