skip to content

Image: Chamberlain Bridge, Barbados, c.1910. Photographer unknown (Y3072A/8)

The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) collections hold a diverse and fascinating range of published, archival and photographic records of Britain's former colonial territories in the Caribbean - the islands known as the West Indies and British Guiana. The majority date from the late 19th century to the mid to late 20th century but there are some important earlier accounts too.

The collection comprises official/government reports, yearbooks and directories, guidebooks, bibliographies, monographs, periodicals and pamphlets, poetry and fiction, memoirs and correspondence, scrapbooks and press cuttings, and slides and photograph albums.

The descriptions below link to online catalogues where they are available and in some cases to very detailed descriptions of individual files or photographs.

Earliest records

Some of the earliest records in the collection include:


Photographic records include:

Many Caribbean photographs have been digitised and may be viewed on Cambridge Digital Library. Use search term: Caribbean. This blog post describes some of the interesting Caribbean images we have digitised.


Archival collections include:

Government reports

Government reports include Blue books:

  • The blue book for the Colony of Tobago, (later continued by the Trinidad and Tobago Blue book) is held from 1824-1888, with 1882-1884 volumes entirely printed, the rest part printed, part manuscript. (RCS.L.BB.76)
  • The Bermuda Blue Book of 1840, recording the introduction of American cotton goods to the island, includes sample swatches of the different grades of cotton cloth. (RCS.L.BB.70)

Other government reports include staff and civil lists:

Directories and yearbooks

Directories and yearbooks include:

Fiction and poetry

Fiction and poetry include:

Rare books

Rare books include:

  • Jamaica viewed : with all the ports, harbours, and their several soundings, towns, and settlements thereunto belonging together, with the nature of it's climate, fruitfulnesse of the soile, and it's suitablenesse to English complexions. With several other collateral observations and reflexions upon the island / By E.H. The second edition, London : printed for Iohn Williams, at the Crown in St. Paul's Church-yard, 1661. (RCS.Case.e.11)
  • Report from the Committee on the Petition from Dominica respecting losses by the fire at Roseau, etc. [during the Napoleonic Wars], 1807. (RCS.Case.a.161)


Periodical holdings include:


For guidance searching for items in the Royal Commonwealth Society collections, please refer first to the RCS web pages, in particular:

For guidance in searching for official publications within the RCS collections, see:

Our collection DOES NOT include the minutes of the Society of West India Merchants or The West India Committee LIbrary and Archives. The originals of many of the early minutes of the West India Committee are now held at the University of the West Indies. Copies of these minutes are available on microfilm at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.


The Royal Commonwealth Society Library is not actively collecting new archival collections, photographs or manuscripts. However, donations of small collections which complement its existing collections will be considered.

Potential donors should contact the Smuts Librarian with details of their collection including, in the case of photograph collections, approximately how many images, whether or not they are captioned, geographical regions covered, dates, and, where known, the names of photographers or collectors.

Consideration will be given to the size and condition of the collection, as well as its subject content and provenance. If the Library feels unable to accept a collection, advice about alternative repositories will be given.

Contact us

Please address enquiries about RCS holdings to:

RCS Curator
Cambridge University Library
West Road


Please note that we are unable to provide valuations.  We recommend you contact a specialist antiquarian bookseller or auction house.