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Unlocking the RCS archives

Thanks to generous grants from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Smuts Memorial Fund, it is now possible to experience the pioneering days of civil aviation and to explore vast tracts of the former British Empire through new catalogues to four recently acquired photographic collections in the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at the University Library. These catalogues can be consulted through ArchiveSearch. The identifying collection numbers are given with the following descriptions.


Henry Eric Hebbert, 1893-1980, Colonel (RCS/RCMS 120)

Hebbert took most of his photographs between 1924 and 1945 when he was employed in the Sudan Public Works Department, first in Khartoum and then Port Sudan, as Divisional Engineer in charge of the Red Sea Province. This post involved travelling from the Egyptian border to the Eritrean frontier. His subsequent post as Director of the Post and Telegraph Department gave him responsibility for the whole of Sudan and more opportunities for travel. Particularly outstanding among the images are two panoramas of Port Sudan and Kher Arbeal. Many of Hebbert’s Sudan and Ethiopia images are of great anthropological interest, depicting rarely photographed native peoples and scenery, but others reflect his interest in engineering and illustrate scenes such as bridge-building and road-laying.


Sir Frederick Tymms, 1889-1987, Knight and civil aviation administrator (RCS/RCMS 20)

Highlights include early aviation images such as 5 Squadron RFC, France, 1917; the records of the British Aviation Mission, USA, 1918; the RAF School of Navigation, Andover, 1919; the Cape Flight, January-March 1920 (including the plane crash in Shereik, Sudan, on 25 February 1920); the First African Survey of 1925, and the Cape to Cairo air route 1929-1930. India and Burma are well represented in the 1930s to early 1950s, including the official opening of the administrative building in Karachi Airport in 1938.


Fergus Brunswick Wilson, 1908-1999, Lecturer in Tropical Agriculture and Land Use, University of Cambridge, 1950-1952 and Professor of Agriculture, Makerere University College, Uganda, 1952-1964 (RCS/RCMS 162)

Wilson’s collection forms an important documentary record of agricultural and rural life in East Africa between 1933 and 1950. He was responsible for building the modern Faculty of Agriculture complex at Makerere, introducing the degree programme, and starting Kabanyolo University Farm. He also helped to instigate modern agricultural practices in Uganda and in the East African region. Of special interest are images of local ingenuity, such as the Malawi boys fashioning bicycles from local materials that, in Wilson’s own words, ‘go quite well – downhill!’ and those which echo contemporary habits, such as the coffee sellers in Zanzibar, the tradition being that whilst a customer drinks ‘he is informed of the news of the day by the vendor who stands by’. They also include rare images of the Sultan of Zanzibar, his wife, his son, his home and of religious celebrations.


Edred John Henry Corner, 1906-1996, Professor of Tropical Botany, University of Cambridge 1965-1973 (RCS/Y3031M)

Corner’s collection provides a detailed botanical record of Malaysia and Singapore between 1929 and 1945, created whilst he was employed as Assistant Director of the Gardens Department, Straits Settlement. It also includes images of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands (1965) and Borneo (1961 and 1964), taken on Royal Society expeditions that he led.

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.