The British Empire and Commonwealth Collection is in the care of Bristol Museums and Bristol Archives. This major and unique collection covers a wide range of material relating to the countries of the British Empire and the Commonwealth.

Material was transferred in 2012 on the closure of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, and reflects the occupations and interests of people living and working in many parts of the former Empire. The Collection consists of objects, photographs, films, papers and sound archives.

The objects, numbering about 10,000 items, are from the BECM collection and the Commonwealth Institute collection. The Commonwealth Institute collection, containing material from the Imperial Institute and the later Commonwealth Institute, reflects the culture and economic resources of the countries represented. The objects range from a bicycle rickshaw to wood samples, and include paintings by Commonwealth artists. The Commonwealth Institute handling collection consists of several thousand objects, gathered for use in teaching. The BECM collection reflects the life and work of the many British people working in the territories of the Empire in both government and commercial posts.

The photographic, film, paper and sound archives were transferred to Bristol Archives. The visual material consists of about 500,000 still images dating from the 1860s to 1970s, and approximately 2,000 films dating from the 1920s. These were generally created or collected in a personal capacity, and therefore provide an unofficial account of empire. Images and film are mostly amateur, intended for viewing at home and in private by family groups. Themes covered include people and their way of life, both colonial and indigenous, historic events, tourist sites, stunning scenery, wildlife and the environment, the military, engineering projects, buildings and infrastructure.

There is also an oral history archive, developed by the former museum, covering a vast range of anecdotes and opinions from many people who lived and worked in the former Empire and Commonwealth, from nurses to geologists.

Some of this material is now being used in our collections and displays, as content for community-led projects and to build a research resource. The Collection is still being documented and catalogued - writing descriptions, recording associated information, photographing objects and digitising some of the images and films.

The catalogue here has been replaced; please use this link to access the new British Empire & Commonwealth Collection catalogue to search for objects and archives. You can find out more about some of the objects in the collection by following the link below.

Image: 'The State Entry into Delhi' by Roderick McKenzie, showing the procession of dignitaries at the 1903 Delhi Durbar, marking the accession of King Edward VII as Emperor of India (2002/156/001)