This collection consists of photographs and paper archives dating from 1890 to 1983. There are 115 photograph albums and various bundles and rolls of loose photographs, and the paper archives consist of contracts and reports.
The photographs all relate to the construction and extension of the railways, and cover some of the major engineering works that Crown Agents oversaw in various countries, for example Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast (Ghana), Kenya, Uganda, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Singapore, Trinidad, Jamaica etc. The first 62 photograph albums (1999/221/1/1-62) record railway infrastructure projects in progress or on completion, and contain images of railways, bridges and trains often including railway workers and some local scenes. The remaining volumes and loose photographs were, in the main, collected by the Crown Agents Inspection department, and include photographs of locomotives, carriages, wagons, cranes etc submitted to Crown Agents for approval as part of a contractual arrangement. Generally these images were taken in the UK where the trains were constructed. Crown Agents used various engineering firms within the UK to support these projects, including Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co., Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co., Leeds Forge Co. and North British Locomotive Co. (Glasgow).
The Crown Agents created a large amount of reports, specifications and contracts as part of their offical role in overseeing procurement and the provision of services across countries in the former empire, and a number of these have been preserved under 1999/221/4.
This catalogue was produced with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives
The origins of the Crown Agents go back to the 1700s when colonial administrations employed agents to recruit people, and procure and move goods to the colonies on their behalf. Some of these agents were authorised to handle British Treasury grants and they became known as 'crown agents'. This led to a growing number of agents and in order to rationalise the situation, in 1833 all agents were dismissed and only two were re-appointed. The Joint Agents General for the Crown Colonies, reporting to the Colonial Office, had the remit of managing grants, raising capital, recruiting personnel and shipping supplies to their clients in the colonies. The expectation was to reduce costs and increase the efficiency in the purchase of goods and services as the Agency was financially and administratively independent of the government.
By 1863 the Agency was retitled 'Crown Agents for the Colonies', to emphasise that this body was an official one and not there to offer private services. As business increased, their remit broadened to include the overseeing of major infrastructure projects. Ports, roads and railways were required to service the increase in trade, and Crown Agents managed many large engineering projects - engaging engineers, procuring and shipping the necessary materials and machinery, inspecting the finished products. Crown Agents arranged the supply of railway material and the building of railways in over twenty countries from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, and it is this work which is evidenced in this collection (ref. 1999/221).
In 1905, Crown Agents were authorised to act for other bodies (not limited colonial administrations) and many public bodies chose to use their services including the Straits Settlement Docks Board (ref 1999/221/1/15-18). Crown Agents undertook their first commission for a foreign country (ie not colonial) in 1932 when Iraq became independent but wanted to continue to use their services.
In 1954 Crown Agents was renamed 'Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations' as work with the colonies was reducing due to the move towards independence. In 1979 it became a statutory corporation to provide commercial services with developmental purpose. In 1997,the company was privatised with the main focus 'to help governments around the world to increase prosperity, reduce poverty and improve health by providing consultancy, supply chain, financial services and training'.
For central administrative records of the Crown Agents, see The National Archives (ref. CAOG - Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations). For drawings, see National Railway Museum.
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