Photographs from the RCS Collection History of the RCS Collection
    Resized version of RCSPC-RCS-IA-001
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).

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