British Empire & Commonwealth

This major and unique collection covers a wide range of material relating to the countries of the British Empire and the Commonwealth.

The British Empire and Commonwealth Collection is in the care of Bristol Archives and Bristol Museums.

Access the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection catalogue to search for objects and archives. 

This unique collection documents the links between Britain and countries in the British Empire from the late 19th century to recent times. Through objects, photographs, films, personal papers and sound recordings, the collection provides insights into diverse lives and landscapes during a challenging and controversial period of history.

We make these sources available to help people and communities worldwide to explore difficult, forgotten or hidden histories from their own perspectives.

The photographic, film, paper and sound archives are held at Bristol Archives. Much of the material was created or collected in a personal capacity, and is therefore significant in depicting untold stories of life in the empire. Themes covered include people and their way of life, both colonial and indigenous, historic events, tourist sites, wildlife and the environment, military and conflict, engineering projects, buildings and infrastructure.

The object collection, cared for by Bristol Museums, comprises items that capture the working and domestic lives of British colonial workers, and of the people amongst whom they lived and worked. We also hold the Commonwealth Institute collection, which includes paintings by Commonwealth artists.

The majority of the collection was previously held by the former British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. The collection was transferred to the care of Bristol City Council after the museum closed in 2012.

Browse the British Empire & Commonwealth object collection