The British National Archives is an amazing online resource. The latest addition to their collection is a project titled “Asia through a lens”. The collection is made up of more than 35,000 photographs, sketches and drawings from across the British Empire and offers a unique insight into life in the colonies from the second half of the 19th century through to the 20th century.

The press release is as follows:

 “As China and Hong Kong prepare to mark National Day on October 1, The National Archives (UK) has put hundreds of early photographs online as part of its „Asia through a lens‟ project. The images from the British Colonial Office‟s Photographic Collection date back to the middle of the 19th century and include pictures of buildings, people and places across Asia.

The photographs are a vivid reminder of the dramatic changes which have turned Hong Kong from an island of several thousand people to a modern metropolis and home to more than 7 million people.

In addition to rarely-seen images of Hong Kong and China, the latest collection includes black and white photographs of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Sri Lanka among others.

The pictures have been uploaded to the photo-sharing website Flickr and The National Archives hopes that visitors will tag and contribute comments and suggestions to help improve the descriptions.

Highlights from the collection include:

  • Images relating to the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the century
  • Street scenes of Peking (Beijing) in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Panoramic views of Hong Kong harbour taken in the 1860s
  • Views of Government House, the Happy Valley race course, and Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong dating back to the 1860s
  • 19th century photographs of the Straits Settlements and Malay peninsula (including Singapore, Malacca, Dinding, Penang)
  • Hand-coloured prints of Singapore, Java, Indochina, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan and the Suez Canal, dating from the late 19th century.
  • The temple and ruins of Anuraddhapura, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) taken in the early 1870s by the Kandy-based English photographer Joseph Lawton.
  • Original pencil sketches and watercolours of North Borneo from the 1870s

Steven Cable, photographic records specialist at The National Archives, said: “This collection of images from across Asia includes some of the more exotic sections of the Colonial Office’s photographic library. Although depictions of British colonies in Asia form the core of the collection, over the years additional material from across the continent has found its way here and China is particularly well-represented. This set includes historically important photographs recording the Boxer rebellion.”

 The latest online release of pictures from the Colonial Office collection is part of The National Archives‟ ongoing „World through a lens‟ project aimed at widening access to its collection.


Earlier this year, photographs of Canada released on to Flickr attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in the first few days. In 2011, The National Archives‟ „Africa through a lens‟ project resulted in more than a thousand extra user-generated descriptions.

For more information, pictures and interview requests please contact The National Archives‟ press office on 02083925277 or e-mail”

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