Click through the dates to see what was happening around the time the selected images and films were taken.


1860 - 1890

1860 British acquisition of Kowloon (Jiulong) opposite Hong Kong Island

1860–62 Sturt expeditions crossed Australia from south to north

1876 Queen Victoria voted the title Empress of India by the British Parliament

1880–81 First Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, prompted by the British proposal for the federation of South African states and the discovery of diamonds in areas settled by the Boers

1887 First Colonial Conference, to create closer ties between Britain and the colonies, with 100 delegates from the colonies

1890 - 1900

1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne

1897 Second Colonial Conference held in London, allowing Britain and dominions (self-governing settler colonies, Canada, Australia, South Africa) to discuss imperial policies

1897 Benin ‘Punitive expedition’ by the British against the African kingdom of Benin, which overthrew Oba (king) Ovonramwen and took control of the state

1899–1902 Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, prompted by the discovery of gold in areas settled by the Boers


1900 War of the Golden Stool with the Asante, provoked by the British Governor of the Gold Coast demanding to sit on the Golden Stool, the sacred symbol of the Asante people

1900 In India Punjab Land Act passed, which protected peasant farmers and their lands from urban moneylenders, to prevent the development of a landless disaffected rural population

1900 - 1901

1900 Celebration at the Relief of Mafeking, following a seven
month siege by the Boers during the Boer War

1901 death of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India

1901 - 1902

1901 the six separate colonies of Australia joined together as the Commonwealth of Australia, a constitutional monarchy with the British monarch as head of state

1902 Third Colonial Conference held in London

1910 - 1918

1910 Death of Edward VII, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Sea, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India

1911 First Imperial Conference, held in London, allowed Dominion leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa to discuss policies with the British

1913 Land Act in South Africa began separating the white and majority black population

1914–1918 World War I, the British Army recruited men from the Empire as fighting troops (India, Canada, Australia, South Africa) and as labour corps (Africa, China)

1922 - 1923

1922 Empire Settlement Act encouraged the removal of children from slum areas, orphans and young single women to a better life in the colonies, mainly Canada, Southern Rhodesia, New Zealand and Australia: we now know that many of the children were abused by their employers and had miserable lives

1923 Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing Crown colony

1923 Devonshire White Paper on Kenya asserted that the interests of Africans are of vital importance, although little changed for Kenyan Africans


1930 Mahatma Gandhi led the Salt March, in protest at the Salt Acts in India that forced Indians to buy salt from the British, and pay tax on it, rather than collecting or selling salt untaxed

1930 First British Empire (later Commonwealth) Games held at Hamilton in Canada


1938 Appointment of West India Royal Commission, a comprehensive investigation of the social and economic condition of all the British territories in the Caribbean

1938 Britain and France agreed to the German annexation of part of Czechoslovakia in the Munich Agreement, an agreement that was supposed to prevent war

1938 Lord Hailey’s An African Survey published, a study of the resources and opportunities as well as the social, economic and political problems of colonial Africa

1939 - 1945

1939 –1945 World War II, when men and women from Australia, Canada, West Africa, Egypt, Palestine, East Africa, Sudan, India, Burma, New Zealand, South Africa, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Malaysia, Gilbert Islands, Southern and Northern Rhodesia, Ceylon, Mauritius, Somaliland and Hong Kong joined the Allied fighting troops and labour corps

1945 United Nations formed at the end of World War II


1945 Negotiations began for Indian independence, led by
the Indian National Congress (achieved 1947)

1948 SS Empire Windrush arrived in London’s docks with 500 migrants from the Caribbean attracted by offers of work in Britain

1949 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation founded for protection against Soviet aggression during the Cold war era

1945 - 1949

1947 Partition of India at Independence into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, a political solution that brought hundreds of thousands of deaths

1948 South Africa introduced the system of apartheid (‘separateness’), separating the black and white populations, and dividing black South Africans on tribal lines to limit their political power

1950 - 1953

1950 Britain recognised People’s Republic of China

1952 Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne

1952 Britain conducted first atomic tests

1952 Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, with attacks against the British and Kikuyu supporting the government, by Kikuyu who had lost their land to white settlers

1953 Second Conference on Federation of West Indies in London, organised by the Colonial Office with the aim of uniting the Caribbean colonies to achieve self-sufficiency and self-government

1953 Queen Elizabeth began her first Commonwealth tour, visiting Bermuda, Jamaica, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Cocos Islands, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Malta and Gibraltar


1954 Establishment of the Movement for Colonial Freedom in London, a non-profit organisation focused on political civil rights in the Empire and campaigning against colonialism

1954 USA and Canada agree to build Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar stations to protect against air attack over the Arctic

1954 British troops removed from Egypt

1954 the Movement for Colonial Freedom became Liberation, still working today to oppose neo-collonialism, economic exploitation and racism

1954 Gold Coast elections result in formation of all-African Cabinet and elected Assembly

1956 - 1957

1956 Suez crisis: President Nasser of Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal, owned by France and Britain, and an invasion force of French and British troops was forced to withdraw from the canal zone, a humiliating defeat for a once-dominant empire

1957 Self-government began in Nigeria


1958 West Indies Federation established, a short-lived political union between various Caribbean islands with the aim of becoming an independent single state from Britain

1958 Revolution in Iraq leads to establishment of a republic


1959 Devlin Report published, which criticised the government handling of the Nyasaland (Malawi) Emergency declared over an alleged nationalist murder plot

1959 Hola Camp massacre, Kenya, when detention camp guards beat 11 Mau Mau detainees to death, an atrocity denounced in Parliament by Enoch Powell

1959 Singapore achieved internal self-government under Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew

1959 Emergency declared in Central Africa due to political and civil unrest


1960 Lancaster House Conference recommended majority rule in Kenya

1960 Harold Macmillan gave ‘Wind of Change’ speech to the South African Parliament, supporting majority rule in Britain’s African colonies

1960 Malayan Emergency ended after British and Commonwealth troops fought a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign against the communist-led Malayan National Liberation Army

1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa. Police opened fire on a peaceful anti-apartheid protest, killing at least 69 people

1962 Nelson Mandela and other opponents of the South African apartheid regime tried for sabotage and sentenced to life in prison

1965 Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from British rule, imposing white minority rule on the black majority, and triggering a guerrilla war by black-led political groups

1968 Enoch Powell made his ‘Rivers of blood’ speech in Birmingham, attacking Britain’s immigration policy and stirring racial hatred


Expansion and contraction of the Empire and development of the Commonwealth