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Fire ignited by the blast and the large quantity of water pumped in to extinguish it meant some unique collections were destroyed; examples, painstakingly assembled over more than seventy years, included: the Library of Overseas Law, the contents of the Newspaper Room, and sections covering the general British Empire, foreign colonies, the First World War, Malta and Gibraltar.
He was in advance of other librarians of his time in recognising the importance of photographs and ensured that photographic collections were identified and catalogued.
He was the author of Dark Companions (1975), a book about the indigenous associates of explorers.
The Society’s first home was above a shirt shop at No.
15 The Strand, London, where it remained from 1870 until 1885.
The Society may be seen from early on to have been progressive in its time towards equality and diversity.
A woman was first invited by The Royal Colonial Institute to read a research paper in 1894, and The Royal Colonial Institute was one of the first learned organisations to admit women as full Fellows, in 1922.
It aims to bring alive the principles of the modern Commonwealth - tolerance, diversity, freedom, justice, democracy, human rights, and sustainable development - to a generation living in an increasingly interconnected world.
Society projects aim to enable young people to engage with their counterparts across the Commonwealth in youth leadership programmes, and creative writing and film-making projects.
The Society's library, despite the damage caused by the German bombing offensive in World War II, grew to over half a million items; The Contemporary Review described the collection as "the most comprehensive single source for the history of the world's greatest empire from its 16th century beginnings to its present fifty-nation Commonwealth." Cambridge University Library recognised the collection as a "treasure-trove" of information on the Commonwealth and Britain's former colonial territories, comprising over 300,000 printed items, about 800 archival collections (including manuscript diaries, correspondence, pictures, cine films, scrapbooks and newspaper cuttings) and over 120,000 photographs.
From 1956 to 1987 the society's librarian was Donald Simpson (1920-2002), who had joined the staff in 1945.