The Institute of Commonwealth Studies holds photography material on the Caribbean. Its source is the West India Committee collection. The holdings are composed of albums and loose photographs that encompass different types of images: albums of archaeological remains and albums of plants, postcards, landscapes, albums reviewing local industries and resources, and trips taken by the Queen or the Prince of Wales.


Online catalogue:


Library and Archives Institute of Commonwealth Studies

University of London
28 Russell Square
London WC1B 5DS
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7862 8842
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7862 8820

Further information

Further information on the photography collection of the West India Committee in Clover, David (2006) ‘Visions of the Caribbean: Exploring Photographs in the West India Committee Collections’, in Courtman, Sandra (ed.) The Society for Caribbean Studies Annual Conference Papers, vol. 7, available at

Summary Guide of the West India Committe Collection
Repository: GB 101 Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Reference code: ICS 96
Dates of creation of material: 1750-1988
Extent: 8 standard boxes, 8 large boxes
Creators: West India Committee; various donors of individual items
Level of description: Collection

Administrative History

The West India Committee was formed in the 18th century by a permanent association of London merchants engaged in the West Indian trade, and absentee owners of West Indian estates who lived in London and its environs. The interests of both planters and merchants appear to have been first joined on a permanent basis in 1775: before then, the two groups tended to promote their separate interests except on occasions when their usually different priorities became united. The Committee acted as a pressure group for West Indian interests, principally in the support of the sugar and rum trades and, in the first decades of its existence, in opposition to the abolition of the slave trade and then slavery. Although the campaign against slavery eventually won the day, the West India Committee did manage to secure improved compensation terms for the planters and merchants it represented.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, and a short period of virtual inactivity, the Committee shifted its work firstly towards the encouragement of immigrant labour from India, China and Africa (to replace the emancipated slave labour), and then to opposing the removal of preferential sugar duties for West Indian sugar. Later in the 19th century, although a more diversified range of produce was being developed, cane sugar still remained a significant element of the West Indian economy and there were further moves to support its success against the new threat of beet sugar which was now being grown in Europe. Beet sugar benefited from bounties paid by the Government as it favoured home-produced beet sugars for a variety of reasons. The West India Committee was instrumental in mounting a strong anti-bounty campaign, as well as seeking alternative markets for West Indian cane sugar in the United States. Bounties were eventually abolished throughout Europe in 1902.

Riding on this success, a concerted effort was made to widen the interests of the Committee beyond sugar alone, to the promotion of West Indian trade in general. This resulted in an increase in membership of the Committee which in turn led to a revision of its administrative structure and, in 1904, the award of a charter of incorporation. The enlarged membership included many members residing in the West Indies, and the Committee’s overall knowledge of West Indian affairs improved as a result. Its role became very much a representative one, although it was still perceived as an organisation for the support of the sugar trade, reflecting sugar’s continuing dominance in the region. At various times in the first half of the 20th century the Committee sought to become agents or trade representatives for individual colonies or the West Indies as a whole, but it did not achieve comprehensive or lasting success.

Later in the 20th century, with the independence of individual West Indian countries, the role of the West India Committee had to further adapt to reflect the changing political and economic scene. With the breakdown of former colonial affiliations, and changes in world trade as a whole, the Committee’s traditional role in representing British interests in its West Indian colonies expanded to encompass trade between the Caribbean region as a whole, and the European Community; and in addition, trade between the Caribbean and other parts of the world, particularly the United States and other American countries. This alteration in its sphere of activities resulted in the creation of significant autonomous bodies within the West India Committee: the Caribbean Council for Europe (CCE), and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group (Caritag). The CCE in particular played an important part in seeking the continuance of trade agreements between the two regions, in the face of conflicts of interest arising as a result of European Union.

For more information, see ‘A brief history of the West India Committee’ by Douglas Hall (Caribbean University Press, 1971), available in ICS Library.