HomeDocumentsEssayChronologyFinding AidPopular Searches
Women in The National Archives

Introduction

This collection consists of two distinct elements:

  • A finding aid to women's studies resources in The National Archives
  • Original documents on the suffrage question in Britain, the Empire and colonial territories

For a downloadable list of all original documents in the resource, please click here.

 

Nature and Scope


Finding aid

Original documents

Activities of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU)

British Imperial territories and universal suffrage

 

As outlined in the Introduction, this resource consists of two distinct elements.

The finding aid is the result of a five-year project by staff at The National Archives in the mid-1990s and enables researchers to quickly locate details of documents at TNA relating to women. This finding aid is far more detailed and extensive than anything available elsewhere online and has the benefit of ranging across all of the document classes TNA hold.

The original documents cover the campaign for women's suffrage in Britain, 1903-28, and the granting of women's suffrage in colonial territories, 1930-62.

 

Finding aid


The finding aid enables researchers to quickly locate details of documents relating to women in The National Archives at Kew (TNA). At the time of first release this database was far more detailed and extensive than anything available elsewhere on the web and has the benefit of ranging across all of the classes held at TNA. It is a unique resource that will be of great value to anyone who uses Kew to research topics concerning women’s studies.

The finding aid enables researchers to quickly locate details of documents relating to women in The National Archives. Subject topics within the finding aid, provided to assist users, include the following:

  • Abortion
  • Clothing
  • Conditions of service
  • Divorce
  • Domestic work
  • Education and training
  • Employment
  • Equal opportunities and pay
  • Health
  • Marriage
  • Maternity and child welfare
  • Nursing and midwifery
  • Prostitution
  • Single parents
  • Teaching and teacher training
  • Trade unions
  • Widows
  • Women's organisations
  • Women's suffrage, rights and status

An index of subjects provides a full list of all indexing terms used.

There is also a section on noteworthy women with references to over 500 individuals organised alphabetically. Although the emphasis here is on twentieth-century women, these references range from early items such as an inventory of Lady Chatham’s wardrobe in 1784, the diary of Elizabeth Gibbes during her 1789-90 tour of Europe (to be found amongst the Colchester Papers in PRO 30/9/7/10-11), or Lady Sale’s journal of 1841 at Kabul and material on Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, 1854-1856, through to much more recent items such as references to nurse Edith Cavell, during the First World War, the imprisonment of Mrs Pankhurst and Mr and Mrs Pethick-Lawrence (see HO 45/24630/223849), police identification photographs of suffragettes, or papers relating to Barbara Castle (Labour MP), for the period 1950-1970, references to the work of Lady Dorothy Macmillan, or the various campaigns of Mary Whitehouse on the subject of morality and decency.

 

Original documents

The main rationale for the resource is the finding aid, but this is supplemented with a body of original documents which will be valuable for those teaching courses on:

  • The campaign for women's suffrage in Britain, 1903-1928
  • The granting of women's suffrage in colonial territories, 1930-1963

Both areas are explored by consultant editor Professor Martin Pugh in his contextual essay, which introduces and provides direct links to many of the documents. These include material on individual suffragettes, the 'Cat and Mouse' campaign, force-feeding, police surveillance and prison conditions, records of Parliamentary debates and committee reports. There is also a full run of papers of the Equal Franchise Committee.

Some particularly interesting and important documents are as follows:

HO 45/10345/141956: This dates from 1906 and contains details of the arrest and imprisonment of four suffragettes, including Theresa Billington and Annie Kenney, as a result of two separate protests which occurred outside the house of the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, in Cavendish Square. The file contains two resolutions from the WSPU, one of which is signed by Christabel Pankhurst, while the other includes a handwritten note by Sylvia Pankhurst.

HO 45/10349/147337: This records the imprisonment of six suffragettes in 1906 following a protest at the Houses of Parliament. This file also includes details of a later incident when five suffragettes began a protest in the central lobby of the House of Commons. This led to a further 11 arrests.

HO 45/10389/170808: On the treatment in prison of suffragettes, including Flora Drummond, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, Marion Wallace Dunlop and Mary Leigh, following the conviction of 17 women in connection with the 'rush' on the House of Commons, 1908. Various official papers include graphic accounts of the force-feeding of women prisoners, both by mouth and by nasal tube, including the case of Theresa Garnett, who had been sentenced for attempting to horse-whip Winston Churchill at Bristol. See also reports in 1909 by prison doctors in HO 144/552/185732.

A majority of the other sources concentrate on the women’s suffrage movement in the UK between 1903 and 1928. The documents contain papers on government and police handling of the suffrage question, photographs and descriptions of leading suffragettes, and police reports on suffrage meetings and disturbances, including attacks on the Wallace Collection and the death of Emily Davison after throwing herself under the king’s horse at the Derby in 1913.

  • HO 144/1204/221826 is the Home Office file on Clara Giveen, a suffragette who was sentenced to three years' penal servitude for setting fire to the grandstand at Hurst Park. Having refused food in prison, she was released on medical grounds and subsequently escaped police observation.
  • There are petitions, newspaper clippings, extracts from Parliamentary debates, and Cabinet and committee reports on franchise bills, including the work of the Equal Franchise Committee of 1927-28 (see HO 45/13020/474274 Part I and HO 45/13020/474274 Part II). There are also various sources relating to the arrest of suffragettes and their transit in police vans and treatment in prison, accounts from suffragettes and their supporters, and reports from prison authorities with details of hunger strikes, the 'Cat and Mouse' campaign and force-feeding.

Documents from the Colonial Office and Dominions Office relate to the subsequent debate on and development of universal suffrage throughout the British Empire, 1930-63, addressing issues of race, the legislature and voting procedures. Many organisations and pressure groups, such as The Six Point Group, a British feminist campaign group founded by Lady Rhondda in 1921, questioned the status of suffrage arrangements throughout other parts of the British Empire after the First World War and this campaign was still ongoing after the Second World War. Arrangements overseas were not consistent with those in the 'mother country'. Imperial troops' major contributions to the war effort helped galvanise public opinion and secure both proper suffrage arrangements and, in time, the granting of independence for various overseas territories. See, for example:

  • CO 323/1694/2: Papers relating to the Six Point Group on the extension of the franchise to women in the colonies, 1939. The Six Point Group contacted the Colonial Office in November 1939, stating that it deplored “the small percentage of the population which has the right to vote in many British Dependencies” and asked that this matter be raised in Parliament. The Bahamas, Barbados and Bermuda were singled out as specific examples to be held to account. It took until 1950 for Barbados to get universal adult suffrage; it became independent in 1966. In the Bahamas full male suffrage was adopted from 1959 and extended to women two years later, although the various restrictions on women voting were not lifted until 1964. Full independence for the followed in 1973. Bermuda remained a British possession but universal suffrage there was finally achieved in 1967.
  • A report on the ‘Status of native women in Colonies and Protectorates, 1930’ (DO 35/349/10), which looks at women’s living conditions in Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Ceylon, Fiji, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Swaziland, Uganda and Zanzibar.
  • A very revealing report by the Six Point Group on the ‘Extension of the franchise to women in the colonies’, 1939 (CO 323/1694/2).
  • A sequence of substantial files from the CO 1032 class on suffrage arrangements in colonial territories, 1954-62 (for example, CO 1032/103, CO 1032/104, CO 1032/105, CO 1032/156 and CO 1032/265).
  • CO 1032/265: Colonial Office report discussing various alternative systems of franchise for Kenya, 3 August 1960. Women had acquired voting rights in Kenya, with restrictions, in 1946. Full suffrage for women was achieved in 1963 with the granting of full independence. 

Countries covered in this part of the collection include:

  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Canada
  • Cape Colony
  • Ceylon
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Malaya
  • New Zealand
  • Nigeria
  • Singapore
  • Tanganyika
  • West Indies

For an overview of information on developments in this area please see the section on British Imperial Territories and Universal Suffrage Data.


Activities of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), 1903-1918


Emmeline Pankhurst, together with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, had formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, frustrated at what they believed to be limited progress towards votes for women. It was to be the first suffrage organisation to use militant actions to capture the attention of the government. By 1906, the WSPU was financially backed by philanthropists Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and was quickly developing into one of the best-run organisations in the country. Although somewhat frowned upon by both sexes and all classes in society, their radical campaigning guaranteed continued national press coverage, leading the Daily Mail to dub them ‘suffragettes’.

The success and financial stability of the WSPU was largely down to the role played by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who became honorary treasurer in 1906. This year also saw the Liberal Party regaining power following a period under a Conservative and Liberal Unionist coalition. The Liberals won a landslide victory by 125 seats in that year's general election. The WSPU and other less militant women, such as Charlotte Despard, who formed the Women’s Freedom League in 1907, had hoped that a new Parliament would embrace the cause of suffrage, but for most MPs the issue was of little significance compared to the enormous problems that the country faced. Solutions to the problems of high unemployment, increasing poverty, industrial unrest and impending civil war in Ireland dominated the Liberals’ electoral promises and, thus, their political agenda. The suffragettes were very disappointed and so felt compelled to adopt new strategies.

In 1908 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, H. H. Asquith, took over as prime minister on the resignation of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Asquith forged ahead with Liberal policies, supported by David Lloyd George as Chancellor and Herbert Gladstone as Home Secretary.

Suffragist attacks were stepped up and became more violent. Tactics designed to gain the attention of Cabinet ministers involved an increased number of demonstrations and a policy of window-breaking, adopted by the WSPU in 1909. Suffragettes previously arrested and found guilty of their actions had already chosen imprisonment instead of paying fines and, in the beginning, the Government had bowed to public pressure and treated them as political offenders rather than as simple criminals. But with suffrage disturbances on the rise, the Government’s attitude had turned from tolerance to annoyance and this privilege was withdrawn. In protest, Emmeline Pankhurst encouraged suffragette prisoners to go on hunger strike to increase their chance of release.

The Government was conscious that the suffrage movement had pushed them into a difficult corner. Asquith was preparing to go to the country in order to gain support in his reform of the House of Lords. If the WSPU policy of hunger-striking continued, the death of a suffragette would lead to martyrdom as well as a decline in support for the administration. But if imprisoned suffragettes were to be released this would only allow them to recommence their militant actions and cause further irritation. In order to keep the suffragettes alive and still in prison the Home Secretary ordered authorities to introduce the practice of forcible feeding.

In January 1910 the Liberals returned to power but with a reduced majority. Asquith had proclaimed that in the event of a Liberal victory women with property would get the vote and, as a compromise, a Conciliation Bill was drafted. But with Asquith still up against the House of Lords, another general election was set for November of the same year. Leading up to this, and optimistic that victory for women was in sight, the suffrage movement concentrated on promoting the new bill. Having passed through the preliminary stages, Asquith promised voting time for the Conciliation Bill in the autumn Parliamentary session. When the time came the issue was talked out by MPs. In retaliation the suffragettes marched to the House of Commons. The new Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, instructed the police to avoid making any arrests. But the officers present were unable to cope with the ensuing demonstration, violence broke out, and the police apprehended over a hundred women. The afternoon’s proceedings turned into a six-hour pitched battle between the ranks of police and suffragettes and later became known as ‘Black Friday’.

The years leading up to the First World War saw the suffrage movement becoming ever more violent in their attempt to be heard by the Government. Christabel Pankhurst was forced to escape to Paris to avoid arrest, and Annie Kenney took over as chief organiser for WSPU.

By 1912 the media attention given to the suffragettes and their demonstrations had helped to divide public opinion. With destruction of private property still part of WSPU policy, some sections of society held little sympathy for the movement. But the forcible feeding of imprisoned suffragettes still continued, and public pressure to cease such treatment caused the next Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, to introduce the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Bill in 1913, famously nicknamed the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act by Frederick Pethick-Lawrence. Under the act hunger-striking prisoners, sometimes on the point of death, were released under licence in order for them to regain their health; when they had, they were re-arrested, though several released suffragettes managed to escape police surveillance and become once again free to commit further outrages. Such defiance caused a field day for the press and humiliation for the police and Government. Defiance of the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act became the suffragettes' priority.

After the arrest of Annie Kenney, Grace Roe took over as chief organiser for the WSPU. The authorities were determined to arrest her as well, and the police raided WSPU headquarters on numerous occasions, but Roe eluded them until the summer of 1914. At the beginning of May 1913 Roe was away in Paris securing emergency funds. Before the police arrested various WSPU activists during their raid on 1 May, Roe had taken steps to ensure that the Suffragette newspaper, the official organ of the WSPU, appeared on time the next day. The front page carried just the stark headline “Raided!!”.

Other changes were also occurring within the movement itself. How far would the suffragettes go to ensure the advance of their cause? There was an arson attack on Lloyd George’s house. Several said that they were prepared to die for their beliefs. The Government’s problems worsened with the death of Emily Wilding Davison on Derby day in June 1913. Though scholars debate exactly what she was trying to achieve, the facts are that Davison emerged from the crowd, ran onto the racecourse and was trampled by the King's horse, subsequently dying from her injuries.

The previous year Sylvia Pankhurst had split from the WSPU in order to concentrate her efforts in supporting working-class women in the East End of London. She formed her own East London Federation and distanced herself from the militant action of WSPU-members. Throughout 1914, suffragette campaigns became more disorganised and hazardous. Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested in Glasgow in March. Mary Richardson slashed Velazquez's 'Rokeby Venus' in the National Gallery. With other WSPU leaders under arrest, Flora Drummond continued to organise meetings all over the country. In May the suffragettes launched a mass deputation to Buckingham Palace, with Emmeline Pankhurst leading the way once again. She was arrested in front of the gates. Struggles ensued between the police and the suffragettes, armed with eggs, paint and secateurs. Further raids took place on WSPU headquarters and Grace Roe was finally arrested. Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, complained about the “midsummer madness” of the WSPU and deplored activists' attempts to petition the King. In June, in order to try to ease the situation, Asquith at last agreed to receive a deputation from Sylvia Pankhurst’s East End Federation.

At this point international events intervened. War with Germany was declared and an amnesty was granted to all suffragette prisoners. Emmeline Pankhurst agreed to a truce and stated that her organisation would support the war effort. She called for women to volunteer to replace men in all areas of work. Christabel Pankhurst returned from France and the Suffragette was patriotically renamed Britannia. Emmeline Pankhurst worked closely with her daughter, expounding their ideas at huge patriotic rallies all over the country.

In June 1915, at a moment of great crisis in the war, Lloyd George, now Minister of Munitions, called upon the suffragettes to organise a demonstration to appeal for a voluntary brigade of women to begin urgent work in the ordnance factories. The huge procession, organised by Emmeline Pankhurst, was a great success, and her call taken up by thousands of women. The Times described the demonstration of support of 17 July 1915 as revealing "the spirit of our women and it is a striking example of their perception that all social and political values will be determined by the way they have stood the test of War”.

After 12 years of intensive campaigning by the suffragettes, the passage of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 enfranchised all women householders, wives of male householders, and women university graduates over the age of 30. It was not quite the result that women had hoped for and the campaign continued through the 1920s to remove the age restriction and achieve a minimum voting age equal to men's. It was not until 1928 that the required amendment was passed and all women over the age of 21 gained both the right to vote in elections and to stand in them. Emmeline Pankhurst died the same year.

 

British Imperial Territories and Universal Suffrage

Aden  The port of Aden was seized by the East India Company from the Arabs in 1839 and ruled by the company until 1858, when it was transferred to the Crown as part of British India. Aden became a separate colony in 1936. Inland territory was brought under British protection by treaties with Arab chiefs from 1873 to form the Aden Protectorate. In 1963 Aden joined the South Arabian Federation, which became independent as South Yemen in 1967. Women were granted full suffrage rights in Yemen in 1970.

Anguilla  The island was settled from St Christopher in 1650 and brought under English rule in 1663. Its government was united with that of St Christopher from 1882 until 1967, when it declared its separation. It was brought back under direct British administration in 1969. It is currently an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. There is a multi-party system with full suffrage from the age of 18.

Antigua  The island was settled from St Christopher in 1632 and brought under English rule in 1663. It became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981. Universal adult suffrage was granted in 1951. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, CO 1032/265.]

Ascension  The island was first occupied in 1815 by the Royal Navy as a precaution while Napoleon was held on St Helena. It was placed under civil administration from St Helena in 1922.

Australia The Commonwealth of Australia was created in 1901 by the union of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. The Commonwealth Franchise Act was passed in 1902 and this provided for universal adult suffrage. [See manuscript minutes, 20 January 1961, in CO 1032/265.] This act enabled women to vote and stand in the federal election of 1903. In state and local elections women had the right to vote as follows: South Australia, from 1856; Victoria, from 1857; New South Wales, from 1858; Queensland, from 1859; Western Australia, from 1899; and Tasmania from 1900. [See CO 1032/265.] Enid Lyons was the first woman to be elected to the lower house at Commonwealth level in 1943. In the same year Dorothy Tangney was elected to the upper house. At state level, Edith Cowan had been elected to the lower house in Western Australia in 1921, Millicent Preston-Stanley in New South Wales in 1925, and Irene Longman in Queensland in 1929.

Bahamas  The islands were settled from 1629 and brought under Crown rule in 1717. The Bahamas became independent in 1973. Adult suffrage applied to men from 1959. Women got voting rights in 1961, with various restrictions being lifted in 1964. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, and a secret letter from the governor, 3 January 1961, in CO 1032/265.]

Bahrain  The emirs of Bahrain entered into treaties of protection with Britain from 1882. Full independence was achieved in 1971. Women were given full voting rights in 2002.

Barbados  The uninhabited island was settled in 1625 and brought under direct Crown rule in 1663. It became independent in 1966. Universal adult suffrage: 1950. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, CO 1032/265.]

Basutoland  The territory of its African ruler was annexed by Britain in 1868. Basutoland was transferred to the Cape Colony in 1871 but returned to British protection in 1884.  It became independent as Lesotho in 1966. Women achieved full suffrage rights in 1965.

Bechuanaland  After the dispatch of a British military expedition in 1884, a protectorate was proclaimed in 1885. Part of Bechuanaland was transferred to Cape Colony in 1895, but the rest remained under British protection until it became independent as Botswana in 1966. [See discussion of the Bechuanaland Protectorate in letter from Commonwealth Relations Office, 11 May 1960, in CO 1032/265.] Women have had full suffrage rights since 1965.

Bermuda  The islands were claimed in 1609 and settled by a London company from 1612. Bermuda was brought under Crown rule in 1684. Property-holding white residents were given full suffrage in 1944. [See details in Table VI, 3 August 1960, in CO 1032/265.] Full universal suffrage: 1967.

Bhutan  Border territory was taken from Bhutan after a war with the British in 1864. In 1911 the ruler of Bhutan signed a treaty with Britain guaranteeing his internal autonomy in return for British control of his foreign policy. This connection was ended with Indian independence in 1947. Women have had full suffrage rights from 1953 and this was reaffirmed in 2008 following the adoption of a new democratic system.

British Antarctic Territory  The islands were claimed from 1819 and rights to part of the Antarctic continent defined in 1908 and 1917. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty laid down regulations for activities in Antarctica. There is no permanent resident population.

British Columbia  Following a treaty in 1846 with the United States, British colonies were established on Vancouver Island in 1849 and on the mainland in 1858. The two colonies were united in 1866, and British Columbia became part of the Dominion of Canada in 1871. In provincial elections universal suffrage was granted in 1917.

British Guiana  In 1831 a single colony was created out of three Dutch possessions – Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo, which had been conquered in 1796 and 1803 and annexed to Britain in 1814. The colony was given independence as Guyana in 1966. Universal adult suffrage was confirmed in 1953, although a footnote in Table VI, CO 1032/265 suggests that there was “no legal impediment on women’s voting rights in British Guiana at least from 1891, but it is not known whether women exercised their voting rights as early as this”.

British Honduras  From about 1636 British logwood cutters settled on coastal sites. Spain contested Britain’s rights until 1786. The settlement was administered from Jamaica from 1862 until 1884, when it became a separate colony. In 1981 it became independent as Belize. Universal adult suffrage: 1954.  

British Indian Ocean Territory  In 1965 these islands, that had been dependencies of Mauritius and the Seychelles, were placed under direct British administration. In 1976 all the islands except the Chagos group were returned to Seychelles on its independence. Britain retained the Chagos islands, largely for defence purposes.

British Kaffraria  A colony was established in 1847 after the war on the frontier of the Cape Colony with the Xhosa (‘Kaffirs’). In 1866 it was incorporated into the Cape Colony.

British New Guinea  A protectorate was established in 1884 to pre-empt German claims.  It was transferred to Australia and renamed Papua in 1906.

British Somaliland  The coastal settlements were brought under British protection from Aden in 1884. Boundaries were fixed in 1897 and a separate colony set up in 1905.  The Italians occupied it from 1940 to 1941. It became independent (as part of Somalia) in 1960. Universal adult suffrage: 1956.

British Virgin Islands  These islands were settled from 1666 and brought under Crown rule in 1713. Universal adult suffrage: 1950. [See details in Table VI, 3 August 1960, CO 1032/265.]

Brunei  The Sultanate of Brunei was brought under British protection in 1888. This territory was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. The sultan became ruler of an independent state in 1983. There are no free elections at national level, but there is universal suffrage in local village elections.

Burma  In three wars, beginning in 1824, 1852, and 1885, the British conquered the territory of the Burmese kings. British Burma was administered as part of India until 1937, when a separate government was created. Voting rights were extended to women in 1922 and all restrictions removed by 1935. The Japanese occupied Burma from 1942 to 1945. It became independent in 1948 and left the Commonwealth.

Canada  The Dominion of Canada was created by the coming together in a confederation in 1867 of Canada East and Canada West together with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. British Columbia was added in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, and the North-West Territory in 1870. Newfoundland joined the confederation in 1949. Universal adult suffrage: in provincial elections universal suffrage was obtained in 1916 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, in 1917 in British Columbia and Ontario, in 1918 in Nova Scotia, in 1919 in New Brunswick, in 1922 in Prince Edward Island, in 1925 in Newfoundland, and finally in 1940 in Quebec. Universal suffrage applied for Dominion elections from 1918. [See list dated 8 August 1960, CO 1032/265.] Status Indians or Registered Indians in Canada were given the right to vote in 1960.

Canada East  In 1760 the British conquered French Canada, which became the British colony of Quebec in 1763. In 1791 Quebec was divided into two separate colonies – Upper and Lower Canada. Lower Canada was renamed Canada East in 1840, and became the nucleus of the province of Quebec in the 1867 confederation. Women were given voting rights in provincial elections in Quebec in 1940.

Canada West  The colony originated in the creation of Upper Canada by the 1791 division of Quebec (see entry on Canada East). In 1840 Upper Canada was renamed Canada West, and became the nucleus of the province of Ontario in the 1867 confederation. Women were given voting rights in provincial elections in Ontario in 1917.

Cape Breton Island  Conquered by Britain from the French in 1758, the island became part of Nova Scotia from 1763 until 1784, when it was made into a separate colony. In 1820 it was again incorporated into Nova Scotia. Women were given voting rights in provincial elections in Nova Scotia in 1918.

Cape Colony (Cape of Good Hope)  The Dutch settlements at the Cape were seized by the British in 1795 and 1806, and annexed by Britain in 1814. The Cape Colony was granted responsible government in 1872 and became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Universal adult suffrage was extended to all white people in 1930. There was a further extension of the franchise in 1984 to include Asians, but it was only in 1994 that voting rights were extended to all South Africans, irrespective of race, after the end of apartheid.

Cayman Islands  The islands were ceded by Spain to England in 1670. They were administered from Jamaica until they became a separate colony in 1959. Women were given the right to vote in 1944.

Ceylon  The coastal areas were conquered from the Dutch by the East India Company in 1796 and transferred to British rule in 1802. The King of Kandy was deposed and the whole island brought under British rule in 1815. Ceylon became independent in 1948 and adopted the name Sri Lanka in 1972. Universal adult suffrage: 1931. [See list dated 8 August 1960, CO 1032/265.]

Cook Islands  These islands were annexed in 1888 and transferred to New Zealand in 1901. Universal suffrage had been enacted in New Zealand in 1893.

Cyprus  The island was placed under British administration by treaty with Turkey in 1878. It became a colony in 1914 and gained its independence in 1960. Universal suffrage confirmed in 1960.

Dominica  The island was captured from the French in 1761 and annexed by Britain in 1763. The French occupied it again from 1778 to 1783. Dominica became independent in 1978. Universal adult suffrage: 1951.

Egypt  Nominally a Turkish province but effectively independent, Egypt was conquered and occupied by Britain in 1882. It was a British protectorate from 1914 until 1922, when it became nominally independent, but with strong treaty obligations to Britain. British occupation of the Suez Canal Zone lasted until 1954. Universal adult suffrage: 1956.

Eire  The whole of Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom until 1922. Then the twenty-six southern counties became the Irish Free State, with ambiguous dominion status. In 1937 the name Eire was adopted. In 1948 Eire left the Commonwealth to become the Republic of Ireland. Universal adult suffrage: 1928.

Ellice Islands  Placed under British protection with the Gilbert Islands in 1892, the islands became part of the colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands from 1916 until gaining independence as the separate state of Tuvalu in 1978. Universal adult suffrage was confirmed in 1978.

Falkland Islands  The first British occupation in 1765 was contested by Spain. The British withdrew in 1774 but returned in 1833. Colonial rule was established in 1841. The islands were briefly occupied by Argentina in 1982, and a British task force was despatched by Margaret Thatcher to retake the islands. Universal adult suffrage: 1949.

Fiji  Missionaries and settlers took up residence on the islands from 1835. In 1874 they were annexed to the British Crown at the invitation of the chiefs. Fiji became independent in 1970. Universal adult suffrage: 1966.

Gambia  Coastal forts were settled by traders from 1661. They were placed under Crown rule to be administered from Sierra Leone in 1821. The Gambia became a separate colony in 1888, to which inland territory was added as a protectorate in 1894. It became independent in 1965. Universal adult suffrage: 1959. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, CO 1032/265.]

Gibraltar  The fortress was conquered from Spain in 1704 and British possession was confirmed by treaty in 1713. Universal adult suffrage: 1950. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, CO 1032/265.]

Gilbert Islands  A protectorate was established together with the Ellice Islands in 1892 and it became part of the colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands from 1916, until gaining independence as Kiribati in 1979. Universal adult suffrage: 1967.

Gold Coast  Coastal forts were settled by traders from 1631. They were placed under British Crown rule administered from Sierra Leone from 1821 to 1874, with an interval under merchant control from 1828 to 1843. A protectorate was extended inland from 1830. In 1874 the colony of the Gold Coast was created. Further territory was added until its final boundaries were fixed in 1904. Part of German Togoland was included in 1919. The Gold Coast became independent as Ghana in 1957. Universal adult suffrage: 1951.

Grenada  The island was conquered from France in 1762 and was annexed to Britain the following year. The French reoccupied it from 1779 to 1783. It became independent in 1974. The United States invaded in 1983 to remove the government. Universal adult suffrage: 1951. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, CO 1032/265.]

Heligoland  The island was seized by Britain from Denmark in 1807. In 1890 it was ceded to Germany.

Hong Kong  China ceded the island to Britain in 1842. Additional territory was acquired in 1860 together with the New Territories on the mainland on a 99-year lease from 1898. On the expiry of this lease this territory was given back to China, becoming a Special Administrative Region. Since this change, universal suffrage has been a major topic for the political parties in Hong Kong. On 29 December 2007 the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) resolved that “the election of the fifth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2017 may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage; that after the Chief Executive is selected by universal suffrage, the election of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may be implemented by the method of electing all the members by universal suffrage”.

India  The East India Company established its first coastal settlements from 1609. A process of territorial expansion accelerated from 1757, leading to great extensions of direct British rule after the conquest of Indian states, together with the reduction of other states to the status of subordinate allies of the British, subject to what was later called paramountcy. Company rule was replaced by British Crown rule in 1858. From 1876 British monarchs were given the title of Empress or Emperor of India. In 1947 a partitioned British India attained independence as India and Pakistan. Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in 1972. Universal adult suffrage in India: 1950.  

Ionian Islands  In 1809 the British drove the French out of what before 1797 had been Venetian territory and annexed the islands in 1814. The islands were ceded to Greece in 1864.

Iraq  The former Turkish province of Mesopotamia was conquered by the British in the First World War. In 1920 Britain was granted a mandate. In 1922 an autonomous Iraq was bound by treaty obligations to Britain; it became formally independent in 1932. Britain reoccupied Iraq from 1941 to 1945. Universal suffrage was granted in 1948. Whilst universal suffrage had been established with a minimum voting age of 18, all election arrangements were in a state of transition following the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003. The new election laws of September 2009 reaffirmed universal suffrage with a minimum voting age of 18.

Jamaica  The island was conquered from Spain in 1655, and became independent in 1962. Universal adult suffrage: 1944. [See table on Universal Adult Suffrage in the Commonwealth, CO 1032/265.]

Kenya  A British share of East Africa was demarcated with Germany in 1886. In 1888 this was annexed by the Imperial East Africa Company. The British East Africa Protectorate under the Crown replaced the rule of the company in 1895. In 1920 it became the colony of Kenya, which attained independence in 1963. Universal adult suffrage evolved by stages: 1919 for Europeans, 1924 for Asians, then in 1960 a common roll with qualitative franchise to include African and Asian members. The Colonial Office report of April 1960 discusses various alternative systems of franchise for Kenya [see CO 1032/265]. Women acquired voting rights, with restrictions, in 1946 with restrictions. Full suffrage for women was approved in 1963.

Kuwait  The Arab emirate signed treaties of protection with Britain from 1899. Kuwait became fully independent in 1961. Full suffrage rights for women were approved in 2005.

Labuan  The island, ceded by the Sultan of Brunei, was annexed in 1846 and became a colony in 1848.  It was incorporated into North Borneo in 1890.

Malacca  The settlement was seized from the Dutch in 1795 and occupied by Britain until 1816. In 1824 the Dutch ceded it to the East India Company. It became part of the Straits Settlements in 1826.

Malaya  The British signed treaties of protection with Malay rulers from 1874 to 1930. In 1896 some of these states were grouped together as the Federated Malay States.  Malaya was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. All the Malay states, together with the Straits Settlements except for Singapore, were incorporated into a new federation in 1948. This was the basis on which Malaya achieved independence in 1957. In 1963 Malaya joined with Singapore (which seceded in 1965), North Borneo, and Sarawak to form Malaysia. Universal adult suffrage: 1948 (though because of the prevailing Emergency conditions, universal suffrage was not practised until the general election of 1955). [See list dated 8 August 1960, CO 1032/265.]

Maldive Islands  A British protectorate was proclaimed over the islands in 1887. The islands were declared to be independent in 1965. Universal adult suffrage: 1932.

Malta  In 1798 the French occupied the islands, which were ruled by the Knights of St John. The British drove out the French in 1800 and annexed Malta in 1814. It became independent in 1964. Universal adult suffrage: 1947.

Mauritius  The island was conquered from France in 1810 and annexed by Britain in 1814. Mauritius became independent in 1968. Universal adult suffrage: 1958.  

Montserrat  The island was settled in 1632 and brought under Crown rule in 1663.  It was occupied by the French in 1664-68 and 1782-84. Universal adult suffrage was confirmed in 1951 as part of the Leeward and Windward Islands. Data in Table VI, 3 August 1960, CO 1032/265 suggests that women first had the right to vote in Montserrat in 1937.

Natal  Territory was annexed in 1843 and British settlement followed. Natal was granted responsible government in 1893. Zululand, under British authority since the end of the Zulu War in 1879, was transferred to Natal in 1897. Natal became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910. For suffrage information, see under South Africa.

Nepal  The Himalayan kingdom fought a war with Britain from 1814 to 1816. During the war the first of what were to become large numbers of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers were recruited into the British Indian army. A British resident was appointed to the Nepalese court from 1816. Nepal has exercised full independence since the ending of British rule in India in 1947. Universal adult suffrage: 1951.

Nevis  The island was settled from St Christopher in 1628 and came under Crown rule in 1663. It was united with St Christopher in 1882 into a single government. Universal adult suffrage: 1952.

New Brunswick  A separate colony was created out of Nova Scotia in 1784. New Brunswick was granted responsible government in 1854 and became part of the Canadian confederation in 1867. In provincial elections universal suffrage was introduced in 1919.

Newfoundland  English ships were probably fishing off the Grand Banks from the late fifteenth century. The island was annexed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 and brought under Crown rule in 1713. Newfoundland was granted responsible government in 1855, but returned to colonial rule in 1934. It joined the Canadian confederation in 1949. In provincial elections universal suffrage was obtained in 1925.

New Hebrides  The islands were settled by French and British planters and missionaries during the nineteenth century. In 1906 a joint Franco-British administration was set up. The New Hebrides became independent as Vanuatu in 1980. Universal adult suffrage: 1975.

New South Wales  The eastern coast of Australia was claimed by James Cook in 1770 and the first settlement by convicts took place in 1788. New South Wales was granted responsible government in 1855 and became part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Universal adult suffrage in local elections: 1858; in state elections: 1902. Women had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections from 1902.

New Zealand  James Cook claimed the coast of North Island in 1769 and of South Island in 1770. In 1840 British rule was established by treaty with the Maoris. New Zealand was granted responsible government in 1856. In 1927 New Zealand achieved dominion status within the British Empire. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster affirmed equality of status between Britain and the dominions, effectively granting independence to New Zealand. Universal adult suffrage: 1893. [See list dated 8 August 1960, CO 1032/265.]

Nigeria  A consulate was established in 1851 at Lagos, which was annexed in 1861. The Niger Districts Protectorate was created around the Niger delta in 1885, followed in 1886 by a sphere allocated to the Royal Niger Company up the river. Further annexations were made from 1892 to 1898. Crown rule replaced that of the company in 1900.  Northern and Southern Nigeria were united in 1914. Part of German Cameroon was added in 1919. Nigeria became independent in 1960. Universal adult suffrage was established in some parts of Nigeria in 1954, including Lagos and the Eastern Region. This was extended to the Western Region in 1958, but the Northern Region was still limited to male suffrage only in that year; see CO 1032/265. Full suffrage rights were extended to women in Northern Nigeria in 1978.

North Borneo  Territory was ceded by the sultan of Brunei to a group which became the North Borneo Company in 1881. North Borneo was brought under Crown rule in 1906.  It was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. As Sabah, it became part of Malaysia in 1963, with universal suffrage from that time.

Northern Rhodesia  The territory known as Northern Zambesia was allocated to the British South Africa Company in 1891. British Crown rule replaced company rule in 1924.  Northern Rhodesia became part of the Central African Federation with Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia in 1953. In 1964 it gained independence as Zambia. Universal adult suffrage: 1962.

Nova Scotia  France ceded Nova Scotia to England in 1621 but recovered it in 1632. By the Treaty of Utrecht it again passed to Britain in 1713. Further territory was added in 1763. Nova Scotia gained responsible government in 1846 and became part of the Canadian confederation in 1867. Universal adult suffrage: 1918.  

Nyasaland  Mission settlements were established from 1875.  In 1891 the Central African Protectorate was proclaimed over the area, which was known as Nyasaland from 1907. Nyasaland became part of the Central African Federation with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 and gained independence as Malawi in 1964. Universal adult suffrage: 1961.  

Orange Free State  Afrikaner trekkers from the Cape in the 1830s set up a state which was annexed by Britain from 1848 to 1854. Thereafter the Orange Free State enjoyed virtual independence until it was conquered in 1900 during the South African War. Responsible government was granted to it in 1907 and it became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910. For suffrage details, see under South Africa.

Palestine  Turkish rule over Palestine was brought to an end by British conquest in 1918. Britain was granted a mandate over the area in 1920. Universal suffrage was granted in 1946. The mandate was abandoned in 1948. A Jewish-Arab war followed, out of which emerged the state of Israel. Universal suffrage was confirmed in Israel in 1948.

Penang  In 1786 the East India Company established a settlement, which became one of the Straits Settlements in 1826. Universal adult suffrage: 1948.

Pitcairn Islands  The first settlement was made in 1790 by the Bounty mutineers. British Crown rule was established in 1838.

Prince Edward Island  The island (then known as St John) was captured from the French in 1760 and annexed by Britain in 1763 as part of Quebec. In 1769 it became a separate colony. It joined the Canadian confederation in 1873.

Qatar  The rulers of Qatar entered into treaties of protection with Britain from 1916. Qatar became independent in 1971. Universal suffrage was adopted for municipal elections in 1997 and for national elections in 2005.

Queensland  The first settlement was made at Moreton Bay in 1824. Queensland became a colony with responsible government separate from New South Wales in 1859, and part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Universal adult suffrage in local elections: 1859; in state elections: 1905. Women had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections from 1902.

Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territory  Much of the north of Canada was claimed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which traded from coastal posts from 1670. Inland posts were developed by both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company from 1774. In 1869 the company surrendered its rights to the Crown and the territories were transferred to the Dominion of Canada in 1870. In the same year a separate province of Manitoba was created out of an area previously called the Red River Settlement. For provincial elections universal suffrage was obtained in 1916.

St Christopher (St Kitts)  In 1623 St Christopher became the first island in the Caribbean settled by the English. It came under Crown rule in 1663. The French occupied it from 1782 to 1783. In 1882 the government of Nevis was combined with that of St Christopher. St Christopher and Nevis became independent in 1983. Universal adult suffrage: 1952. [See CO 1032/265.]

St Helena  The island was annexed in 1651 and settled by the East India Company in 1661. It came under Crown rule in 1834. It continues to be an British overseas territory.

St Lucia  The island was captured from the French in 1778, but returned to them in 1783. In 1796 and in 1803 it was captured again, to be permanently annexed by Britain in 1814. St Lucia became independent in 1979. Universal adult suffrage: 1951. [See CO 1032/265.]

St Vincent  The island was captured in 1762 and annexed the following year. The French occupied it from 1779 to 1783. St Vincent and the Grenadines became independent in 1979. Universal adult suffrage: 1951. [See CO 1032/265.]

Sarawak  The sultan of Brunei appointed James Brooke as rajah of Sarawak in 1841. Further territory was added in 1861 and 1905. The Japanese occupied Sarawak from 1942 to 1945. The rule of the Brooke family was replaced by Crown rule in 1946. Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963 with full universal adult suffrage from that time.

Seychelles  The islands were conquered from France in 1794 and administered from Mauritius from 1811 until they became a separate colony in 1888. The Seychelles gained independence in 1976. Women were given the right to vote in 1948.

Sierra Leone  The Sierra Leone Company founded settlements, largely for freed slaves, in 1787. These were taken over by the British Crown in 1807. Inland territory was incorporated as a protectorate in 1896. Sierra Leone became independent in 1961. Universal adult suffrage was adopted in 1960, but next elections could not be held until after independence. Some women had the right to vote as early as 1951; restrictions were removed in 1960. [See CO 1032/265.]

Sikkim  A British political officer was appointed to supervise the government of the kingdom in 1890. The ruler’s autonomy was restored in 1918 under continuing British protection. This protection was withdrawn with Indian independence in 1947. Sikkim was absorbed into India in 1975.

Singapore  The island was settled in 1819 and became part of the Straits Settlements in 1826. It joined Malaysia in 1963, leaving it to become an independent state in 1965. Universal adult suffrage: 1947.

Solomon Islands  A British protectorate was established from 1893 to 1900. The Japanese occupied the islands from 1942 to 1945. They became independent in 1978. Universal adult suffrage: 1974.

South Africa  The Union of South Africa was created in 1910 out of the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Universal adult suffrage was extended to all white peoplein 1930. There was a further extension of the franchise in 1984 to include Asians, but it was only in 1994 that voting rights were extended to all South Africans, irrespective of race, after the end of apartheid.

South Australia  An act of Parliament was passed in 1834 to create a new colony and the first colonists from Britain arrived in 1836. South Australia was granted responsible government in 1855, becoming part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Universal adult suffrage in local elections: 1856; in state elections: 1894. Women had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections from 1902.

Southern Rhodesia  The area of Southern Rhodesia was conquered from African peoples from 1890 to 1893 and settled by the British South Africa Company. Southern Rhodesia passed under Crown rule with responsible government in 1923. With Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, it formed part of the Central African Federation from 1953 to 1964. In 1965 its government unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia.  After a brief interlude of reimposed British rule, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe with an internationally recognised granting of independence in 1980.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands  British claims date from James Cook in 1775.  British control was established in 1908 and 1917 over what were called the Falkland Island Dependencies until 1962. Female suffrage was granted in the Falkland Islands in 1949.

South-West Africa  The port of Walvis Bay was declared to be British territory in 1878 and annexed to the Cape Colony in 1884 when the Germans began to set up a colony in the surrounding area. The German colony was captured in 1915 and became a South African mandate in 1919. It attained independence as Namibia in 1990. Universal adult suffrage: 1989.

Straits Settlements  Malacca, Penang and Singapore were placed under a joint government in 1826 under the East India Company. It was administered under the government of India from 1858 and as a separate colony from 1867. Malacca and Penang became part of the Malayan Federation in 1948. Singapore remained a separate colony.

Sudan  Egyptian rule over the Sudan was overthrown in the 1880s by the Mahdist revolt. Acting nominally on behalf of Egypt, Britain reconquered the Sudan in 1898 and established a joint Anglo-Egyptian condominium over it. It became independent in 1956. Universal adult suffrage: 1964.

Swaziland  Britain established a joint protectorate with the Transvaal over Swaziland’s rulers in 1890. In 1906 Britain assumed the protectorate on its own. Swaziland became independent in 1968. Universal adult suffrage: 1968.

Tanganyika  Britain conquered what had been German East Africa during the First World War. In 1919 Tanganyika became a British mandate. It attained independence in 1961 and united with Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1964. Universal adult suffrage: 1959.

Tasmania  European settlement on the island then known as Van Diemen’s Land began in 1803 and a colony separate from New South Wales was established in 1825. It attained responsible government in 1856 and became part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Universal adult suffrage in local elections: 1900; in state elections: 1903. Women had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections from 1902.

Tobago  The island was captured in 1762 and annexed the following year. The French captured it in 1781 and retained it at the peace of 1783. It was again conquered by the British in 1793 and annexed to the British Empire in 1814. Its government was united with that of Trinidad in 1888. Universal adult suffrage: 1946.

Tonga  The ruler of Tonga signed a treaty of friendship with Britain in 1879, and placed himself under British protection in 1900. Tonga attained independence in 1970. Universal adult suffrage: 1960.

Transjordan  The British conquered what had been part of a Turkish province in 1918 and received a mandate for it in 1920. Transjordan was separated from Palestine in 1921 and an Arab kingdom was created in alliance with Britain by a treaty of 1923. It became independent as Jordan in 1946. Universal adult suffrage: 1974.

Transvaal (South African Republic)  Afrikaners trekking out of the Cape in the 1830s established their own state further north. Britain annexed it from 1877 to 1881 and conquered it in 1900. It was granted responsible government in 1906 and became part of the Union of South Africa in 1910. For suffrage details, seeunder South Africa.

Trinidad  The island was conquered from Spain in 1797 and annexed by Britain in 1814. Its government was joined with that of Tobago in 1888. Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1962. Universal adult suffrage was granted in 1946. [See CO 1032/265.]

Tristan de Cunha  The island was first occupied in 1816 by the Royal Navy as part of the precautions taken while Napoleon was on St Helena. It was administered as a colony under St Helena from 1938.

Trucial States (Trucial Oman)  Britain signed treaties of protection with Arab rulers from 1887. The United Arab Emirates became independent in 1971. Women gained full suffrage rights in 2006.

Turks and Caicos Islands  The islands were settled in 1678 and annexed to the Crown in 1766. They were administered from Jamaica and Bahamas until they became a separate colony in 1973. Independence was agreed in 1982, but this policy decision was later reversed. The islands are now an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom.

Uganda  The Imperial British East Africa Company annexed the share of East Africa allocated to Britain in 1888. The company signed a treaty with the kingdom of Buganda in 1890. With the demise of the company, Buganda became a British Crown protectorate in 1894. Other protectorates were established in 1896 and the colony of Uganda was created in 1905. Women were given the right to vote in 1958. Uganda became independent in 1962. [See discussion in May 1960 in CO 1032/265.]

Victoria  Port Phillip was settled from Tasmania in 1834. A separate colony of Victoria was set up in 1851 and granted responsible government in 1855. It became part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Universal adult suffrage in local elections: 1857; in state elections: 1908. Women had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections from 1902.

Weihaiwei  The port was leased from China in 1898 and returned in 1930. Women were given the vote in China in 1949.

Western Australia  The coast was first settled in 1826. The Swan River Colony was established in 1829. Western Australia was granted responsible government in 1890 and became part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Universal adult suffrage in local and state elections: 1899. Women had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections from 1902.

Zanzibar  The first British consulate was established on the island in 1841. A British protectorate was declared in 1890.  Zanzibar became independent in 1963 and was absorbed into Tanzania the following year. Universal adult suffrage: 1959.


This information has been taken from The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1996) and from documents at The National Archives.