Follow up open letter about FCO 141- the ‘migrated archives’

Dr Valerie Johnson
Director of Research & Collections
The National Archives

25 August 2022

Dear Dr Johnson,

Open Letter about FCO 141 – the ‘migrated archives’

Thank you for your letter of 5 August 2022 responding to my letter of 14 July 2022. We are
pleased to hear that significant internal resource is being dedicated to the testing of the FCO
141 series and appreciate the further communication which was issued on 2 August.

We are pleased that public communication about the status of these records has improved
•considerably since the initial period of their withdrawal, and we trust that open and timely
statements will continue to be made. Such information is of great importance to researchers
waiting to access the records.

The outcome of these investigations is also of importance to the sector more widely. It is with
this in mind that we would like to return to our questions not addressed by your response:
whether insecticide has only been detected in the bound volumes and whether it is only the
records of particular colonies which are affected.

It has come to our attention that other institutions have material within their collections
similarly treated with insecticide. This suggests that it is likely that there are more collections,
in the UK and beyond, holding material that may have been similarly treated. We ask that
TNA commits to sharing the methodology it has used to test the records, analyse the results
and devise safe handling guidance as soon as possible so that other libraries and archives can
benefit from lessons. learnt during this exercise and ensure the safety of their staff and users.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Lucy McCann

cc Mr Jeff James, Chief Executive Officer and Keeper, The National Archives, Kew

Open Letter about FCO 141- the ‘migrated archives’

Mr Jeff James
Chief Executive Officer and Keeper
The National Archives

14th July 2022


Dear Mr James

On behalf of SCOLMA (the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa), I am writing to
express our concern about the recent withdrawal of the FCO 141 series from public access,
due to insecticide contamination.

As you know, the history of these records, as well as the fact that they remain relatively
under-researched, makes them particularly high-profile among colonial records.
The importance and political sensitivity of these documents is evident in the many
publications by academics and archivists on their history and significance – Tim Livsey’s
article in History Workshop Journal being one very recent example (Tim Livsey, ‘Open
secrets: the British “migrated archives”, colonial history, and postcolonial history’, History
Workshop Journal, 93 (2022),

We were glad to see TNA’s statement of 11 July giving further details of the problem and the
steps you are taking to deal with it. We appreciate the fact that you have also made recent
improvements to the information given in the catalogue about the unavailability of these

In addition to the information given in your statements to date, we would like to ask whether
The National Archives have a view on how insecticide came to be applied to the documents?
Since these archives were preserved in 3 7 separate former colonies, it may be that whether
individual sub-series are affected depends on the varying practices of individual colonies. In
addition, perhaps this is a problem specific to the bound volumes; we are aware, however,
that many sub-series of FCO 141 consist of files or folders. Do you have a view on this?

Alternatively, if insecticide was applied to the whole series, this could presumably only have
occurred after their arrival in the UK when they were stored in the Foreign Office facility at
Hayes or at Hanslope Park. Are you in contact with FCDO to shed any light on this, and are
you aware whether they have any record of this operation, if it occurred?

We would also like to request that you send us a list ofreferences for the volumes in which
insecticide has been detected (or, if this is not possible, a list of the colonies whose records
are so far known to be affected).

We are very glad to read that you are ‘working with specialist consultants to establish a risk
assessment and safe handling guidance to create avenues for access to the collection’, and
that you hope to ‘be able to restore access with the appropriate mitigations in place’. Given
the importance of making these records available to the public, we would urge you to make
FCO 141 available again as soon as possible, and to set out a likely timetable for doing so. If
it is necessary to commit extra resources in order to achieve this, we request that you do so.

Finally, may we request that information about the progress of this project is made publicly
available on a regular basis.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Lucy McCann

cc Sir Geoffrey Vos
Master of the Rolls and Chair of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives

SCOLMA 60th Anniversary Seminar : The Jagger Library After the Fire

SCOLMA 60th Anniversary Seminar

The Jagger Library After the Fire

Salvage and Recovery of the Special Collections at the University of Cape Town

Wednesday 29 June 2022

13:00 (UK)/14:00 (South Africa)

Online via Zoom
(registration details below)

Mandy Noble (UCT Principal Librarian: Published Collections, Special Collections)

Michal Singer (UCT Principal Archivist: Primary Collections, Special Collections)


Jagger Library aftermath

A view of the Jagger Library’s Upper Galleries from the south side of the building, now open to the sky.
Photo: Michal Singer


A large part of the Special Collections Department, housed in the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town, was destroyed by the Table Mountain wildfire of 18 April 2021. The bulk of the losses in the fire occurred in the African Studies Collection (part of the published collections), as they were shelved in the Jagger Reading Room, which was completely destroyed. Most of the archives were salvaged from the basements of Jagger and a complex reconciliation project is still ongoing.

This talk will give an update on the extraordinary rescue effort that followed the fire, and inform us about the current situation.

Mandy Noble is Principal Librarian managing all the published collections in UCT Libraries – that is: the African Studies Collection; Government Publications; and Rare and Antiquarian books. The published collections contain materials in a wide variety of formats – books, monographs, journals, microfilm, maps, pamphlets, posters and government publications. Until 2017 she was Section Manager of Cataloguing and Metadata.

Michal Singer is Principal Archivist for Primary Collections, or unpublished holdings, within the Special Collections of UCT Libraries, including manuscripts and archives, photography and audio-visual materials. Until 2019 she ran the archives at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

Please register in advance via Eventbrite You will receive the Zoom link via email from Eventbrite prior to the seminar.