Preserving nineteenth-century records in the Sierra Leone Public Archives (EAP782)

Aims and objectives

This project will extend the scope of the digitisation programme undertaken through the earlier project EAP443. Priority will be given to archives which record the social and cultural profile of the diverse population of the Crown colony. This evidence is particularly important as the settlement marked the beginnings of the British empire in West Africa, and its population was comprised of peoples drawn from across West Africa. This evidence includes long series of records created by colonial governors, police, military authorities and the judiciary. As such, these archives provide a rare insight into the life experiences of former slaves and their descendants.

The documents are currently stored in very poor conditions in three storage rooms. The rooms have limited shelving, broken windows, intermittent electricity supply, no climate control, and many of the documents are decaying at a rapid rate in conditions of very high humidity. Hundreds of 19th century volumes are stacked on chairs, tables and on the floor.

The project will create 40,000-50,000 digital images, ensuring the principal categories of records documenting the diverse and expanding population of the colony will be preserved. This will include census records, police records, court records, military records, school records and demographic records of births and deaths. The material is vital to an understanding of the social and cultural structure of the world’s first post-slavery society, and the experiences of men, women and children forcibly relocated from diverse areas across West Africa. The more vulnerable material will be rehoused in acid-free boxes.


In the course of EAP782, 93 volumes have been digitised accounting for 43,268 images. The evidence digitised ranges in date from 1808 to 1898. This spans a period from the formation of the British Crown colony of Sierra Leone to the formation of the Sierra Leone Protectorate.

Digital copies of the material from this project have been deposited at the Sierra Leone Public Archives. Access to the sources in electronic format will enable the archival staff to produce digital copies of records for consultation by visitors to reduce the possibility of further damage to the original sources. Copies of the material have also been deposited at York University and the University of Worcester.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: