TANKS Group Archive

  • Reference
      GB 133 TANKS
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English  and French  .
  • Physical Description
      75 linear metres.
  • Location
      Collection available at University Archives Centre, Main Library.

Scope and Content

The archive comprises papers of Robert Williams himself and papers of or relating to Sir Robert Williams & Co. Ltd, the Zambesia Exploring Company Ltd, Tanganyika Concessions Ltd, Union Minière du Haut Katanga, Geita Gold Mining Company Ltd, Kentan Gold Areas Ltd, Rhodesia-Katanga Company Ltd, the Nile Congo Divide Syndicate Ltd, the Benguela Railway, and Benguela Estates Ltd.

Papers include extensive correspondence files, annual reports, minutes, accounts, contracts and legal documents, and numerous photographs of mining and railway operations. As well as being of interest to industrial historians, they are a major source for studies of colonialism and development in Africa.

Administrative / Biographical History

Tanks Group Services Ltd was a London-based holding company for several railway and mining concerns in Central and East Africa that were associated with the mining engineer and entrepreneur Sir Robert Williams (1860–-1938). A native of Aberdeen, Williams was sent to South Africa by his engineering employers in 1881. There he met Sir Cecil Rhodes and shared his vision of opening up Africa's interior for development, or exploitation. In 1891 they formed the Zambesia Exploring Company Ltd, to explore and extract mineral deposits in Southern Rhodesia. In 1899 Tanganyika Concessions Ltd (Tanks) was founded on behalf of the Countess of Warwick to exploit minerals in Northern Rhodesia, with Williams as managing director. The Union Minière du Haut Katanga company (UMHK) was formed in 1906 as a 40:60 partnership between Tanks and the Belgian bank Société Générale de Belgique, to develop the copper fields in the Katanga district of Congo that had originally been granted to Williams. To provide access to the coast Williams obtained a concession from the Portuguese to build the Benguela Railway, linking Katanga with Benguela in Angola. However, the railway failed to realize Williams's expectations, and most mineral traffic was carried east by the Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga (BCK), to Beira in Mozambique.


The archive is arranged by constituent subsidiaries of TANKS:

  • TANKS/BE - Benguela Estates Ltd
  • TANKS/BR - Benguela Railway Co.
  • TANKS/GGM - Geita Gold Mining Co.
  • TANKS/KGA - Kentan Gold Areas Ltd
  • TANKS/RK - Rhodesia Katanga Co.
  • TANKS/NCDS - Nile Congo Divide Syndicate
  • TANKS/TC - Tanganyia Concessions
  • TANKS/TCUM- Tanganyika Concessions Union Minière
  • TANKS/ZE - Zambesia Exploring Co. Ltd

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The Library has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the Library to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the Library has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Acquisition Information

The archive was initially deposited by the company at Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry; the Museum transferred the archive to the Library in 1995.

Other Finding Aids

Partial handlist.

Separated Material

The Library also holds the minute books of the Zambesia Exploring Company, acquired separately in 2008 and 2011. These will be incorporated into the TANKS archive in the future.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH.


Simon Katzenellenbogen, Railways and the Copper Mines of Katanga (Oxford 1973).