Wylde Family Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 33 WYL
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Mainly English , but some Portuguese , Spanish , French  and Chinese
  • Physical Description
      1.6 metres

Scope and Content

This collection encompasses the Foreign Office and diplomatic careers of four generations of the Wylde family during the nineteenth century.

The correspondence is revealing about the structures within the Foreign Office, the roles of British consuls abroad, their personalities and concerns, and above all in a broader sense with the history of British foreign policy, British colonialism and overseas interests, emphasising her role as arbiter as well as direct participant in matters on the world stage. Names amongst the correspondents include numerous British foreign secretaries, Lords Granville, Derby and Salisbury, and under-secretaries at the Foreign Office and India Office. African explorers including Frederick Elton, and Charles Livingstone, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, botanist and director at Kew, colonial governors and administrators, including Sir John Hawley Glover, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, British ambassadors, ministers and consul-generals including Sir Henry George Elliot, Sir John Kirk, Sir Austen Henry Layard, Sir Rutherford Alcock, Sir John Drummond Hay, Lord Lyons and Sir Evelyn Baring, as well as a host of lesser-known naval commanders and British consuls and vice-consuls. Many of these individuals, including Wylde himself, were also active figures in the Royal Geographical Society.

There is substantial material relating to topics such as the Spanish civil war, British annexation of the Fijian Islands, Spanish and American interests in Cuba, Portuguese and British colonial relations and African exploration, with the question of slavery underpinning much of these. Among the most notable are letters from the African explorer and some time British consul, Sir Richard Burton, and from General Charles Gordon in the Sudan between 1877 and 1881. There is also a substantial run of letters from Sir Daniel Brooke Robertson on Chinese affairs. As a copious and far from concise correspondent, Robertson's letters are packed with detail on events across China and offer much information on Anglo-Chinese relations during the 1850s and 1860s. The reactions to Wylde's decision to retire from the F.O. in 1880 (he was awarded a C.M.G. in the same year) suggest an individual warmly regarded and highly respected, particularly for his unceasing efforts over the years to abolish the slave trade. Even in retirement, Wylde continued to play a significant role on the diplomatic scene, being one of the two British representatives involved in negotiations between the British and French governments on the subject of Indian Coolie immigration to the French colony of Réunion, 1880-1. On this, copious correspondence and despatches exist in the collection. The final section of material relates to his deep involvement with the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society - he travelled to Brussels to the slave trade conference in 1890 on behalf of the society - and also his involvement with the South Middlesex Volunteer corps.

Administrative / Biographical History

Major General William Wylde, (1788-1877), served in Spain and Portugal in the 1830s, later serving briefly as Prince Albert's Equerry and subsequently Groom of the Bed Chamber in 1846. The papers in this collection relate to his career from this time onwards, when he was employed by the British government in Portugal during the tumultuous years during and surrounding the Portuguese civil war of 1846-47. During this service in Portugal, General Wylde was accompanied by two of his sons, the eldest, William Henry Wylde, and S. Robert Wylde, both of whom acted as their father's assistants. Of Robert's subsequent career, we know very little. General Wylde's daughter, Sophia, married Durham colliery owner and magistrate William Stobart in 1851.

His eldest son was William Henry Wylde (1819-1909), to whom most of this collection relates. His papers, mainly letters and despatches, accumulated and retained during some fifty years' service at the British Foreign Office, thirty of those at senior level, cover a vast and varied range of places, personalities and subjects. As head of the Commercial, Consular and Slave Trade Departments of the F.O. from 1869, Wylde received correspondence (and clearly corresponded with) consuls, ambassadors, travellers and diplomats the length and breadth of the globe. But it is the West and East Coasts of Africa and in particular the battle to defeat the slave trade and establish legitimate trade in these areas, which dominate both Wylde's own career, and thus the scope of these papers.

Everard William Wylde (1847-1911) and Augustus Blandy Wylde (ca. 1849-1909), sons of William Henry Wylde, and Everard Gordon M. Wylde, grandson of William Henry Wylde. Everard William Wylde was a senior clerk at the Foreign Office and one of the British representatives at the Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels in 1889-90 and Augustus Blandy Wylde was briefly consul at Jeddah, a trader, later British vice-consul at Suakin, a corresponding member of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and author of '83 to '87 in the Soudan. There is little material relating to Everard in this collection, his retirement from the Foreign Office due to ill health in 1899 being followed by subsequent bankruptcy. There is however a significant set of papers relating to his brother Augustus Blandy, mostly in the form of letters and copies of diary entries to his father from Suakin and during his time at Jeddah spanning some twenty years from 1876 to1896. These offer details on hunting exploits, trade, slavery, plans for the Suakin-Berber railway and some consular business. The fourth and final generation of the family for whom letters survive is Everard Gordon M. Wylde, grandson of William H. Wylde, and presumably son of Everard Wylde. Around ten letters from Everard to his father and grandfather are found in this collection. These date mostly to 1900 and 1901 when the young Wylde served in the 52nd Company XIX Batallion of Pagets Horse B. Company during the second Boer War and from June 1901 when he worked as a government official in the Uganda Protectorate.


The papers are arranged chronologically in the following sections:

  • 1. Papers of Colonel William Wylde, chiefly relating to Spain and Portugal, 1836-1847
  • 2. Letters of D. Brooke Robertson to W.H. Wylde on China, 1846-1877
  • 3. Papers of W.H. Wylde relating to the west and east coasts of Africa, various expeditions, slavery, and other consular business, 1851-1900
  • 4. Miscellaneous papers dated after W.H. Wylde’s death
  • 5. Letters from or concerning A.B. Wylde and Everard G.M. Wylde (mostly to their father W.H. Wylde), 1876-1901
  • 6. Papers relating to the Brande, Hatchett and Yates families, 1831-1880
  • 7. Papers of Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1861-1876
  • 8. Papers relating to General Charles George Gordon, 1877- ca.1885

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Mr and Mrs Chris Yates in 2005.

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue available at online catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Slavery in diplomacy: the Foreign Office and the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade, Foreign and Commonwealth Office historians history note, no. 17 (London: FCO, 2007)