The collection contains a wide range of professional and personal papers, covering mostly the 1850s to the 1880s. There is an extensive selection of printed and manuscript material collected in Hong Kong, China and Japan during the various periods of Parkes' career. There are also around 750 letters, the correspondents including Sir Rutherford Alcock, Major-General Charles George Gordon, Lord John Russell and Sir Ernest Satow. Most of the personal correspondence addressed to Parkes dates from the last two years of his life, with much of the remainder relating to periods of particular activity such as the Second China War. The collection also contains maps, a few documents in Chinese and Japanese, and a separate holding of letters, sketch maps, memoranda and other papers regarding Gordon's campaigns at the head of the so-called Ever Victorious Army in service of the Chinese Imperial government during the 1860s. The papers are grouped into the following sections:
Correspondence and despatches
Letters to Parkes and others; letters from Parkes; despatches to Parkes; despatches from Parkes: China, 1849-1865; despatches concerning Parkes: China, 1860; despatches from Parkes: Japan, 1865-1882.
Material from O.H.M.S. envelopes
China: despatches, memoranda and minutes; China: miscellaneous documents; China: pamphlets and newspapers; China: railways, telegraphs and mines; Hong Kong; Straits settlements; Japan: business and government; Japan: correspondence; Japan: pamphlets and newspapers; Japan: loans and finance; Japan: Hodges; Japan: Granville letter; Japan: naval and military capacity; Bonin Islands; Korea; the United States of America: relations with China and Japan; treaties; trade; diplomacy; civil service; letters and despatches concerning Parkes' services; notes and memoranda; miscellaneous; personal.
Charles George Gordon; memoranda; miscellaneous documents; printed documents; parliamentary printed papers; pamphlets; periodicals, press cuttings, articles and proofs; maps; architectural drawings; railway photographs; portrait photographs; envelopes and covers.
Documents in Chinese
Second and Third China Wars; Taiping Rebellion; Liu-ch'iu Islands; miscellaneous documents.
Documents in Japanese
Documents in Korean