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Elgin Papers digitally preserved

30/11/2011

Significant letters which provide a fascinating insight into one of the pivotal figures in Canadian history have been digitally preserved under a joint project between The National Records of Scotland (NRS) and Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

The documents relate to James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, who served as Governor-in-Chief of British North America and Governor General of Canada from 1847-1854. He achieved fame for implementing Responsible Government in 1848, and the negotiation of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1854 - two key moments in the history of Canada.

The papers of Lord Elgin include thousands of textual and graphic images of the documents accumulated by the Earl and his family during their stays in North America. Also available on the website is a catalogue of papers relating to his diplomatic career in Jamaica, China and India. These papers, still held by his descendants in Scotland, have been catalogued by the National Records of Scotland as its contribution to the project.

Elgin's more private letters to family and friends give the measure of the man behind the diplomat. From India he wrote: ' During a public service of twenty years, I have always sided with the weaker party - it is strongly my instinct to do so, that I do not think the stringent injunctions would force me into an opposite course of action'.

Launching the new website today with Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore at the Canadian Parliament, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said: "There are five million Canadians who proudly claim Scottish ancestry, and Canada shares inextricable and treasured ties with Scotland. For generations Scots have ventured to Canada's shores, playing an enormous part in building and making Canada what it is today.

"These significant papers provide a fascinating insight into the thoughts and workings of a career diplomat who did just that. Lord Elgin was a man with a strong sense of duty, who achieved fame for his implementation of Responsible Government in 1848 and the negotiation of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1854.

"The National Records of Scotland and their Canadian counterparts are to be congratulated for their collaborative and innovative approach to preserving documents of such historical significance. Thanks to their expertise, and the support of the Elgin family in gifting these important documents to Canada's archives, this collection fills gaps in official records and will stand as a permanent record of Scotland and Canada's long and enduring links."

The Earl of Elgin said:

"I have been thrilled at the recognition of the importance to Canada of my great grandfather, the 8th Earl of Elgin, Governor General from 1847 to 1854, especially his robust action in 1849 when he forced Canadian political leaders to understand the need for responsible government. It seemed to me that there was much in our family papers which would help in understanding this hugely important moment in the story of Canada's remarkable progress to nationhood. For this reason, our family have been delighted to give the whole range of his Canadian papers and other contemporary material to the care of the Canadian Archives."

George Mackenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said:

"Elgin's importance to Canada has long been recognised in that country. We hope this project will make Scots more aware of the contribution of this dedicated public servant to the history of the British Empire."

"This collaboration between Library and Archives Canada and the National Archives of Scotland has enabled Library and Archives Canada to preserve records that are now available digitally to all Canadians and to anyone who has an interest in Canada and Scotland's long relationship" said Dr. Daniel J. Caron, Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

The National Records of Scotland preserves Scotland's national archives so that they are available for current and future generations. They advise other bodies on the care of archives, and maintain the National Register of Archives for Scotland, which keeps track of archives in private hands.

The mandate of Library and Archives Canada is to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations, and to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada. In addition, Library and Archives Canada facilitates cooperation among communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge, and serves as the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions.

Elgin spent nearly 20 years in the service of his country, mainly because his Scottish estates had been left almost bankrupt by the various projects of his father, but also out of a strong sense of duty. The papers provide a fascinating insight into the thoughts of a career diplomatist who was, at times, unhappy with the policies he was expected to pursue. In Canada Elgin achieved fame for his implementation of Responsible Government in 1848 and the negotiation of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1854. His Canadian papers are particularly valued by LAC as they fill gaps in the official record there. Also of interest in the collection is the correspondence and material collected by Lady Elgin which includes letters, diaries, sketches and watercolours. This part of the collection offers insight into the role of the vice-regal family, family relationships and the role of women during the period from 1847 - 1854 when Lord Elgin served Governor-in-Chief of the Province of Canada. The collection also provides a window into communication channels and the process of creating and preserving records from the 1830s to 1909. It also documents the close association the Elgin family has had with Canada over the past 150 years.

Under a formal agreement with the National Records of Scotland, LAC completed item-level descriptions for 2,225 textual and graphic records which link to the 11,570 images which LAC digitised for the website.