COLONIAL OFFICE, the department of the administration of the United Kingdom which deals with questions affecting the various colonial possessions of the British crown. The department as it now exists is of comparatively modern creation, dating only from 1854. The affairs of the English colonies began to assume importance at the Restoration, and were at first entrusted to a committee of the privy council, but afterwards transferred to a commission created by letters patent. From 1672 to 1675 the council for trade was combined with this commission, but in the latter year the colonies were again placed under the control of the privy council. This arrangement continued until 1695, when a Board of Trade and Plantations was created; its duty, however, was confined to collecting information and giving advice when required. The actual executive work was performed by the secretary of state for the southern department, who was assisted, from 1768 to 1782, by a secretary of state for the colonies. Both the Board of Trade and Plantations and the additional secretary were abolished in 1782, and the executive business wholly given over to the home office. In 1794 a third secretary of state was reappointed, and in 1801 this secretary was designated as secretary of state for war and the colonies. In 1854 the two offices were separated, and a distinct office of secretary of state for the colonies created.
The secretary of state for the colonies is the official medium of communication with colonial governments; he has certain administrative duties respecting crown colonies, and has a right of advising the veto of an act of a colonial legislature - this veto, however, is never exercised in the case of purely local statutes. He is assisted by a permanent and a parliamentary under-secretary and a considerable clerical staff.
As reorganized in 1907 the colonial office consists of three chief departments: (1) the Dominions Department, dealing with the affairs of the self-governing over-sea dominions of the British crown, and of certain other possessions geographically connected with those dominions; (2) the Colonial Department, dealing with the affairs of crown colonies and protectorates; (3) the General Department, dealing with legal, financial and other general business. In addition to these three departments, standing committees exist to take a collective view of such matters as contracts, concessions, mineral and other leases, and patronage.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)