If you have ever needed to track down a document held in the RGS archives you have probably benefited from the cataloging of them by Mrs. Christine Kelly, who died on 15 May 2016, aged 86.
Chris (Christine Adderley) was born in 1929 in Great Wyrley and spent her childhood in Bloxwich, where her father Harold was a teacher at the Bloxwich Church of England Senior School between 1918 and 1959. On leaving Queen Mary High School in Walsall in 1947, where she had been Head Girl and captain of the netball team, she went to Durham University to study History, and then went on to complete a Diploma in Education. She travelled to Southern Africa to teach and returned to England in December 1955 with her fiancée Patrick Kelly who she married a month later. Having moved to the south London suburbs she had four children. Once they were settled into school, Chris looked for a new challenge, and studied for an MA (awarded 1970), again from Durham University, with a
dissertation on The Court Rolls of Alrewas in the 14th Century.
The experience of studying the Staffordshire County Archives was sufficient to convince Brigadier Richard Gardiner (Acting Director of the RGS) to offer Chris Kelly the post of Assistant Archivist in February 1970 – “for an initial period of on year but renewable for a further year at a salary of £780 per annum”. The Society was endeavouring, with the aid of a grant from the Pilgrim Trust, to conserve and catalogue the large number of explorers’ letters, diaries and log books it held from such household names as Darwin, Livingstone, Stanley and Scott. Chris served in this role until 1992.
In the pre-computer age in the archives, Chris, in her role of Assistant Archivist and then Archivist, carried out extensive cataloguing of the then random contents held up in the attic of the RGS building. She produced The Handlist of the Royal Geographical Society's Archives, published in the Geographical Journal 141,142,143 & supplement volume 15 part 2.
Dr John Hemming wrote that in “her period as Archivist, which coincided with mine as Director (1975 to 1996), she turned the Society's archive from a large but fairly disorganised collection of papers into a highly efficient and meticulously housed modern archive. Her published Handlist was, I think, the first and it is certainly definitive. Scholars will forever be grateful to her for this great service - just last week a researcher said to me how user-friendly he found the Society's archive.”
Professor Felix Driver FBA, Royal Holloway University of London, Department of Geography wrote of the Handlists that “we used them for the 2009 Hidden Histories of Exploration Exhibition, and made six hand-list files available on Open Access via the website .. Amongst her published hand-lists were the well-known 'heroic' and not so heroic names, but also the materials of the minor, marginalised and forgotten - this of course is the value of archival handlists, and as an archivist she would have known that. One brilliant example were the watercolour sketches of the women on Stanley's transAfrican expedition made by Catherine Frere, which we exhibited for the first time having discovered them on Christine's list - a copy of the watercolour was later included in Chris Spring's British Museum exhibition on African textiles, as a unique colour record of C19th designs on kangas or printed cottons; none of this would have been possible had it not been for Christine's inclusion of a minor watercolour in her Handlists.”
Chris retired from the RGS in 1992. At her leaving speech she admitted that she had originally arrived at the Society planning only to stay for a few months and somehow found herself working there for years. She and her husband spent most of their retirement in Dorchester where she played bridge, read extensively and took advantage of the new online genealogy resources to refine her family archive – with detailed information on her father’s (Adderley) line leading back to 1490.
by Peter Kelly
Christine Kelly (right). Source credit: The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
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