British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by A. R. Allen
The Career of M. P. Porch in
Northern Nigeria
Montague Phippen Porch
Sir Winston Churchill's father. Lord Randolph Churchill, died on 24 January 1895. The widowed Lady Randolph Churchill, nee Jennie Jerome, then aged 46, married on 28 July 1900 George Cornwallis West, 20 years her junior, from whom she obtained a divorce at his request in 1914. In 1918 she married Montague Phippen Porch, who was born in 1877, the second son of Reginald Porch, LL.M., formerly of the Bengal Civil Service. Reginald Porch was the third son of the then head of the family of Porch of Edgarley House, Glastonbury. "Monty" was educated in Bath and at Magdalen College, Oxford.

In 1900 he joined the Imperial Yeomanry as a trooper and served in the South African War. After that he joined the Flinders Petrie expedition 1903-04, looking for archeological remains in Sinai. In 1906, when his future stepson was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Porch applied to join the Colonial Service and was interviewed by Sir Edward Marsh, Churchill's private secretary. He was appointed on 14 July 1906 and a year later was in charge of the division at Jema'an Daroro in Nassarawa Province, serving under four successive Residents who were stationed at the provincial headquarters in Keffi. He had under his control a detachment of 25 rank and file of the Northern Nigeria Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Croft. It is an indication of the problems facing the new colonial administration that in the seventh year of its existence such an inexperienced officer should have been in charge of a difficult division, which had assumed fresh importance as it was on the newly opened route from Loko on the Benue to the tin mining areas of Bauch.

The Career of M. P. Porch in
Northern Nigeria
Mount Horeb, Sinai
Porch had been told to collect "tribute". In early July 1907, in accordance with established procedure in the division. Porch sent his messenger to Kafanchan to demand the tribute. The people refused to pay so Porch marched to Kafanchan with the troops but without Lt. Croft, who was ill. He seized 57 sheep and goats and two horses, which were sold and the proceeds credited as tribute. On 10 July Porch repeated the process at Kagoro-Jiga with success but on 17 July he met with a reverse. He went out with Lt. Croft and the troops, but they were fired on by the Kagoro people and forced to retire. Croft and three soldiers were wounded, one Of the soldiers subsequently dying.

Porch then tried to collect tribute from the Ogbom people in the orthodox way by sending a messenger, but he was sent away empty-handed. Porch sent the messenger back accompanied by two policemen to enforce the collection of tribute. The party arrived during a beer festival but managed to extract the tribute. However, on the way back to Jema'a they were attacked and one policeman was killed.

When Blakeney, the Resident, heard of these events he sent Captain Sewell to investigate. Sewell decided that 100 troops were needed to keep the situation under control. Reporting to the Governor, Blakeney professed himself "amazed" because only three days previously Porch had declared that Kagoro was quiet. So although Blakeney laid part of the blame on Lt. Croft for agreeing to take the troops out in support of Porch, he passed heavier strictures on Porch himself, who had made at least three serious mistakes. Firstly, he had used military force when it might not have been necessary,. On the other hand. Porch could have claimed that he had used both civil and military force and had had some success with both. However, his other two mistakes were clear: he had killed a large number of people and he had allowed government servants to be killed.

Porch's defence of his conduct was also threefold. He had acted in good faith. He had been given to understand that the tribute had to be collected at all costs in order to emphasize British paramountcy. The Attaka people, who had never been brought under control, had encouraged the Kagoro not to pay tribute. It is not difficult to find some sympathy for Porch in the situation which had arisen, but that situation could easily recur and he might react in the same way. His reactions had raised the question, was Porch the right type of man for the work of a Political Officer? Blakeney clearly thought not and described him as "excitable, highly strung, nervous, disliked by the natives and unpopular with brother officers".

The Career of M. P. Porch in
Northern Nigeria
Sir Percy Girouard
It is also possible to sympathise with Blakeney, who was trying in difficult circumstances to bring a number of vigorous and independent-minded ethnic groups under the administrative control of a foreign power whose officials were sometimes unsatisfactory. Blakeney replaced Porch at Jema'a with Migeod, while Porch served out the rest of his tour at Nassarawa under the Resident's eye. Blakeney said that he did not want Porch back in his province and in his confidential report went further by recommending that Porch's appointment should be terminated. However, this report reached Lokoja after Porch had gone on leave, so the Acting High Commissioner sent it on to London so that the High Commissioner himself could deal with it and its subject on the spot. Sir Percy Girouard saw Porch in London on 28 April 1908 and decided that he had misinterpreted the instructions for dealing with pagan tribes but had acted in good faith, if without discretion. Porch was accordingly allowed to return to Nigeria and was posted to Zaria and the provincial office. It appears that in the remaining ten years of his service he was never entrusted with the charge of a division. However, in this different sphere of work he seems to have done well, particularly at roadmaking. In later life he claimed to have built the "first town of Kaduna", presumably meaning the settlement created for the construction of the railway line rather than the new headquarters of the Northern Provinces to replace Zungeru.

At this period Porch created for himself a lasting memorial, a large house in traditional Northern style, built near the Emir's palace in the centre of Zaria City and called Gidan Babban Dodo, the house of the big evil spirit. It has become a landmark while Babban Dodo is a shadowy figure in the folk memory.

The Career of M. P. Porch in
Northern Nigeria
Lady Randolph Churchill
In 1914 Porch was on leave in Britain when he met Lady Randolph Churchill for the first time. At a ball her nephew, Hugh Frewen, introduced him to her as a great friend also in the Colonial Service in Nigeria. A few weeks later they met again at Hugh Frewen's wedding in Italy. The outbreak of the First World War found Porch back in Nigeria and soon involved in military activity. German troops from the Cameroons invaded Nigeria in a minor way by sending a few hundred men into the south-eastern extremity of Northern Nigeria, part of the present Gongola State. Part of the force assembled to drive them out again was a company of troops known as the Takum Column. Porch accompanied the column as Intelligence Officer. He was well reported on by the officer commanding, but there was no question of his being commissioned as an army officer and there was even a dispute as to how long he had served with the column. Some time after this Porch went to the army transit camp at Zungeru in an attempt to enlist in the army, but he was not allowed to do so.

On his next leave in 1916 he met Jennie again and by this time he seems to have been in love with and determined to marry her. In 1918, on his next leave, they became engaged and the marriage took place in London on 1 June 1918. Porch had probably never expected Jennie to take his name and live in Nigeria. In later years he loyally maintained that his wife had applied to go to Nigeria but had been refused permission because of the submarine peril. On the other hand there is some evidence that he himself did not intend to return to Nigeria.

Colonial Regulations required that an officer proceeding on leave should report his arrival in Britain to the Crown Agents. This Porch failed to do until seven weeks later. When he was told by the Colonial Office to return to Nigeria on 9 May he replied that he had not known before that he had only three months leave expiring at the end of April. Meanwhile in March he had applied for permission to accept an attachment to the Hedjaz Mission, which was organising the Arab revolt against Turkish rule in Arabia. He claimed that he had no obligation to return to Nigeria and failed to mention that his leave had expired. In consequence of his application the War Office applied for his services but stated that he would not be commissioned. The Governor-General, Lugard, replied that he was not willing to release Porch because of a shortage of staff However Porch was left with two problems: how to find time for his wedding and a uniform in which to be married, as Jennie was determined to marry a soldier. Porch obliged by overstaying his leave and appearing at the Register Office in an officer's uniform. When he signed the marriage register he added after his name "Lieutenant, West African Frontier Force".

Eventually the newspapers and magazines with photographs of the happy pair reached Zaria and caused the Commandant of the depot of the Nigeria Regiment to be very angry. He wanted Porch to be prosecuted under the Army Act for wearing a uniform to which he was not entitled. Porch's justification of his assumption of military rank involved a rehearsal of all his military endeavours, including a claim that he had been in effect a military officer with the Takum Column and that he would have been an officer with the Hedjaz Mission if he had been able to join it, though the War Office had denied that. He also explained why he had worn uniform; his own excitement at his wedding and Jennie's insistence.

While these matters were being considered Porch had returned to Nigeria. In early 1919 his former cook accused him of withholding his wages and of homosexual behaviour. Those charges were dismissed, but in February an angry Porch and his servants attacked the ex-cook. In court Porch pleaded guilty to assault. The disciplinary procedure of the Civil Service came into operation at this point and Porch was required to show cause why he should not be suspended. In the event his conduct was found to be reprehensible and he was severely censured. By that time he had been transferred to Kontagora Province. When the Governor ordered in June that he should proceed on leave immediately, the Resident replied that Porch was in Zuru and could not be spared. The Secretary, Northern Provinces, however, kept up the pressure on the Resident, who recalled Joyce Carey from Yashikera Division to take over. Wnen the Governor was informed he replied that Porch should leave at once, whether it was convenient or not. Accordingly, he was booked to sail from Lagos on 8 July. On 7 July the Secretary telegraphed to Zungeru to find out if he had boarded the boat train there, but the answer was that he was ill at Zuru. He was re-booked on 18 July but did not sail until 23 July.

That was the end of Porch's career in the Colonial Service. Life in Britain with Jennie was expensive and irritating and in the spring of 1921 he returned to Nigeria on a commercial venture. He was still there when, in June, Jennie fell downstairs and broke her leg. Gangrene set in and the leg was amputated but, on 29 June, Jennie died. In 1926 Porch married an Italian lady and lived in Italy until his wife's death in 1938. He then returned to Glastonbury, where he lived until his death in November 1964.

map of British Empire
1955 Map of Nassarawa Province
Colony Profile
Northern Nigeria
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 67 (April 1994)


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