British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by R G Anderson
C A Gavin: A Man Vindicated
Bromsgrove School
Born on January 27th, 1908, in Moffat, Dumfries, on a cold Lowland morning, Crichton Ian Gavin was the son of 'a gentleman', according to his birth certificate. He shared his birthplace with John Macadam, inventor of modern tar seal, and Lord Dowding, Bomber Command Chief. The birth certificate omitted his father's name and profession: common knowledge of Ian might assume he was the Laird's son, for he was known as a 'perfect gent'.

The family emigrated to England shortly thereafter, for he was enrolled at Bromsgrove School, a few miles from Worcestershire's County town, in 1922. The school was established in 1553 and Ian had a satisfactory though not distinguished career; he excelled at sports, where he was a particularly good runner. He ran for the school and when up at Oxford also ran for his College, Worcester. Apparently he was deemed highly intelligent, well versed in English and History, although no scholar. Described as 'the average English public schoolboy', he enrolled in the Colonial Service after Oxford and, after training, was allocated to Eastern Nigeria arriving early in 1930.

In the thirties, the Administration of Nigeria was separated into Northern and Southern Provinces, so, soon after arrival in Eastern Nigeria, he was posted to Ondo in the West and, during the next few years, spent time in Oyo, Ado Ekiti and Benin, if the evocative sepia photographs in his album are to be believed. They were one of the few means whereby he could convey the ambience of his surroundings to his family in the UK. It was in the West that he was confirmed, after 3 years, having passed his Language and Law exams, which were mandatory before one could be confirmed.

C A Gavin: A Man Vindicated
Onitsha Market Day
He returned to the East in 1935 and served in Onitsha, Owerri and Ogoja Provinces. Commencing as District Officer in Onitsha itself, renowned as the best training ground for a DO (perhaps due to the multiplicity of lawyers in the town), he was moved for a while to Owerri but eventually returned to Awka Division. 'This is where I came in!', as is colloquially said. He is believed to have spent 2 whole tours there, at a time when the Region's policy was to introduce Local Government on the English pattern. The Division having an unsuccessful and unwieldy record under a Divisional Native Authority (DNA), the plan was to split the area into two, the northern called Njikoka, the southern Aguata, each to be administered in due course by a resident Assistant District Officer; I was fortunate enough to be the incumbent at Aguata later in 1950.

Records of Ian's postings are few. What is certain is that he married Mary Boyd Richardson at Narborough in Leicestershire, on August 6th 1936, having proposed to her, during a visit to friends in Somerset, at the Wellington Monument overlooking the Vale of Taunton. It was rare for wives to live with their ADO husbands in those days: indeed, one needed the Governor's permission to bring a young bride out to Nigeria, due to health and living considerations. Boyd joined him at Onitsha and Owerri but did not start a family until Simon was born in 1943, followed by Charles in 1945. Both sons have pursued successful careers in computers in Spain.

It was in Awka that Ian became the victim of his own efficiency and keenness. Living in that house made famous by a former DO, A F B Bridges, (see So we Used to Do, published by Pentland Press, 1990), he engaged in a strict policy of tightening up and refining all the procedures of the DNA, so that the transition to full local self-government in 1950 would pass smoothly and efficiently. The Council's performance had left much to be desired: there were myriad instances of fraud and theft which Ian uncovered, in his meticulous way. This was the function of every DO, but he was particularly assiduous - and successful - in finding petty fiddles, illegal 'instances' of losses of petty cash, thefts from the Treasury and Courts, Stores, Dispensaries and so on. The passing of cash to Councillors' relatives, friends and cronies was harder to detect but Ian's vigilance paid off and a string of convictions of such people in the Magistrate's Court was tribute to his energy and efficiency.

C A Gavin: A Man Vindicated
Onitsha Chiefs
The transfer and allocation of assets to two separate Councils involved a surge in the Council's capital expenditure, the building of staff quarters. Halls and Offices, Dispensaries, the construction of new and better bridges and culverts on the new roads leading into the hinterland, where trading centres and markets were opening up. Thus the years of 1948 and 1949 were vital in expansion and intensive development, construction and reorganization which needed a strong hand at the helm and vigilance that monies did not constantly 'go for bush' or 'were eaten' by persons of ill repute. Ian's emphasis on control brought him into conflict with the Councillors, mainly the two Chairmen, Messrs Onyiuke and Anyika. 'DO Gavin is hampering our style and must go!' was their theme and therefore they formulated a petition to His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, seeking Ian's removal from the Division and requesting that he should not return after leave. The date is unknown but one would expect His Honour to investigate this problem thoroughly and be advised by the Resident and the Secretariat.

However, much to the dismay and horror of the Administration, in a few days a reply came, acceding to the Councillors' demands, assuring them that Mr Gavin would not return to Awka. As both Lieutenant-Governor and the Secretary for Eastern Provinces were ex-Royal Navy Commanders, as well as ex-Western Region officers, it is open to conjecture whether they were influenced by past experiences; the decision and the spineless, nay craven, handling of this petition sent shock waves throughout the Administration and Departmental staff and affected Service morale generally.

However, in typical phlegmatic and restrained fashion, Ian, hearing this outcome, sought clarification and reversal of the decision, but was informed that HH's decision was final, irrevocable. Ian returned to Nigeria, posted to Obubra, the 'punishment station' of the East - without Boyd and the children - barred by the unsavoury health reputation of the area. He was determined to show the powers-that-be in Enugu that a gross injustice had been perpetrated; his determination translated into an enormous boost to the Division's development during the next 3 years. Obubra achieved distinction in being the leader in community development in the East, being selected as the best scenario for several Man O'War national Community Development Courses. This emulated the renowned Daybreak in Udi, the film extolling Comdev initiated by ER Chadwick in 1949. Details are given in Palm Wine and Leopard's Whiskers, the book I edited which gathered the reminiscences of Eastern officers in the 50s and 60s. In December 1952 I took over from Ian, posted at my own choice to this allegedly 'punishing' area. I served there for 3 years and knew all the actors in this drama personally. So I feel I have been qualified to vindicate Ian in his career. He became SDO at Abakaliki in 1953 and was promoted Resident, Ogoja, in 1955. Recognition and vindication indeed for the 'admirable' Crichton.

British Empire Map
Eastern Nigeria Map, 1955
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 94: April 2008


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