The British Empire Library

Gentleman Pauper

by Sir Ronald Garvey

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
Ten years ago, when my research first took me into the field of Britain's colonial governors, I could count the number of gubernatorial autobiographies on a pair of hands (and maybe one foot, too, for good measure). Since then, they have begun to appear, along with memoirs of lesser Colonial Service mortals like ourselves, at the rate of one a year. Today my bookshelf on Colonial Governors' biography and autobiography is three times the length it was a decade ago. I count this blossoming of the autobiographical genre as my good fortune.

To those by Sir Kenneth Blackburne, Sir Alan Burns, Sir Bede Clifford, Sir Alexander Grantham, Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith and Sir Robert Stanley, to take just a sampling off my shelf, we now have the autobiography of Sir Ronald Garvey. A member of the famous Hispano-Irish sherry family, he joined the Colonial Service in 1926. Having applied for a post in Nigeria, he found himself destined for the sole cadetship on offer from the Solomon Islands! In that grim year of economic depression, Garvey was one of the four hundred young men competing for twenty-seven vacancies in the Colonial Administrative Service. A quarter of a century and several territories later (Nyasaland, St. Vincent, British Honduras), Sir Ronald returned to 'his' Western Pacific as Governor and Commander-in-Chief in 1952. Within a mere matter of months he was in the middle of a Royal Visit.

On retiring from the Colonial Service in 1959, Sir Ronald became yet another ex-DO to be appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man. His memoirs, however, stop with his departure from Suva in 1958. They provide a straightforward personal account of a varied and distinguished Colonial Service career (stylistically marred, as if it had been dictated rather than written, by too many paragraphs starting with 'Well') as novel to the outsider as they can be revealing to the insider.

In his bibliography. Sir Ronald has preferred not to mention the published autobiographies of any of his predecessors in Government House, e.g. Grantham, Mitchell, Luke or Des Voeux: the choice, of course, is his, though the loss may be ours if we want to read further. A more valid criticism, I would argue, in the context of an otherwise valuable contribution to Colonial Service history, is the eschewment of any index of personal and place names - an aspect in which Sir Ronald's text itself is endearingly strong. But my Colonial Service library is all the richer for this important and interesting addition.

British Empire Book
Sir Ronald Garvey
Anchor Publications


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