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.