This book is not - as the title might suggest - a biography of the late Sir James
Robertson, although the Last of the Proconsuls could very well be applied to him.
Rather, it consists in the greater part (86 pages out of a total of 139) of some seventy
letters written by Sir James to Mr Graham Thomas between 1951 and 1983, interspersed
with a short personal memoir written by the editor and an essay introducing each of the
four sections into which the book is divided. These four sections, as well as the great
majority of Sir James' letters, concern the political and constitutional history of the
Sudan between 1950 and 1983.
Mr Thomas, at one time a parliamentary candidate in the United Kingdom, served in
the Sudan during and after Sir James' time there, first in the Education Department and
later in the Civil Secretary's Office. During this period he took a great interest in Sudan
politics, then developing so swiftly and so dramatically, and came to know intimately
many of the Sudanese political leaders. This concentration on the Sudan tends to unbalance
the completeness of the picture of Robertson as the last of the Proconsuls, but Thomas'
experience was limited to the Sudan and unfortunately he had no opportunity to follow
similar developments in Nigeria under Robertson's Governor-Generalship. Nonetheless
this does not altogether detract from the impression the letters give of one of the great
contributors to the history of the last days of Empire in Africa. The care with which
Robertson wrote such full and conscientious replies to Thomas will be no surprise to
those who knew him. Thomas came to his relationship with Robertson as a complete
stranger both in background and, in some respects, in sympathies. But one of Sir James'
great qualities was that he was never remote or unapproachable. The letters show that
their joint concern with the problems of an independent Sudan brought them, and subsequently
their families, into a close and longstanding association. The letters also indicate
with great clarity Robertson's gift for friendship towards a wide range of people and his
readiness to take infinite trouble for those who turned to him for help or advice. These
were characteristics which later made themselves manifest in his outstanding success
and popularity as the first President of the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association, an
appointment he held from 1960 to 1971. When he gave up the Presidency, such was the
warmth of feeling and respect in which he was held, that the constitution of the
Association was amended to provide for his appointment as Patron. He held this position
up to the time of his death in 1983.
To those who were fortunate enough to work with him in the Sudan or Nigeria he
was above all a leader who saw it as his principal duty to bring together disparate and
often mutually hostile or suspicious elements into an association which was to form - at
least for a time - two viable nation states. Many of these seventy or so letters, limited in
scope as they inevitably are, show nevertheless that aim at work. The Last of the
Proconsuls will doubtless come to be a valuable source material to those who will seek
to assess the contribution men, such as Sir James, made to the story of the sunset of the