The British Empire Library

Set Under Authority

by K. D. D. Henderson

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
Among the frequent appeals for contributions, of one sort or another, from members of OSPA towards an eventual history of the Colonial Service (and just how rewardingly those calls have been heeded is manifest in the rich resources of the Colonial Archive, still being added to, in the Rhodes House Library at Oxford), one repeated aside, as it were, has crept in: true, there is as yet no adequate history of the Colonial Service, with its tens of thousands of men and women, but don't forget that so far there is not even a history of the Sudan Political Service, never numbering more than 130 men on the ground and totalling fewer than four hundred in the whole of its recruiting lifetime (1899-1953)!

"So far" . . . . but now,, with the appearance of Set Under Authority, this comment at once becomes measurably less justified. For what K.D.D. Henderson - one-time Governor of Darfur, author of several standard books on the Sudan including the magisterial biography of Sir Douglas Newbold, Civil Secretary 1939-1945, The Making of the Modern Sudan (1953), and who was still writing into his eighties fluently and accurately of the Service in which he himself spent twenty-seven-years - has done is to give us a major, authoritative and invaluable contribution towards the definitive history of what was arguably the most distinct and distinguished Service of them all.

This is not, nor does it set out to be, the history of the Sudan Political Service. But in its acknowledged objective of "putting on record what it was like to work as a British District Officer in the Sudan under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium between 1898 and 1956", it amply and admirably achieves exactly that. Through a comfortable blend of narrative, reflection and anecdote, drawing neatly from his own reminiscences as well as effectively from the important unpublished memoirs of his colleagues which were made available to him on their way to the Sudan Archive in the University of Durham, and with a minimum of patriotic pomp and a maximum of modesty and unobtrusive expertise, Henderson has done for the Sudan Political Service what Mason did for the Indian Civil Service and what Heussler did for the Malayan Civil Service. In short, he has put his Service permanently on record. Only our turn is still to come.

British Empire Book
K. D. D. Henderson
Castle Cary Press


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe