Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke

Charles Noble Arden-Clarke was born in India on 25 July 1898, the eldest son of the Revd Charles William Arden Clarke, a Church Missionary Society missionary in India and the principal of Noble College, Masulipatam. (The hyphen in his surname was added later by deed poll.) Educated at Rossall School, he was just old enough to serve in the First World War, enlisting in the machine-gun corps in 1917. By the time he was twenty, he was already a captain and had earned a mention in dispatches. A serious breach of discipline while stationed in post-war Germany, in which he, the divisional heavy weight boxing champion, struck a senior officer after a row in the mess, led Arden-Clarke to volunteer for the south Russia expeditionary force mounted by the allies in support of the White Russian army. But coming to the conclusion that the army was not the career for him, he set aside the classical scholarship he had won at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (his father's college), where he had hoped to read medicine, and joined the colonial service in 1920. He attributed this decision partly to the inspiration of the career of Sir F. J. D. Lugard, also an old Rossallian. On 6 September 1924 Arden-Clarke married Georgina Dora (Gina), daughter of Robert N. H. Reid, civil engineer. They had one son and two daughters.

After a sustained spell as a district officer in the northern provinces of Nigeria, where he earned recognition as an able administrator, in 1934 Arden-Clarke was transferred on accelerated promotion to the secretariat in Lagos. There, in the native affairs department, he quickly improved on his growing reputation by his work for the new governor, Sir Donald Cameron, on the reorganization of the northern emirates. In 1936, after serious illness, he was offered the post of assistant resident commissioner in the more temperate climate of one of the South African high commission territories, Bechuanaland. A year later he was promoted resident commissioner. In 1942 he became resident commissioner of Basutoland, still on secondment to the Dominions Office from the Colonial Office.

At the end of the Second World War, when the Labour government decided to assume responsibility for Sarawak from Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, the last of the so-called white rajas, it was Arden-Clarke whom the Colonial Office chose for this pioneer governorship in 1946. To set the seal on its status, he was immediately knighted. To the problems of rebuilding an economy ravaged during the Japanese occupation of the East Indian archipelago was added a measure of local resentment against a crown presence. Arden-Clarke survived an attempt on his life only because he had left the country; his successor as governor, D. G. Stewart, was assassinated in 1949.

Advanced to the class 1 governorship of the Gold Coast colony in June 1949, it was in his uninterrupted eight years of guiding the Gold Coast from dependent territory to independent Ghana that Arden-Clarke reached the summit of his reputation as an outstanding modern colonial administrator. His brief to channel rather than check the vigorous nationalist spirit was a turning point in the annals of Britain's colonial administration in Africa. Arriving in Accra in the aftermath of the 1948 riots, which had shaken the Colonial Office both by the threat they posed to the new, liberal policies of Arthur Creech Jones, the colonial secretary, and his right-hand official in the Africa division, Andrew Cohen, and by the outspoken tenor of the ensuing commission of inquiry chaired by Aitken Watson, Arden-Clarke soon found himself confronted by the proconsular nightmare of a vociferous political party (in his case the Convention People's Party (CPP) under a demagogic leader, the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah) gathering strength in support of a campaign for 'Full Self-Government NOW' through 'Positive Action'--violent if need be. In the strikes which followed, violence was indeed used, and Nkrumah was imprisoned for sedition. However, despite his leadership, at one remove, the mass party CPP triumphed in the Gold Coast's first general election. On his own initiative, Arden-Clarke released Nkrumah and, summoning him from gaol to Government House, invited him to form a government. Although their first meeting was characterized by mutual suspicion, they soon developed a real feeling of friendship and partnership. Nkrumah's impression was of 'a man with a strong sense of justice and fair play, with whom I could easily be friends even though [he was] a symbol of British imperialism' (Nkrumah, 113). Arden-Clarke's own feelings after the initial meeting were perceptive and prophetic, identifying 'a streak of weakness that may prove his undoing' (Oliver, 416).

Arden-Clarke was the first, and one of the most effective, of that small group of final or penultimate colonial governors who, by establishing close personal links with the nationalist leadership, were as much part of the successful transfer of power as the African prime ministers themselves (Sir James Robertson in Nigeria, Sir Maurice Dorman in Sierra Leone, and Sir Richard Turnbull in Tanganyika were others). On Arden-Clarke's death, the arch-nationalist Nkrumah testified to this relationship in exceptional terms: 'It can be truly said that independence for Ghana might have been seriously delayed but for Sir Charles's readiness to co-operate with the forces of nationalism' (West Africa, 22 Dec 1962).

Arden-Clarke's governorship of the decolonizing Gold Coast remains a monument to the new style of colonial administrator which was in such great demand, yet at the very top initially in such short supply, in the immediate post-war years of British rule in Africa. In recognition of Arden-Clarke's role in helping Ghana to become, in March 1957, Britain's first African colony to attain independence, Arden-Clarke was invited to stay on as its inaugural governor-general. He left, however, within two months.

In retirement Arden-Clarke remained active in African affairs. In 1958 he acted as chairman of the United Nations good offices committee on Namibia; the recommendation for partition was not accepted. In 1959 he became chairman of the Royal African Society and of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, and a year later accepted the challenging chairmanship of the important National Council for the Supply of Teachers Overseas. Wisely, Whitehall did not part with his skills and experience. He was a member of the 1960 advisory commission on central Africa chaired by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, and in 1961 was invited to return to the high commission territories, where he had first served twenty-five years earlier, to act as constitutional adviser to Swaziland on its final stages towards independence.

Arden-Clarke was appointed CMG in 1941, KCMG in 1948, and GCMG in 1952. He was made a knight of the order of St John of Jerusalem in 1952, and awarded the honorary degree of DCL by Durham University in 1958. Philately and gardening were among his hobbies. In appearance he was tall, well-built, and imposing. Hence Elspeth Huxley's description of his 'rock-like solidity' (Huxley, 87). Arden-Clarke died from cancer at his home, Syleham House, Syleham, Suffolk, on 16 December 1962, having spent over half his thirty-seven years in the colonial service in a gubernatorial capacity. He was survived by Lady Arden-Clarke.

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by Stephen Luscombe