Sir William Des Voeux

There was actually a period of a full two years between the departure of Sir George Ferguson Bowen and the arrival of Sir William Des Voeux. During that time the Colonial Secretary Sir William Marsh took on the role of Acting Governor.

Des Voeux constitution had never really recovered since his time as Governor of British Guiana many years earlier. As a result, he delegated many of his duties to his Private Secretary and abolished Bowen's regular Council meetings due to the strain on his time and health. Des Voeux was however a consummate entertainer and was a host to a growing number of influential visitors including the Comte de Bardi, The Grand Duke Alexander Michael of Russian (later Tsar Nicholas) and George Curzon.

During his tenure, he advocated the reclaiming of land in the Central District (later the Des Voeux and Connaught Roads (named in honour of the Duke of Connaught who officially opened the scheme.)) The new space would provide space for a new clubhouse, cricket grounds and tramlines in the heart of the colony.

A Public Health emergency had struck the colony in 1883 in the form of a Cholera epidemic - largely as a consequence of the disastrous attitudes to health from the time of Sir John Pope Hennessy who had undermined and delayed vital sewage works. This focussed minds on how best to protect the public during the term of Des Voeux. It was assumed that overcrowding in the Chinese quarters of the Colony contributed to the likely spread of any disease. Debate raged on the quality and quantity of housing. Should the cheap and dense housing be knocked down to make more hygenic and comfortable housing - but at a higher cost to the tenants! Many Chinese were hostile to the idea of paying higher rents as they struggled to make ends meet as things were. The less than satisfactory compromise was that a section of the colony would be reserved for European style housing (a thinly veiled excuse to separate the communities). It was hoped that this might at least insulate the European population from the worst ravages of disease should it break out again. In fact in the term of his successor in 1894 plague did break out, and the hoped for separation did little to protect the European population! Nevertheless the process of separating the communities seemed to be entrenched with the excuse of Public Health expectations of the respective communities given as the excuse for this seclusion.

His autobiography gives a full account of his colonial service: My Colonial Service in British Guiana, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Fiji, Australia, Newfoundland, and Hong Kong, with interludes

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by Stephen Luscombe