I’ve finished reading Running the Show: Governors of the British Empire 1857-1912, by Stephanies Williams. It has taken some time, because I’ve enjoyed the book, and didn’t want to rush it.
I wrote about this book a while back. Many of the governors had a rough time, and what comes across is that, whilst some of them may have had rather strange characters, most of them were extremely dedicated to their job.
What did the British Empire do for the world? Lots of good things and lots of bad things.
According to Lugard, under the British, famine and disease had been checked, the slave trade, wars and human sacrifice had ended, roads and railways had been built, swamps reclaimed, crops developed, and elements of democracy introduced.
As described in Running the Show, in many cases the governors positioneed themselves between the settlers and the indigenous peoples. In Uganda, Henry Hesketh Bell, who was Governor from 1905 to 1909, disliked the white settlers and wanted to see whether a stable African state could be built up by its own people under straight and disintested guidance.
Many of them showed particular awareness of the biggger picture. Williams writes (page 414) “Overworked, often ill, experienced governors could never get over London’s inability to understand the situations they faced on the ground. Glover, Gordon, Bell, Swettenham and, most persistently, Lugard: none believed that those in the Colonial Office knew best what to do. Doubts about the effectiveness of the Colonial Office, more gravely, doubts about the whole mission of Empire, deeply troubled many governors and senior officials who served. What was the real impact they were having on the peoples and the territories they administered?”
I recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand more about the early impact of the West on developing countries and the role of governors, and London, in the process.