Published Apr 2011
‘May God forgive us for our sorry deeds and for our glorious intentions.’
So wrote Hugh Clifford, while he was acting governor of Trinidad, in 1904.
What did it take to govern a colony of the British Empire as it rose to its height in the late nineteenth century? What were the governors like? How were they chosen? Catapulted into running a district or even a country of which they knew nothing, how were they controlled from London, thousands of miles away, in the days when communication over land and sea took weeks? What thoughts went through the minds of these men, so far away from home?
This is a book about ordinary men and women, with no training, set down in strange places, among strange peoples, facing unimaginable circumstances. Some started wars; others fought disease, in justice and slavery. From Fiji to the Falkland Islands, from Malaysia to Australia and South Africa, from Lagos to Ottawa, here is a glorious kaleidoscope of people, places and events.
Running the Show draws on a vast range of unpublished sources, from Colonial Office dispatches to private letters, diaries and memoirs, and reveals the day-to-day lives, obsessions, eccentricities, griefs and triumphs of governors at the height of the empire and their attempts to order the territories in their charge.
Governors of British colonies were pioneers of globalization. The decisions they made shaped the world we live in today.