Eric John Eagles Swayne

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Sir Eric John Eagles Swayne
Sir Eric John Eagles Swayne.png
Commissioner of British Somaliland
In office
Preceded by Harry Edward Spiller Cordeaux (acting)
Succeeded by Harry Edward Spiller Cordeaux
Governor of British Honduras
In office
13 August 1906 – 9 May 1913
Preceded by Ernest Bickham Sweet-Escott
Succeeded by Wilfred Collet
Personal details
Born 14 May 1863
Darmstadt, Germany
Died 9 September 1929 (1929-09-10) (aged 66)
Citizenship British
Military service
Unit Welsh Regiment, Indian Staff Corps

Sir Eric John Eagles Swayne CB (14 May 1863 – 9 September 1929) was a British army officer and colonial administrator. He served in British Somaliland, where he was appointed Commissioner, and as Governor of British Honduras, now Belize.

Early years[edit]

Swayne was born on 14 May 1863.

He was educated abroad and at St Edward's School, Oxford, before attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst as a Gentleman Cadet for a year. In 1882 he joined the Welsh Regiment, and later transferred to the Indian Staff Corps. Swayne served in the Burma Campaign (1885–1887), the African Campaign (1898), and in British Somaliland.[1]

British Somaliland[edit]

Main article: Somaliland Campaign

The Somali patriot leader Sheikh Haji Mohammed Abdullah Hassan was known by the British at the time as the "Mad Mullah" since he would not accept colonial rule.[1]

In 1900, a part of the first British Somaliland expedition at Samala drove off Hassan with heavy losses. Hassan retreated south towards Ferdiddin, near Damot, where he engaged with the main force of the British expedition under Swayne, who was by 1901 commander of the Somaliland Field Force. Hassan again suffered high losses and fled to Italian territory. The next year, Hassan was the victor against Swayne in an engagement at Erego on 17 June 1901.[2] An account of the fighting written by Swayne himself is included in the London Gazette dated 18 April 1902.[3]

Swayne was promoted to Lieutenant colonel on 18 November 1901, in recognition of his services during the fighting.[4] In March 1902 he was appointed Commissioner, Commander-in-Chief and Consul General of the Somaliland Protectorate,[5][6] with the local rank of Colonel whilst commanding the troops in Somaliland.[7] In all, he led four military expeditions in British Somaliland.[1]

British Honduras[edit]

Swayne was Governor of the British Honduras from 1906 to 1913. He was knighted in June 1910.[1] Throughout Swayne's governorship, his administration was attacked in Legislative Council and in the pages of the Clarion by the Creole establishment, of whom a few were white but most were mixed race.[8] Swayne was accused of being autocratic, as was his successor William Collet.[9] One of the targets of criticism was construction of the railway and subsequent sale of the Middlesex banana plantation to United Fruit.[10] In his correspondence with the Colonial Office, Swayne recommended extremely favorable terms to United Fruit so they would accept the offer rather than expanding in Guatemala.[11] Later, the hostility of the elite towards United Fruit was reversed. An editorial in the Clarion in 1914 said of a steamship subsidy requested by United Fruit that it was "well within our means ... and by no means excessive".[10]

In 1917 Sir Eric Swayne said "We have to remember that the people of British Honduras have always been the freest people on earth. They originally had a public assembly which elected its own magistrates, and these magistrates carried out the laws which the public assembly, that is, the whole people, chose to adopt".[12] He also said

The mahogany cutters... used to sell themselves into a sort of slavery by receiving advances from their employers at the beginning of the season, which advances they spent most liberally in the town.. leaving their families to starve". This may be a somewhat exaggerated description.[13] He added "It is a pity, I think, having regard to the comfortable competency secured out of the Colony by successful merchants, that practically none have elected to remain in the country on retirement.[14]

Later career and legacy[edit]

During the First World War Swayne's roles included Assistant Inspector of Recruiting. He retired in 1919 as a Brigadier General and died on 9 September 1929.[1]

The Givota genus of trees, which has light but very strong wood, was found in Northeast Africa, including the British Somaliland protectorate. Swayne suggested that it might be useful in airplane construction, an idea that was being explored at the outbreak of World War I.[15] Swayne's elder brother, Colonel H. G. C. Swayne, was one of the first British officers to travel in British Somaliland, and later wrote a book entitled "Seventeen Trips to Somaliland". In 1933 he donated eighty eight objects to the British Museum, including Jewellery and weapons of Somali origin, that he and Sir Eric Swayne had collected.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Boyle 2007.
  2. ^ Jaques 2007, pp. 350-351.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27426. pp. 2587–2598. 18 April 1902.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27428. p. 2760. 25 April 1902.
  5. ^ The Times (36712). London. 11 March 1902. p. 9.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27417. p. 1879. 18 March 1902.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27426. p. 2604. 18 April 1902.
  8. ^ Macpherson 2007, pp. 48.
  9. ^ Macpherson 2007, pp. 36.
  10. ^ a b Striffler 2003, pp. 167.
  11. ^ Moberg 1997, pp. 25-26.
  12. ^ Carey Jones 2011, pp. 136.
  13. ^ Carey Jones 2011, pp. 52.
  14. ^ Carey Jones 2011, pp. 133.
  15. ^ Smith 1968, pp. 493.
  16. ^ RAAD International.