Geoffrey Archer (colonial administrator)

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Sir Geoffrey Francis Archer
Sir Geoffrey Archer.png
Commissioner of British Somaliland
In office
May 1914 – October 1919
Preceded byHorace Archer Byatt
Governor of British Somaliland
In office
October 1919 – 17 August 1922
Succeeded byGerald Henry Summers
Governor of Uganda
In office
Preceded byRobert Coryndon
Succeeded byWilliam Gowers
Governor-General of Sudan
In office
5 January 1925 – 6 July 1926
Preceded byLee Stack
Succeeded byJohn Maffey
Personal details
Born4 July 1882[1]
Kensington, London, England[2]
Died1 May 1964(1964-05-01) (aged 81)
Cannes, France

Sir Geoffrey Francis Archer KCMG (4 July 1882 – 1 May 1964) was an English ornithologist, big game hunter and colonial official. He was Commissioner and then Governor of British Somaliland between 1913 and 1922, and was responsible for finally quelling the twenty-year-long Dervish resistance of Mohammed Abdullah Hassan ("Mad Mullah").

From 1922 to 1925, Archer was appointed Governor of Uganda. He later served as Governor-General of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan between 1925 and 1926. In the Sudan, Archer paid a formal but friendly visit to Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, son of the self-proclaimed Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad, whose forces had killed General Gordon in 1885. Abd al-Rahman was leader of the neo-Mahdists in Sudan. Archer was eventually forced to resign due to the resultant flap, and spent the remainder of his career organising salt works in India.

Early career[edit]

In 1901, the nineteen-year-old Archer joined his uncle Frederick John Jackson, the acting high commissioner in Uganda. His uncle sent him on an ornithological collecting trip the next year. He visited Lake Albert, the Semliki valley and the Rwenzori Mountains, discovering over twenty species and subspecies that had been previously unknown to science. He went to Baringo in 1904 where he conducted extensive surveys.[3] Archer was almost tempted to become a professional big game hunter.[4]

On the basis of his survey work, Archer was appointed District Commissioner of the Northern Frontier district in Kenya.[4] The district was treated as a closed zone with little contact with the rest of Kenya. It was basically a buffer against the Ethiopians, and was not considered to have any other value.

In 1920, Archer said of northern Kenya: "There is only one way to treat the northern territories and that was to give them whatever protection one can under the British flag and otherwise leave them to their own customs. Anything else is certainly uneconomic".[5]

Archer was able to supplement his District Commissioner salary by money earned from an annual elephant hunt. An official in his position was allowed to take two elephants per year, and the sale of their tusks could be worth several hundred pounds.[4] Much later, when he introduced hunting stories into an address to the Royal Geographical Society, Archer was informed by the President that "gentlemen hunt only with the camera".[6]

British Somaliland[edit]

In 1913, Archer was appointed Acting Commissioner in British Somaliland, later becoming Governor from 1919 to 1922. He was also Commander in Chief of the forces in British Somaliland.[3]

Mohammed Abdullah Hassan was a religious leader with a following of 10,000 Dervishes, whom the British called the "Mad Mullah". Hassan and his Dervish State forces had managed to successfully resist British troops in four consecutive expeditions sent out against them over a period of two decades. In 1919, the British government decided on a final push to quell the insurgency. However, the army was reluctant to undertake yet another drawn-out campaign. Archer proposed using air power as a way to reduce the cost of ground troops, a suggestion that was greeted with scorn by the military. However, in January 1920, a flight of RAF bombers attacked the Mullah's headquarters and nearby forts in Taleh. By mid-February, Somaliland Camel Corps troops, assisted by the King's African Rifles, rounded up the remaining Dervish forces. Abdullah Hassan retreated to the Ogaden region where he attempted to regroup for yet another counter-expedition. However, he died of influenza a few months later, effectively ending the insurgency.[7] On 5 June 1920, Archer was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.[8][9]

While in British Somaliland, Archer collected 3,000 skins and 1,000 clutches of eggs. He discovered three new bird species and several new races. His collection and observations were basis for a later book on the birds of the region co-authored with Miss Eva Godman.[3] In 1921, the Colonial Secretary Sir Winston Churchill called a conference in Cairo attended by experts on the Middle East. Sir Geoffrey Archer brought along two young lions who were being sent to the London Zoo. They broke loose at a reception held at the British residency and almost caught the pet stork that belonged to General Edmund Allenby, the high commissioner.[10]


Archer was appointed Governor of Uganda in 1923, and made his first priority the control of 19,000 highly destructive elephants in the colony.[3]

He took an interest in education of the native people, asking for advice on the curriculum, buildings, organization and so on, although he was limited in what he could achieve by shortage of funds. [11]

Archer founded a department of education in Uganda and appointed a director. However, due to doubts that the local Ugandans could handle higher education the establishment at Makerere Hill in Kampala only gave training for low-level clerical work. Archer himself wanted the locals to gain the higher education needed for senior positions so the administration would have to depend less on Indians.[12]

Archer's theories of education were typical of the British colonial administration. He wrote: "For Native Administration the qualities of scholarship and academic attainment are not to be prized so highly as the leadership of men. Brilliance in debate can hardly equal the initial advantage gained in youth by having led in the field a body of well trained and disciplined young men of similar age".[13]

Governor-General of Sudan[edit]

Aged 42, Archer was selected for the post of Governor-General of Sudan in December 1924, the first time a civilian had held this office.[14] He replaced Sir Lee Stack, who had been murdered.[3] Archer travelled overland from Uganda to Sudan to take up his new appointment, walking from Nimule to Rejaf and then travelling by steamer down the Bahr al Jabal to Khartoum.[15] Ceremonial etiquette was in flux. In Uganda Archer had travelled up-country by car informally dressed. In one district that he had not visited before the locals saluted his chauffeur, the only person in uniform.[16] When Archer reached Khartoum in January 1925 he landed in frogged uniform, with sword and plumes, to be greeted on the quay by the members of his council in business suits.[17]

In 1924, there had been a crisis in Egypt when a government hostile to the British was elected. Egyptian army units in Sudan, bound by their oath to the Egyptian king, refused to obey British orders and mutinied. The British violently suppressed the mutiny, removed the Egyptian army from the Sudan and purged the administration of Egyptian officials.[18]

One of Archer's early decisions was to initiate the formation of the Sudan Defence Force, with a command completely separate from the Egyptian army. He dropped the Egyptian title "Sirdar" for the supreme commander, and did not wear the Egyptian tarboush. He made it very clear that he was commander in chief of a purely Sudanese army, while reassuring Sudanese officers who had served in the Egyptian army that they would be retained if they had not taken part in the mutiny.[19]

In the aftermath of the upheaval the British saw educated Sudanese as potential propagators of "dangerous" nationalist ideas imported from Egypt.[18] During Archer's tenure the main concern of the government was to reduce the power of the local intelligentsia and to transfer greater authority to traditional rulers.[20] Archer did little about the issue of whether southern administration should be "Arabicized" or given a more English and Christian flavour.[20] However, he deferred to Lord Lloyd, the British High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan, who stated in a memo to the Foreign Office that "on political, educational, religious, and administrative grounds it is desirable that Arabic as a general language should disappear from the Southern provinces".[21] Archer was enthusiastic about the massive scheme to damm the Blue Nile at Sennar so as to irrigate the Gezira plain for cotton cultivation. He described the plan as the application of "western science to native economic conditions".[22]

In March 1926, Archer ignored the advice of the Sudan Political Service and made an official visit to the Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi on Aba Island accompanied by a full escort of troops and officials. Abd al-Rahman was the son of the self-proclaimed Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad (1844–1885) and was leader of the Ansar movement.[23] When Archer arrived on 14 February he was formally welcomed by Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman with 1,500 Ansar supporters. Escorted by horsemen, the dignitaries went on by car to a reception at the Sayyid's house. Replying to a speech by the Sayyid, Archer said his visit marked "an important stage forward in the relations" between the Sayyid and his followers and the government. Archer said he had come to cement the ties of friendship and understanding.[24] Archer's visit precipitated a crisis in the colonial administration. Archer was forced to resign, replaced by Sir John Maffey.[23]

Later life and legacy[edit]

After leaving the Sudan, Archer spent most of the next fifteen years organizing the salt industry in Kutch, India.[3] Archer settled in the south of France when he retired, dying at Cannes on 1 May 1964.[3]

Archer made significant contributions to the study of birds and their breeding and migration habits in British East Africa, while considering a professional career as a big-game hunter.[3][4]

In Uganda, Archer sought to employ indigenous residents for higher level clerical work so as to lessen the British administration's dependence on Indians for such activity. This represented something of a break from traditional protocol, as locals had hitherto mainly been recruited for low grade clerical work.[12]

He was willing to work with the Mahdists, Britain's former enemies, and this open-minded attitude put an end to his career.[23] Archer was a tall and imposing man, and had a forceful personality.[25] A young man who met Archer in 1939 said of him: "When I talk to him I experience the feeling one gets when one walks out of a very stuffy room full of tobacco smoke into the open air and is greeted by a heavy buffeting wind, which pushes one back a step but which exhilarates and invigorates."[26]

Archer's buzzard, Archer's lark (endemic to Somalia) and Archer's ground robin, a species in the Old World flycatcher family, carry Archer's name.


  • Sir Geoffrey Francis Archer and Eva M. Godman (1937). The Birds of British Somaliland and the Gulf of Aden: Their Life Histories, Breeding Habits and Eggs. London and Edinburgh.
  • Sir Geoffrey Archer (1963). Personal and Historical Memoirs of an East African Administrator. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.


  1. ^ Dod's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, of Great Britain and Ireland, for ...: Including All the Titled Classes. S. Low, Marston & Company. 1923. p. 27. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Search Results for England & Wales Births 1837-2006 |".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h C.W.M.-P. 1964, pp. 260.
  4. ^ a b c d MacKenzie 1997, pp. 151-152.
  5. ^ Hansard 2009, pp. 38.
  6. ^ MacKenzie 1997, pp. 307.
  7. ^ Hall 2008, pp. 19-20.
  8. ^ Chancery...
  9. ^ "No. 31931". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1920. p. 6317.
  10. ^ Seale 2011.
  11. ^ Whitehead 2003, pp. 173-174.
  12. ^ a b Frost 1992, pp. 86-87.
  13. ^ Mangan 1992, pp. 189.
  14. ^ Ibrahim 2004, pp. 92.
  15. ^ Tvedt 2004, pp. 166.
  16. ^ Kirk-Greene 1978.
  17. ^ Daly & Hogan 2005, pp. 351.
  18. ^ a b Daly & Hogan 2005, pp. 28-29.
  19. ^ Al-Ahram 2001.
  20. ^ a b Collins 2005, pp. 275.
  21. ^ Collins 2005, pp. 277.
  22. ^ Bernal 1997, pp. 451.
  23. ^ a b c Warburg 2003, pp. 90.
  24. ^ Daly 2004, pp. 337.
  25. ^ Spessartite Garnet.
  26. ^ Hartley 2003, pp. 143.