Humphrey Gibbs

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The Right Honourable
Sir Humphrey Gibbs
Governor of Southern Rhodesia
In office
28 December 1959 – 24 June 1969
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Sir Peveril William-Powlett
Succeeded by Lord Soames
Personal details
Born (1902-11-22)22 November 1902
London, England
Died 5 November 1990(1990-11-05) (aged 87)
Harare, Zimbabwe
Spouse(s) Dame Molly Gibbs, DBE
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge

Sir Humphrey Vicary Gibbs, GCVO KCMG OBE PC (22 November 1902 – 5 November 1990) was the penultimate Governor of the colony of Southern Rhodesia (1959–1970) who served through, and opposed, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965.

Early history[edit]

Gibbs was born on 22 November 1902 in England, the third son of the first Baron Hunsdon. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He moved to Southern Rhodesia in 1928, buying a farm at Nyamandhlovu near Bulawayo. Gibbs became active in farming administration and helped found the National Farmers Union. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly at the general election of 1948 as a United Party member; he served one term, standing down in 1954.[citation needed]

As Governor of Rhodesia[edit]

In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Gibbs Governor of Southern Rhodesia and appointed him a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1960. The Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Rhodesian Front Government (under Prime Minister Ian Smith) in November 1965 placed Gibbs in a very difficult position. He was intensely loyal to Rhodesia, and was a close friend of Ian Smith, but he was also equally loyal to his office as the Queen's viceroy. While understanding what had made Smith's government declare the UDI, Gibbs decided that final legality rested in the Crown and not Prime Minister Smith. With this in mind, he declared that by its action of the UDI, the Rhodesian Government had committed an act of treason.

By the time Smith and Deputy Prime Minister Clifford Dupont called on Gibbs after the UDI was signed, Whitehall had directed Gibbs to use his reserve power to dismiss Smith and his entire cabinet from office. Gibbs complied with the order without hesitation. However, the Rhodesian Government simply ignored the dismissal, advising Gibbs that "in view of the new [Rhodesian] constitution..., he no longer has any executive powers in Rhodesia".[1]

Under siege[edit]

Official flag of Rhodesia during Gibbs' term as governor

Several high-ranking officers of the Rhodesian military did go to Gibbs earlier in the day and made a statement of loyalty to him, asking Gibbs to issue a warrant so that they could arrest Smith and Dupont, but Gibbs knew that the bulk of the officer corps, as well as the rank and file of the Rhodesian military were solidly behind Smith's government and that such a move would lead to a coup d'état. Gibbs announced that despite the UDI, he had no intention of resigning his office or leaving Rhodesia, and that therefore, he would remain in Government House as the sole legal representative of Queen Elizabeth II (thus making Dupont's appointment by Smith as the Officer Administering the Government baseless in international law).[citation needed]

According to Gibbs' biographer (Alan J. Megahey), this action led to four years of harassment and petty afflictions by the Rhodesian Government, resulting in making Gibbs and his wife virtually prisoners in Government House. Megahey further stated that the Smith regime attempted to compel Gibbs to leave several times and isolated him from the people. However, with the assistance of a small staff, led by Sir John Pestell, he managed to remain defiant. In June 1969, Gibbs resigned after Smith's government ran and passed a referendum that year making Rhodesia a republic.[citation needed]

Gibbs resigned because white voters had solidly supported the move towards Rhodesia becoming a republic, and so he felt that there was no further point in continuing to represent the Queen. He left Government House and shortly afterwards travelled to take formal leave of the Queen in Britain.[citation needed]

He returned to Rhodesia and lived the rest of his life on his farm (1970–1983) and latterly in Salisbury/Harare (1983–1990). He was appointed to the Privy Council and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) by Queen Elizabeth II.

He died in Harare on 5 November 1990.[2][3][4]

Lady Gibbs[edit]

Gibbs' wife, Molly Gibbs, née Peel Nelson, was awarded the DBE in 1969.

Additional notes[edit]

  • According to Ian Smith's memoir Bitter Harvest, Smith had left instructions immediately after the UDI that Gibbs was not to be harassed or to be forced out of Government House. Smith – in the same memoir – made no mention of Gibbs giving either him or any member of his cabinet a dismissal notice. Indeed, he stated that Gibbs had intended to leave Government House and return to his farm, but the day after the UDI, decided to stay at his post after London instructed him to do so.[citation needed]
  • Clifford Dupont's recollection of meeting Gibbs on 11 November 1965 was that he noticed that Gibbs was 'visibly distressed' and said "Gentlemen, you realize that I cannot agree or condone your decision".[citation needed] Dupont went on to fill Gibbs' position (in the eyes of the Rhodesian Government) as Officer Administering the Government, then later when Rhodesia was declared a republic, the first President.
  • Gibbs accompanied Smith and his entourage in the 1966 and 1968 Gibraltar conferences at the invitation of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. According to Bitter Harvest, Gibbs was broadly supportive of Smith's stance in those negotiations.[citation needed]


  • Megahey, Alan J (Introduction by Robert Mugabe; Foreword by Robert Blake). Humphrey Gibbs, beleaguered Governor: Southern Rhodesia, 1929–69 (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1998).
  • Smith, Ian Douglas (introduction by Professor J.R.T. Wood). Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal and the Dreadful Aftermath (Blake Publishing, 2001).
  • Wood, J.R.T. (Foreword by Lord Deedes). So far and no further! Rhodesia's bid for independence during the retreat from empire 1959–1965 (Trafford Publishing, Victoria, 2005).
  • Encyclopaedia Rhodesia (The College Press, Salisbury, 1973).

External links[edit]