John Wallace Downie

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John Wallace Downie
Hon.John Wallace Downie.jpg
High Commissioner of Southern Rhodesia to London
In office
Monarch George V
Personal details
Born 1876
Died 22 August 1940
Political party Rhodesian Party

Hon. John Wallace Downie CMG (1876 - 1940) served as High Commissioner of Southern Rhodesia from 1930 to 1935. The son of Christopher Downie, a Guard on the Caledonian Railway and later Lanark Station Master, he was born on 28 December 1876 in Hutchesontown, Glasgow,[1] emigrating to South Africa in 1897 to work on the Cape Railways. Here he worked on the line in process of construction from Bechuanaland to Bulawayo. Subsequently he worked for a time as postmaster in Francistown. On 15 October 1899, following the declaration of The Anglo-Boer War, John Downie volunteered to join the Francistown Defence Force 1899 under the leadership of Umfreville Percy Swinburne.

In 1900 he returned to Glasgow in order to study, coming back to Africa in 1901.

On his return he was appointed secretary of a small mining company and subsequently joined the firm of Haddon, Cotton & Butt, a Rhodesian shipping and forwarding house. John Downie was very successful in his new position and rose to be managing director. He was interested in a number of gold mining ventures, and in addition to his firm acted as manager of the Portland Cement Works for some time. John Downie later sold his interests in the firm, and in 1920 he became manager of the Salisbury Farmer's Co-operative, holding this post till the period of the end of Chartered Company Rule in 1923. John Downie was a keen advocate of responsible government and served as treasurer of the Responsible Government Party. Subsequently he became Chairman of the Rhodesia Party and was responsible for much of the work of party organisation.

On 29 April 1924, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as co-member, with Francis James Newton, for Mazoe under the system of double member constituencies then in existence.

On 30 January 1925, he became Minister of Agriculture and Lands and in this capacity he played an important part in popularising Rhodesian tobacco in London, in encouraging the cotton industry and in promoting agricultural co-operative efforts.

On 14 October 1927, he took over the portfolio for Mines and Public Works, but continued to take a considerable interest in agricultural affairs.

John Downie was strongly critical of the management of the railways and several times clashed with the railway companies on that score. On the other hand, he was able to reach a satisfactory arrangement with the Chartered Company to solve the problems of simplifying the collection of mining revenue, and he took an important part in settling some of the differences between miners and farmers.

In 1929 John Downie received the award of companion (CMG) to The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.[2]

He remained in the Ministry till G.Mitchell succeeded him on 1 November 1930. John Downie then took over Newton's post as High Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia in London, and continued to hold this position until 1935, when he retired to become Chairman of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways. He was a member of the Southern Rhodesian delegation to the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa in 1932. In 1939 he returned to the work of administrator as Controller of Suppliers.

John Wallace Downie died on 22 August 1940 in Salisbury Hospital, Southern Rhodesia.[3] He left considerable estate and in his will endowed the John Downie Bursaries for Prince Edward School and the Girl's High School, Salisbury. He left a widow, Clara Mortimer Carrol (1884-1964)[4] and two children, Clara Isabella Ross Downie (1912-1977) and Robert Gordon Downie (1918-1944).[5]

See also[edit]

Southern Rhodesian general election, 1928


Extract from the "Guide to the Historical Manuscripts in the National Archives of Rhodesia" by T.W.Baxter and E.E.Burke (published by National Archives of Rhodesia 1970). as provided by Geoff Quick, Francistown, Botswana. Victor Ellen, New Zealand- from "Who Was Who" 1929-1940 page 382, presently stored in the British Parliament archives.

  1. ^ 1877 Births in the District of Hutchesontown in the County of Lanark District 644-11 page 31 no 91
  2. ^ London Gazette Supplement 3 June 1929 page 3669
  3. ^ Southern Rhodesia Information of a Death: Ord. No. 8 of 1902 1940 Vol. 61 no 313
  4. ^ Death Notice Southern Rhodesia 1964 No. 980
  5. ^ Death Notice Rhodesia 1942-44 Vol 67 No 183
Preceded by
Francis James Newton
High Commissioner of Southern Rhodesia Succeeded by