Patrick Duncan (South African politician)

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Sir Patrick Duncan

Patrick Duncan.jpg
6th Governor-General of South Africa
In office
5 April 1937 – 17 July 1943
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterJames Barry Munnik Hertzog
Jan Christiaan Smuts
Preceded byThe Earl of Clarendon
Succeeded byGideon Brand van Zyl
Minister for the Interior, Education and Public Health
In office
February 1921 – 30 June 1924
Prime MinisterJan Smuts
Preceded byThomas Watt
F. S. Malan (Education)
Succeeded byDaniel François Malan
Personal details
Born21 December 1870
Fortrie, Banffshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died17 July 1943 (1943-07-18) (aged 72)
Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa
NationalityAnglo-South African (also British subject)
Spouse(s)Alice Dold
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Balliol College, Oxford

Sir Patrick Duncan, GCMG, PC, KC (21 December 1870 – 17 July 1943) was the sixth Governor-General of the Union of South Africa, holding office from 1937 to 1943.

Early life[edit]

Born in Scotland in 1870, he took degrees in classics at the University of Edinburgh and at Balliol College, Oxford, and studied law in the Inner Temple, before joining the British civil service in 1894 as a Clerk of the Upper Division in the Secretaries' Office for Inland Revenue.[1]

Colonial service[edit]

In 1901, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), he was recruited by Viscount Milner, to join a team of young administrators - known as "Milner's Kindergarten" - to govern and anglicise the British-occupied Transvaal. He was Colonial Secretary of the Transvaal from 1903 until the colony was granted self-government in 1907, playing an important part in the repatriation of ex-prisoners of war, and in the social and financial reconstruction of the former Boer state.

Duncan practised as an attorney from 1907 to 1910, and was a legal adviser to the Transvaal delegation to the 1908-1909 National Convention that drew up the South Africa Act that established the Union of South Africa.

Political career[edit]

He was a member of the Union Parliament from 1910 to 1936, first as a member of the Unionist Party, then of the South African Party and its successor the United Party. He was Minister of Education, the Interior, and Public Health in the SAP administration from 1921 to 1924, and Minister of Mines in the UP administration from 1933 to 1936.

Governor-General of South Africa[edit]

Duncan was appointed Governor-General in 1937, the first South African citizen appointee to hold the post. King George VI, whom he represented as head of state, knighted him and appointed him to the Imperial Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[2]

Although widely respected and above party politics, he made himself controversial in 1939 by refusing to call a general election on the question of whether or not the Union should enter World War II. The prime minister, General Hertzog, wanted to stay neutral, but Parliament supported his deputy, General Smuts, who proposed to declare war. Hertzog resigned, Smuts became prime minister and led the country into war, and political re-alignments followed.

Sir Patrick died in office, in 1943. His ashes were interred in a monument at the new Duncan Dock in Cape Town harbour, which was named after him. The informal township of Duncan Village in East London, and the suburb of Duncanville near Vereeniging, were also named after him.


Sir Patrick married Alice Dold in 1916. They had three sons and a daughter. One son, Andrew (1920–1942), was killed on active service in Libya. Another son, Patrick (1918–1967), was a well-known anti-apartheid activist.

Titles, styles and honours[edit]

Viceregal styles of
Sir Patrick Duncan
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
Reference styleHis Excellency
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Ord.St.Michele-Giorgio.png Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) 1937[3]
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) KB 1904[4]
Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png Knight of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem (KStJ) KB 1937[5]
King George V Coronation Medal ribbon.png King George V Coronation Medal 1911
GeorgeVSilverJubileum-ribbon.png King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935
GeorgeVICoronationRibbon.png King George VI Coronation Medal 1937


  1. ^ "No. 26518". The London Gazette. 1 June 1894. p. 3196.
  2. ^ "No. 34396". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 May 1937. p. 3075.
  3. ^ "No. 34369". The London Gazette. 9 February 1937. p. 888.
  4. ^ "No. 27688". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 June 1904. p. 4009.
  5. ^ "No. 34410". The London Gazette. 22 June 1937. p. 4007.
  • Dictionary of South African Biography Volume I
  • Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa Volume 4
  • Lavin, Deborah, ed. (2010). Friendship and union. The South African letters of Patrick Duncan and Maud Selborne, 1907-1943. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society. ISBN 978-0981426419.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Walter Edward Davidson
Colonial Secretary of the Transvaal
Succeeded by
Jan Smuts
House of Assembly of South Africa
New constituency Member of Parliament for Fordsburg
Succeeded by
Morris Kentridge
Preceded by
Dr William Davies
Member of Parliament for Yeoville
Succeeded by
Henry Gluckman
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Watt
Minister for the Interior
Succeeded by
Daniel François Malan
Preceded by
François Stephanus Malan
Minister of Education
Preceded by
Thomas Watt
Minister for Public Health
Preceded by
Adriaan Paulus Johannes Fourie
as Minister of Mines and Industry
Minister of Mines
Succeeded by
Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr
Government offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Clarendon
Governor-General of South Africa
Succeeded by
Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet