Robert Thorne Coryndon: Proconsular Imperialism in Southern and Eastern Africa, 1897-1925


241 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88920-198-6




Reviewed by Gildas Roberts

Gildas Roberts is a university professor of English at the Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


Robert Coryndon was born in 1870 in Queenstown, Cape Colony, the son of an English immigrant father and a mother belonging to a distinguished Cape family. Despite the fact that a mere three years of his education were received back “Home” in England, this most able “Colonial” served twenty-eight years as the top-ranking administrator of African dependencies, “a career unmatched by any other English governor.” His proconsular rule began with his establishment of a colonial regime in Barotseland 1897-1907, and ended with his governorship of Kenya from 1922 until his death in 1925. While in Kenya he established Local Native Councils as an experiment in indigenous self-administration.

In following Coryndon’s career, Professor Youé carefully analyzes the constraints on proconsular authority: governors were carefully watched over by the Colonial Office and the British Parliament, and their authority was further limited by the shortness of their terms of office. They were continually being shuffled about: four to five years was the average length of their stay in any one place. Professor Youé also carefully analyzes the proconsul’s peculiarly African problems of having to cope with the conflicting claims of Africans, Whites, and East Indians.

Some fascinating reminders are presented. For example, the extension of Imperial rule was by no means always attended by “the thundering cannons’ roar”: the king of the Barotses actively sought the “protection” of Queen Victoria, and Coryndon rode in to establish proconsular rule attended by a detachment of only four troopers. The Barotse king, who had drawn up a welcoming party of several hundred warriors, was understandably rather miffed by the paucity of Major Coryndon’s retinue.

The faults of this book are minor in the extreme, being limited to a few misprints: on page 3, e.g., the spellings “Masaai” and “Maasai” appear only four lines apart.

The manuscript was over ten years in the making. It is scrupulously researched, impartial, perceptive, and very well written; it is an impressive contribution to imperial historical studies.


Youe, Christopher P., “Robert Thorne Coryndon: Proconsular Imperialism in Southern and Eastern Africa, 1897-1925,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,