HL Deb 01 April 1909 vol 1 cc593-8

rose to call attention to the case of Lieut.-Col. Patterson, D.S.O., late Game Warden in British East Africa, and to inquire as to the circumstances under which he had ceased to hold that position in the Colony.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in calling attention to the matter which is the subject of my Notice I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with a long statement, especially as I understand that the matter will be fully dealt with by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his reply. But perhaps I may be permitted to give a brief outline of the facts as I understand them. About the year 1907, Colonel Patterson, who is an old friend of mine and served with distinction in South Africa, being mentioned in despatches by both Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener, the latter forwarding a special despatch with regard to a gallant action in which Colonel Patterson was concerned, was appointed by the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Elgin, as Game Warden in British East Africa, to succeed another gentleman who previously held that office.

In the course of 1907 he proceeded to his post to take up his duties, which included the delimitation of the northern game reserve and the survey of a certain part of the frontier. These duties necessitated a long, and, perhaps, somewhat perilous journey into the interior of the country, which, as your Lordships know, is to a great extent uncivilised. He went on his mission with what is called a safari, or escort of natives. He was accompanied also by some English friends, to whom permits were given by the Lieutenant-Governor. One of these friends unfortunately was taken ill on the journey, and instead of getting better, as everybody hoped, he got worse and died at Lersamis, about 35 miles from their destination. I believe it was a matter of comment afterwards that Colonel Patterson did not return at once with the rest of his party after this tragic event, but a very grave complication had occurred. Within an hour or two, as I understand, of this unfortunate death a serious mutiny arose among the native escort. They refused to proceed, although they were so near their journey's end. The circumstances were extremely critical, and in a position so far from civilisation it was almost literally a matter of life or death to Colonel Patterson and his party that he should assert his authority and insist up on proceeding. It will be easy for those of your Lordships who have travelled in uncivilised countries and met with serious difficulties of this sort to recognise the force of that. Had Colonel Patterson given way the probabilities are that the whole party would have run a very serious risk of being massacred. As will be seen, this did not make much difference in point of time because the journey was very nearly at an end. As soon as possible, however, the journey was completed and the expedition returned.

On reaching Nairobi, on his return at the beginning of May, Colonel Patterson took the earliest opportunity of laying the matter before the Governor, and an inquiry was held at which he and others gave every detail relating to the unfortunate tragedy, and the whole matter was satisfactorily explained. Within a few days of this inquiry Colonel Patterson, who was now himself seriously ill having undergone many hardships in his journey, was seen by a medical board and ordered by them to leave the country on the ground of his health. He forthwith sailed for England, because it was supposed to be rather a matter of urgency for him that he should not lose time in leaving, and, through no fault of his own, he had to leave some of his papers in a somewhat unsettled state. After Colonel Patterson had left East Africa certain rumours appear to have been circulated concerning his general administration, some of them, perhaps, attributable to idle gossip, while others were of a more malevolent character. They related to the expedition which I have briefly referred to, and to other things, such as the killing of game, and so forth. It was alleged that he had exceeded his powers in killing game. I might mention that Colonel Patterson is a distinguished game hunter and in every way an eminent sportsman, and I think that fact should go far in refuting a charge of that kind. It must also be remembered that several of the natives were prejudiced against him because he had had to assert his authority very strongly, and perhaps had been obliged in self-defence to punish them.

As your Lordships know, gossip and rumour flourish apace in uncivilised countries where there are few people about to know the truth. Be that as it may, these rumours grew to such a pitch that Colonel Patterson, who, I may mention, seemed to hear of these rumours against his former administration perhaps later than his friends, felt obliged to take steps to vindicate himself. He appealed to the Colonial Office, where he was given a very courteous hearing; and the Colonial Office, as no doubt the noble Earl the Secretary of State in his reply will show, entered very fully into his case, and were, I think, inclined to take a favourable view of the circumstances. It is in order to follow up this procedure that I have ventured to bring this matter before your Lordships.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for having raised this question in your Lordships' House, because the matter is one which has given some anxiety to me as being responsible for the administration of the Colonial Office. The question of the conduct of a public servant can, of course, never be a light one, and in this particular case the circumstances are so singular that it caused us at the Colonial Office no small degree of anxiety. As the noble Lord has said, Colonel Patterson has a distinguished record of service in South Africa and elsewhere. He has been mentioned in despatches more than once, and has obtained the Distinguished Service Order. He is also, I dare say, known to some of your Lordships through the account which he wrote of the extraordinary man-eating lions at Tsavo at the time of the making of the Uganda Railway, when the operations on that line were positively stopped by reason of the terror which those animals caused until they were finally disposed of by Colonel Patterson.

My predecessor, Lord Elgin, appointed Colonel Patterson to the post of Game Warden—that is, superintendent of game reserves in British East Africa. Last summer Colonel Patterson returned invalided from his post, and since that time rumours of a damaging and even of a sinister character have been prevalent regarding him, not merely in East Africa, but, as I have been told, they have reached England. As Lord Zouche said, in countries like East Africa rumours grow easily. You have among the native population what our fellow countrymen in India speak of as bazaar rumours; and in a small white community there is naturally an eager interest in all that concerns each member of that community, especially any one who holds an official position; and there is also, as is usual in new countries, a somewhat irresponsible Press.

The rumours to which I have alluded arose to a certain extent out of the unfortunate death of Mr. Blyth, the son of a respected member of your Lordships' House, who, I think, is not now in England. Colonel Patterson was going on duty with a safari of porters to the northern game reserve, and he was permitted by his superior officer to take with him Mr. Blyth and his safari also. As Lord Zouche has stated, Mr. Blyth died in the course of the expedition, died by a revolver shot wound, undoubtedly inflicted by himself, either by accident or in a fit of delirium consequent upon a severe attack of fever from which he suffered throughout the journey. It was a very painful, calamitous story, and all who were acquainted with it have felt warm sympathy for Lord Blyth and his family. Rumours concerning Colonel Patterson arose, in some cases absolutely taking the form that he was responsible for Mr. Blyth's death, owing to some disputes which were supposed to have taken place. At any rate he was accused of having shown distinct inhumanity at the time.

Well, my Lords, I have examined all the documents relating to the case and I can assure your Lordships that for these reports there is no foundation whatever. There was no tinge of evidence—quite the contrary indeed—to connect Colonel Patterson in any way with Mr. Blyth's death, a charge which some, I believe, have not scrupled to make, and there was no reason to believe there was any truth in the accusations of inhumanity; but, on the contrary, Colonel Patterson throughout treated Mr. Blyth with nothing but kindness and humanity during the journey. Colonel Patterson's expedition was undertaken, as the noble Lord has said, under orders from the Government, and he carried out the delimitation of the eastern boundary of the northern reserve, though there was, I think, some misunderstanding on one side or the other as to the precise nature of the duty he was intended to perform. Yet he drew out the boundary and brought back maps of the district, and there is no definite charge of dereliction of duty to bring against him on this side of the question.

Then, as Lord Zouche has said, there were reports circulated that Colonel Patterson had been guilty of some falsification of his accounts, and there again I was happy to be able to satisfy myself that there was no ground whatever for the rumour. Colonel Patterson did not keep his accounts in the best form, and I am not quite sure indeed that he was supplied with the means of doing so, and so far as any confusion existed in them I was willing to ascribe it to the bad state of his health when the accounts had to be made up. As regards the charge of shooting game in the reserve, I have accepted Colonel Patterson's explanation of that charge brought against him, and have directed that the trophies, the heads and skins of animals left in East Africa, should be sent to him in England.

In fact, speaking generally, the best proof I can give to the House that I did not consider Colonel Patterson unworthy of continuing in His Majesty's service is that I sanctioned his return to East Africa. But his health, I am afraid, is broken down to a very great extent; this has prevented his return to East Africa, and he has in consequence ceased to hold the position of Game Warden there. I am glad to have been able to make this categorical and authoritative statement of the facts of the case, because it is one which, as the House will see from those facts, is of no small importance to the man concerned.


My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Earl for what he has said and for the manner in which he has vindicated the character of an old friend. I should like also to say how much I feel indebted to the noble Earl for the courtesy shown to me at the Colonial Office.