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Oxford and EmpireThe Last Lost Cause?$

Richard Symonds

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780198203001

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198203001.001.0001

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Nursing Mother of the Elect

Nursing Mother of the Elect

(p.257) 13 Nursing Mother of the Elect
Oxford and Empire

Richard Symonds

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the British Empire Dominions' perception about the role of the University of Oxford. It analyses the impact of the university on the people of India, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Rhodesia. It suggests that of the ‘kindred elect’, it was perhaps the Australians who made the most impact on Oxford and because those Australians who had brilliant Oxford academic careers tended to remain there.

Keywords:   University of Oxford, British Empire, Dominions, India, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia

Just because much is demanded of her, Oxford may be able to rise to the heights of the future opened out, and become the nursing mother of the elect of the kindred peoples.1

H. E. Egerton, Beit Professor of Colonial History (1908)

In the three previous chapters the Empire has been observed mainly through the eyes of Oxford men and women who served in it as officials, missionaries and teachers. In this chapter the opposite picture will be considered—how Oxford appeared to people from the Empire.

When Egerton made the remark quoted above in a flatulent peroration to a lecture at the Royal Colonial Institute, he had in mind the Rhodes Scholars. Yet the impact of Oxford on students from the ‘kindred peoples’ of the white Dominions, often only removed by a generation from their British origins, was less vivid than that made on Asians, Africans and West Indians, for whom the experience of Oxford was much more exotic, and more likely to be recorded in their memoirs; it is therefore with the impressions of the latter that this chapter commences.


The most numerous accounts are those of the Indians, the earliest of whom entered Oxford in 1871, when students who matriculated were no longer required to be members of the Church of England. Between then and 1893, 49 Indians matriculated, of whom 22 were at Balliol and 16 were non-collegiate. A high proportion were Hindus (p.258) from Bengal and Bombay and Parsees, but over 20 per cent were Muslims. About half of them became barristers; six entered the I.C.S.2

One of the most interesting members of this early group, though she came at a time when women were not yet formally matriculated, was the first Indian woman student at Oxford, Cornelia Sorabji, a Parsee whose parents were Christians. From a very early age she determined to qualify as a lawyer in order to devote her life to helping women in purdah, who were often cheated of their rights because they were unable to consult male lawyers. She obtained the highest marks of her year in graduating from Bombay University. The student who did this was normally awarded a Government scholarship to a British University, for which she was disqualified because she was a woman. Lord Hobhouse, who had been Law Member of the Viceroy's Council, was a member of the governing body of Somerville College, where he obtained a substitute scholarship for her. He also introduced her to Jowett, who had been his contemporary at Balliol. Jowett arranged for her, quite exceptionally for a woman, to attend lectures at All Souls as well as Balliol, and persuaded Congregation to pass a special decree enabling her to sit for the B.C.L. examination in 1892 although she was not able to collect the degree until 30 years later when women became full members of the University.

At Jowett's parties Cornelia Sorabji met leading politicians, including Gladstone, Balfour and Asquith, as well as professors and men of letters, such as Max Mueller, Froude and Freeman. She was even presented at Court. She wrote to her parents that ‘next to home there is no place like Somerville’, and that working in All Souls, where she was taught by Dicey, was ‘bliss’. She stayed in vacations with the Romanes and the Markbys and took the little Spooners for walks in the Parks. Only Sir William Hunter offended her by asking in a loud voice, when he met her in the quad, if she lacked the moral courage to get married.3

Best of all, she said in her memoirs, she learnt at Oxford that difference of opinion need not affect friendship or personal appreciation, that one can be a zealot and yet open-minded, could gain in breadth without losing intensity.4 Jowett sent her to see Florence Nightingale with a note which said ‘Miss Sorabji is starting on a mission something like your own fifty years ago and you may perhaps feel a sympathy for her.’5 The mission was triumphantly achieved. On her return to India, Cornelia Sorabji not only did invaluable work (p.259) herself for purdah women, but her example eventually brought other Indian women into the legal profession.

In the early twentieth century two Government committees reported on the situation of Indian students in Britain. The first in 1907, under the Chairmanship of Sir W. Lee Warner, found that Indian students at Oxford were happier and more popular than those in Cambridge. At this time there were only 32 Indians at Oxford, whilst there were 87 at Cambridge. The difference in numbers was due to the fact that although since 1884 Indians had been allowed to offer Arabic and Sanskrit instead of Latin and Greek as an entry requirement at Oxford, they still had to pass an examination in a classical language as undergraduates, which they need not do at Cambridge. The problems at Cambridge were attributed to the fact that the Indians were concentrated in three Colleges, in which they formed cliques.6

By the time the second committee, chaired by Lord Lytton, reported in 1922 relations between Indian and British students appeared to have deteriorated both at Oxford and Cambridge. The spectacular murder in 1909 of Sir Curzon Wylie, the student adviser of the India Office, by an Indian student at a reception at Imperial College, London, caused such revulsion that several Oxford and Cambridge Colleges closed their doors to Indians. Further, during the First World War, Scotland Yard had compiled dossiers on Indian students suspected of pro-German sentiments.

Oxford had now exempted Indians from examinations in Latin and Greek and their numbers had risen to 144, compared with 145 at Cambridge.7 Two representatives of the Oxford Indian Majlis Society, M. C. Chagla and P. N. Sapru, in their evidence referred to the ‘notoriously unsatisfactory relations that obtain between English and Indian students of this, and we presume of any other university in the United Kingdom’. English undergraduates, they said, were not cordial by temperament, but in the case of the Indians there was something more than lack of cordiality. Another Oxford Indian Majlis Society representative, Tar a Chand, however, considered that the majority of Indian students were quite happy and had many British friends.8

The Secretary to the Delegacy for Oriental Students, S. M. Burrows, stated in his evidence that the chief difficulty was the race prejudice inculcated by American and South African Rhodes Scholars in Colleges where they came in large numbers.9 This was confirmed by the Master of University College, which had 26 Rhodes Scholars, and by (p.260) the Senior Tutor of Queens. Three Colleges, Magdalen, Corpus and University, refused to take any Indian students, and the Vice-Chancellor, L. R. Farnell of Exeter, went so far as to suggest that if a College acquired a reputation for taking a great many Indian students, the English students would avoid going there. A much more cheerful account was given by A. L. Smith, the Master of Balliol, which altogether had taken 60 Indian students; although ten of these had been recorded as unsatisfactory, on the whole it had been a very favourable experience. Neither Burrows nor the Principal of Somerville considered that there were racial problems in the women's Colleges, where Indian women had got on well with their English counterparts.10 The 1922 report concluded that more racial prejudice was apparent at Oxford and Cambridge than at provincial Universities, not only because of the presence of Rhodes Scholars, but because of the preponderance of Public School men among whom there existed ‘a certain pride of class which tended to keep them aloof from men of a different race as well as a different class’.11

The period immediately following the First World War was a particularly difficult one. Most of the Indian students had little in common with the men who returned to Oxford from the trenches. N. B. Bonarjee who entered Hertford in 1919 had been at an English Public School and played Rugby football for the College. He nevertheless felt that all coloured people were regarded as ‘wogs’ and that Indians were not popular, although Oxford knew in her heart, he said, on the basis of her own Hellenistic tradition, that she ought to be more international in outlook.12 His contemporary, K. P. S. Menon, who had a brilliant career, ending with a First in History and the top place in the I.C.S. Examination, loved his College, Christ Church, but nevertheless felt an uneasiness resulting from a complex between the ruler and the ruled. The complex was made deeper by the Amritsar massacre and Gandhi's non-cooperation movement.13 The Indian students' suspicions were such that those who read Modern History refused to take the optional special subject about Warren Hastings because it was believed that the papers were sent to the India Office to be checked for evidence of disloyalty.14

Another irritation was the presence at the Indian Institute of an official appointed by the India Office as adviser for Indian students who in some cases was designated as their guardian and controlled their finances. After a campaign organised by the Suhrawardy brothers, the official, S. M. Burrows, was transferred to the University (p.261) as Secretary of a new Delegacy for Oriental Students where he continued, however, to be an object of suspicion.15

In 1921 Lord Curzon, who was both Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the University, wrote to L. R. Farnell, the Vice-Chancellor, to express his disquiet at the disloyal attitude of some Indian students. The Vice-Chancellor responded by summoning all Indian students to a meeting in the Hall of Exeter College. The meeting was abortive, as the Hall was set on fire by the participants. At an adjourned meeting, with suitable precautions, Farnell described in his memoirs how he looked down on 400 eyes, gleaming from brown faces like panthers, and stated categorically that ‘Anyone who comes here to sow discord and cause disruption is a traitor to our academic fellowship; we must here preserve the peace of God.’16 A few years later, in 1926, Lord Birkenhead as Secretary of State for India wrote to Heads of Colleges asking them to take action against British Communist students who were influencing Indians. Merton and Queen's refused to take disciplinary action and the Vice-Chancellor intervened to exact promises from the students concerned that they would have nothing further to do with Communism. The incident led to a resolution of protest in the Oxford Union which was reversed in a subsequent debate attended by a large number of clergymen who were life members. The majority of Indian students supported the Vice-Chancellor, resenting the implication that they were involved.17

Those who drew up the University Examination Statutes remained sublimely indifferent to the question of the loyalty of the Indian students to the Empire. When the Indians in 1908 were exempted from offering either Latin or Greek in the first public examination, they were required instead to read Milton's Areopagitica, whose subject was freedom of the press, Mill on Liberty and Byron's Childe Harold. In place of Holy Scripture, they were examined in Burke's Thoughts on Present Discontents and American Taxation. It would have been hard to concoct a more explosive cocktail for the young intelligentsia of a country under foreign rule.18

In spite of initial social problems, the Indians of the inter-war generation often came to feel at home in Oxford through the Union debates. H. C. Gupta, on arriving at New College, felt ‘the cold and severely aloof atmosphere of God's own Englishmen’; but later he marvelled at ‘the phenomenal standard of the speeches in the Oxford Union debates, the delicate wit and humour, the fair hearing accorded (p.262) to contestants, the rapier thrusts of argument and matchless repartee’.19

K. P. S. Menon used to rehearse his Union speeches to his sister as they walked around Christ Church Meadow. M. C. Chagla would pace up and down the quad, waiting for the Isis to arrive with news of the debates. Chagla indeed had been inspired to come to Oxford by reading Morley's life of the greatest of all Presidents of the Union, Gladstone. He failed to obtain a place at Gladstone's College, Christ Church, and so entered Morley's College, Lincoln. The eloquence which Chagla learnt at the Union was to be an asset in his varied career as a politician, lawyer, ambassador and Cabinet Minister.20 In 1935 another Lincoln man, D. F. Karaka, was the first Indian to be elected President of the Union. He became a writer and journalist, Oxford remaining for him ‘mentally, morally, spiritually and physically an inspiration’.21

For the Indians who were too shy to speak in the Union there was their own Majlis Society founded by Mohamed Ali and others at the beginning of the twentieth century. Here they would discuss India's political future. Between then and Independence in 1947 most Indians and Ceylonese belonged to the Indian Majlis Society, whose meetings began by the singing of the Congress anthem, Bande Mataram and ended with a hymn by the Muslim poet Iqbal. No one had the temerity, K. M. Pannikar recollects, to argue for anything less than Independence for India.22 Among the members were men who hoped to enter the I.C.S. or were already I.C.S. probationers. Several of them recollect that they found nothing incongruous between the deep distrust of the British which they expressed in the Majlis and their desire to enter the service of the British Raj. Whilst membership of the Majlis was restricted to Indians, Burmans and Ceylonese, there was also a Lotus Club which included students from other countries who were interested in India.

In general the Indians express admiration, even affection, for their teachers at Oxford. Tutors and professors, says Pannikar, treated pupils as friends and were always active to advance their careers. When he obtained a First in History in 1917, the Dean of Christ Church wrote to him ‘I am sincerely glad that you achieved this distinction as a Christ Church man; but I am also extremely happy at the success of a friend’.23

Even during the most difficult period, the experiences of both Indians and Ceylonese at Oxford varied greatly as can be illustrated (p.263) from the memoirs of two of them. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the future Prime Minister of Ceylon, was at Christ Church from 1919 to 1923, choosing to come to Oxford after reading Tom Brown at Oxford and Mr Verdant Green. His first year was a disappointment. He felt that he was simply not wanted. ‘It is terribly wounding, after laboriously patching up an acquaintanceship with one's neighbour at dinner in Hall or at lectures, to be passed by in the street as though he had never seen one, or, still worse, to see him hurry off with a hasty nod.’

Eventually he learned that this conduct sprang not so much from prejudice, as from the shyness and reserve of Public School men who had their own cliques. Brooding in a damp, grey, sunless and depressing winter, Bandaranaike concluded that in light of the feeling of race superiority which even the best Englishmen held towards orientals, it would be easier to win their respect rather than their friendship. ‘Before I am their equal I must be their superior.’ He set out assiduously to obtain a place in the College tennis team and the Treasurership of the Union. He now made many friends, one in particular: ‘The achievement of which I am proudest is the friendship of Edward Marjoribanks. In whatever part I am called upon by fate to play in the relations between my country and his, I shall not easily forget the fact that Marjoribanks was an Englishman.’

As a Ceylonese, Bandaranaike's comments on the Indians at Oxford are unusually interesting. He regretted that the Indians lived a life of their own and created an Indian Oxford within Oxford. The fault was not solely on either side but had its roots in the different psychology of the British and Indians. He used to attend the Majlis and was bored with the endless bickerings there and the whispered allegations that some members were in the pay of the Indian Institute. But a sense of humour usually sufficed to smooth things over, and his memory of his Indian friends at Oxford, with all their weaknesses and all their impulsive kindness, was a tender one.

He concluded that the disadvantages outbalanced the advantages of an English education for the Indians. A few Indians, he considered, should be sent to study in Britain, selected by a committee, rather along the lines of the Rhodes Scholarships, for intellectual ability and aptitude for games. The rest should be encouraged to study at home and then be given two years supervised travel in Britain, the United States and France. Bandaranaike read Classical Moderations and Law. He took back with him a passionate love of (p.264) Homer, inspired by Gilbert Murray. When he became Prime Minister, as leader of a socialist or populist party, there seemed some echo of Oxford behind his praise for the Commonwealth for its features of a democratic form of Government, an independent judiciary and an administrative service free from undue political influence.24

Very different were the memoirs of his contemporary G. K. Chettur who was at New College from 1918 to 1921 and wrote a book about his Oxford life which he called The Last Enchantment. He read English and was thrilled to meet W. B. Yeats, the Irish poet, John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, and Arthur Symons, all of whom read and criticised Chettur's own poems. He took the visiting Nobel Prize-winner, Rabindranath Tagore, on a punt on the Thames. He recorded joyfully the Spoonerisms of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner himself, who complained ‘it is empty work preaching to beery wenches’ but was reassured by the fact that ‘Our Lord is a shoving leopard’. He became President of the Indian Majlis, whose exclusivity he criticised, and went on Canon Streeter's reading parties with English students—men and girls—who without exception he found very courteous. By contrast with an Indian University, he wrote, the student at Oxford merged naturally into the system instead of being in continual conflict with it.

Yet even on Chettur, delighted with life and literature, humiliation could suddenly descend. He went to see a play by Ian Hay, Tilly of Bloomsbury, in which the character of an Indian student was depicted in a thoroughly contemptuous fashion. He rushed out of the theatre and ran all the way back to his tutor's rooms to pour out his indignation. His tutor helped him to write a letter to the Vice-Chancellor to ask him to exercise the authority which he then had of censorship of plays in the city. The Vice-Chancellor pointed out that the Scots were daily ridiculed on the English stage without offence being taken, but he took action, and the offending scenes were omitted for the rest of the time that the play appeared in Oxford.25 And so Chettur returned to India to teach English literature and write English poems and to remember from time to time the Oxford way of life and outlook ‘at once comely and liberal’, and ‘the place where I suffered the enchantment under which I live and move and have my being’.26

Between about 1905 and 1920 a number of Muslims from Aligarh College who were afterwards to play an important part in politics in India and Pakistan were at Oxford. Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan's first Prime Minister, studied Law at Exeter College, where K. P. S. (p.265) Menon remembered him as kindly and friendly but somewhat detached from Indian circles.27 One of his successors, H. S. Suhrawardy, was a non-collegiate student. The brothers Mohammed and Shaukat Ali, who were to be prominent in the anti-British Khilafat Movement when they returned to India, were at Lincoln. Other Aligarh men were A. R. Siddiqi and Shoaib Qureshi. The connection with Oxford is somewhat puzzling as the British teachers at Aligarh almost all came from Cambridge. Lionel Curtis, who visited Aligarh, may have had something to do with it, as might the high reputation among Muslims of Margoliouth, the Laudian Professor of Arabic; or it may be, in light of the tempestuous history of Aligarh, that the preference for Oxford was a reaction against Cambridge teachers.

The 1930s seem to have been happier than the 1920s. Most of the Indians were then members of the Labour Club and made British friends, marching in demonstrations about the Spanish Civil War and other causes. J. D. Shukla, who entered Corpus in 1936 as an I.C.S. probationer, wrote: ‘It was so pleasant to be in Oxford. The wind of socialism blew strong. It speaks a lot for the British tradition of freedom and the confidence in their society that they exposed us, the civil servants of an Empire, to the free and academic atmosphere of a great University rather than a Government institution.’28 Corpus was a College too small for cliques, where everybody was involved in everything, but Mangat Rai, who entered Keble in the same year, was equally happy. The College gave him preference in admission because he was a Christian. He made two particular British friends, one of whom went into the Colonial Service and the other went to teach at Bristol University.29 Indira Gandhi was at Somerville for barely more than a year in 1938, during which her interests were diverted by political questions such as the Spanish Civil War and by a fiancé at the London School of Economics. She had to be removed to Switzerland for medical treatment before completing her studies.

As well as those who hoped to enter the I.C.S., Indian students came to Oxford because its degree commanded a higher salary in India than a local one. The Indian Educational Service was almost entirely recruited from men with British degrees. The qualification of barrister-at-law, which could be obtained simultaneously with an Oxford degree course, also led to substantial rewards. There were, too, subjects taught in Oxford which could not be studied in Indian Universities, including Anthropology, Mineralogy, and Geology. Consequently, from about 1910 onwards, the demand for places greatly exceeded the number available in the Colleges. Partly for this (p.266) reason, and partly to avoid College fees, about half the Indians at Oxford were usually non-collegiate students, and this accentuated their tendency to spend most of their time with their compatriots.

Few Indians came to teach at Oxford before Independence, since when Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi economists and historians have made a considerable contribution. From the memoirs of I.C.S. probationers, it would seem that the collaboration of Indian teachers at an earlier time could have much improved the course. The great exception before Independence was S. Radhakrishnan, the first incumbent, from 1936 to 1952, of the Chair of Eastern Religion and Ethics at All Souls, founded by H. N. Spalding. He was an impressive lecturer, always wearing a turban, who could rise to great heights of eloquence, as when during one of the civil disobedience campaigns he launched an attack on the British Raj based on a text from the Prophet Ezekiel: ‘I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more until He come whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.’30 The University was proud to have such a distinguished and exotic scholar, even though puzzled by the gap between his philosophy and that of Greece and Rome. Radhakrishnan later became President of India.

West Indians

The sons of West Indian planters often came to be educated in Oxford. One of the most generous was Christopher Codrington (1668–1710), son of the Captain-General of the Leeward Islands, who, after a distinguished career as a soldier and Fellow of All Souls, left his money to endow the magnificent College library as well as to found Codrington College in Barbados. In Merton College the memory of a number of men from Barbados who studied there in the eighteenth century is commemorated by the silver which they gave to the College.

Under Rhodes's Will an annual Scholarship to Oxford was provided for Jamaica and Bermuda. Some West Indian Governments, such as Trinidad and Barbados, also provided a scholarship to Britain each year which could be held by coloured people. To obtain these, great application was required. As Eric Williams described it, three hurdles had to be overcome: first the Government exhibition from primary to junior secondary school; then another scholarship to pay for senior secondary school teaching, and thirdly, an Island Scholarship (p.267) to Britain.31 Three West Indians who later became Prime Ministers were to leap these hurdles and study at Oxford.

Grantley Adams of Barbados was the son of a primary school Headmaster who coached him into winning an exhibition to secondary school and continually held the lure of an Island Scholarship to Oxford before him, making him read a hundred lines of Homer each day before breakfast. He entered Oxford on the Barbados Government scholarship in 1919 as a non-resident student at St Catherine's Society, where he read Classical Moderations and Law. He came under the influence of Gilbert Murray from whom he learnt ‘the standard of values taught by the ancient world, the clear mellow lights that radiated from its rarer spirit, their appreciation of the joy of life, their sense of balance and proportion’.32 He specialised in Ecclesiastical Law, sitting at the feet of T. R. Glover, whose doctrine that religion and the practical affairs of the world were vitally related made an irresistible appeal.33 He played cricket zestfully for St Catherine's. He was President of its Junior Common Room and became an active member of the Liberal Party, inspired by a speech by Asquith at the Union and by the Party's achievements in social legislation. It would seem to have been an active, happy life; but his close friends were not British; they were West Indians, a Nigerian and a Greek.

Adams's Jamaican contemporary at Oxford, Norman Manley, came from an even poorer background. His father died when he was young, and he grew up, he said, as a ‘bushman’, cleaning pastures and chopping log-wood on and around his mother's farm.34 He was withdrawn from secondary school when his mother could no longer afford to keep him there, but later was able to attend another school, whose Headmaster was shocked by his ambition to become a Rhodes Scholar; then R. M. Murray, a former Rhodes Scholar, to whom he ‘owed all the rest of my life’, coached him privately. He won the Rhodes Scholarship and came up to Jesus College in 1914, liberated, he said, by the writings of Samuel Butler.

His studies were interrupted from 1915 to 1919 by service in the ranks of the Royal Field Artillery. The Army recruiting authorities did not send him to an officer's course although he was a member of the Oxford Officers' Training Corps; in the ranks he served happily with his Cockney fellow soldiers. When he returned to Oxford, however, he wrote to his sister: ‘I have not made a single friend here. I haven't fallen in with any set or tradition. I have been an alien first and last. I cannot get behind the barrier that is always there; I feel chained. The case is different when I meet any of the many West (p.268) Indians that I know. I feel with them an altogether different person.’35 This was a time of depression, following the strain of the war in which his brother had been killed beside him. He recovered to make friends through athletics and to become excited by modern art. He won the Lee Prize with an essay on Samuel Butler and took a Second Class degree in Law. After qualifying as a barrister he returned to the Bar and politics in Jamaica.

The third future Prime Minister, Eric Williams of Trinidad, who was at Oxford ten years later than Adams and Manley, has left a vivid and highly critical account of the experience. His father was a postal clerk, determined that his son should have the educational advantages that he had missed. Under relentless pressure from his father, Williams jumped the first hurdle on the first attempt, the second on the second attempt, and won the Island Scholarship at his third try.

The Director of the Education Department of Trinidad wrote to the Master of University College Oxford in 1937 to commend Williams for a place in the College. ‘Mr Williams’, he wrote, ‘is not of European descent, but is a coloured boy, though not black. He comes of a good family and bears an excellent reputation as to his character and conduct in this Colony. He is about the average as an association footballer and is quite a good cricketer. I think you would find him acceptable as a member of your College.’ This testimonial, in which the brilliant scholar is hardly discernible, was passed to St Catherine's where, like Adams, Williams became a non-resident student.36

On his arrival in Oxford, he found the British students supercilious, and in his memoirs mentions no friends except for some of his tutors and a Siamese student. The only society which he attended regularly was the Indian Majlis. In church he recalled that ladies would move from beside him and kneel elsewhere when he went to the altar rail. He read Modern History, engaging his tutor with his heated but amiable arguments that Aristotle was a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, that Hobbes had a Fascist mentality, and that only a Briton could see democracy in the Witanegamot.

He obtained a brilliant First. ‘I had come and seen and conquered Oxford; what next?’37 His tutor advised him to take a second degree and apply for a Fellowship at an Oxford College, rather than take a Diploma of Education and return to Trinidad to teach in a secondary school. Eventually he took a D.Phil, in History with a thesis on ‘The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery’. In this he was conscientiously and sympathetically (p.269) guided by Vincent Harlow, but he was contemptuous of Coupland's views on the idealist motives of the British in abolishing slavery; this was exacerbated by the fact that Coupland was a Fellow of All Souls. Williams's failure to win an All Souls Fellowship left a lasting bitterness. ‘No native, however detribalised’, he wrote in his memoirs, 30 years later, ‘could fit socially into All Souls.’38 He recalled how the 40 Fellows round the table jeered at him when he made a mistake in oral French, and how a Fellow, who was one of Britain's leading author-politicians, stopped and glared at him in the street.

He obtained a doctorate, but could find no job with it. The Dean of his College on seeing him would say ‘Are you still here? You had better go home. You West Indians are too keen trying to get posts here which take jobs from Englishmen.’39 No one would publish his thesis; even Warburg, he recalled, who had published the works of Stalin and Trotsky, told him that he could not publish a book which maintained that the slave trade and slavery were abolished for economic rather than humanitarian reasons; this, they said, would be contrary to the British tradition. The Colonial Office told him that his qualifications were too high for a job at his old school in Trinidad. ‘My 24 years preparation for an English degree had ended by unfitting me totally in the eyes of those best qualified for life in Trinidad.’40 He wrote in vain to the Japanese and Sudanese Ambassadors to seek a University post in their countries. He even wrote to Gandhi for advice on employment in India.

Eventually he obtained an assistant professorship at Howard University in Washington, ‘the Negro Oxford’, as he called it, where he published his thesis and other books. He went on to work with the Caribbean Commission, to form a political party, and to become Prime Minister of Trinidad, never losing his bitterness about Oxford. In a letter to Manley in 1954 he wrote, ‘I was denied a Fellowship at Oxford—I have always been convinced that it was on racial grounds … they threatened to fail my Doctor's thesis because they didn't like my view.’41 Ten years after this he visited Oxford as Prime Minister. He was entertained to dinner and then addressed an informal gathering of Oxford's teachers of Commonwealth history and politics. Now at last he was able to tell them direct what he had long waited to say, and, in order that the message should not be lost, an A.D.C. distributed to all those present copies of his works, including not only his thesis, but his ferocious, though not undeserved, attacks on the Oxford historians of the West Indies.42

(p.270) Africans

It has been suggested that Philip Quaque, who came from the Gold Coast in the eighteenth century to be educated and ordained and who returned there as a chaplain and preacher, was at Oxford; research by his compatriots however seems to indicate that there is no basis for this assertion.43 Africans from coastal Nigeria, the Gold Coast and Sierra Leone began to come to Britain from the late nineteenth century onwards, most of them to read for the Bar in London and medicine in Edinburgh. Among them were the first Africans to take degrees at Oxford, two Creoles from Sierra Leone. Christian Cole, the son of a pastor, matriculated as a non-collegiate student in 1873 and graduated from University College with a Third in Moderations and a Fourth in Greats. He also read for the Bar and became the first African to practise in English courts. Cole published two tracts in verse in 1883, introduced with quotations in the original language from Horace, Heine and Dante. The theme of Reflections on the Zulu War, dedicated to Mr Gladstone, was

  • The Blacks you have murdered
  • You've murdered as Cain.
  • O shame on you all
  • Who've determined to wreak
  • Vengeance bitter as gall
  • On those who are weak.
A second poem in the same book, ‘The Future of Africa’, was dedicated to Bishop Colenso and looked forward to a time when Africans
  • Will with stunning pride assert their claims
  • And put to silence all opprobrious names.
  • The world with eyes wide ope shall then exclaim
  • Afric! Thy sons have won eternal fame.
Alas, there was to be no eternal fame for Oxford's first African graduate. He could not find employment in Sierra Leone, and went to practise law in Zanzibar, where he died at the age of 36.44

Cole's near contemporary, John Renner Maxwell, the son of a chaplain at Cape Coast, was more successful. He matriculated at Merton in 1876 and took a B.C.L. He returned to practise law in the (p.271) Gold Coast and ended as Chief Justice of the Gambia. Maxwell wrote happily of his time at Oxford—‘A resident for more than three years in one of the best Colleges in Oxford,’ he says, ‘I was not subjected to the slightest ridicule or insult on account of my colour or race from any of my fellow students—and never in my life I can forget the kindness extended to me by both tutors and students. The recollection of those days is one of the brightest of my life.’ In West Africa, by contrast, he said, he had frequently met with sarcasm from Englishmen with regard to his physical appearance.45

One day in the Oxford Union Reading Room, he came across an article by Sir George Campbell on the advantages of miscegenation, or put more positively, ‘homiculture’, used in the same sense as ‘oyster culture’ or ‘bee culture’.46 Maxwell developed this idea enthusiastically in a book on The Negro Question. Negroes, he maintained, were not lacking in intellect, or immoral or inhuman, but their appearance would be improved by intermarriage with Asians and Europeans. He suggested that poor European women who might otherwise become prostitutes should be shipped out to Africa to further this purpose, and he himself set an example by marrying an Englishwoman.47

A remarkable black African from Zululand was Pixley Seme, who came to study law at Jesus in 1906, having already been sent to take a B.A. at Columbia University by an American missionary. Seme founded an African Club at Oxford on behalf of which he wrote to Booker T. Washington, the American negro leader, to enlist his support. ‘Here are to be found’, he said, ‘the future leaders of African nations, temporarily thrown together, and yet coming from widely different sections of that great and unhappy continent, and these men will return each to a community that eagerly awaits him and perhaps influence its public opinion.’ The Club's purpose, he explained, was for interchange of ideas; violence had no place in its programme. Washington, however, when he visited England at this time, refused to involve himself in national causes or to lend his support to the Club, and urged Seme to devote himself to educational work in his own country.48 He qualified for the Bar but had to return to South Africa without a degree when his money ran out. He has been described as ‘able, ambitious, impatient, humorous, but a bit of a snob. Oxford gave him polish and a taste for nobility.’49 To such a man it must have been particularly humiliating to find on his return that on the railways he had to ride in a cattle truck, and that on the streets he was not allowed to walk on the pavement. At Oxford he (p.272) had dreamed of rebuilding the Zulu nation: now he was provoked into thinking in wider terms and became one of the founders of the African National Congress.

The first African woman to take a degree in Oxford was Aina Moore, who was at St Hugh's, Margery Perham's College, from 1932 to 1935. She was a Yoruba, born in Lagos, whose father, mother and grandfather had been educated in England. She herself attended a girls' boarding school in Reading and would have preferred to return to Nigeria for teacher training. At first she was unhappy and bewildered by Oxford, ‘tossed in a sea of intellect with highly earnest students who were themselves occupied in trying to emerge from the surging whirl … but gradually I discovered that we were all aground on dry land and that I was among a sympathetic crowd’. There was a thirst for information among students, so that she received more invitations to coffee parties than other first-year students in order to answer questions about Nigeria and the political relations of its people to Britain. She found herself in a group of friends from various countries, reading different subjects, whose common ground was music. She joined the Labour Club, the African Society and the English Club. Although her brother, who was darker, had great difficulty in finding accommodation in London, she herself did not experience racial prejudice, except in sometimes being regarded as a curio, rather than as a human being. She wished that more African girls could enjoy the liberal education of Oxford.50 On her return home she married Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, a Cambridge graduate who became Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Many of the Ghanaians who came to Oxford had been educated at Achimota. Among them was K. A. Busia, who, after reading P.P.E. in 1939 to 1942, became one of the first Africans to be admitted to the Administrative Service of a British colony. He preferred academic life, and returned to Oxford as a Nuffield Research Fellow to take a D.Phil. and then became the first African to hold a Chair at the University of Ghana. But a third career now commenced in politics. Despairing however of any prospects of change whilst Leader of the Opposition to Nkrumah's Government, he went into exile as a professor in the Netherlands and at St Antony's College in Oxford. Briefly he found himself Prime Minister of Ghana on Nkrumah's downfall, but with a further turn of the wheel of fate he was overthrown by an Army coup and returned to Oxford where he died in 1978.

Whilst Busia was Prime Minister, another Oxford man, Edward (p.273) Akuro-Addo was President of Ghana. His career also had its ups and downs. He first trained as a catechist, then took a degree in Mathematics at St Peter's Hall and qualified as a barrister at the Middle Temple. Before his brief Presidency, he had been Chief Justice of Ghana but was dismissed by Nkrumah for acquitting journalists who were prosecuted by the Government.

Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland was at Balliol from 1945 to 1947, where he made friends through playing rugby football. He moved to London because he could not combine P.P.E. with Law. In Oxford and London he acquired a knowledge of and belief in democratic institutions which served his country well when he became its President. He retained an affection for Oxford in spite of having been tricked into exile by a minister who was also a Christ Church don.51 Also from Southern Africa came King Moshoeshoe of Lesotho to study Modern Greats at Corpus.

Ruskin College, which was set up to educate trade unionists, was in some ways the most congenial place in Oxford for mature Africans with limited academic attainments. Its courses were flexible, the average age of its students was about 30, far higher than in other Colleges. Some 20 per cent of its students came from overseas, and it was usually arranged for them to share rooms with British students. One of the earliest Africans to study there was P. G. Mockerie of Kenya, a schoolteacher who was sent with Jomo Kenyatta by the Kikuyu Central Association to represent them before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Closer Union in East Africa, and then spent a year at Ruskin 1931–2.

A more well-known member of Ruskin was Tom Mboya, who spent a year there in 1956 on a scholarship financed by the Workers' Travel Association, studying political science and economics and specialising in industrial relations. He had only obtained permission to leave Kenya by attending a Moral Rearmament conference on the way. His main interest was in discussions with Ruskin lecturers and with Margery Perham. In his memoirs he appears almost as the ideal Ruskin student from overseas. ‘I feel’, he wrote, ‘that Oxford played a major part in my life, giving me a year of unhurried thought to help me decide what line of policies would be effective in our struggle. The year at Oxford gave me more confidence in myself. It gave me time to read more. It taught me to look to books as a source of knowledge. It led me to take part in intellectual discussions, sometimes of a very provocative nature.’ His special study of industrial relations proved highly relevant when he became Minister of Labour in Kenya.52

(p.274) Another notable Ruskin student was Siaka Stevens who was to become President of Sierra Leone, and who recalls the year which he spent at Ruskin in 1948 at the age of 40 as one of the pleasantest of his life. Intending in light of his previous experience of Europeans in Africa to be stiff and reserved, he responded instead to the cordiality and helpfulness of both staff and students and even found an Oxford butcher who used to give him more than his entitled meat ration. Like his compatriot Maxwell, 70 years earlier, he asked himself again and again ‘How is it that Europeans here are so different to those in the colonies?’ What changes them so? ‘Do they realise the harm they are doing?’ This led him to speculate about the roles not only of the colonial élites but of the African élites who succeeded them. In his studies at Ruskin he was comforted to find that the average trade unionist in England was as inclined to leave his union to be run by élites as he was in West Africa.53

One factor which may have been important in the adjustment to Oxford of the Africans, as compared with the Indians, was religion. Few of the Indians were Christians, and those who were seem to have made more British friends than those who were not. Many of the Africans, on the other hand, had church affiliations and through these were introduced to British families.


Of the ‘kindred elect’, it was perhaps the Australians who made most impact on Oxford. ‘These Australians had sunshine in their veins; they bubbled with ready fun; they blew into the antiquity of Oxford, with the challenge of their own and their country's youth’—so Ernest Barker remembered them in the 1890s.54

The Australians who had brilliant Oxford academic careers tended to remain there; whilst the Canadians could take posts over the border in America, the Australian Universities were isolated. Among those who stayed on were Gilbert Murray, Hugh Cairns and Howard Florey, whose careers have already been noticed. Others were Sir Carleton Allen who was lecturer and Professor of Jurisprudence from 1920 to 1929, and Warden of Rhodes House from 1931 to 1952; and Sir Kenneth Wheare who was lecturer in Colonial History from 1935 to 1944, Gladstone Professor of Government from 1944 to 1957 and Rector of Exeter College from 1956 to 1972. However long they (p.275) stayed, they seldom lost their rugged qualities. As an Exeter College obituary wrote of Wheare, ‘He brought the right degree of toughness, even ruthlessness in running our affairs.’55

Sir Keith Hancock, who called his memoirs Country and Calling, was one Australian who moved continuously between Britain and Australia. Coming to Balliol as a Rhodes Scholar in 1922, he considered at first that the Oxford arrangement of a separate entrance and staircase for each block of six rooms favoured the Englishman's cliquishness, as compared with the long passages at Melbourne University which were suited to the natural gregariousness of Australian youth. Then he found that the cliques were all open to him and that life was thus so crowded and various at Balliol that he had neither time nor inclination to seek additional entertainment outside. He worked with fiery concentration to please three ‘grand men’: A. L. Smith, Humphrey Sumner and Kenneth Bell. He took seriously the intention of the Rhodes Scholarships that the men who were privileged to enjoy them should make an appropriate return in duty performed. Although elected to an All Souls Fellowship, he returned to take the Chair of Modern History at Adelaide. He came back to Britain to teach at Birmingham University, to write a Survey of Commonwealth Affairs for Chatham House, and to be the first Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at London University; but when the Australian National University was opened, he was persuaded to head one of its departments. Hancock brought an Antipodean freshness to Commonwealth Studies. Politicians and professors, he said, infused too much sweetness and light into the picture of the Commonwealth, acclaiming ad nauseam Lord Durham's Report on Canada and the Statute of Westminster and seeing all the territories marked red on the map as keeping their appointed places in a triumphant procession to the finishing post of self-government. As a young Fellow of All Souls, he was carried off by Curtis to meetings of the Round Table, but later escaped from the spell.56

A contemporary of Hancock at Balliol was W. R. (later Sir William) Crocker, who was also taken up by Curtis. Crocker's Balliol world was quite different from that of Hancock. Through A. D. Lindsay's introductions, he frequented Liberals and radicals such as J. L. Hammond, Lord Parmoor and Gilbert Murray, though eventually he was to conclude that Lindsay ruined Balliol through his unfortunate appointments.57

Crocker joined the Colonial Administrative Service when Amery (p.276) opened this to men from the Dominions, and, serving in Northern Nigeria, asked the unpardonable question: ‘How are you going to develop these Emirates, which you have turned into mediaeval monarchies, into modern states of communities?’58 before he resigned and wrote a critical book on British colonial policies. In a varied life, which included being an official of the United Nations and of the International Labour Organisation and an Australian Ambassador, he continued in true Balliol Socratic style to ask awkward questions until he ended in the ornamental post of Governor of an Australian State.

G. V. Portus, an Australian Rhodes Scholar who came up to New College in 1907 and later taught history at the University of Adelaide, recollected three aspects of Oxford above all. Firstly, there was the manner in which his tutor H. A. L. Fisher made coaching a kind of contest of wits and transformed history from being just a subject into an intellectual excitement. Secondly, Oxford was the most democratic society to which he had ever belonged. ‘I have never lived in any other society where a man could utter any opinion, however revolutionary or unconventional, without being snubbed or sat on.’ As a corollary, scattered through the University were clubs and societies for all kinds of interests and opinions. He himself used to attend both the Socialist Club and the Society of King Charles the Martyr. Thirdly, the British undergraduates were generally shy, because of the monasticism of Oxford; shyness led to apparent aloofness. The Australians' reaction to this was bumptious, but by the second year, most of them recognised, and some of them even admitted, that the British Empire existed because of, and not in spite of, Britain.59

The New Zealanders were even more reluctant to return home than the Australians; generations of them stayed on to work for the Oxford University Press, and it is hard to imagine what scope would have been found in New Zealand for a classical scholar as eminent as Sir Ronald Syme who, after taking a First in Greats at Oriel, remained in Oxford for 40 years as a Fellow and as Camden Professor of Ancient History.


Two of the Canadians on whom Oxford made the deepest impression were there for a very short time and their subsequent work in (p.277) education has been discussed in the previous chapter. George Parkin spent a year as a non-collegiate student in 1873–4 whilst on leave of absence from his post as Headmaster of a Canadian school. He was already a mature 27. If Parkin made a notable impact on Oxford by introducing the Imperial idea among students, the influence of Oxford on a young man who had grown up in the backwoods of Canada, nurtured on English history and literature, was equally great. He breakfasted with Ruskin and worked on his road at Hinksey. He listened to preachers as different as Pusey and Stanley. He was inspired by the philosophic idealism of T. H. Green and fascinated to hear Max Mueller talk on Indian literature. He was conscious of living among the cream of English youth, who were destined to have a large share of ruling the Empire, and his biographer describes him, gazing round at Oxford's noble spires from the top of the Radcliffe Camera, quoting an earlier visitor ‘It is like the new Jerusalem.’60

Parkin's early career was to alternate between that of a schoolmaster and a propagandist of Empire. Rosebery called him ‘The Bagman of Empire’, and Buckle, the Editor of The Times, said that he ‘had shifted the mind of England’. With Rosebery as the Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees, Parkin was a natural choice as the first organiser of the Rhodes Scholarship scheme, in which position, according to his tactful biographer, ‘he grew slowly into an honest regard for Cecil Rhodes’;61 Rhodes perhaps was somewhat lacking in moral earnestness, a quality cherished by Parkin, who found it in Oxford but sought it in vain on his travels in Australia. It was sad for him not to be able to live in his beloved Oxford at last. Wylie persuaded the Trustees, however, that Parkin's presence as a senior partner would embarrass him in his dealings with the University, and Parkin had to settle in Goring-on-Thames, 25 miles away.

G. M. Wrong was to become such an enthusiastic supporter of Oxford and its contribution to the Empire that it is strange to find that although he appeared in the Canadian Who's Who as ‘educated at Oxford’ he only spent one Long Vacation there and was never enrolled in the University.62

From Parkin and G. M. Wrong sprang a remarkable Oxford-Toronto dynasty of historians and diplomats. One of Parkin's daughters married Vincent Massey and another married W. L. Grant, both of whom went to Balliol along with Wrong's sons Murray and Hume, whose sister was at Somerville. All these taught History at Oxford or Toronto or both, although Massey and Hume Wrong went on into diplomacy. Murray Wrong married one of the seven daughters of A. L. Smith, the Master of Balliol, and thus acquired as brothers-in-law (p.278) several leading members of the British Establishment. In the next generation, Grant's daughter, the granddaughter of Parkin, married George Ignatieff, a Canadian Rhodes Scholar who, after serving as Ambassador in several countries, became Provost of Trinity College, Toronto.

Vincent Massey has left a record of the Canadians at Oxford just before the First World war. Massey was the heir to the Massey Harris agricultural equipment fortune. Even before he came to Oxford he had founded a Hall at Toronto University in memory of his grandfather, and he already had a Toronto degree. The two years at Balliol were the happiest of his life.

A. L. Smith, who taught him history, told him that he was not in Oxford to gain First Class honours, but to get all he could out of the experience. Talks in Sligger Urquhart's rooms meant as much to him as lectures and essays. He fell under the spell of Lionel Curtis, ‘the most persuasive and magnetic of men’, and, with his fellow Canadians, started an undergraduate journal, The Blue Book, in which he expounded Liberal Imperialism and chastised the Tory Imperialism of Mafeking Night. He helped to found the Ralegh Club. He observed, like the Indian students, that people he had dined with the night before looked straight through him next day; unlike some of the Indians he deduced that in Oxford you did not address anybody unless you had something to say, and concluded that this was a time-saving habit. Back in Canada he parted company with Curtis, deploring his use of the Round Table to propagate a particular set of ideas and his ability to turn a very sharp corner in debate. In his subsequent diplomatic career Oxford contacts were usually at hand. In the critical period before and during the Second World War, whilst Massey was Canadian High Commissioner in London, he had two other Oxford men, Lester Pearson and George Ignatieff on his staff. Later he was invited to be Master of Balliol, but became Governor-General of Canada instead.63

Lester Pearson, the future Prime Minister of Canada, who was at St John's from 1921 to 1923, came from a much poorer background, and worked as a sausage packer and as clerk in a fertiliser factory before taking a History degree at Toronto University where Massey was his tutor. He came on a scholarship from the Massey Foundation with a romantic picture of Oxford, derived from the Boy's Own paper and Chums, and found it all that he had hoped for and dreamed of. He played hockey and lacrosse for the University, dined with the King Charles Club, which had been founded by Prince (p.279) Rupert, and took a Second Class degree, which enabled him to join the History Faculty of Toronto University. This was not the end of the family's Oxford connection. His son Geoffrey was to win the same Massey Scholarship and read P.P.E. at New College.64

While Balliol and Lionel Curtis were confirming Massey in his Imperialist convictions, his compatriot Frank Underhill was becoming a Socialist and anti-Imperialist. Underhill had studied history at Toronto University under G. M. Wrong and obtained a scholarship to Balliol where A. D. Lindsay was his tutor: in the old Oxford anti-Imperialist tradition he found that the works of Goldwin Smith provided the key to understanding Canadian history. He returned to teach history at Toronto and to write about political issues, and was one of the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation—in effect the Socialist Party of Canada. His anti-Imperialism caused him to oppose Canadian entry into the Second World War, and the Board of Governors of Toronto University demanded his resignation. He survived, like Goldwin Smith before him, to become a national institution, and Lester Pearson, the Prime Minister, attended his eightieth birthday party.65

After Parkin's time, the Canadians, unlike the Australians, mostly went home when they had taken their degrees at Oxford. Although two of them in succession—John Lowe and C. A. Simpson—occupied the position of Dean of Christ Church between 1939 and 1969, they had both taught theology in Canada and in the United States between graduating at Oxford and returning there.

The blissful existence of Massey's generation of Canadians at Oxford was not universally approved. The journal of Victoria University, Toronto, in 1914 deplored the failure of Oxford to turn out as many of the ‘earnest men’ who Canada needed as she ought. ‘In Oxford’, the Editor wrote sadly, ‘earnestness is discouraged, in fact probably the most striking feature of Oxford life is its utter irresponsibility. It is the creepers which cling upon the ancient University which give to it its picturesqueness and beauty. Remember however that they only began to flourish when the stone began to crumble.’66

Stephen Leacock, the Canadian humorist, who was financed by the Rhodes Trust to undertake ‘Imperial missionary work’,67 drew a different picture of the crumbling stones. ‘Oxford is a noble university’, he wrote in My Discovery of England in 1922.

It has a great past. It is at present the greatest university in the world, and it is quite possible that it has a great future. Oxford (p.280) trains scholars of the real type better than any other place in the world. Its methods are antiquated. It despises science. Its lectures are rotten. It has professors who never teach and students who never learn. It has no order, no management, no system. Its curriculum is unintelligible. It has no President. It has no state legislature to tell it how to teach, and yet it gets there. Whether we like it or not, Oxford gives something to its students, a life and a mode of thought which in America as yet we can emulate but not equal.68

South Africans and Rhodesians

Most of the English-speaking South Africans and Rhodesians who came to Oxford were only first- or second-generation settlers whose impressions were little different from those of the British. There were many who conformed to the heavy Rugby-playing, unimaginative, unpolitical image. But there were others on whom Oxford's idealism was to make its mark.

One of the first Rhodes Scholars from South Africa was W. M. MacMillan who was chosen at Stellenbosch as runner-up to the first man selected, an Afrikaaner who hotly disapproved of Rhodes. Arriving at Merton in 1903, he was at first bewildered in a College dominated by ‘bloods’, so idle and riotous that only 19 out of 38 entrants who arrived in 1903 survived their first two years. His Scottish connections, however, led to friendships with Sir James Murray, the Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and his large family as well as with a young tutor in his College, W. H. Fyfe, who was to become prominent as a Socialist as well as an educationist. MacMillan felt at home with the Congregationalists at Mansfield College but kept clear of the evangelical student groups whom he and his friends regarded as ‘good in the worst sense of the word’.

In the long run the greatest influence on him came from the lectures of A. L. Smith on ‘Political and Economic Questions’. They comprehended population, poor law, federations and, notably, the historical development of the Socialist movement; from them MacMillan acquired a permanent interest in the understanding of social questions of the past and also of the importance of the historical approach to the contemporary world. Both were to involve him in (p.281) controversy when he returned to teach History in South Africa,69 where his subsequent career has been discussed in Chapter 5.

One of MacMillan's students in South Africa was Margaret Hodgson who came up to Somerville in 1914 and later, as Margaret Ballinger, fought a long and lonely battle for the rights of Africans whilst she was representing the natives in the South African Parliament. In this she was supported not only by Barnes and MacMillan but in particular by her Somerville friend, the novelist Winifred Holtby, who devoted her royalties to enabling Margaret Ballinger and her trade unionist husband to be financially independent.

A different kind of idealist, social rather than political, was Kingsley Fairbridge, who came up to Exeter College on a Rhodes Scholarship from Rhodesia in 1908, already possessed by the vision of settling the children from the slums of England in the uncultivated lands of the Empire; but before he could launch his campaign from Oxford, he needed to be known and liked. To achieve this he won a Blue for boxing, played in every kind of game, and attended wine clubs, debating societies and card parties until he was on speaking and dining acquaintance with perhaps as many men as anyone in the University. Then he was invited to address the Colonial Club about child emigration. Fifty men turned up; he faced the bull-necked sturdiness of a New Zealander, the ingenuous gaze of a South African Rugby Blue, the wide untroubled look of a Newfoundlander. He told them that Imperial unity was not a phrase or an artificial thing; Great Britain and Greater Britain were interdependent. Britain had over 60,000 orphans being brought up in institutions; whilst the colonies had a superfluity of land. Here and now, he said, let us found a society to take as many of these children as possible overseas, to train them in the colonies for farm life. His speech was effective. The Society for Furtherance of Child Emigration to the Colonies was formed on the spot. Fairbridge started its first school in Australia, supported by the members of the Oxford committee until most of them were killed in the First World War.70

In the next generation, Patrick Duncan's career carried on the tradition of Balliol idealism. He was the son of the Governor-General of South Africa of the same name who had been one of Milner's Kindergarten: but whilst Oxford had helped to turn his father into an Imperialist, it caused the son to question the racial policies of the South African Government. It was a very individual questioning. At Oxford he resigned from the Labour Club because (p.282) he found it hysterical. He joined the British Colonial Service and served in Basutoland, which he loved, and on whose laws and customs he wrote a book; but he resigned from the Service to enter South African politics. ‘My destiny was to give everything I could to the one cause, ending the Colour Bar.’ He earned a precarious living as a bookseller and journalist. When he was prosecuted for his publications, he quoted the Aristotle and Cicero which he had learned at Oxford to plead that unjust law is not law. Deprived of South African citizenship, he moved around Africa, impetuous, impatient and sometimes absurd, as when he described Ghana as ‘the nearest thing to Utopia that I have seen’. An agnostic, he became representative in Algeria of a Christian Aid Committee. Yet his name is likely always to be cherished by black South Africans for the sacrifices which he made on their behalf.71 Abram Fischer, who was a Rhodes Scholar at New College from 1932 to 1934 moved even further to the Left. After many years as defence lawyer in South African political trials, he was himself gaoled for life under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Of the Afrikaaners, the most interesting was J. H. Hofmeyr, the prodigy who graduated in South Africa at the age of 15 whilst still wearing short trousers and who, while marking time before becoming old enough to take up his Rhodes Scholarship, acquired another B.A. in Natural Sciences as well as an M. A. and wrote a biography of his politician uncle. When at last he came up to Balliol in 1913, his mother accompanied him. Hofmeyr disliked the coldness of his Public School contemporaries, but found congenial friends among the evangelicals who conducted open-air services at the Martyr's Memorial. He was shocked by the moral tone of Oxford and even more shocked to find an Indian next to him at table, and to be invited by another Indian to breakfast. Before he went down, however, he had made a good Indian friend in John Matthai through their Christian social work activities.

Inevitably, Hofmeyr easily took Firsts in Mods and Greats. All his life he was a devoted Oxford man. In a remarkable political career which took him to the position of Deputy Prime Minister under Smuts, he was the great hope of the South African liberals. That his liberalism was partly acquired in Oxford was undeniable, though it did not prevent him from comparing Mussolini favourably with the Emperor Augustus and believing that it was the destiny of the highlands of Rhodesia, Tanganyika and Kenya to be settled and developed by Europeans.72

(p.283) Oxford had no such liberalising influence on Albert Hertzog, son of the Prime Minister of South Africa, who left Leyden University because they made fun of his Dutch accent and became a non-collegiate student at Oxford. Later the well-meaning Haldanes got him into New College where he was less happy.73 On his return to South Africa he entered politics and resigned from the Nationalist Party because its attitude to the admission of coloured sports teams was not sufficiently strict. He then founded a new Party whose aim was to establish Afrikaaner hegemony under which English would be relegated to a second-language status. Perhaps, however, Oxford left a certain mark, for his obituary described him as combining fanatical political views with enormous personal charm and courtesy in his private dealings,74 and all through his life he sent back to Oxford for blazers and ties. Like the Australians, a number of South Africans settled in Oxford; among them were Herbert Frankel, the first Professor of Colonial Economics, and, more briefly, Max Gluckman, the anthropologist.

Coming from such different backgrounds, the visitors' perception of Oxford was yet broadly similar in three aspects: the warmth and intellectual challenge of their relationship with their tutors; the tolerance and eclecticism of undergraduate society; and the difficulty of breaking through the English reserve. Some never achieved the breakthrough and made their friendships with other expatriates. Those who succeeded, whether, white, black or brown, often did so through rowing in boats, playing games, debating in the Union or enlisting in a wide variety of undergraduate clubs.

Perhaps of greatest interest is what their reminiscences do not say. On the one side, despite the individual enthusiasms of Curtis and C. R. L. Fletcher, they did not have the impression that the University, through its courses or in any other way, tried to inculcate loyalty to Empire. This was quite different to the experiences of those who had attended English preparatory schools where there was no jam for tea when the school team lost a match and ‘let down the Empire’, or Public Schools where military training was compulsory. On the other side, despite the discussions in the Majlis and the Labour Club, and the apprehensions of the India Office, Oxford—unlike London—never really became a centre where the incipient Nationalisms of Asia, Africa and the West Indies struck sparks from each other.


(1.) Royal Colonial Institute, Report of Proceedings, vol. 40 (1908–9) p. 60.

(2.) J. Foster, Oxford Men and Their Colleges (Oxford, 1893) and Alumni Oxoniensis (Oxford, 1888).

(3.) India Office Library, C. Sorabji MSS, Eur. F. 165, letter from C. Sorabji to her parents (2 July 1890).

(4.) C. Sorabji, India Calling (London, 1934) p. 23.

(5.) Balliol College Library, Jowett-Nightingale MSS, B. Jowett to F. Nightingale (26 June 1892).

(p.336) (6.) Report of Committee on Indian Students (Lytton Report), part I (London, 1922) Appendix IV, Lee Warner Report.

(7.) Ibid., p. 68.

(8.) Ibid., part II, pp. 30–3.

(9.) Ibid., part II, p. 19.

(10.) Ibid., part II, pp. 21, 30.

(11.) Ibid., part I, p. 18.

(12.) N. B. Bonarjee, Under Two Masters (London, 1970) pp. 72 ff.

(13.) K. P. S. Menon, Many Worlds (London, 1965) p. 53.

(14.) Lytton Report, part II, p. 34.

(15.) Ibid., part ii, p. 34; also Report of Royal Commission on Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Cmd 1588 (London, 1922); MS Appendix, evidence of S. M. Burrows, Bodleian Library.

(16.) L. R. Farnell, An Oxonian Looks Back (London, 1934) p. 298.

(17.) B. De, Essays in Honour of S. C. Sarkar (Delhi, 1976) pp. 13 ff.

(18.) Oxford University Examination Statutes (1908) p. 36; (1902) p. 27.

(19.) India Office Library, London, ‘District Officers’ Collection (see note 26 to Chapter 10), notes by H. C. Gupta.

(20.) M. C. Chagla, Roses in December (Bombay, 1974) pp. 3 ff.

(21.) D. F. Karaka, Then Came Hazrat Ali (Bombay, 1972) p. 55.

(22.) K. M. Pannikar, Autobiography (Delhi, 1974) p. 14.

(23.) Ibid., p. 22.

(24.) S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Speeches and Writings (Colombo, 1963) pp. 12–75.

(25.) G. K. Chettur, The Last Enchantment: Recollections of Oxford (Mangalore, 1934) p. 161.

(26.) Ibid., pp. 4–6.

(27.) K. P. S. Menon, ‘Days at Oxford’, in Z. Ahmed (ed.), Liaquat Ali Khan (Karachi, 1970) p. 15.

(28.) ‘District Officers’ Collection, notes by J. D. Shukla.

(29.) E. N. Mangat Rai, Commitment My Style (Delhi, 1973) pp. 33 ff.

(30.) Hiren Mukerjee, ‘As an Academician’, in K. I. Dutt (ed.), S. Radhakrishnan (New Delhi, 1973) p. 20.

(31.) E. Williams, Inward Hunger (London, 1969) p. 30.

(32.) F. A. Hoyos, Grantley Adams and the Social Revolution (London, 1974) p. 16.

(33.) Ibid., p. 17.

(34.) R. Nettleford, Manley and the New Jamaica (London, 1971) p. xcviii.

(35.) P. Sherlock, Norman Manley (London, 1980) p. 61.

(36.) St Catherine's College Archives, letter from Director of Education, Trinidad to Master of University College, Oxford (8 Jan. 1937).

(37.) Williams, Inward Hunger p. 43.

(38.) Ibid., p. 45.

(39.) Ibid., p. 52.

(40.) Ibid., p. 53.

(41.) Ibid., p. 112.

(42.) The writer was present.

(43.) F. Bartels, ‘Philip Quaque’, Transactions of Gold Coast Historical Society, vol. 1 (1955) part v, p. 153.

(p.337) (44.) C. Cole, Reflections on the Zulu War and the Future of Africa (London, 1883); also C. Fyfe, Sierra Leone (Oxford, 1962) p. 406.

(45.) J. Renner Maxwell, The Negro Question (London, 1892) p. 54.

(46.) Ibid., p. 87.

(47.) Ibid., p. 104 and Fyfe, Sierra Leone, p. 406.

(48.) L. R. Harlan, ‘Booker T. Washington and the White Man's Burden’, American Historical Review, vol. LXXI (1965–6) p. 463.

(49.) M. Benson, The African Patriots (London, 1963) pp. 25 ff.

(50.) Aina Moore, ‘The Story of Kofoworola Aina Moore’, in M. Perham, Ten Africans (London, 1936) pp. 323 ff.

(51.) Information from private sources.

(52.) T. Mboya, Freedom and After (London, 1963) pp. 56–8.

(53.) Siaka Stevens, ‘A West African Looks at Ruskin’, Ruskin College, Oxford, New Epoch (1948) no. 1, p. 3; also Siaka Stevens, What Life Has Taught Me (Kensal, 1984) p. 122.

(54.) E. Barker, Age and Youth (London, 1953) pp. 323–4.

(55.) Exeter College Association Register (1979) p. 8.

(56.) W. R. Hancock, Country and Calling (London, 1954) p. 55.

(57.) W. R. Crocker, Travelling Back (Melbourne, 1981) pp. 13 ff.

(58.) W. R. Crocker, Nigeria (London, 1936) p. 216.

(59.) C. V. Portus, Happy Highways (Melbourne, 1983) pp. 89 ff.

(60.) J. Willison, Sir George Parkin (London, 1929) pp. 27–34.

(61.) Ibid., pp. 28 ff.

(62.) W. D. Meikle, ‘And Gladly Teach: G. M. Wrong and the Department of History at the University of Toronto’, Ph.D. thesis, Michigan State University (1977) p. 144.

(63.) V. Massey, What's Past is Prologue (London, 1963) pp. 28 ff; also, C. T. Bissell, The Young Vincent Massey (Toronto, 1981).

(64.) L. B. Pearson, Memoirs, vol. I (1973–5) pp. 43 ff.

(65.) N. Penlington (ed.), On Canada. Essays in Honour of Frank H. Underhill (Toronto, 1971).

(66.) Oxford Magazine, vol. 33 (1914–15) p. 137.

(67.) Rhodes Trust Archives, Minutes of Meeting of Trustees (16 Apr. 1907).

(68.) S. Leacock, My Discovery of England (New York, 1922) p. 81.

(69.) W. M. MacMillan, My South African Years (Cape Town, 1975).

(70.) K. Fairbridge, Autobiography (London, 1927) pp. 159 ff.

(71.) P. B. Duncan and C. J. Driver, Patrick Duncan: South African and Panafrican (London, 1980).

(72.) A. Paton, J. H. Hofmeyr (London, 1964).

(73.) L. K. Haldane, Friends and Kindred (1961) p. 197.

(74.) The Times (8 Nov. 1982), Obituary.