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Girouard, Sir (Édouard) Percy Cranwilllocked

  • John Flint

Girouard, Sir (Édouard) Percy Cranwill (1867–1932), railway engineer and colonial governor, was born on 26 January 1867 in Montreal, the son of Désiré Girouard (1836–1911) and his second wife, Essie (d. 1879), daughter of Dr Joseph Cranwill of Ballynamona, Ireland. The Girouard family had been prominent in Quebec administration and politics from the early 1700s, and his father was a Conservative member of the Canadian parliament from 1878 to 1895, and thereafter judge of the supreme court of Canada until his death in 1911. Girouard grew up fluent in both French and English. He was educated at the seminary at Trois-Rivières, and at Montreal College before entering, aged fifteen, the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, from which he graduated in 1886 with a diploma in engineering. He then worked for two years on the engineering staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This proved to be important training for his future. In a sense Girouard's career can be seen as a conduit whereby Canadian railway technology and experience was transferred to British Africa, where low costs and speed of construction were equally important to imperial expansion. In 1888 Girouard accepted, much against his father's wishes, a commission in the British Royal Engineers, and from 1890 to 1895 served as railway traffic manager at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

Girouard's African career began with his secondment to the Egyptian army in 1896, as part of the preparations for Kitchener's invasion of the Sudan to forestall the French expedition to Fashoda. As director of the Sudan railways from 1896 to 1898, his construction of the railway bypassing the Nile cataracts made possible Kitchener's victory over the Mahdists at Omdurman. Girouard's reward was appointment as president of the Egyptian railway and telegraph board in 1898. His railway skills were so highly regarded that with the outbreak of the South African War in 1899 he became director of South African Railways, charged with making maximum use of the railways in waging war against the Boers. He wrote an account of this in his History of the Railways during the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, published in 1903. He was appointed KCMG in 1900, and at the end of the war took charge of reconstructing the railways of Transvaal and Orange River Colony, a position he resigned in 1904 after prompting from Lord Milner, who was responding to Afrikaner hostility against Girouard.

In 1903 Girouard married Mary Gwendolen, only daughter of Sir Richard Solomon, agent-general in London for the Transvaal Colony. They had one son. The marriage was dissolved in 1915. Returning to England to serve in regular army posts, first as a staff officer at Chatham, and then in 1906 as assistant quartermaster-general, western command, in Chester, Girouard soon found his railway skills again placed him in demand in Africa. In 1907 he accepted an offer from the Colonial Office to become the high commissioner (governor from 1908) of Northern Nigeria, succeeding Sir Frederick Lugard. His task was to carry construction of the railway, already built from Lagos to the Niger, into the north and up to Kano. This he planned and began, though the line reached Kano only in 1911 under his successor.

A successful colonial governorship entailed more than railway expertise, however, and later critics have suggested that Girouard lacked political skills. He was from the first a devoted disciple of Lugard's ideology of ‘indirect rule’, but without Lugard's vision that British overrule could gradually lead to social change, including educational expansion, in the feudal regimes of the Fulani emirs. Girouard left the development of the indirect rule system almost entirely in the hands of the British resident agents in the capitals of each emirate, accepting their wish to allow each to establish ‘native treasuries’, with the result that the system tended to become one of ossified local conservatism, with emirs and residents often allied together to resist change. Girouard was also much interested in land reform designed to protect Africans against a possible influx of Europeans demanding land for plantations. He seems to have been influenced by the radical ideas of Henry George concerning the nationalization of land. Girouard saw this as a means to prevent the development of freehold property and the alienation of African communal land. It was Girouard's initiative which set up a committee in London on Northern Nigerian land questions. Following its report the governor issued the land and native rights proclamation of 1908, in which the entire land of Northern Nigeria, occupied or not, was declared to be 'Native Land' under the control of the governor, who alone could grant rights of occupancy, but not freehold. The decree was much criticized by educated African lawyers, who pictured this as an attempt to seize the land. Girouard had plans to tax the land on Henry George principles but the Colonial Office was dubious and never permitted these ideas to be implemented.

In 1909 Girouard accepted the governorship of the British East Africa Protectorate. The Colonial Office was much concerned at the military costs and violence of 'pacification', an inevitable consequence of policies favouring white settlers in the protectorate. Girouard's Nigerian experience was thought to be a reassuring check on such activities. But even more it was his reputation as a railway administrator that once again won him the job, for east Africa was burdened by the large capital costs of the railway from the coast at Mombasa, completed in 1901. This was constructed largely for military motives to bind landlocked Uganda to the British empire. The railway's costs far exceeded receipts, however, and the search to solve this problem had already led to the somewhat desperate remedy of settling white men with capital in the Kenya highlands in the hope that they would develop agricultural crops for export and import goods from Europe, which might make the railway solvent. Girouard, whatever his ideas in Nigeria, became convinced that in east Africa increased white settlement was the only solution to make the railway pay, and the protectorate's finances viable. At the same time he wanted to develop African traditional institutions towards some kind of 'indirect rule', and to prune those officials whom he regarded as dead wood. He thus won considerable settler support, unlike most of his predecessors. When Girouard initiated a mass removal of Maasai herdsmen there was missionary opposition, and opposition in Britain from humanitarian lobbies fed with information by disgruntled local officials. Girouard proved stubborn when the Colonial Office attempted to rein in his pro-settler actions. Finally, in 1912, the Colonial Office, convinced that Girouard had misled them about promises of Maasai land to white settlers, forced his resignation.

This was the end of Girouard's career as an imperial pro-consul. He joined the board of directors of the armaments firm Armstrong-Vickers. In 1915 he took a government post as director-general of munitions supply, with a brief period in Belgium on munitions procurement and railway organization, but he resigned in 1917 to return to Armstrong-Vickers, resigning from that, too, into retirement from public life in 1919. Girouard died at 2 Beaumont Street, Marylebone, London, on 26 September 1932.


  • A. H. M. Kirk-Greene, ‘Canada in Africa: Sir Percy Girouard, neglected colonial governor’, African Affairs, 83 (1984), 207–39
  • G. H. Mungeam, British rule in Kenya, 1895–1912: the establishment of administration in the East Africa Protectorate (1966)
  • M. Bull, ‘Indirect rule in Northern Nigeria, 1906–1911’, in K. Robinson and F. Madden, Essays in imperial government, presented to Margery Perham (1963)
  • I. F. Nicholson, The administration of Nigeria, 1900–1960: men, methods and myths (1969)
  • R. Heussler, The British in Northern Nigeria (1968)
  • A. Clayton and D. C. Savage, Government and labour in Kenya, 1895–1963 (1974, [1975])
  • d. cert.
  • K. J. King, ‘The Kenya Masai and the protest phenomenon, 1900–1960’, Journal of African History, 12 (1971), 117–37


  • Bodl. RH, corresp. with F. D. Lugard
  • Tyne and Wear Archives Service, Newcastle upon Tyne, letters to Lord Rendel

Wealth at Death

£1648 8s. 1d.: administration, 29 March 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
G. W. Brown & others, eds., , [14 vols.] (1966–)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, Oxford