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Stack, Sir Lee Oliver Fitzmauricefree

(1868–1924)
  • M. W. Daly

Stack, Sir Lee Oliver Fitzmaurice (1868–1924), army officer and governor-general of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, was born on 15 May 1868 at Darjeeling, India, the son of Oliver Stokes Stack, inspector-general of police in Bengal, and Emily Dickson Stack. He was educated at Clifton College and at Sandhurst, and received his commission in 1888. He was promoted captain in 1896 and, after brief service in Crete as staff officer to the British commissioner, in 1899 joined the Egyptian army.

The ‘new’ Egyptian army, created by the British after they had destroyed the old one at Tell al-Kebir in 1882, had in 1899 recently been vindicated by the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan. To govern that territory a condominium was established, under which effective rule fell to British officers of the Egyptian army, assisted at lower levels by Egyptians and Sudanese. Large areas, especially in the south, remained outside Khartoum's control, and ‘patrols’ were sent out to punish, pacify, and tax. Stack's command of one of the largest of these patrols, to Shambe in the Bahr al-Ghazal in 1902, and his characteristic modesty and efficiency, won the attention of the sirdar (commander-in-chief) and governor-general, Sir Reginald Wingate, who in 1904 appointed him to the important post of private secretary.

In the rudimentary Sudan government, where titles and portfolios mattered less than personal relations and initiative, Wingate required of his private secretary absolute confidentiality, discretion, tact, and above all loyalty. Stack's performance so impressed Wingate that in 1908 he appointed him Sudan agent in Cairo (a post that carried with it the Sudan government's nominal directorship of intelligence). In that position Stack was the Sudan government's—and Wingate's—eyes and ears in the Egyptian capital, the conduit through which information flowed between Khartoum and the British and Egyptian authorities, and, in effect, Wingate's ambassador at the Egyptian court and British residency. In 1910, after a decade of secondment from the British army, he resigned his commission and took permanent appointment in the Sudan government.

In 1914 Wingate brought Stack to Khartoum as civil secretary, a post that (partly because of his conduct) would later be second in importance only to the governor-generalship. In performing the ill-assorted duties that had already fallen to that department Stack again displayed the qualities of calm leadership and loyal subordination that Wingate prized. With the outbreak of the First World War, Wingate himself became ever more occupied with military affairs—first in ensuring the Sudan's peace, then in the conquest of Darfur and conduct of the Hejaz campaign—and was absent from Khartoum for long periods. Increasing responsibility thus fell to Stack, and when at the end of 1916 Wingate was appointed high commissioner for Egypt, he recommended and London approved Stack's appointment as acting sirdar and acting governor-general of Sudan. Stack was confirmed in both positions after the war.

In 1902 Stack married Flora Center, daughter of Edwin Ramsay Moodie, a captain with the Cunard Company. His wife was a popular figure in Cairo and Khartoum; they had a daughter. A temporary major-general of the British army (1917), Stack was a farik of the Egyptian army and pasha of Egypt. He was created KBE in 1918 and GBE in 1923, and held the grand cordon of the Nile (1917) and first-class al-Nahda of the Hejaz (1920).

As governor-general Stack exercised the same moderating influence and diplomatic skills he had demonstrated in successive subordinate posts. In the highest echelons of the Sudan government, bureaucratic structures had never replaced the personal relations of officers and officials in setting policy. Nor was Stack jealous of his position and perquisites; far more than Wingate he consulted officials, both formally within a rejuvenated governor-general's council, and in the field. While his policy essentially maintained that set down during the era of Kitchener, Cromer, and Wingate, there were important transitional elements that owed much to his personal influence. Foremost of these was insistence on a ‘dual policy’ of decentralization, by which the statutory empowerment of rural sheikhs demanded by the rising doctrine of indirect rule (or native administration) would be balanced by continuing and increasing devolution of responsibility to an educated élite of riverain townsmen.

That the ‘dual policy’ was itself controversial was owing to the tide of Egyptian nationalism, the first stirrings of its Sudanese counterpart, and the apparent revival of militant Mahdism. British opinion generally held that educated Sudanese must inevitably oppose British rule, and that therefore it was self-defeating to empower them. Far better, it was argued (in India, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere), to forge alliances with local aristocrats, in defence of whose own traditional and newly endowed powers the British would find potent allies. Stack, a career soldier, was perhaps surprisingly the last important defender in his generation of the ‘civilizing mission’ represented by the Gordon Memorial College.

The nominal independence of Egypt in 1922 had complicated but not essentially changed the status of the Sudan. But in 1924 the election of the first Wafd government in Egypt brought that status to the centre of Anglo-Egyptian relations. Disaffection among Egyptian troops in the Sudan and sympathetic demonstrations by Sudanese cadets and civilians were ominous. In the autumn negotiations between the Wafdist leader, Sa'd Zaghlul, and the Labour government in London broke down, and the British prepared for 'drastic action'. In the end this was justified when, on 19 November, Stack was shot in his car while driving through the streets of Cairo. He died the next day at the Anglo-American Hospital there. A British ultimatum, the forced evacuation of the Egyptian army from the Sudan, and the fall of the Wafd government ensued. The political reaction in the Sudan was dramatic; Stack's ‘dual policy’ died with him, and reactionary administrative and educational policies won the day. He was buried in Cairo; his wife survived him.

Stack's contribution to the development of modern Sudan has been eclipsed by his famous predecessors and obscured by his own modesty. The last sirdar to be governor-general, he presided over and perhaps epitomized the transition from the era of conquest to the period of nationalist politics that would end in independence. Unaffected by ideological certitude or dislike for the ‘new men’ that British rule had helped to create, he was above all practical and sympathetic in his approach to administration in the Sudan. The huge Gezira scheme, one of the largest irrigation projects ever undertaken, was largely completed under him.

Sources

  • M. W. Daly, British administration and the northern Sudan, 1917–1924: the governor-generalship of Sir Lee Stack in the Sudan (1980)
  • M. W. Daly, Empire on the Nile (1986)
  • S. Smith, Mostly murder (1959)
  • G. M. A. Bakheit, British administration and Sudanese nationalism, 1919–1939 (1965)
  • WWW, 1916–28

Archives

  • U. Durham, letters to C. E. G. Charlton relating to the Shambe Field Force
  • U. Durham, letters to G. F. Clayton
  • U. Durham, corresp. with Sir Reginald Wingate

Film

  • BFINA, ‘Assassination of Sir Lee Stack’, Topical

Likenesses

  • W. Stoneman, photograph, 1918, NPG
  • photograph, repro. in Daly, British administration and the northern Sudan

Wealth at Death

£16,683 4s.: administration, 4 April 1925, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

(1920–)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]