Sir Godfrey Huggins, Lord Malvern 1883-1971

Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1933 to 1956

and, at 7 829 days, the then holder of the British and Commonwealth record for the longest continuously serving Prime Minister. 

Photo by Elliot & Fry



Written in 1951 by Cyril Allen, O.B.E., J.P.

Here is the story of the surgeon who came to Rhodesia for six months and stayed to become a statesman and Prime Minister of the Colony.  He applied his stethoscope to the heart of the Colony and found it sound.

For eighteen years, Sir Godfrey Huggins has been the Colony’s leader. He is one of the few surviving members of the first Rhodesian Parliament under Responsible Government, to which he was elected unopposed, and he is the only survivor still sitting as a member.

He made his mark, both in the House and the country, soon after entering politics in 1924.  Finding himself ill at ease in the old-established Rhodesian Party, in 1931 he joined the revolt of the Reform Party of which he was elected leader.

The party came into power with a small majority in 1933 but the radical wing of the party soon became the Government’s sharpest critics.  This brought about an uneasy situation. Sir Godfrey, then Mr. Huggins, carried on for a year and then decided to cut the Gordian knot and appeal to the country for a dismissal or a stronger Government.  Consultations between him and Sir Percy Fynn, leader of the Rhodesian Party, resulted in a coalition under the name of the United Party.

Most of the members of the two parties welcomed the partnership and, at the General Election that followed, the United Party swept the country.

For nearly eighteen years Sir Godfrey has been the leader of the Government and during that period the Colony has grown out of recognition. He would be the last to claim credit for what has been achieved under his leadership, but it is more than an accident of timing that his vigorous direction of affairs has coincided with the most significant period of development Southern Rhodesia has known.

Sir Godfrey is not a man who can be easily labelled. He holds a unique position and his qualities have gained for him, not only strong support within the country but recognition overseas. He is impatient of indirect methods and his frankness sometimes gives concern to his followers.

He has suffered at times because some of his remarks have been lifted out of their context and converted into material for political attacks. He may certainly be accused at times of impetuousity but never of insincerity. Even those who disagree with him admit his candour and are not immune to his charm and deep humanity. He combines a highly charged and responsive personality with great staying power.

Dr. Huggins on call at Salisbury with his “Indian” motorcycle in 1912.

Lt. G.M. Huggins of the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914



In many of his speeches he is eloquent but he never smothers his meaning in words or fails to make his purpose clear. “The future of this country”, he declared not long ago, “depends on independent and responsible people who are prepared to work for their living”. Usually he speaks in simple, unclouded language, and occasionally in slang. “Today, in many countries the Government is concerning itself so much with the life of the individual and he is conducted through life by a benevolent Government to such an extent that he has about as much freedom as a coca-pan on its rails”.

He is never verbose and condenses whole policies into a few plain, telling words. He has a quick perception and an agile mind and is always ready with real sympathy. He has the surgeon’s sure touch and does not hesitate to cut, to excise or to cauterise where the body politic calls for drastic operation.

He cannot tolerate defeatism, right is more important to him than the opinion of those who would carry on with concessions to injustice rather than be involved in a fight. He does not love fighting for the sake of fighting but believes that appeasement never carried a nation anywhere.

No one could have retained leadership for so many years and in such times of national and international disturbance unless the people were convinced of his integrity. No man in the Colony has given so much as he for the benefit of the people. An outstanding surgeon, to carry on his mission, he has sacrificed tens of thousands of pounds that he would have gained in the practice of his profession.

It was in the 1914-18 War that he made his surgical reputation and his books on aspects of surgery are still a guide to medical students. Till not long ago he kept his sensitive hands in touch by operations in the early mornings before he began his day’s work as Prime Minister.

The range of work he has accomplished is astonishingly wide, covering most of the fields of public life. Fortunately for the country its leader has not restricted himself to limited hours of effort. He has been the moving spirit or strong supporter in many important social changes and at the same time has been successful in maintaining good relations with the country’s neighbours.

One of his great interests is aviation and twenty years ago he made plain his belief that in a country of such great distances air travel was essential. He did much to foster the great advance aviation has made in the Colony. Personally, he uses aeroplanes very frequently as the only means by which he can carry out his many duties overseas and throughout the territory.


Sir Godfrey having an informal talk with F/Lt. Vernon Sanders of Bulawayo

serving with a fighter-bomber group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Europe 1944.



Sir Godfrey faced a crisis in 1931 when he feared that his deafness would compel him to give up public life. When he announced the possibility there was loud protest and the Hon. Max Danziger said he hoped he would continue his political career, remarking “there is a large section of the country looking to him to remain in politics and lead the country”.

Fortunately for the Colony Sir Godfrey did not retire and he has since demonstrated that his deafness is not a real handicap, indeed, during dull debates, it may be an advantage.

More recently he has indicated that he does not wish to die in harness and has suggested consideration of a successor. But he is still young as statesmen go and has, in normal circumstances, many years of effective life.

Like Rhodes he looks North and works for a great British Central African State. A Central African Council was created some years ago and has demonstrated the great value of cooperative action by the three Central African territories. Under the guidance of the Prime Minister the country has certainly proved its fitness to undertake larger responsibilities in the African hinterland.


1947: At the conclusion of the Royal Visit to Salisbury, Sir Godfrey Huggins sees the Royal Family off at Salisbury Station.



No one has done more than he to refute by his policies the criticisms of British Administration in Africa.

His native policy is humane, realistic and far-seeing. His policy of development has always given full recognition to the common humanity of all races and the need for more than exact justice in dealing with undeveloped peoples.

The policy which he has inspired places first emphasis on providing better health, education and social services for the African. But Sir Godfrey has never failed to stress the human aspect of the problem as is shown by this quotation (one of many such) from a Jubilee speech: “The healthiness of race relations in this country depends on the sum total of the thousands of contacts which occur throughout the country each day. Each one of us has something to contribute but the eventual totting up does not work out in an arithmetical way because one case of ill-management of the native does far more harm than the good done by the liberal-minded employer. I refer, of course, to common sense treatment and not to treating them like a pet. We have to face up to the fact that there are people who are longing to prove that we in this country are not capable of handling the African. They do not like our policy and they will do anything they can to wreck it. I think it is very important that we should realise our individual as well as our collective responsibilities in this matter. . . . If a people is ill-housed, under-nourished and underpaid you have only yourself to blame if they turn on you in your hour of need, and that is true of any human beings whether they are black, white or any other colour”.

The Prime Minister and Field Marshal Montgomery, during the latter’s visit to Salisbury in December 1947.

Until quite recently, Sir Godfrey kept his sensitive hands in touch by operations in the early mornings before he began his day’s work as Prime Minister.


This is but the briefest profile of the political career of Sir Godfrey Huggins.

On the personal side, he was born in July, 1883 at Bexley, Kent, and was educated at Hove, Malvern College and St. Thomas’s Hospital, London.

He qualified M.R.C.S., and L.R.C.P., in 1906, and took his F.R.C.S. in England in 1908. He held several surgical house appointments at St. Thomas’s Hospital over a period of two-and-a-half years.  He was appointed house physician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, later medical superintendent.

Having overworked he came to Southern Rhodesia to do a locum in 1911 but remained to practise his profession in partnership with Drs. Appleyard and Cheadle.

During the 1914-18 War he served with distinction in the R.A.M.C. in England, Malta and France and rose to the rank of Surgeon-Major. His war experience revealed his exceptional surgical skill. He returned to the Colony and was one of the few medical men available during the 1918 ‘flu epidemic. In 1922 he gave up general practice and became a consulting surgeon.

When he returned to Salisbury he kept a few horses and bought a plot on which to build stables and it was there his interest in farming was aroused.

He was Master of Salisbury Foxhounds for a time and Chairman of the Polo Club.

On the small farm at Avondale he and Lady Huggins grew crops and were successful exhibitors at the Salisbury Show. Incidentally, they took half the night shift at the tobacco barns.

He later acquired Craig Farm, 16 miles from Salisbury, where he has Friesland cattle, pigs and sheep and grows maize, sunflowers, ground nuts, potatoes and bean hay. Irrigation schemes have been carried out and it is here, when the cares of his high office become too pressing, that the Prime Minister spends a few days laying bricks, making drains and doing farm work.

Though he does an enormous amount of solid reading he relieves the strain of work, like many other important people, by reading thrillers, with a special fondness for Peter Cheyney.



Post script

Subsequent to the writing of the above article, Sir Godfrey Huggins, who, as alluded to, was always a keen proponent of uniting the two Rhodesias, made a grave error of judgement and finally led Southern Rhodesia into the ill-fated Federation which also embraced Nyasaland.  In doing so he placed the grandiose scheme of Federation ahead of Southern Rhodesia’s strong claim for full Dominion status.  There is no doubt that he had hoped that the Federation as a whole would be able to achieve this status. However with hindsight, and arguably even with foresight, like Sir Charles Coghlan over 30 years earlier, he should have been fearful of taking on responsibility for an additional large African population and over which the Federation was not even to have full control. When the British South Africa Company had sought amalgamation in 1917, at a time when Britain would have been minded to acquiesce, Sir Charles felt that this would prejudice Rhodesia’s likely grant of self-government and thus should take second place to self-rule.  With hindsight it must be said that Sir Charles Coghlan showed fine foresight!  In due course Sir Godfrey Huggins took an opposite view and led his country down a blind alley.

In his memoirs (pp 22 & 23), Sir Roy Welensky cites discussions he had in 1948 with the British Colonial Secretary, Arthur Creech-Jones, who stated that there was considerable African opposition to closer union in both Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Sir Roy, who was the leader of the elected members in Northern Rhodesia, said he sought a constitution for a combined Northern and Southern Rhodesia similar to that already enjoyed by the South. He pointed out the contrast in development between the South, which had gone ahead steadily since self-government, compared with the North, under Colonial Office rule, which, apart from private exploitation of copper, had stagnated and was desperately poor.  Sir Roy then quotes Arthur Creech-Jones’ response: “Do you really believe … that any government, either Tory or Socialist, would ever consider … granting [an amalgamated] Northern and Southern Rhodesia a constitution which would place the control of several million black people [in the North] in the hands of a few hundred thousand whites?  No government, irrespective of its political hue, would carry out that kind of action today.  The world wouldn’t put up with it.  If you think that the Conservatives, in power, would do what we won’t do, why don’t you go and see Oliver Stanley [Tory shadow minister] and put your proposals to him?”

So, later that very day, Sir Roy told Oliver Stanley exactly what Mr Creech-Jones had said.

“That is perfectly accurate” said Oliver Stanley. “No Government of this country – Tory or Socialist – could give you what you ask”

Fully aware of this, in 1953 Sir Godfrey Huggins nevertheless took on the grand mantle of Prime Minister of the new Federation and in 1955 was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Malvern. Despite trying, he failed to achieve any advance in the Federation’s status and finally retired in 1956. He was succeeded by Sir Roy Welensky who was left to fight a valiant rearguard action to defend what had been created.  Following the 1956 Suez debacle, Britain “lost the will to govern” and set about destroying the Federation.  After that, it was too late for Southern Rhodesia to obtain any acceptable terms for its own independent dominion status. – C.W.


External link to:

British PATHÉ News movie of the Prime Ministers of the Empire arriving for the Imperial Conference in 1944.

Hear the voices of Canada’s Prime Minister Mackenzie King, South Africa’s great statesman Field-Marshal Jan Smuts,

Southern Rhodesia’s Sir Godfrey Huggins (in typically forthright style),

Mr Peter Fraser, Premier of New Zealand and John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia.