Obituary: Sir Colin Allan

Colin Hamilton Allan, colonial administrator: born 23 October 1921; OBE 1959; British Resident Commissioner, New Hebrides 1966-73; CMG 1968; Governor, Seychelles 1973-76; Governor, Solomon Islands, and High Commissioner for Western Pacific 1976-78; KCMG 1977; married 1955 Betty Evans (three sons); died 5 March 1993.

DURING the Second World War, recruitment to the British Colonial Services was virtually suspended. When the guns at last were silent, there was a vast backlog of vacancies in 50 dependent territories across the world. The restoration of basic civilian administration was of first priority in those islands of the South Pacific which had been overrun and their populations decimated by the Japanese invaders.

Appointed as an Administrative Officer (Cadet) in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate in 1945, Colin Allan was in the front line of post-war recruitment initiated through the armed services by the Colonial Office. In his case there was, however, a difference: Allan was a New Zealander, one of the select few ex-colonials who, with cautious circumspection, were filtered through the selection net from time to time.

Apart from three years from 1973 to 1976 as the last governor of a colonial Seychelles, he spent the whole of his service career in South Pacific Melanesia. With the Seychelles duly launched as a republic within the Commonwealth, Allan returned to the Solomons as its last pre-independence governor 31 years after his initial appointment to the protectorate.

Many a 'nativist' movement was spawned in island territories of the South Pacific during and after the war time naval and military operations. Marching Rule on the Solomons island of Malaita was one. It was part religious, part anti-colonial and part 'cargo cult', appealing to or arousing native avarice with promises of a US- Army-type paradise of trucks and well-stocked refrigerators for all. 'Adherents refused to be numbered in a census, to work, to pay taxes or to listen to the British, whom they threaten to club on the head if they come to Malaita,' James Michener wrote in 1951.

Allan was appointed as the island's District Commissioner in 1952, by which time Marching Rule had dominated and disrupted life there for about six years. Two years later, his patient persuasion resulted in the formation of a properly organised first Council of Malaita. It marked the end of the movement's influence and was his most notable early achievement.

Allan needed a different and more profound quality of patience to survive the maze-like complexities and frustration of the Anglo-French condominium of the New Hebrides (now independent Vanuatu) for 14 years. It was arguably the ultimate colonial absurdity. Not without justification was it known as the 'Anglo-French pandemonium'. The two metropolitan powers duplicated, if not replicated, their respective systems of law and order, education, medical care and basic government philosophy. There were three separate administrations: that of the joint Anglo-French condominium, the British administration for British nationals and the French administration for French nationals. Missionary activity, in parallel with that of the two national administrations, was one of intense rivalry for the bewildered souls of the indigenous New Hebrideans.

Allan became British resident commissioner in 1966. His residency was perched atop the tiny island of Iririki in the bay of the capital, Port Vila. The French residency was on the mainland. Each was built at precisely the same height above sea-level. The flagstaffs of each were of exactly the same dimensions. The Union Flag and the French tricolour were raised and lowered at the same minute each day.

To get to the British Residency, you travelled in a pinnace manned by smartly uniformed Melanesian sailors with bare feet. My invitation to lunch in 1968 seemed to have been a mistake when I saw a large notice on the jetty which read 'Bains interdit'. On disembarkation at Iririki, you clambered up a circular set of steep stone steps to the house. 'Puts up the breathless instant consumption of alcohol no end,' Allan once said to me.

The Solomon Islands became independent in 1978; the New Hebrides in 1980. In both cases, fears of land alienation had become an issue around which Melanesian leaders had mobilised popular support for independence. Allan's long experience in both countries, his studies in anthropology and his period as Lands Commissioner in the Solomons gave him special insight into these problems. He was to put his interpretative skills to constructive use in retirement. The Australian National University and the Universities of Auckland, Otago and New South Wales welcomed him as a visiting lecturer or fellow.

Allan relished the concepts and vivid simplicities of Melanesian pidgin English. One of his favourites was the pidgin version of the coronation of King George VI in 1937:

King George, he dead. Number one son, Edward, he no want him clothes. Number two son he like. Bishop he make plenty talk along new King. He say: 'You look out good 'long all the people?' King he talk. He say yes. Then Bishop and plenty government official and storekeeper and soldier and bank manager and policeman, all he stand up and sing and blow him trumpet. Finish.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss