Obituary: Sir Derek Jakeway

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The Independent Online
Francis Derek Jakeway, colonial administrator: born 6 June 1915; Colonial Administrative Service, Nigeria 1937- 54 (seconded to Seychelles 1946-49, Colonial Office 1949-51); OBE 1948; Chief Secretary, British Guiana 1954- 59, Sarawak 1959-63; CMG 1956, KCMG 1963; Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Fiji 1964-68; married 1941 Phyllis Watson (three sons); died 6 November 1993.

THERE are not too many people who impress on sight; who spark and retain our interest from the beginning. Derek Jakeway was one.

I first met him in Georgetown, the capital of what was then British Guiana, during the course of a three-month investigation in British West Indian territories of housing schemes for low-income urban workers. It was 1958. Jakeway was the Chief Secretary of the Government. My diary note reads: 'a genial black-haired Adonis with a roving glitter in his rich deep eyes, which must set the ladies alight'.

At 42 he knew well how to use his charismatic endowments - not least when he crossed swords in the Legislative Council with the un-intimidatable Janet Jagan, who was Minister of Housing. Twenty years earlier, post-Oxford, he had been assigned in the Colonial Administrative Service to Nigeria. He was there for 17 years, apart from a stint in the Seychelles. Then, after two years' secondment to the Colonial Office, things - and he - started to move: British Guiana, Sarawak and lastly Governor of Fiji, where he was from 1964 to 1968.

By then, of course, he was well tuned into the colonial surge towards independence. When he found on arrival that an uncertain Fiji was neither well-prepared nor universally enthusiastic about such a prospect, Jakeway set about stepping up the conceptual tempo. He was immediately sensitive to, but impatient of, the obstacles of race, colour, culture, language and traditions which distinguished, even divided, indigenous Fijians, the so-called immigrant Indians and the minority racial groupings of Europeans, Chinese, Part-Europeans and other Pacific islanders.

A crucial year of change was 1964 with the granting of a measure of internal self-government. This was achieved by the introduction of the advisory membership system of political responsibility, that colonially conceived transit camp and training-ground for future ministerial office and independence.

Jakeway presided with innovative flair and dynamism over a central government executive machine which was now part-official and part-political: multiracial too, as Fijian, Indian and European elected leaders worked together for the first time in government. In 1967, a Chief Minister and other Ministers were appointed. The proceedings were nearing completion.

It was not just the political process which had needed prodding. Jakeway moved to accelerate the pace of what was called 'localisation' in the civil service; and brought in his Director of Localisation and Training from Sarawak. By the institution of special training programmes, by the phasing out of pensionable staff imports and contract substitution, and by counterpart appointments in upper-level posts long held by professional and administrative expatriates, Jakeway set about preparing indigenous staff for the tasks and responsibilities they would face in the future. By the time he left Fiji in 1968, the road to independence (in 1970) was well charted, as well as the civil service capacity to service it. All this required sustained determination, not least because the senior staff union was suspicious and resentful of what was happening. To Jakeway, much of the credit is due that the transition was accomplished peacefully, without either the public rancour, the leadership personality clashes, the physical strife and the violence that marked the independence birth-pangs of some other racially mixed British and French colonies. That, sadly, was to come later in independent Fiji.

The Governor of Fiji was also Governor of the tiny remote dependency of Pitcairn, oceanically midway between Panama (4,100 miles) and New Zealand (3,300 miles); and the equally small matter of 3,320 miles from its gubernatorial seat in Fiji. Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers had known a thing or two when they came ashore there in 1790 and literally burned their boat behind them. The oceanic remoteness and inaccessibility of Pitcairn, with no regular shipping service and no certainty either of being able to land, even if you could get to the island, or of getting away again if you did, meant that no previous Governor of Pitcairn had found it possible to go ashore there while in office. Jakeway was determined to be the first.

With the help of the United States supply ship FS 392 and a maritime journey of 1,350 miles from Tahiti, he achieved his ambition in full colonial governor's uniform - in December 1967. The wry twist in the warmth of the welcome extended to him as the Queen's representative by the 90-odd descendants of the mutineers did not escape him. When he left, half the tiny population of Pitcairn sought deck passage to the bright lights and worldly seductions of Tahiti. Nine men were taken.

Jakeway had a wet and squally departure on the Pitcairn longboat carrying him to the FS 392 drifting three miles out in the lea of the island. Just outside tiny Bounty Bay, a huge wave heaved the boat high in the air and deposited the Pacific Ocean in the lap of the departing Governor. A typical Pitcairn baptismal ceremony had no regard for persons or office.

Made redundant as it were by the fortunes - or misfortunes - of change, Jakeway returned from the South Pacific by means of an arduous adventure drive across Asia and the Middle East to his Devon family home in Exmouth. There he became Chairman of the county's Health Authority for close on a decade. I would say that they were rather fortunate.

(Photograph omitted)

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