OBITUARY : Sir George Paterson

Timothy Clifford
Friday 02 February 1996 00:02

George Paterson devoted his working life to the Colonial Service. He was Chief Justice of Northern Rhodesia from 1957 to 1961, and before that Attorney-General in Ghana, until he was sacked by President Kwame Nkrumah for not bending the law to his purposes.

Paterson was born in 1906, in St George's, Grenada, one of the most attractive islands in the then British West Indies. He was proud of being the fifth George Paterson in descent from Lt-Col George Paterson of Aberdeen, who had settled on the tiny island in 1784 and served twice as President (or Governor).

The President's descendants served the island well - Sir George Paterson's father was the much-loved colonial surgeon Dr George Paterson; his uncle was Attorney-General and Administrator of Grenada and St Vincent; and George Paterson Street in Grenville was named after his grandfather.

Paterson himself was educated at Grenada Boys' School, from where in 1924 he won the Island Scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, and read History. From Cambridge he joined the Colonial Service, and was appointed to the Nigerian Administration in 1929. With a strong sense of moral rectitude, he went on to serve in Africa for the next 32 years, in the colonies of Nigeria, Tanganyika (Tanzania), Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). When not working, he was a good big-game shot, played tennis and polo, and fished.

In 1935 he married Audrey, daughter of Major C.C.B. Morris, Chief of the London Fire Brigade, at Southwark Cathedral. The guard of honour was made up of firemen with raised fire-axes.

During the Second World War he served with the 6th King's African Rifles, being wounded in 1940 at the Battle of Namuruputh, in Kenya. As Lt-Col Paterson, he was appointed a military OBE in 1946, and later that year as Solicitor General, Tanganyika. Three years later he was Solicitor- General in Sierra Leone.

In 1954 he became Attorney-General of the Gold Coast, and three years later attended the country's Independence celebrations and the opening of the Kariba Dam. He rather liked President Nkrumah, but when Nkrumah attempted to deport a group of his political adversaries, Paterson insisted that the deportation was illegal and was summarily dismissed.

As Chief Justice of Northern Rhodesia from 1957, he could never get used to trying murder cases in the High Court and the consequent capital sentencing; he found the process gruelling and the outcome distressing. In 1960, on his way to South Africa, Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister visited Government House, Lusaka, and discussed with Paterson his imminent "wind of change" speech and other African matters. Paterson was not impressed with Macmillan's grasp of the African mentality or indeed his proposed solution to the remaining British colonies. It was depressing for such an honourable colonial officer, with an almost exaggerated sense of loyalty and service to the British colonies, to witness his world collapsing like a house of cards.

After a lifetime in the West Indies and Africa, he retired to Dorset (then seemingly populated with retired colonial governors and Chief Justices), where he became a pillar of the Tory party and the Anglican Church and pursued his fascination for genealogy. He was a kinsman of John Paterson, the 17th-century Archbishop of Glasgow, and had hoped to substantiate his claim to the Nova Scotia baronetcy of Paterson of Eccles, County Berwick, dormant since 1782.

Timothy Clifford

George Mutlow Paterson, barrister and colonial servant: born St George's, Grenada 3 December 1906; OBE 1946; Solicitor-General, Tanganyika 1946- 49; Attorney-General, Sierra Leone 1949-54; QC (Sierra Leone) 1950; Attorney- General, Ghana 1954-57; Chief Justice, Northern Rhodesia 1957-61; Kt 1959; married 1935 Audrey Morris (one son, two daughters); died 24 January 1996.

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