Skip to main content

Smyly Gold Coast [i.e. Ghana] Collection, 1911-1929

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y30448L

Scope and Contents

A collection of photographs in an album, plus loose photographs and postcards. The photographs have been arranged in four groups; the album, loose prints, miscellaneous postcards, and British Empire Exhibition postcards. Unless otherwise indicated, the captions not in brackets were supplied by Miss Grace Smyly. The captions may include language which is offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate. They have been retained to reflect the context of the collection's creation.

Plates 1-33 are in a red leather-bound album, 300 x 205 mm, with photographs stuck in or inserted in corners on 33 pages, 5 further pages with corners but no photographs, and a larger number of blank pages.

Sir Philip Crampton Smyly was appointed Chief Justice of the Gold Coast on 14 September 1911. The Governor at the time of his appointment was Sir James Thorburn, but most of his career in the Gold Coast was under two Governors of unusual qualities, Sir Hugh Clifford (1912-1919) and Sir Gordon Guggisberg (1919-1927).

Hugh Charles Clifford was born on 5 March 1866. In 1883 he joined the Malayan Service and in the course of a distinguished career there, became British Resident, Pahang. In 1903 he was appointed Colonial Secretary, Trinidad and Tobago, and in 1907 to the same post in Ceylon. He was Governor of the Gold Coast from 1912-1919, then of Nigeria 1919-1925 and Ceylon 1925-27. His final post was as High Commissioner for the Malay States, 1927-29, but his later years were overshadowed by mental illness. He died on 18 December 1941. Clifford was a man of varied interests and abilities, writing about Malaya in works of fact and fiction. As Ronald Wraith has written, 'he had a quick and subtle mind, a vast administrative experience in Malaya and ceylon, and a combative and liberal outlook'. Despite the problems of war conditions, he had husbanded the Colony's resources with care and skill'.

Elizabeth, Lady Clifford (1866-1945) was a popular novelist under her married name of Mrs Henry de la Pasture; the name was pronounced 'Delappeter'; her daughter also became a novelist under the name of E.M. Delafield. Her first husband died in 1908 and she married Sir Hugh Clifford in 1910. For her war work see under plate 1.

Frederick Gordon Guggisberg (1869-1930) was born in Canada, of Swiss descent, and after an English education was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1889. After service in Singapore and at Woolwich he was employed under the Colonial Office in 1902 on a survey of the Gold Coast. In 1905 he was appointed Director of Surveys; in 1910 he became Director of Surveys, Southern Nigeria, and in 1913 Surveyor-General of Nigeria. After war service, during which he was awarded the D.S.O., Guggisberg was appointed Governor of the Gold Coast in 1919. The influence of his wife played an important part in this choice, and Clifford deeply resented being succeeded by a man of limited experience. Nevertheless, Guggisberg proved to be an outstanding Governor, bringing many of Clifford's plans, e.g. the Korle Bu Hospital, to fruition, and initiating others, such as the deep water harbour at Takoradi and the founding of Achimota (see plates 37 and 49). He promoted the wider image of the Colony by inviting Edith Cheesman to paint a series of pictures (see 59-83), thirty-six of which were used for postcards sold at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924. Greater African recruitment for the public service was another aspect of his administration, which ended in 1927. From 1928 to 1929 he was Governor of British Guiana, but his term was cut short by ill-health, and he died in 1930.

Decima Moore had played Casilda in the original production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Gondoliers' at the age of 18 in 1889. She and Guggisberg were married in 1905, each of their first marriages having ended in divorce. She accompanied him to the Gold Coast and was the principal author of Guggisberg and Guggisberg (1909). During the first World War she was extremely active as Honorary Organizer and Director-General of a Leave Club for the Forces in Paris and in other similar work, for which she was awarded the C.B.E. Guggisberg's appointment to the Governorship of the Gold Coast owed much to her influence, via Elinor Glyn, on Lord Milner. She was one of the Commissioners for the Gold Coast in the planning of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, but the marriage of what Ronald Wraith aptly calls 'two prima donnas' had broken down by the end of Guggisberg's term in the Gold Coast. Decima later called herself Lady Moore-Guggisberg; she gave further service in World War II and died in 1964, aged 93.

Y30448L/59-83 are postcards from paintings by Edith Cheesman, 1924. Thirty-six "Oilette" postcards taken from paintings of the Gold Coast by Miss Edith Cheesman were published for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 by Raphael Tuck and son. They were issued in six series of six cards each. Miss Cheesman went to the Gold Coast in October 1923 at the request of Governor Guggisberg, who described his motives: ‘I wanted to reveal to the people at home what a rich and beautiful country we have, and to show that the native of the Gold Coast is not the savage that he is supposed to be by many people in the Empire, but a very progressive person who, without endangering the best of his native customs, is steadily adapting himself to the changes brought by modern civilisation.’ An exhibition of her work (though a few of the scheduled pictures were still to be painted) was opened in Accra on 31 January 1924 by Guggisberg, who in a lengthy speech described her work in general and the exhibits in particular. A copy of this, as published in ‘Gold Coast News’, no. 25, 31 January 1924, is with the postcards.

The postcards in the Smyly collection total 25, plus two duplicates. There is another incomplete set in the RCS Postcard Collection, lacking one of Series II and all of Series III. The Smyly collection fills these gaps with the exception of one of Series III. The entry in the Postcard Collection has now been rewritten to include all the items in the RCS's possession, with extracts from Guggisberg's speech.


  • Creation: 1911 - 1929


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


.01 cubic metre(s) (1 archival box and 1 album containing 83 images) : photograph

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

generally good condition.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Given by Miss Grace Smyly, daughter of Sir Philip Crampton Smyly, together with those listed at Y30446L, in July 1988.

Related Materials

For portraits of Sir Hugh Clifford see the RCS Portrait Collection 7/21 and Box 2. For other photographs see Y30448C, Y3043DD (Nigeria), BAM 3/46 and BAM 7/21 (Malaya). For extensive material on Achimota see Y30448H-J. For portraits of Frederick Guggisberg see Y30448E. For other photographs see Y3043C/483.


For a full biographical treatment of Frederick Guggisberg see: Wraith, Ronald Edward (1967), 'Guggisberg', London: Oxford University Press; Wraith, Ronald Edward (1981), 'Frederick Gordon Guggisberg: myth and mystery', 'African Affairs', vol. 80, pp. 116-122. The Guggisbergs' were the authors of: Guggisberg, Decima Moore and Guggisberg, Frederick Gordon, (1909), 'We two in West Africa', London: W. Heinemann.


This collection level description was entered by WS, NE and MJC using information from the original typescript catalogue.


Smyly, Sir, Philip Crampton, 1866-1953, Knight and colonial administrator

Includes index.
2004-09-30 14:24:14+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom