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Papers of Sir Robert Perceval Armitage


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The Armitage archives comprise papers concerning his activities:

A. as an administrator in the Gold Coast, 1948-1954 (with some after office until 1984); B. as a colonial governor of Cyprus, 1953-1955 (with some after office until 1969); C. as a colonial governor of Nyasaland, 1954-61 (with some after office until 1985); D. after retirement 1961-1989; E. as a member of the Beit Trust, 1963-1986; F. as a private individual, 1913-1990; and G. various ephemera and photographs, 1949-1987.

This includes speeches, personal and official correspondence, diaries, press cuttings, photographs and ephemera.


  • Creation: 1913-1990


2.2 Linear metres (16 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 599

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 599/ 1-16

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 5158


Papers, 1913-1990, of Sir Robert Armitage, KCMG, MBE (1906-1990), Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Cyprus, and Governor of Nyasaland.

Biographical / Historical

Biographical/Historial note written with reference to Oxford DNB.

Early Life

Armitage, Sir Robert Perceval (1906–1990), colonial governor, was born on 21 December 1906 at Nungumbaukum, Madras, India. He was educated in India until 1917 and then at Highfield School, Liphook, Hampshire. In 1920 he entered Winchester College. In 1925 he went to New College, Oxford to read history. After the tropical African services course there (1928–1929) he joined the colonial administrative service in Kenya. In 1930 he married Gwladys Lyona Meyler (1905–1998) in Nairobi.


In 1939 he was posted to the Nairobi secretariat, successively filling the posts of assistant secretary, clerk of the legislative and executive councils, secretary to the member for agriculture, and finally, in 1947, administrative secretary. He was appointed MBE in 1944.

Gold Coast (Ghana)

In 1948 he was transferred to the Gold Coast (later to become the independent nation of Ghana in 1957) as financial secretary and became minister of finance in the years leading up to self-government. As a member of Kwame Nkrumah's cabinet, he oversaw a threefold expansion of government revenue and expenditure, and a doubling of imports and exports during his five years' service in the country. He was appointed CMG in 1951.


He was appointed governor of Cyprus and promoted KCMG in 1954, amid escalating Greek demands for sovereignity (enosis), increased friction between Greeks and Turks, and Britain's transfer of its Middle East military headquarters from Suez to Cyprus. Pro-enosis demonstrations increased while Colonel Grivas mounted a terrorist campaign killing many Turkish Cypriots and bomb attempts were made on Armitage's life. Harold Macmillan, foreign secretary, invited both Greece and Turkey to discuss Middle East affairs. Though inconclusive, discussions were followed by rioting and terrorism. In response, Britain decided that a military governor should take charge, and in September 1955 Armitage was replaced and appointed governor of Nyasaland.

Nyasaland (Malawi)

In 1953 Britain established the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (also known as the Central African Federation), comprised of the colony of Southern Rhodesia and the territories of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Black Africans of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland opposed the federation, fearing the influence of Southern Rhodesian racial policies (apartheid).

Armitage was appointed governor of Nyasaland and took office in April 1956. The majority of his time in Nyasaland was spent dealing with the repercussions of this imposition and trying to fulfil the British government's instruction to win over the Africans to federation.

Little constitutional progress was made and the Nyasaland African Congress, led by Hastings Banda, stepped up agitation. On 3 March 1959 a state of emergency was declared with Banda and 1300 of his followers detained. The Devlin Commission was appointed to inquire into the emergency, finding the declaration justified but that some illegal behaviour had accompanied detentions. The Monckton Commission was then appointed in 1960 to help determine the future of the Central African Federation.

Banda was released in April 1960 over Armitage's objections. The state of emergency was lifted in June and in August a new constitution was agreed giving Congress a large majority in the legislature and a dominating presence in the executive council.

Retirement from service

After his retirement in 1961, he lived at Marnhull in Dorset, and later at Amesbury Abbey in Wiltshire. He gave many talks and devoted much of his time to charitable organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Beit Trust. As a board member of the Beit Trust he toured Malawi and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) on many occasions. He died of cardiac failure at Amesbury Abbey Nursing Home on 7 June 1990, and was cremated at Salisbury.


The original order of the collection has been maintained and arranged into seven series. The first five reflect the major activities of the creator including the areas of his administrative roles and his public activities after retirement. The last two consist of the creator’s personal papers and ephemera.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Papers were donated by the Armitage family via Professor Colin Baker on May 30, 2002.

Catalogue of the papers of Sir Robert Perceval Armitage, 1913-1990
Shelfmarks: MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 599
Finding aid prepared by Emily Chen
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom