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Papers of Hubert F. Mathews


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One box of letters from Mathews to his parents and his brother while he served as a colonial officer in Nigeria, and two boxes of official reports, correspondence and anthropological notes from Mathews' time as Anthropological Officer of the Southern Provinces of Nigeria.


  • Creation: 1910-1964


0.45 Linear metres (3 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • Arabic

Hausa, Mada, Arago, Nungu, Idowa, Idoma

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MSS. Afr. s. 783 box 2, file 1, fol. 3].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Afr. s 783

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 3173


The working papers and family letters of Hubert Mathews, a colonial officer in Nigeria from 1910-1929.

Biographical / Historical

Hubert Frank Mathews (1885-1964) was the son of Angelo Alfred Hankins Mathews of Oxford. In 1898 he entered the City of Oxford High School, leaving in 1905 with an Open Mathematical Exhibition to Jesus College, Oxford; at both school and college he was a friend of T.E. Lawrence. An enthusiastic oarsman, he became stroke of his College Eight and Captain of Boats in 1909. In that year he graduated in Physics, then turned to Anthropology. This led to his career in Nigeria, where he served for the next twenty years, first as a Political Officer in the north, later as Anthropological Officer in the south.

These twenty years were a period of change and development in Nigeria. A system of administration through existing native authorities had been devised in the north, and native treasuries were officially established in 1911 to receive a share of the taxes for use in development work. In 1912 Sir Frederick Lugard returned to Nigeria as Governor of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, a prelude to the amalgamation of the two which took place on 1 Jan 1914 with Lugard as Governor-General. During the First World War development was temporarily halted, but the years that followed saw expansion of road and railway construction and of tin mining in the north.

These events provide background to the series of letters from Mathews to his parents, contained in Box 1 of the collection, describing his life and work in Nigeria. As a political officer he toured his various territories on foot and on bicycle and, in places free from tsetse fly, on horseback. The work consisted of assessing, surveying, mapping and road-making; the collection of tribute and cattle tax; the suppression of the slave trade, maintenance of order, and administration of justice. "Our whole aim," he wrote (letter no. 64), "is to rule through the native authorities so as to teach them to rule themselves well." The war years brought additional responsibility to those officers who, like Mathews, continued the work of administration: many joined the army and there were no new men to replace them; many were killed when mail steamers were torpedoed. The letters give some account of the fighting against the German colonies of Togoland to the west and Kamerun to the east. But generally throughout Nigeria calm prevailed, and one important development of the war years was the introduction in the south of a system of native administration similar to that in the north.

While on leave in England in 1916 Mathews married Edith H. Tomlinson; a son, Patrick, was born in 1919. In 1925 Mathews returned to Oxford to take a further Diploma in Anthropology before being appointed Anthropological Officer, Southern Provinces. Boxes 2 and 3 contain copies of official reports and correspondence, and various anthropological notes and papers, by Mathews and others.

P.A. Empson, November 1966

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Bodleian by Hubert Mathews' sister and son in 1966.

Papers of Hubert Frank Mathews
Finding aid prepared by P.A. Empson
1966; converted to EAD 2020
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom