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The papers of Sir Harold MacMichael

Image of H. A. MacMichael sitting in the throne room in 'Ali Dinar's palace, El Fasher, 1917 (Ref: SAD.588/1/69)
H. A. MacMichael sitting in the throne room in 'Ali Dinar's palace, El Fasher, 1917 (Ref: SAD.588/1/69)

Harold Alfred MacMichael was born in in Rowtor, Derbyshire on 15 October 1882, and having studied firstly at Kings Lynn and then Bedford Grammar School he went on to attend Magdalene College, Cambridge. Straight out of University he joined the then nascent Sudan Political Service in 1905 and spent the next three decades in the Sudan, becoming an influential figure and rising to the post of Civil Secretary, second only to the Governor-General. Shortly after the First World War, in 1919 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, MacMichael married Agnes (Nesta) Stephens, and they had two daughters. MacMichael was appointed in 1934 as Governor-General of Tanganyika and later became High Commissioner for Palestine and Transjordan, surviving a terrorist attack in 1944.

The collection is largely made up of material relating to the Sudan, including MacMichael’s involvement in the Darfur campaign of 1916 and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, and contains correspondence between himself and contemporaries in the Sudan administration such as R. von Slatin, Sir Reginald Wingate and G. Schuster, as well as over 900 photos, mostly of the Sudan. The collection throws light on the important role MacMichael played in the Darfur campaign as Political Officer, as well as the impact he made on the country as Civil Secretary, in particular his role in the development of the policy of indirect rule. Interestingly MacMichael, as evidenced in this collection, continued to correspond with members of the Sudan Political Service long after he had left it, showing a keen interest and passion in the country’s future. There is a small amount of material relating to his time in Tanganyika and Palestine.

The collection, which includes some fascinating personal material, also reveals his character and passions. In particular, his letters home to his family during his initial training in 1905 reveal an insight both into a young man’s first steps into the wider world, as well as into the kind of training administrators of his generation received in Khartoum before departing for the provinces. His diaries and scrapbook show a meticulous character, and also contain some wonderful insights into British colonial society. MacMichael’s activities as a scholar during his time in the Sudan are well represented: he published a number of books during his career, and continued to lecture and speak in his retirement. Among his photos are some excellent images of Sudan, illustrating life in the provinces and later in Khartoum, but there are also a number of images from MacMichael’s wider travels across Europe.