Papers of Sir Godfrey Yeatman Lagden

Scope and Content

Diaries; notebooks; a letter-book containing Lagden's private letters to J.A. Spender; biographical material; correspondence; printed material (including obituary notices and tributes); papers relating to Lagden's awards, commissions and record of service; and papers relating to Lagden's book The Basutos (1909) and other publications. Also, papers (correspondence, reports, despatches and notes) relating to the South African War, Basutoland, and South African Commissions and Conferences.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Godfrey Yeatman Lagden, KCMG (1897), KBE (1927), was born in 1851 and educated at Sherborne School. He married Frances Rebekah Bousfield, eldest daughter of the first Bishop of Pretoria, in 1887.

Lagden entered the Civil Service in 1869 and was a clerk in the General Post Office for 8 years. In June 1877, with letters of introduction to the High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, he sailed for South Africa. He became Chief Clerk to the State Secretary in the Transvaal, and acted as Secretary to the Administrator, Sir Owen Lanyon (1878-1881), and subsequently to Sir Evelyn Wood and Sir William Bellairs.

During the Egyptian Campaign of 1882-1883 Lagden was war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph . An appointment as Assistant Colonial Secretary in Sierra Leone followed, and work on a financial mission in the Gold Coast. In 1883 he took 6 months leave and, before sailing for England, made a journey on foot from Cape Coast Castle to Kumasi. No white man had visited the area for 20 years and Lagden was arrested and narrowly escaped with his life. For this escapade he was struck off the Colonial Office List. He planned to start life anew in British Columbia with Colonel Marshal Clarke, a friend in South Africa, and a mutual friend, Sir Rider Haggard. However, when Clarke was offered the appointment of Resident Commissioner in Basutoland he persuaded the Colonial Office to allow Lagden to accompany him as Secretary and Accountant; Lagden later became Assistant Commissioner (1885).

In 1892, Lagden acted as British Commissioner in Swaziland. The following year, Clarke was transferred to Zululand and Lagden succeeded him as Resident Commissioner in Basutoland, a post he held for 8 years. It was largely due to Lagden's resolve that Basutoland was kept out of the South African War of 1899.

In 1901, Lagden joined Lord Milner's administration in the Transvaal, as Commissioner for Native Affairs, and as a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils. Between 1903-1905, Lagden was chairman of the South African Native Affairs Commission on which all States of South Africa, Dutch and English, were represented. When self-government was granted to the Transvaal, in 1907, Lagden retired to England. He published a book on the history of Basutoland, The Basutos (1909), and occupied himself in Imperial service until his death in June 1934.

Access Information

Bodleian reader's ticket required.


Collection level description created by Marion Lowman, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

Other Finding Aids

The library holds a card index of all manuscript collections in its reading room and a handlist is also available for this collection.

Listed as nos. 775 and 776 in Manuscript Collections of Africana in Rhodes House Library, Oxford, compiled by Louis B. Frewer (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1968), and as nos. 425 and 430 in Manuscript Collections (Africana and non-Africana) in Rhodes House Library, Oxford, Supplementary accessions to the end of 1977 and Cumulative Index, compiled by Wendy S. Byrne (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1978).

Conditions Governing Use

No reproduction or publication of personal papers without permission. Contact the library in the first instance.


Listed in Private Papers of British Colonial Governors, 1782-1900, by The Historical Manuscripts Commission (1986).