Robert Edward Codrington

Robert Edward Codrington

1869 – 1908

Sir Robert Edward Codrington was born in the United Kingdom into a Gloucestershire family with a background of service in the Royal Navy. In 1890, he went to southern Africa and joined the Bechuanaland Border Police. In 1893 this force took part in the occupation of Matabeleland by white settlers, the overthrow of its ruler, Lobengula, and the taking of African land by force, which still has violent consequences in today’s Zimbabwe.

Codrington was appointed Collector of Revenue in the British Central Africa Protectorate. He rose rapidly through the colonial ranks and as a result of his military experience he was given the job of conquering the Ngoni and Yao by force and stamping out the last vestiges of the slave trade in the area. On 11th July, 1898, he was appointed Administrator of North-Eastern Rhodesia, based at Fort Jameson.

To solve the shortage of British people in the territory that were available to run the administration, he appointed Africans educated by the Scottish missionaries in Nyasaland. This was in contrast to the Southern Rhodesians who opposed education and employment of native African people other than in manual labour.

In 1907 Codrington was appointed Administrator of North-Western Rhodesia based at Livingstone, but only served a year before his death in December, 1908. In that time he reorganised its administration in a similar fashion to North-Eastern Rhodesia, paving the way for the two territories to be merged in 1911.

During his Administration, he encouraged African education and instigated indirect rule through local chiefs. He opposed rule by white settlers, keeping it firmly in the hands of trained administrators. These factors helped put Zambia and Malawi on a different path from Southern Rhodesia, helping them gain peaceful independence more than fifteen years before Zimbabwe.

Apart from running the Administration, he studied ethnological aspects of Africa and was a collector of cultural artefacts. While some of these had been taken from their rightful owners by slave traders whom he had defeated, many valuable pieces including very old works of Luba origin were taken from the court of Mwata Kazembe by the British punitive expedition sent by him against Mwata Kazembe X in 1897, and these he kept. In 1920, these items were placed in a museum in Southern Rhodesia. Codrington also wrote a number of articles for the Royal Geographical Society.

He died in 1908 at the age of 39 due to heart disease.