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1936 - 1945, HMOCS

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Gervas did a post-graduate course in “Jurisprudence” at Oxford before joining HMOCS.

From the biography of Sir Glyn Jones: “A Proconsul in Africa” (well worth reading, as it mirrors Gervas’s career in so many aspects):-


Balovale is a remote, wild and lonely station, [in 1938] with only two other Europeans on it, the doctor and his wife in addition to the district commissioner and the district officer. Balovale was the most northern of the administrative districts in Barotseland and had about 40,000 Africans whose villages, especially those of the Lovale, were located along the lines of the rivers. The other main tribe was the Lunda. The soils, as over much of Barotseland, are of Kalahari sands and on the west bank of the Zambezi travel was always on foot since there were no roads, and goods were carried by barge. There were three mission stations in the district, one of which was primarily a leper colony, all run by Plymouth Brethren. These were the only non-government Europeans in the district. Balovale had a very small airstrip, used mainly for carrying mail. Jones became fluent in the Lunda language during his period here.

The first administrative station at Balovale was built by the British South Africa Company in 1907 under an agreement with the Litunga, the paramount chief of the Barotse, which gave the company the right to administer all the 'Lozi and its dependencies'. When the administration was assumed by the British government, the Lovale and Lunda peoples continued to pay what they felt were voluntary gifts to a powerful neighbour and what the Litunga thought was mandatory tribute paid to him as a duty by those subject to him. The long dispute came to a head after the government started to lay down rules for native courts and considered setting up native authorities. The Lunda and Lovale refused to co-operate with the Litunga, refused to pay tax to his treasury and boycotted his courts. Then, as a result of an appeal to the British government to settle the issue, a commission of inquiry was set up in September 1938. There was a single commissioner, Sir Philip MacDonnell [see],

...who was assisted by George Suckling, the doyen of missionary education in the Balovale district, for the Lunda and the Lovale, and by Gervas Clay, a district officer, for the Lozi. Jones was appointed secretary. The commission took almost two years to gather evidence, summarize it and make recommendations to the British government.


I have a file containing the evidence given both by Suckling and by my father in Feb/March 1939, and a copy of the 1941 NR Govt. gazette that followed (and a letter of thanks from MacDonnell to my father).  I have scanned it all, but so far I have OCRed only the first part of Gervas’s evidence, and this is posted below.

It is interesting to read Gervas's introductory remark to the fifth tranche of his evidence:-


Before beginning to sum up the Marozi case ... I should like to make a short personal statement.

I have been seconded by Govt. to represent the Marozi case before the Commission, and you will remember, Sir, that on my arrival in Mongu last October I asked you what my position would be with regard to criticisms of Govt., and you informed me that in presenting my case I was entitled to make such criticisms. ... the larger part of the Marozi case is concerned with criticisms of Govt. policy.

It will be my duty to criticise to you the actions and statements made by Governors, P.C's and D.O's. It is extremely distasteful to me to have to make these criticisms, and I wish to state categorically that I have used every endeavour to make such criticisms as inoffensive as is compatible with making a true presentation of my case.

I feel that however I may word some criticisms, it would be possible for Govt. or for those criticised to take exception, and I can only say that having been seconded to represent the Marozi case, I have considered it my duty to make these criticism on behalf of my clients. I also wish to emphasise on behalf of the Marozi that in making these criticisms there is no question of disloyalty to His Majesty's Govt..


This was perhaps Gervas’s first “major” endeavour in his career – to make a case, before a Commission, for the Barotse to retain sovereignty over the Lunda & Lovale, who were trying to secede.  And in this, he failed, for the Commission came down on the side of the Lunda & Lovale. 

It is ironic indeed that Gervas’s last act before retiring from the Civil Service was again to represent the Barotse, this time in dealings with the British Government, in the run-up to Independence, when the Barotse, this time, were trying to secede from the proposed new country of Zambia.  And again, Gervas failed to win the case.

But it is salutary to read what a very great deal of effort he put into this first case; his research and erudition is exemplary.


The entire file has now been scanned and transcribed, but is too big to put here.

It therefore has its own WebSite, at


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