There was only one qualification needed for the post of a Victorian colonial governor: he had to be a gentleman. But gentlemen had to be tough and ingenious. Laying down the law in Lagos in the 1860s, John Glover placed a white feather in each of the sacred trees revered by a restless local tribe. He warned its chiefs that if they sent their warriors to war, then the feathers would ‘whisper in my ear and tell me what you will do and I will come, I and my chiefs with the army of the “Great White Queen” and I will wipe you out of the land, and there will be wailing in your camp’.
Glover belonged to a generation of adventurer-proconsuls, the counterpart of G A Henty’s ‘plucky’ lads who brought peace to the frontiers by sheer force of personality. Glover had won his spurs as a naval officer in the jungle wars in Burma. William Douglas, governor of Australia’s Northern Territory,