7 December 1908
On 7 December 1908, Colonel Seely, Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, was asked questions in the House of Commons about Hubert Silberrad, Deputy Commissioner at Nyeri in British East Africa (Kenya). Silberrad had been suspended for five months, three months on full pay and two months on three quarters. This was after it was discovered that he ‘had used his official position to procure a child of thirteen for improper purposes.’1 During the parliamentary questions about the case, Josiah Wedgwood MP asked whether Seely was aware that some honourable members who had put down questions, were ‘disgusted and horrified at this occurrence and also by the attitude taken by the government towards it ?’2
The Under Secretary seemed unshaken by any of the questioning and gave a forceful defence of the official’s lenient punishment. He claimed that Silberrad had been dealt an ‘undoubtedly severe’ punishment, insisting that the use of the word ‘child’ for a thirteen year old was misleading in a country where girls were commonly married at that age. He felt he should remind the House that ‘unwillingness was not found by the judge to be proved’ and that due to the discovery of the offence ‘the officer’s opportunities for advancement must necessarily be affected.’ He also cited a report from Sir James Sadler, Kenya’s governor, which lauded Silberrad as ‘an able and energetic officer who has done good work.’ Moreover, the Commissioner’s subsequent conduct had been ‘exemplary’ and the governor was certain that he would still prove his worth as a ‘valuable officer.’
Seely added that the government had issued a ‘strongly worded memorandum… condemning such practices’ and that officials had been warned that such actions were ‘damaging to the public service’ and that anyone offending such regulations would face the appropriate sanctions for ‘conduct which is unworthy of a servant of the Crown.’ Absent from his statement, was even one sympathetic word for the girl, her family or the numerous girls and women who were routinely raped and abused by British officials in Kenya. What mattered far more was the reputation of the Colonial Service. The fate of the Empire’s African subjects was of little consequence.3
- ‘House of Commons,’ The Daily Telegraph and Courier (London), 8 December 1908, p. 8. and Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience, Manchester University Press, Manchester 1990, pp. 160-169.
- ‘An East African official and native women,’ The Times, 8 December 1908, p. 7.
- ‘An East African official and native women,’ The Times, 8 December 1908, p. 7, ‘House of Commons’, The Daily Telegraph and Courier (London), 8 December 1908, p. 8, ‘British East Africa: Charge Against an Official,’ The London Daily News, 8 December 1909, p. 8 and ‘The Case of Mr. Silberrad,’ The London Standard, 8 December 1908, p. 8.
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