Percy Wyn-Harris

Sir Percy Wyn-Harris KCMG MBE KStJ (24 August 1903 – 25 February 1979) was an English mountaineer, colonial administrator, and yachtsman. He worked in the Colonial Service in Africa and served as Governor of the Gambia from 1949 to 1958.

Sir Percy Wyn-Harris

Administrator of the Northern Cameroons
In office
October 1960  1 June 1961
MonarchElizabeth II
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Governor of the Gambia
In office
1 December 1949  19 June 1958
MonarchGeorge VI
Elizabeth II
Preceded byAndrew Barkworth Wright
Succeeded byEdward Henry Windley
Personal details
Born24 August 1903
Acton, Middlesex, England
Died25 February 1979(1979-02-25) (aged 75)
Petersfield, Hampshire, England
Alma materGonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Early life and mountaineering

Wyn-Harris was born in Acton, Middlesex on 24 August 1903 as Percy Wynne Harris (he formally changed his name to Percy Wyn-Harris in 1953). He was the son of a company director and was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.[1] As an undergraduate, he was a member of the University Mountaineering Club.[2] In 1925, he made the first ascent without guides of the Brouillard Ridge on Mont Blanc.

In 1929, he met mountaineer Eric Shipton and together they climbed the twin peaks of Mount Kenya, making the first ascent of Nelion, the secondary summit. A member of Hugh Ruttledge's 1933 Mount Everest expedition, Wyn-Harris reached Edward Norton's record height of 8,573 m (28,126 feet). At around 8,460 m (27,920 ft), he discovered an ice axe, which was almost certainly a remnant of Mallory and Irvine's ill-fated attempt at the first ascent in 1924. Wyn-Harris returned to Everest in 1936, in an expedition again led by Hugh Ruttledge.[1][2]

Colonial Service


Wyn-Harris joined the Colonial Service in Kenya in 1926. Originally a district officer, in 1939 to 1940 he served as Settlement Officer for Kikuyu Land Claims. He was the District Commissioner of Nyeri from 1941 to 1943, Labour Liaison Officer from 1943 to 1944, and Labour Commissioner from 1944 to 1945. He became Provincial Commissioner of the Central Province in 1946, serving for a year. He became Chief Native Commissioner and Minister for African Affairs in 1947, and served in this role until 1949. Lewis claims that, in his time in Kenya, Wyn-Harris viewed it as "overpopulated and desperately needing urbanization, birth control, and secondary industries."[3]

The Gambia

Wyn-Harris was appointed as Governor of the Gambia in December 1949. His time in office coincided with a growth of nationalist sentiment in West Africa. It was his belief that the Gambia should not progress towards self-government; rather, it should maintain a permanent link with the United Kingdom and be administered locally: what he termed the 'Channel Islands option'. Wyn-Harris was also opposed to the development of political parties in the Gambia. His first constitution in 1951 increased the number of elected members of the Legislative Council from two to three. After the 1951 election, he also rose the number of unofficial members of the Executive Council and did so again with his 1953 constitution. Two of these were granted specific portfolios and termed Ministers.[1]

Despite these reforms, Wyn-Harris was not popular among the Bathurst populace, particularly after he dismissed P. S. N'Jie from the Executive Council in January 1956. However, he was more popular in the Protectorate, having undertaken a determined effort to improve conditions there. Wyn-Harris left the Gambia in April 1958, having so upset the Bathurst population that he did so by slipping across the border to Senegal rather than doing so in a public ceremony. After his time in the Gambia, he was a member of the Devlin Commission of Enquiry into the Nyasaland disturbances in 1959 and served as the Administrator of the North Cameroons from October 1960 to June 1961.[1] The North Cameroons was a region of Nigeria that had been a League of Nations mandate but had become a United Nations Trust Territory overseen by the United Kingdom. A United Nations plebiscite on the region's future conducted during his tenure resulted in the region formally becoming part of Nigeria at the end of May 1961.[4]

Retirement and death

Between 1962 and 1969, Wyn-Harris circumnavigated the globe in his sloop Spurwing, a Gunning Grundel. He died in Petersfield, Hampshire, aged 75.[1]



  1. David, Perfect (2008). Historical Dictionary of the Gambia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 247–248.
  2. "Sir Percy Wyn-Harris". Imaging Everest. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  3. Lewis, Joanna (2000). Empire State-building: War and Welfare in Kenya, 1925-52. London: James Currey. p. 158.
  4. Kirk-Greene, A. H. M., Harris, Sir Percy Wyn (1903–1979), in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online (subscription required), also published in book form by Oxford University Press, 2004
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Andrew Barkworth Wright
Governor of The Gambia
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Henry Windley
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