Brigadier-General Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., R.E. (1869-1930), soldier and administrator, was born at Galt, Ontario, Canada, on the 20th July 1869, a second-generation descendant of an immigrant from Berne, Switzerland, the eldest son of Frederick Guggisberg, retail- goods merchant, of Galt, by his wife, Dora Louisa Willson.
Coming to England about 1879, Guggisberg was educated at Burney’s School, near Portsmouth; entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1887, and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1889. He served at Singapore from 1893 to 1896, and became instructor in fortification at Woolwich in 1897.
In this office he distinguished himself by reforming the methods and syllabus of instruction. In 1900 he published The Shop: The Story of the Royal Military Academy, and, under the pseudonym “Ubique”, Modern Warfare, in 1903.
In 1902 Guggisberg was employed under the Colonial Office on a special survey of the Gold Coast Colony and Ashanti, and in 1905 was appointed director of surveys in that colony. In 1908 he returned to Chatham for regimental work: but in 1910 was appointed director of surveys in Southern Nigeria.
Here he found full scope for his energies and capacity for organization and for the guidance of his assistants compiled The Handbook of the Southern Nigeria Survey (1911). Of this work the director-general of the ordnance survey wrote: The duties of all members of the staff were strictly defined and, in particular, sensible rules were laid down as to the relations of the staff with the civil administration.
Much attention was paid to the treatment of villagers; unpaid labour was forbidden; all goods bought were to be paid for at the recognized rate, and great care was to be exercised not to damage the crops. . . . They were model instructions and the survey of Nigeria was a model survey. On the union of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1913 Guggisberg was appointed surveyor-general of Nigeria. In 1914 he was appointed director of public works on the Gold Coast, but on the outbreak of the European War rejoined the army, and commanded the 94th field company, Royal Engineers, from 1915 to 1916; he was in command of the Royal Engineers in the 8th division during the battle of the Somme (July 1916), and in the 66th division from November 1916. He was brigadier-general commanding the 170th infantry brigade 1917-1918, assistant-inspector-general of training, general headquarters, France, in 1918; and in command of the 100th infantry brigade in 1918. He was mentioned in dispatches five times, and was awarded the D.S.O. (1918).
In 1919 Guggisberg was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of the Gold Coast. There he energetically undertook works of development and extension of railways, and created the deep water harbour of Takoradi superseding the use of surf-boats for handling traffic.
In 1923 he commissioned the construction of Korle-Bu Hospital in Accra, the finest and most modern institution of its kind in colonial Africa at the time. Close association with native Africans during his survey work convinced Guggisberg that the African races are capable of eventually attaining the development levels of Europe.
Toward the close of his life he wrote: “My practical experience . . . during the last twenty-seven years has convinced me that what individuals have achieved, in spite of ill-selected systems of education, can be achieved by the race generally, provided we alter our educational methods” [G. Guggisberg and A. G. Fraser, The Future of the Negro, 1929]. In order to carry out that purpose he founded Achimota College for the training of native teachers and instructors; it was to become the largest and most complete establishment for the education of native Africans.
The aim of Guggisberg’s whole policy was the development of the country by and for the native rather than for the benefit of European capitalists. In l928 Guggisberg was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of British Guiana, but owing to failing health he was obliged to leave the colony in 1929, and soon afterwards resigned the appointment.
He introduced drastic administrative reforms and devoted himself energetically to the problems of maintaining and improving the system of drainage and irrigation upon which the sugar and rice cultivation of the colony depended. He also promoted immigration and peasant settlement and the development of the production and marketing of rice. These activities were cut short by his illness and resignation in 1929. He died at Bexhill-on-Sea on the 21st April 1930.
During his last illness Guggisberg addressed to his personal friends a remarkable letter setting forth the aims which he had had in view in his administrative work in British Guiana, his confidence in divine guidance and in the spirit of Christianity, and his hope of being able to return to Africa “to try to do some more work for the African races… . As you know”, he concluded, “my heart is in Africa, and I believe that away from the trammels of the Colonial Office, there is opportunity for me to do something useful both for the Empire and for the natives of Africa.”
Guggisberg was of tall and athletic figure, as a young man very handsome, and always of impressive and dignified presence. His personality was attractive and inspiriting. He was for some years captain of the Royal Engineers’ cricket eleven, and was a fine player of polo, racquets, golf, and football. He was created C.M.G. in 1908 and K.C.M.G. in 1922, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1917.
Guggisberg was twice married: first, on the 20th September 1895 in Trichinopoly, Madras Presidency, South India to Ethel Emily Hamilton Way, daughter of Colonel Wilfred FitzAlan Way, of the Northumberland Fusiliers whom he divorced in 1904 and by whom he had three daughters; secondly, on the 15th August 1905 in Staines to (Lilian) Decima Moore, the actress, daughter of Edward Henry Moore, of Brighton, county analyst. She accompanied him on his survey journeys, and their joint book, We Two in West Africa (1909), is an interesting study of a transitional phase in West African development.
In 1973 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the construction of Korle-Bu Hospital in Accra, the Ghanaian government honoured Guggisberg with the erection of a large statue, a rare tribute paid by a post-colonial government to one of it’s colonial governors