There are times when the right man is in the right place, to allow him to make a difference in the world. Sir Percy Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Governor of Seychelles from 1947 to 1951, was such a man. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the people of Seychelles were yearning to emerge from that period of trouble into a time that would yield an improvement in their lives. There was hope that the standard of living would increase, and the people were prepared to take greater responsibility for their political future. It is fortunate that Sir Percy Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke was appointed governor of the Seychelles in 1947; his sympathy towards and understanding of the Seychellois people and their ways, and his efforts to improve their lives, made his tenure so successful that he is still warmly remembered. It is because of that depth of feeling that the central market in the capital city of Victoria was named in his honour.
During the war years, Sir Percy’s predecessor as governor, Sir William Logan, had wisely promoted greater austerity in the colonial budget. Trade with the greater world was difficult and the future was uncertain. Once the war ended, however, the economic situation began to improve, showing an almost immediate increase in exports, particularly the plantation products. Overseas sales of cinnamon leaf oil, copra and patchouli, in particular, showed great growth. In general, however, there were many other needs of the Seychellois that required attention.
Governor Selwyn-Clarke’s life, until his arrival in Seychelles, prepared him to face these challenges. Trained as a physician at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in England, he had served as a medical officer in France during the First World War. After the war, he entered the Colonial Medical Service, working at various posts until he became Director of Medical Services in Hong Kong in 1937. When Japanese forces occupied that colony four years later, Dr Selwyn-Clarke laboured to continue to serve the health needs of the people for whom he was responsible. Eventually imprisoned by the Japanese, subjected to solitary confinement and torture for many months, he emerged from the war with the knowledge that he had done his duty.
After only a short time for rest, Dr Selwyn-Clarke, now knighted as Sir Percy, was appointed Governor of Seychelles, taking up the post in 1947. Although the preceding governor had served the colony well, there were many challenges to address. The population of nearly 33,000 people were in need of improved medical services, better houses, more opportunities for education and dependable sources of clean water. The labour situation also required attention; over a third of the working population was employed on plantations, offering them lower pay and limited improvement in their lives. With his background as a physician and administrator, the new governor was able to help develop social reforms programmes to bring about positive changes in the Seychelles.
Among his early efforts, Sir Selwyn established the “Council for Social Welfare Protection” to bring local people into the decision-making regarding education and labour policies. Health, agriculture and fisheries issues began to be addressed, to improve the standard of living and increase the exports and income of all Seychellois, including laborers. A housing systems programme was also begun, to provide better housing for the less fortunate. Water reservoirs were built on Le Niol, Anse Royale, Beau Vallon and Cascade to provide fresh water for local families. To address education needs, Sir Percy laid the groundwork to develop the Seychelles College and establish more primary schools. The resulting improvement in education, health and housing brought greater prosperity and happiness to the people of the islands.
This period was also a time in which the British government was guiding colonial administration towards greater local participation. As a result, the first general elections were held in Seychelles in 1948, in which 4 members of the Seychelles Tax Payers and Landowners Association were elected. The next year, 1949, saw the creation of the first District Council, a body which advised and assisted Sir Percy on local matters. By the end of Sir Percy’s tenure as Governor in 1951, conditions in Seychelles had improved and the population had grown in numbers (to over 34,000) and in the levels of their health, education and social conditions. A feeling of greater political involvement by the people of Seychelles helped prepare them for their coming independence as a nation. Even after his departure, many of the programmes which Sir Percy had begun were continued by his successors, and laid the groundwork for the infrastructure inherited by the people of Seychelles upon Independence.
Sir Percy eventually retired to England, where he wrote and published his memoirs, Footprints (Hong Kong: Sino-American Publishers, 1975). He passed away in 1976.
The memory of Sir Percy Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke’s service as Governor of Seychelles was honoured by re-naming the central market in Victoria as the Selwyn-Clarke Market. Originally, built in 1840, this market is a vibrant centre of commercial and social activity, offering the bounty of Seychellois produce, crafts and arts to both locals and visitors. It is fitting that such a focus of everyday life is named after a man who loved, and contributed so much to, Seychelles.