Owen Lanyon

Colonel Sir William Owen Lanyon KCMG CB (21 July 1842 – 6 April 1887) was a British colonial administrator and British Army officer.

Early life and career

Lanyon was born in County Antrim, Ireland, to Sir Charles Lanyon and his wife Elizabeth Helen Owen. He was educated at Bromsgrove School before joining the ; he was commissioned into the 6th Foot in 1860, but transferred to the 2nd West India Regiment in 1866. He became private secretary to Sir John Peter Grant, Governor of Jamaica from 1868 to 1873, and was invalided in the Ashanti campaign in West Africa.

Colonial administration in Africa

Lanyon served as administrator in southern African territories in the 1870s. His autocratic outlook and low opinion of the local peoples made him immensely unpopular during his terms of office.[1]

Administrator of the Griqualand West Colony (1873- Feb. 1879)

In South Africa, he served as Lieutenant Governor of Griqualand West from 1873 until 1879. Known at the time as "the Major", his term in office was beset with controversy. Racial tensions, law suits as well as territorial disputes with neighbouring states caused immense turmoil. He was also extremely unpopular with the local inhabitants and had to subdue armed rebellions. The neighbouring Cape Colony, semi-independent and the largest state in the region, was considered the only local entity with the resources to govern Griqualand West. The Cape Prime Minister John Molteno, after repeatedly refusing to annex the costly and unstable territory, eventually consented to incorporate it. With the Cape signing of the Griqualand West Annexation Act, direct British rule over the territory ended. Lanyon famously referred to Griqualand West as the most "hideous and disgusting" place he had ever seen.

Acting-Administrator of the Transvaal Colony (1879-1881)

He then took over administration of Transvaal from Sir Theophilus Shepstone on 4 March 1879, and assisted the Governor Henry Bartle Frere in dealing with the restive Boer population. As in his previous position, Lanyon was immensely unpopular, with both the Boer and the Black African populations. Boer unrest steadily increased but Lanyon remained in his position until 8 August 1881, when the disastrous outbreak of the First Boer War took place. This saw the British defeated and evicted from the Transvaal, which returned to being an independent state.[2]

Lanyon then served in the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War.

Later life and death

Lanyon became a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1878 and a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1880. He died of cancer in 1887 in New York.


  1. Selections from the correspondence of J. X. Merriman. Van Riebeeck Society. Cape Town. (1960)
  2. http://www.memorials.inportsmouth.co.uk/churches/st_judes/wolanyon.htm

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