From fighting the Kraut in rain-soaked Cameroons in the Great War to chasing bootleggers in Prohibition-era Bahamas, from managing irascible tribal elders in colonial Nigeria to saving the British Honduras from utter ruin, from helping Churchill forge the Anglo-American alliance at Britainís darkest hour to investigating a gruesome ritualized murder as governor of the Gold Coast, all of it culminating in an epic decade crossing swords with Soviets and Americans along with native power-grabbers at the United Nations, Sir Alan Burns lived the consummate colonial life. Danger, adventure, literary pursuits, and a lionís roar in defense of the British empire. A life well lived and a story worth reading.



Writing The Last Imperialist


Sir Alan's Favorite Poem

The overfaithful sword returns the user
His heart’s desire at price of his heart’s blood.
The clamour of the arrogant accuser
Wastes that one hour we needed to make good.
This was foretold of old at our outgoing;
This we accepted who have squandered, knowing,
The strength and glory of our reputations
At the day’s need, as it were dross, to guard
The tender and new-dedicate foundations
Against the sea we fear – not man’s award.

They that dig foundations deep,
Fit for realms to rise upon,
Little honor do they reap
Of their generation,
Any more than mountains gain
Stature till we reach the plain.

With no veil before their face
Such as shroud or sceptre lend—
Daily in the market-place,
Of one height to foe and friend—
They must cheapen self to find
Ends uncheapened for mankind.
Through the night when hirelings rest,
Sleepless they arise, alone,
The unsleeping arch to test
And the o’er-trusted cornerstone,
’Gainst the need, they know, that lies
Hid behind the centuries.

Not by lust of praise or show,
Not by Peace herself betrayed—
Peace herself must they forgo
Till that peace be fitly made;
And in single strength uphold
Wearier hands and hearts acold.

On the stage their act hath framed
For thy sports, O Liberty!
Doubted are they, and defamed
By the tongues their act set free,
While they quicken, tend and raise
Power that must their power displace.

Lesser men feign greater goals,
Failing whereof they may sit
Scholarly to judge the souls
That go down into the Pit,
And, despite its certain clay,
Heave a new world toward the day.

These at labour make no sign,
More than planets, tides or years
Which discover God’s design,
Not our hopes and not our fears;
Nor in aught they gain or lose
Seek a triumph or excuse!

For, so the Ark be borne to Zion, who
Heeds how they perished or were paid that bore it
For, so the Shrine abide, what shame—what pride—
If we, the priests, were bound or crowned before it?

  • Rudyard Kipling, “The Pro-Consuls” (1905)



Book Launch Webinar

Press Kit


"With a sensitive and compelling biography of Burns, The Last Imperialist shows how individual lives shaped the experience of colonialism in the mid-twentieth century as the British Empire ended and nation states emerged. The book brings complexity and nuance back into a historiography increasingly ruled by one-dimensional partisan narratives." -- Dr. Tirthankar Roy, Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics

"An important work on the last stages of the British Empire that uses the focus of a single career to ask important questions about standard accounts. A powerful work of revisionism." -- Dr. Jeremy Black, Professor of History, Exeter University.



Farewell to the Gold Coast, 1947

Sorting through Sir Alan's papers, Chelmsford, 2017

My super awesome research assistant Sarah Pavey (Sir Alan's granddaughter)