Hon.John Wallace Downie C.M.G.

The story of John Wallace Downie started in 1876 Glasgow, Lanark when he was born the first son of Christopher Downie, The Caledonian Railway Station Master ( Lanark 1891 - 1913 ) and Margaret Peddie.

Although John Wallace Downie's career is well documented he was also a caring family man, this was evident following the sad death of his younger brother Christopher Gordon Downie in a tragic gold mining accident. Christopher's wife Margaret was left with the daunting task of raising their several children alone, it was here that John Wallace Downie was able to offer both moral and financial support. On another occasion whilst on a visit to New Zealand with his two children Robert and Isa, he took the opportunity to visit two of his uncles, John and Charles Downie and their respective families, this is the origin of the signed photograph.

Extract from the "Guide to the Historical Manuscripts in the National Archives of Rhodesia" by T.W.Baxter and E.E.Burke (published by National Archives of Rhodesia 1970). as provided by Geoff Quick, Francistown, Botswana

In early life John Downie worked on the Caledonian Railway and in 1897 he emigrated to South Africa to take up employment with the Cape Railways. Here he worked on the line in process of construction from Bechuanaland to Bulawayo. Subsequently he worked for a time as postmaster in Francistown. On 15th October 1899, following the declaration of The Anglo-Boer War, John Downie volunteered to join the Francistown Defence Force 1899 under the leadership of Umfreville Percy Swinburne.

In 1900 he returned to Glasgow in order to study, coming back to Africa in 1901.

On his return he was appointed secretary of a small mining company and subsequently joined the firm of Haddon, Cotton & Butt, a Rhodesian shipping and forwarding house. John Downie was very successful in his new position and rose to be managing director. He was interested in a number of gold mining ventures, and in addition to his firm acted as manager of the Portland Cement Works for some time. John Downie later sold his interests in the firm, and in 1920 he became manager of the Salisbury Farmer's Co-operative, holding this post till the period of the end of Chartered Company Rule in 1923.

John Downie was a keen advocate of responsible government and served as treasurer of the Responsible Government Party. Subsequently he became Chairman of the Rhodesia Party and was responsible for much of the work of party organisation.

On 29 April 1924, he was elected to the Legislative  Assembly as co-member, with Newton, for Mazoe under the system of double member constituencies then in existence.

On 30 January, 1925, he became Minister of Agriculture and Lands and in this capacity he played an important part in popularising Rhodesian tobacco in London, in encouraging the cotton industry and in promoting agricultural co-operative efforts.

On 14 October, 1927, he took over the portfolio for Mines and Public Works, but continued to take a considerable interest in agricultural affairs.

John Downie was strongly critical of the management of the railways and several times clashed with the railway companies on that score. On the other hand, he was able to reach a satisfactory arrangement with the Chartered Company to solve the problems of simplifying the collection of mining revenue, and he took an important part in settling some of the differences between miners and farmers.

He remained in the Ministry till G.Mitchell succeeded him on 1 November, 1930. John Downie then took over Newton's post as High Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia in London, and continued to hold this position until 1935, when he retired to become Chairman of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways. He was a member of the Southern Rhodesian delegation to the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa in 1932. In 1939 he returned to the work of administrator as Controller of Suppliers. He left considerable estate and in his will endowed the John Downie Bursaries for Prince Edward School and the Girl's High School, Salisbury.

Additional information researched by Victor Ellen

In 1929 John Downie received the award of companion (C.M.G.) to The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. British order of knighthood founded in 1818 by the prince regent, later King George IV, to commemorate the British protectorate over the Ionian islands and Malta, which came under British rule in 1814.

Originally membership was exclusively for the inhabitants of the Ionian islands and Malta, as well as for British citizens who had performed important government services in the Mediterranean area. Since 1879 any citizen of the United Kingdom has been eligible; however, it is an honour conferred mostly on officials in colonial affairs, foreign-service officers and diplomats, and others who have performed important duties in Commonwealth countries. Foreigners can be admitted as "honorary members."

William IV instituted the three classes of knights of the order, which (in descending order of rank) are knight grand cross or dame grand cross (G.C.M.G.), knight commander or dame commander (K.C.M.G. or D.C.M.G., respectively), and companion (C.M.G.). Membership is limited to 120 knights grand cross, 390 knights commanders, and 1,775 companions. Conferment of the two highest classes of the order entails admission into knighthood. The order's officers are prelate, chancellor, secretary, king of arms, registrar, and gentleman usher of the Blue Rod.  

The chapel of the order, dedicated in 1906, is in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and contains the banners and coats of arms of the knights grand cross. The order's badge depicts St. Michael encountering the devil, emblazoned with the order's motto Auspicium melioris aevi ("Augury of a better age"); the other side portrays St. George and the dragon

This article provided by Victor Ellen is an extract from "Who Was Who" 1929-1940 page 382, presently stored in the British Parliament archives.
  Downie , Hon. John Wallace , C.M.G.  

1920 ; retired ; b Glasgow, 1876 : m. 1910, Clara, e. d. of George Carrol, Bulawayo ; one s. and one d. Educ. : Gartsherrie Academy. Joined Caledonian Railway, 1890 ; Rhodesian Section, Cape Govt. Railway, 1897 ; in business Bulawayo, Salisbury and Beira, 1902-1919 ; General Manager Farmers Co-op. Ltd., Salisbury, 1920-1924 ; Chairman Rhodesian Party, 1923-1925 ; Member Rhodesian Parliament, 1924-1930. Held Portfolios, Colonial Sec., Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Mines and Public Works in succession, 1924-1930 ; High Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia, 1930-1934 ; Delegate Rhodesian Railway negotiations London, 1926 ; Special Commissioner Tobacco Investigation United Kingdom, 1926 ; Delegate South African-Rhodesian Customs Conferences, 1929 and 1930 ; Advisor to Rhodesian Ministers Ottawa Conference, 1932 ; Member Imperial Economic Committee, 1930-1934 ; Chairman, Economic Development Enquiry, 1938-1939 ; Chairman Southern Rhodesian Jubilee Celebrations Committee, 1939-1940 ; Controller of Supplies and Chairman Fuel Control Board, Southern Rhodesia War-time Measure, since 1930 ; visited Argentina and Brazil, 1934 ; Canada and U.S.A., 1935 ; New Zealand and Australia, 1936-1937. Address: Bonnington, Montagu Avenue, Salisbury, Rhodesia. Clubs : Reform, Royal Automobile, British Empire ; Bulawayo ; Salisbury ; Beira.


( Died 22 August 1940 )


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