Malcolm MacDonald

Malcolm John MacDonald OM PC (17 August 1901 – 11 January 1981) was a British politician and diplomat.

Malcolm MacDonald

MacDonald in 1931
Governor-General of Kenya
In office
12 December 1963 – 12 December 1964
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterJomo Kenyatta
Preceded byHimself (as Colonial Governor)
Succeeded byJomo Kenyatta (as President)
Governor of Kenya
In office
4 January 1963 – 12 December 1963
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded bySir Eric Griffith-Jones (Acting)
Succeeded byHimself (as Governor-General)
Minister of Health
In office
13 May 1940 – 8 February 1941
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded byWalter Elliot
Succeeded byErnest Brown
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
16 May 1938 – 12 May 1940
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterNeville Chamberlain
Preceded byThe Lord Harlech
Succeeded byThe Lord Lloyd
In office
7 June 1935 – 22 November 1935
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Preceded bySir Philip Cunliffe-Lister
Succeeded byJames Henry Thomas
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
In office
31 October 1938 – 29 January 1939
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterNeville Chamberlain
Preceded byLord Stanley
Succeeded bySir Thomas Inskip
In office
22 November 1935 – 16 May 1938
MonarchEdward VIII
George VI
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Neville Chamberlain
Preceded byJames Henry Thomas
Succeeded byLord Stanley
Under-Secretary of State
for Dominion Affairs
In office
24 August 1931 – 7 June 1935
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byWilliam Lunn
Succeeded byEdward Stanley
Member of Parliament
for Ross and Cromarty
In office
10 February 1936 – 5 July 1945
Preceded byIan Macpherson
Succeeded byJohn MacLeod
Member of Parliament
for Bassetlaw
In office
30 May 1929 – 14 November 1935
Preceded byEllis Hume-Williams
Succeeded byFrederick Bellenger
Personal details
Malcolm John MacDonald

(1901-08-17)17 August 1901
Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland
Died11 January 1981(1981-01-11) (aged 79)
Maidstone, Kent, England
Political partyLabour
National Labour
Audrey Marjorie Fellowes Rowley
(m. 1946)
Children3 (2 adopted)
RelativesIshbel MacDonald (sister)
Alma materQueen's College, Oxford

Early lifeEdit

MacDonald was the son of former Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Margaret MacDonald. Like his father, he was born in Lossiemouth, Moray. He was initially a Labour Member of Parliament (MP), but in 1931 he joined his father to break with the party and join the National Government and was consequently expelled from the Labour Party.

He was educated at Bedales School and Queen's College, Oxford.

Political careerEdit

MacDonald was first elected to Parliament for Bassetlaw in the 1929 general election and proved to be a "loyal" son, in contrast to Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin's son Oliver who was also elected a Labour MP. In 1931, the Labour government broke up and MacDonald's father formed the National Government with representatives drawn from all political parties. Very few Labour members would support it, however, and so Malcolm was appointed to a junior ministerial post as Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. When the Labour MPs met to discuss the formation of the government, Malcolm was the only one present who spoke in favour of his father's actions and voted against a condemnatory resolution. MacDonald held his seat in the 1931 general election as a National Labour candidate, and continued to build up a reputation as a highly competent minister. When his father retired in 1935, the new Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, appointed Malcolm to the Cabinet for the first time as Secretary of State for the Colonies. His father had become Lord President of the Council and they became only the third father and son to sit together in the same Cabinet.[1]

In the 1935 general election held that autumn MacDonald narrowly lost his seat but after some discussion Baldwin decided to retain him in government, albeit moving him to the post of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in a direct swap with James Henry Thomas who had created problems with some Dominion governments. The following February MacDonald stood for Parliament in a by-election at Ross and Cromarty. This election proved chaotic as the local Conservative & Unionist Association declined to support him (though the local National Liberals did) and instead adopted as their candidate Randolph Churchill, son of Winston Churchill who had emerged as a prominent Conservative critic of the government. Despite this MacDonald won the by-election and returned to Parliament. MacDonald retained his position after Baldwin and MacDonald's final retirements in 1937, when together with the new Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain he set about negotiating a new set of agreements with the Irish Free State to resolve disputes over trade, compensation and the Treaty Ports that the United Kingdom still retained. Although the issue of Northern Ireland could not be agreed, all other matters were settled and MacDonald won many plaudits.

In May 1938, Chamberlain moved him back to the Colonial Office – a move now seen as a promotion due to the increased prominence of the position given the situation in the British Mandate of Palestine. In October, the new Dominions Secretary, Lord Stanley, died and MacDonald was appointed to succeed him in addition to the Colonies, as the post was in a sensitive period and needed an experienced pair of hands. The following January, he relinquished the Dominions Office.

In 1939, MacDonald oversaw and introduced the so-called MacDonald White Paper which aimed at the creation of a unified state, with controls on Jewish immigration. The White Paper argued that with over 450,000 Jews having now settled in the mandate, the Balfour Declaration had now been met and the paper opposed an independent Jewish state. The League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission held that the White Paper was in conflict with the terms of the Mandate as put forth in the past.[a] The outbreak of the Second World War suspended any further deliberations.[2][3] It has been suggested that MacDonald and Chamberlain took this course of action in order to ensure that the situation in Palestine did not develop into a situation similar to that of Ireland where two evenly matched communities engaged in bitter ethnic conflict.[citation needed] With antisemitism rampant in Europe, MacDonald sought to find new settlements, in vain. The White Paper was bitterly opposed by the Jews in Palestine, as well as by many supporting the National Government in Britain. When it was voted on in Parliament many Government supporters abstained or voted against the proposals, including some Cabinet Ministers as well as Winston Churchill. The objections to the 'white paper' were especially raised following the plight of European Jews under Nazi regimes in Germany and Austria, who suffered greatly under the Nazi oppression, but did not have other available goals of immigration, as most states at this point (including the US and Canada), did not accept Jewish refugees. In a UK Parliamentary debate, Lloyd George called the White Paper an act of perfidy while Winston Churchill voted against the government.[4] In a leader the Manchester Guardian called it "a death sentence on tens of thousands of Central European Jews"[5] The Liberal MP James Rothschild stated during the parliamentary debate that "for the majority of the Jews who go to Palestine it is a question of migration or of physical extinction".[6]

In May 1940, Chamberlain fell and Winston Churchill formed an all party coalition, bringing the Labour Party into the National Government for the first time. There was some speculation that their hostility might result in MacDonald being amongst the ministers dropped to make way for them (as happened to Earl de la Warr, the other National Labour minister) but instead MacDonald was retained and became Minister of Health. In June 1940, he was sent to Dublin for a series of meetings with Éamon de Valera: he was authorised to offer the end of the Partition of Ireland if the Free State would enter the war on the Allied side. De Valera declined the offer. The following year his career took a different turn when he was appointed High Commissioner to Canada.[7] Initially special legislation was passed to allow him to retain his seat in Parliament, but in 1945 the National Labour Party dissolved itself and MacDonald decided to retire from British politics.

After his term in Canada ended in 1946, MacDonald moved on to serve in other Imperial posts: as Governor-General of British territories in Southeast Asia from 1946 to 1948 and then Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia covering regional affairs as well during the communist insurrection;[8] as High Commissioner in India from 1955 to 1960;[9] as co-chairman of the Laos Conference; and finally as Governor-General of Kenya between 1963 and 1964.

MacDonald received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1973.[10]

In later years (1971–1980) he served as Chancellor of the University of Durham.[11]

MacDonald spent the last eleven years of his life at Raspit Hill, near Ightham in Kent, where he died in 1981, aged 79.

Personal lifeEdit

In December 1946, he married Audrey Marjorie Fellowes Rowley,[12] a Canadian war widow. They had one child, daughter Fiona (married to Bob McElwain). MacDonald also adopted his wife's two children from her first marriage, Bill and Jane Rowley.

He was a keen ornithologist and, in 1934, published the book Bird Watching At Lossiemouth privately. It was, as he noted, in a brief foreword, an expanded version of a paper he read to the London Morayshire Club one evening in the autumn of 1933.[13]

While High Commissioner to Canada, MacDonald undertook two extensive journeys, in a Grumman Goose, from Ottawa to the far Northwest of Canada. He was accompanied by three senior Government officials, in August 1942 and March 1943. He chronicles the trips in a book "Down North" (Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1943). The trips covered remote areas of Alberta, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and British Columbia, going as far north as Aklavik. MacDonald's book gives a perspective of the history, geography and peoples of Canada's northwest.

On 9 May 2015, his widow Audrey died of natural causes in Ottawa at the age of 99 years old, three weeks before her 100th birthday.[14][15]

MacDonald was a prolific art collector in a range of genres, most notably Chinese ceramics. He sold and donated art collections to museums across the world. His Chinese ceramic collections comprise a total of over 500 pieces with a chronological span of 2000 BCE to circa 1940 CE and incorporating representative examples of most styles of domestic and export ceramic wares. These collections are today split between the Oriental Museum of Durham University, the University of Malaya Museum of Asian Art in Kuala Lumpur and the National University of Singapore Museum in Singapore.[16]


As a young man, MacDonald aspired to be a novelist but did not succeed in publishing any of his writings of fiction. He wrote a number of articles for British and Canadian newspapers in the 1920s, including a series describing his travels in Japan, China and Korea in 1929. Following the assumption of his diplomatic career in 1941, MacDonald began writing factual accounts of the people, places and wildlife he encountered. He authored the following published works:

  • Down North (1943: a description of his travels as High Commissioner to Canada)
  • Birds of Brewery Creek (1947: a bird-watching diary regarded by US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as one of the best books on the subject of North American ornithology)
  • Borneo People (1956: an account of MacDonald's friendship with the Dayak peoples of Borneo including Iban leader Temenggong Koh Anak Jubang)
  • Angkor (1958: one of the first English-language and systematically photographed guides to the Cambodian temple complex at Angkor Wat)
  • Birds in My Indian Garden (1960: containing many black and white images)
  • Birds in the Sun (1962: a guide to the birds of South Asia with colour photography by MacDonald's friend Christina Loke)
  • Treasure of Kenya (1965: another collaboration with Christina Loke which aimed to attract support amongst a British audience for wildlife conservation in Kenya. This book attracted the gratitude of the Kenyan government for MacDonald's ecological commitment)
  • People and Places (1969: an anecdotal autobiography)
  • Titans and Others (1972: MacDonald's reflections on his friendships or associations with some of the key figures of the twentieth century including Jomo Kenyatta and Norodom Sihanouk)
  • Inside China (1980: part an introductory history to China but more an account of his travels through China between the 1920s and 1970s)
  • The Pleasures and Pains of Collecting (2018: MacDonald's memoir as an art collector, rejected by his publisher in his lifetime but published posthumously by the Friends of the Oriental Museum, Durham University, with an introduction by the MacDonald scholar and Cold War historian Alexander Shaw)[17]


  1. ^ The two earlier pairs were the 14th Earl of Derby and his son, Lord Stanley, and Joseph and Austen Chamberlain: see Jenkins, p. 118
  2. ^ Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry - Appendix IV Palestine: Historical Background
  3. ^ Benny Morris (25 May 2011). "chp. 4". Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4. Capping it all, the Permanent Mandates Commission of the Council of the League of Nations rejected the White Paper as inconsistent with the terms of the Mandate.
  4. ^ Manchester Guardian. 24 May 1939. pp. 12, 14. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Manchester Guardian. 24 May 1939. p. 8. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ House of Commons Debates, Volume 347 column 1984 [1]
  7. ^
  8. ^ Christie, Clive J. (1998) Southeast Asia in the Twentieth Century: A Reader Tauris, London, p. 192 ISBN 1-86064-063-X
  9. ^ And Then By Chance, Reginald Secondé (2002)
  10. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  11. ^ "About Durham University : Former Chancellors of the University - Durham University". Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  12. ^
  13. ^ MacDonald, Malcolm (1934). Bird Watching At Lossiemouth. Elgin: Privately Published.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Alexander Nicholas Shaw, 'A Diplomat and a Collector: Malcolm MacDonald's Pursuit of Beauty during the Cold War and End of Empire', Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 30 issue 3, 2018, pp. 511-527
  17. ^ Malcolm J. MacDonald and Alexander Nicholas Shaw (editor), The Pleasures and Pains of Collecting (Durham, 2018)
  1. ^ Of seven members present, four "did not feel able to state that the policy of the White Paper was in conformity with the Mandate, any contrary conclusion appearing to them to be ruled out by the very terms of the Mandate and by the fundamental intentions of its authors" and three "were unable to share this opinion; they consider that existing circumstances would justify the policy of the White Paper, provided that the Council did not oppose it".


External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Ellis Hume-Williams, 1st Baronet
Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw
Succeeded by
Frederick Bellenger
Preceded by
Ian Macpherson
Member of Parliament for Ross and Cromarty
Succeeded by
John MacLeod
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
James Henry Thomas
Preceded by
James Henry Thomas
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
Succeeded by
Lord Stanley
Preceded by
The Lord Harlech
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
The Lord Lloyd
Preceded by
Lord Stanley
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Inskip
Preceded by
Walter Elliot
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Ernest Brown
Preceded by
Sir Patrick Muir Renison
Governor of Kenya
New title Governor-General of Kenya
Republic declared
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Gerald Campbell
High Commissioner to Canada
Succeeded by
Alexander Clutterbuck
Preceded by
Sir Archibald Nye
High Commissioner to India
Succeeded by
Sir Paul Gore-Booth
Academic offices
New title Chancellor of the University of Malaya
Succeeded by
Tunku Abdul Rahman
Preceded by
The Earl of Scarbrough
Chancellor of the University of Durham
Succeeded by
Dame Margot Fonteyn
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Henry Slesser
Senior Privy Counsellor
Succeeded by
The Duke of Beaufort