fonds DU - Records of Patrick Duncan (1918-1967)

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Records of Patrick Duncan (1918-1967)


  • 1926-1967 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.84 cubic metres

42 boxes and 1 oversize volume

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Patrick Baker Duncan was born on 29 June 1918 in Parktown, Johannesburg, the son of Sir Patrick Duncan, politician and later Governor General of South Africa, and his wife Alice Dora Amanda Dold. He was educated in South Africa, and later at Winchester School and Oxford University in England. In 1938 he visited Germany where he came into contact with the anti-Nazi opposition group, the Kreisau circle, and spent three weeks at Arbeitdienst voluntary labour camp. Both experiences he later claimed had a profound influence on him.

After being rejected for military service he joined the colonial service in Basutoland [Lesotho] in 1941 where he served as district officer before becoming Judicial Commissioner in1951. In 1947 he married Cynthia Ashley Cooper (now Lady Bryan). In 1948 Duncan was sent on a colonial service ‘Devonshire’ course in the London School of Economics where, at his own request, he studied Marxism under Harold Laski. By 1952, Duncan had decided to involve himself in South African politics. Three factors were especially important in influencing this decision. First, Working in Basutoland, he had developed a profound horror of racism. Secondly he had become deeply influenced by the theories of Gandhi, and had realised that for the African majority in South Africa constitutional politics were meaningless and hopeless. The final factor was an intense feeling of personal destiny, which was reinforced by a visionary religious conviction.

On resigning from the Colonial Service, Duncan and his family moved over the border to the Orange Free State. In November 1952 the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Indian Congress agreed to the participation in their defence campaign. Duncan, together with Manilal, son of Gandhi, led a procession into Germiston and was arrested. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment for breaking the law requiring whites to possess a permit before visiting an African location; but served only two weeks of his sentence, as ill health forced him to pay a fine in lieu of the remainder. At this point he was working closely with the congress movement, but soon considerable mutual distrust was to develop as a result of his suspicions that the ANC was being manipulated by former members of the (banned) South African Communist Party.

In 1955 Duncan joined the South African Liberal Party within which he was to become a radicalising influence. He evoked antipathy from its more conservative leaders, some of whom were in any case hostile to him because of his attempt in 1953 to challenge, on the basis of African Nationalism, a senate seat held by William Ballinger, the liberal trade unionist. Notwithstanding their misgivings, Duncan worked as a party national organiser throughout 1956 and 1957. He also remained in close contact with the developing national movement in Basutoland and, in particular, with Chief Leabua Jonathan.

In 1958 the Duncans moved to Cape Town so that Duncan could edit the Liberal Party Newspaper, ‘Contact,’ which was aimed at an African readership. The paper became a vehicle for his radicalism and his hostility to communism. Though it aroused considerable resentment for such attacks as the one made on Luthuli (for allegedly allowing the ANC to be dominated by the communists) as well as its advocacy of an immediate unqualified mass franchise which alarmed the more conservative members of the Liberal Party) it did have a considerable impact. This was achieved at least partly through its identification with African nationalist movements throughout the continent. Duncan represented the Liberal Part at the All African People’s conference at Accra in 1958.

Fifteen months later this sympathy for nationalism, as well as his feelings about communism, led Duncan to support the Pan African Congress (PAC) anti pass campaign. In particular he played a crucial role in Cape Town during the negotiations between the PAC and the police. The defeat of the campaign and the banning of the African political movements contributed to Duncan’s growing disillusionment with non-violence. This attitude did not crystallise until 1962, by which time he had been served with a banning order. Defying this order, Duncan drove to Basutoland where he set up as a trader. In early 1963 he resigned from the Liberal Party and joined the Pan African Congress.

As a representative to PAC Duncan visited America to try and affect US policy on South Africa; he was still, at this stage, very pro-American, and he received some encouragement from members of the Kennedy administration. In July 1963 he addressed the UN Special Committee on Apartheid. In 1964 he was sent to Tanzania to investigate financial malpractices at the PAC office in Dar es Salaam. In the same year he was appointed PAC representative in Algeria, which was at that time providing military training for PAC recruits. However, tensions within the movement led to his dismissal in 1965, though he remained a PAC member, and he was able to remain in Algeria, working in Constantine for an American Christian relief organisation.

Patrick Duncan died in London on 4 June 1967. His book, ‘Man and the Planet,’ was published posthumously in 1975.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The papers of Patrick Duncan are on permanent loan from Duncan's widow, Lady Bryan, and were deposited with the Centre for Southern African Studies at the University of York in 1976, being transferred to the Borthwick Institute on the Centre's closure.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Sir Patrick and Lady Duncan. Contents includes: memorabilia from the visit of the South African Deputation to India in 1926; family photographs; press cuttings; speeches and articles by Sir Patrick; photocopies of documents from the Jagger Library, University of Cape Town. [8 files]

Family Correspondence, 1928-1967. Includes: letters from Sir Patrick Duncan to his son; Patrick Duncan's letters to his parents and his wife. [12 files]

Diaries. Includes: diaries kept by Duncan as a schoolboy to undergraduate, including one with details of his visit to Germany in 1938, as well as a report on the German Labour Service, which was sent to the Foreign Office; diaries relating to work as a District Officer and in South African politics, 1943-1961. [11 Files]

Documents relating to Duncan's education. [1 File]

Correspondence (by individual), 1917-1956. Correspondents include: David Astor, Mary Benson, Arthur Blaxall, Edgar Brookes, Peter Brown, Brian Bunting, Cyril Dunn, Manilal Gandhi, Reverend Trevor Huddleston, Chief Leabua Jonathan, Philip Kgosana, Bennet Khaketla, Chief Tshkedi Khama, Colin Legum, Professor Julius Lewin, Christopher Mayhew MP, Naomi Mitchison, Jordan Ngubane, Alan Paton, Reverend Vincent Phoofolo, Antony Sampson, Reverend J.J. Skomolo, Jan Christian Smuts, Reverend Cyprian Thorpe, Randolph Vigne, Helmuth and Freya von Moltke, and Peter Wastberg. - [101 files]

Correspondence (by date), 1937-1967. Correspondents include: Archbishop Clayton (1952); William Ballinger (1954); Lord Fenner Brockway (1957); Canon John Collins (1954); Leo Marquard (1956); Z.K. Matthews (1954); Ntsu Mokhele (1953) Ezekiel Mphahlele (1954); Selby Msimang (1956); Eddie Roux (1953); Reverend Ambrose Reeves (1954); Bertrand Russell (1958); Robert Sobukwe (1958); Oliver Tambo (1954); A.B. Xuma (1956); Conor Cruise O'Brien (1963); Andreas Shipanga (1963), and John Blundell (1965). [36 files]

Basutoland Papers. Includes files on: Batlokoa; Court Presidents Course; Diocese of Maseru; education; Government minutes; Basutoland National Council; Lekhotla la Bafo; Edward Lion case; Paramount Chief; political parties; Sotho Law; and tax collection. [31 files]

Political Files. Relate to: African National Congress Correspondence, documents and press cuttings; South African Communist Party documents; The 1954 Senate Election; All African Peoples' Conference documents; Liberal Party; Pan-Africanist Congress; personal press cuttings; Progressive Party; South African State of Emergency; trade Unions; and Witzieshoek disturbances. [72 files]

Books, articles and speeches. Include: unpublished autobiography (1960); autobiographical fragments 1960-1964; published articles and reviews 1963-1966; publications 1952-1960; speeches articles and public letters, published and unpublished 1952-1962, unpublished articles and speeches 1965-1967; account on a vision in the desert, Algeria 1967; and notes and correspondence for a proposed book on molecular biology 1963. [9 files]

Manuscripts, source material and correspondence: relating to South Africa's Rule of Violence, (London 1963) and Man and the Earth (Aberdeen 1970). [14 files]

Contact. Includes: editorial correspondence, advertising correspondence, board correspondence, monthly board reports, circulation analysis and figures, legal correspondence, photographs and photogravure plates, correspondence with sale agents and reactions from readers. [271 files]

Patrick Duncan's press obituaries and letters of condolence to his wife. [2 files]

Photographs, address books and card indexes. [10 files]


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws.

Conditions governing reproduction

Permission is required to reproduce material held in the archive, to publish transcripts of all or a 'substantial' part of an item and to quote from letters and unpublished material. Requests for publication, broadcast and display must be obtained from the copyright holder and Borthwick Institute in advance. It is the responsibility of the person wishing to publish material to trace the copyright holder and to secure the necessary permissions.

A reprographics service is available to researchers. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute, University of York, terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, at collection level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

For related material held by the Borthwick Institute, see the records of Lady Naomi Mitchison - Botswana Papers, Diaries and Writings (ref. GB 193 MIT); the records of Alan Paton, Lecture on Life of Roy Campbell (ref. GB 193 SA 2); and the records of Sir Patrick Duncan (1928-1943) (ref. GB 193 Micro CSAS 44-57).

Related descriptions

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Alternative identifier(s)

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Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier


Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion




Archivist's note

Description compiled by Karamdeep Sahota on 3 October 2007.

Accession area