Show Less
Open access

Electric Worlds / Mondes électriques

Creations, Circulations, Tensions, Transitions (19th–21st C.)


Edited By Alain Beltran, Léonard Laborie, Pierre Lanthier and Stéphanie Le Gallic

What interpretation(s) do today’s historians make of electrification? Electrification is a process which began almost a hundred and fifty years ago but which more than one billion men and women still do not have access to. This book displays the social diversity of the electric worlds and of the approaches to their history. It updates the historical knowledge and shows the renewal of the historiography in both its themes and its approaches. Four questions about the passage to the electrical age are raised: which innovations or combination of innovations made this passage a reality? According to which networks and appropriation? Evolving thanks to which tensions and alliances? And resulting in which transition and accumulation?

Quel(s) regard(s) les historiens d’aujourd’hui portent-ils sur l’électrification, processus engagé il y a près de cent cinquante ans mais auquel plus d’un milliard d’hommes et de femmes restent encore étrangers ? Le présent volume rend compte de la diversité des mondes sociaux électriques et des manières d’enquêter sur leur histoire. Il actualise les connaissances et témoigne du renouvellement de l’historiographie, dans ses objets et ses approches. Quatre points d’interrogation sur le basculement des sociétés dans l’âge électrique jalonnent le volume : moyennant quelles créations ou combinaisons créatrices ? En vertu de quelles circulations et appropriations ? Selon quelles tensions et alliances ? Et produisant quelles transitions et accumulations ?

Show Summary Details
Open access

Electrical Colonialism. Techno-politics and British Engineering Expertise in the Making of the Electricity Supply Industry in Cyprus

← 200 | 201 →

Electrical Colonialism

Techno-politics and British Engineering Expertise in the Making of the Electricity Supply Industry in Cyprus



This chapter focuses on the electrification of Cyprus, in order to understand the role and agency of British engineers in the technopolitics of colonial Cyprus. As in other parts of the empire, British engineers provided consultancy to the Cyprus Government. In 1945 following the conclusion of the Second World War the British colonial Government in Cyprus contemplated engaging in numerous welfare and development projects. The projects were considered a weapon against a growing legitimacy crisis over Britain’s continued rule of the island. An island-wide electrification scheme was one of the Cyprus Government’s grand show case projects. The making of the electricity network was a techno-political process configured by the agency not only of Colonial Office and the Cyprus Government but also of the advisors, engineers and managers. The resulting technical and organisational characteristics of the electricity network were politically rather different than intended. This outcome enacted a rather autonomous reproduction of the British colonialism by the joint actions of local British engineers and politicians.

Keywords: experts, electrification, imperialism, Hall



“No Cyprus, no certain facilities to protect our supply of oil. No oil, unemployment and hunger in Britain. It is as simple as that”.1

This was British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden`s opinion about the Cyprus question when asked about it in 1954. For most Cypriots Anthony Eden is famous for his “never” statement when he announced ← 201 | 202 → that Cyprus would never be an independent country.2 The statement was made at a time when Cyprus was being redefined as a “fortress colony” or a “Commonwealth Fortress,” and when the headquarters of the British Land and Sea Forces in the Middle East were being transferred to Cyprus. While Cyprus’ geo-strategic indispensability was being expressed in the clearest possible manner, on the island itself on 31 January 1954 a mass demonstration organized by the municipalities indicated the peak of tensions in relation to an island-wide electrification scheme. A particular moot point was the compulsory acquisition of municipal electricity networks and equipment.3 However, the reality was not so simple. The demonstrators were not just talking about the electricity grid, the new tariff nor the compulsory acquisitions: essentially the demonstration was an expression of Greek unionist nationalism.4

In this article we link the electrical and political history of the island by looking at the roles and agency of British engineers and engineering consultancies in the making of techno-politics in late colonial Cyprus. We show that British engineers and engineering consultancy practice were an active part of a process that both shaped the scheme and the politics of the island. Consulting engineering was a prominent and authoritarian professional engagement for British engineers both in Britain and the colonies. They designed the technological system while also participating in its governance by providing advice about the organization, the recruitment policy, the tariff policy and the management of the networks. They were the agents of electrical ideas, technocratic ideals and colonial power.5

In this context we study the performativity of engineering actors during the techno-political process of building a major technological scheme – during the planning, the deliberation and decision making stages. We follow the actors in their local setting and show how British engineering knowledge and culture, colonial aspirations and local tensions and imperatives interacted with and configured upon the design of the project. ← 202 | 203 → In this historiographic and analytical context we approach the expertise and authority of the engineering professionals as relational and situated at the intersection between the transnational and the regional setting of interests and power relations. In our case study, expert authority, expertise and technocratic solutions are tested in various localities in late colonial Cyprus.6 In other words, we show how British engineers and their actions were also responsible for the mass demonstration on 31 January 1954.

Post-Second World War Cyprus: The road to decolonisation

The developments in the Middle East were shifting Cyprus’ strategic importance to the centre of British imperial interests. The emerging Cold War between the capitalist and communist blocs; troubles over petroleum in the Middle East; the effervescence of the enosis movement (claiming union with Greece) and the violence connected to it, and the abrupt, but decisive entrance of Turkishcypriot nationalism onto the political scene were factors that would determine the political complexity of the postwar period. While British existence was slipping away in the Middle East, Cyprus became one of the last bastions of British influence in the eastern Mediterranean, and the focus for her Middle Eastern strategy: “the point where the slide had to be halted.”7 Cyprus had the advantage of being sovereign British soil (remaining British bases were dependent on agreements and arrangements with other countries) which also influenced the assessment of the Chief of Staff (after a Cabinet question) about the “indispensability of Cyprus as base, not merely a base on Cyprus.”8 On ← 203 | 204 → the other hand, there were important developments in Cyprus as well. The Cyprus Greek Orthodox Church, the left-wing political party (AKEL) and the British colonial administration were in a constant political battle. By 1949 the triumph of the Greekcypriot right represented by the Church over the Left, AKEL, was clear. Thus, the Church would become the national institution that would claim to represent politically the entire Greekcypriot community and lead it to the politics of unification with Greece.

The postwar period of colonial policy is marked, amongst many others, by comprehensive colonial development and welfare projects. This was officialised with the Colonial Development and Welfare Act (CD & W) of 1945 which has been considered as a “redirection of colonial policy…towards an approach that aimed to be interventionist and, innovative and modernizing in its pursuit of political, economic and social reform in the colonies.”9 The aim of the CD & W Act 1945 was twofold. On the one hand, it would show that British imperialism was dead, and on the other hand, by mobilising colonial resources, it would – as hoped by its architects – help to recover the metropolitan economy, which was facing a currency crisis.10

It was in this climate, in the autumn of 1945, that the Colonial Office contemplated “with a sense of urgency” a series of development schemes which would touch upon every aspect of the island’s life and economy.11 This sense of “urgency” would be prevalent throughout the electrification scheme. A reading of the “Proposed New Policy for Cyprus” is helpful for understanding the British case. In this memorandum, the Colonial Secretary drew a rough picture of the situation on the island (i.e. the rise of Left and enosis sentiment, geostrategic concerns and possible Russian engagement in the region etc.) and explained to the British Cabinet the purpose of CD & W in the framework of Cyprus’ reality.12 British Empire historian Roger Louis summarises it plainly: “The long-range weapon to be used in a potentially violent situation would be the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1945.” In the existing political context ← 204 | 205 → both the colonial authorities and the local government prioritized urgent and effective policy-making.13 Another basic element in the strong belief for developmental policy was the long tradition of the British official perception of rural Cyprus. In the ten-year programme many projects sought to develop the rural areas of Cyprus. The significance of rural Cyprus in the ten-year development programme was related directly to the traditional British perception about enosis. As a traditional British official opinion, running through generations of administration officers, enosis was not considered to be an authentic movement with a strong organic basis in the smaller towns and villages.14 The same opinion was held by the top British officials in Cyprus at the start of the developmental politics – Roland Turnbull, the Colonial Secretary at Nicosia, Governor Lord Winster or his predecessor Sir Charles Woolley. Although they were two different politicians and personalities, Turnbull and Winster both believed that enosis was not an “authentic movement” in provincial Cyprus.15 Thus the British perception of enosis being only an urban movement automatically meant rural Cyprus (which housed the majority of the population) was considered a vital space for the continuation of the British rule. This line of thought led the government to believe it could gain the rural Cypriot’s support by material means. The government itself had to create a wealthier rural Cyprus equipped with the most ‘modern’ means, like electrification, to show her benefits of the Commonwealth. The motto of the post-war Cyprus Government was “the Government is doing on its behalf” and, as Governor Woolley believed, it had to show “the advantages of membership [of] Commonwealth for a small island.”16 Electrification, like civil aviation, broadcasting, steamship services and the reconditioning of the railway, was listed as an unspecified project for which no provision was contemplated. For Woolley, this was one of the major shortcomings of the report which did not include provisions “or at least the most important item among these unspecified projects […] the ← 205 | 206 → electricity supply scheme.17 By the time Woolley made this statement (in private, in a letter dated 7 June 1946), the electrification scheme had been under consideration for at least nine months.

Old electrical systems, new networks of power: electricity supply industry after the war

In 1945, the island had nineteen undertakings where electricity was generated. It had fifteen places where electricity was supplied directly to the public or in bulk to an authority or individual who in turn distributed it to public. Out of nineteen undertakings eight were owned by companies, seven by municipalities or other public bodies and four by private persons. In seventeen towns and villages there was a public supply of electricity available; only in Nicosia, Limassol, Famagusta, Larnaca and Ktima (Pafos) was the supply twenty-four hours. Except the plants of the Cyprus Mines Corporation, the major consumer, the rest of the plants were oil engines which were old and in need of repair. Only Nicosia Electricity Company and Cyprus Mines had fairly new machineries and repair services. Also as a unique example, the Nicosia Electricity Company had completed the switch of its system from DC to AC current and kept a fairly regulated and maintained distribution network of eight km in radius with 6,000 consumers. The rest of the distribution systems were in need of serious reconstruction.18 The existing supply was the result of the initiatives of municipalities, companies and individuals who were independent of each other and no network was connected to the other. Legislation wise, the most recent electricity law dated 1940, was intended only to regulate the supply of electricity for lighting and other purposes. The most important provision of the 1940 law was concerned about electricity production, supply and retail grants and permissions issued by the Governor.19 The summation of the maximum demands on existing electric power stations was 7,385 kW (out of capacity of 11,893 kW) with aggregate output at 42,438,130 kWh for the year 1945.

By mid-1944 Cyprus had several development projects listed in the CD & W Act.20 Most of the projects were health, education and agriculture related schemes. The electrification of Cyprus was not included ← 206 | 207 → in the list of projects funded by the CD & W Act. Instead it was to be a Cyprus-based project located in the spirit of colonial development. The first communications on the matter of the island’s electrification date from 1945.21 In this year the Cyprus Government took the initiative and opened the subject of electrification with the Colonial Office, which was still controlling the budget of the colony and so had to be persuaded to finance projects.22 Sir Charles Woolley, the Governor of Cyprus (1941-1946) rejected the prior existing arrangement with the British Company Callender’s Cable and Construction.23 He reported to the Colonial Office that a state enterprise would promote both the interests of the citizens, particularly in the rural areas, and the local Government. The Government sought to persuade the Colonial Office of a scheme which foresaw a complete monopoly in every aspect of the electricity supply industry. The Colonial Office approached the matter in hesitant fashion.24 Having followed the usual procedures, the Office sought the advice of Crown Agents25 who hired Preece, Cardew & Rider Consulting Engineers.26 Preece, Cardew & Rider recommended that an independent expert should be sent to survey the possibility of electrification. They also made comments that supported Governor Woolley’s concerns. For instance they argued that a commercial concern would not do as the governor wished and take an interest in constructing networks in rural areas. Rural areas would not be expected to bring sufficient revenue for covering working costs and satisfying shareholders. Consequently, they considered that a survey from ← 207 | 208 → the company would be “unduly pessimistic” and an independent surveyor should be appointed.27 Upon receiving these comments, the Crown Agents proposed that the Colonial Office appoint an engineer for a report “on the feasibility of an island-wide distribution scheme on Grid lines” as suggested by the governor. Crown Agents suggested that James Owen Hall, Chief Electrical Engineer of the Nigerian Government’s Public Works Department,28 should survey the island and provide an accurate assessment of power and lighting load in the rural areas.29

Hall completed his survey on “the feasibility of an island-wide distribution scheme on Grid lines” in October 1945. The report drew a general picture of the electrical power regime of the island town by town. According to his estimates, in a period of ten years, the amount of demand from an island-wide distribution scheme would be 25,290 kW and the output 97,524,000 kWh. He based these estimates on the expansion of the existing undertakings by the development of lighting, domestic and power loads encouraged by the “attractive rates” for electricity, and the introduction of schemes whereby it was possible for “persons with medium and small incomes” to wire their houses, and use electrical domestic appliances such as refrigerators and water heaters.30 Those in the small incomes category included peasantry, city-dweller labourers and miners of both communities, while persons of medium income ranged from city-dweller civil servants to small town merchants and tradesmen. In addition to “powering small incomers,” Hall also noted that the system would provide the facilities for electrically-driven irrigation pumps and motors for industrial production. Furthermore, he emphasized that cheap power would be the main attraction for the consumers. We will see later in the chapter that cheap current would be included as a promise of the electrification scheme. It would also be one of the failures of the first stage, both on an economic and political level. ← 208 | 209 →

The emphasis of Governor Woolley on urgent action regarding the matter of electrification is evidenced by a series of supplementary reports by Cyprus Public Works Department, of which substantial director P.P. Taylor would become a major player. One of those was a report on the urgent electrification need on the island, enclosed with the governor’s dispatch for the Colonial Office, prepared by the Conservator of Forests. This report was part of P.P. Taylor’s forthcoming memoranda and supplementary reports that would both serve as a pressure tool for Colonial Office persuasion and as a policy guide for the Cyprus Government. The report provided a grim picture of the situation of Cyprus’ forests. The Oil Conversion Committee had asked the Conservator of Forests to press the government for an electrification scheme.31 The report facilitated argumentations on social and industrial aspects of the issue escorted by the natural degradation of the “picturesque colony”. The report argued that the efficient use of oil in industry preconditioned the use of electric current for driving forced air draught machines for efficient oil combustion.32 In closing, the report stressed how much the community would benefit from electrification and how the standard of living in Cyprus would be raised while the wood fuel problem would be solved. In the end, the report demanded exactly what he wished for: the electrification scheme had to be realised and current be supplied by the government because this was “in line with accepted modern experience that essential public services should all be state controlled,” thus ensuring public monopoly.33

The Preece, Cardew & Rider report (1946)

For the Cyprus Government, Hall’s survey was strategically the first step towards a concrete electrification scheme with maps, design, tenders, etc. First of all, Hall’s survey gave a positive prospect for an island-wide grid which had to offer cheap current to succeed, something easily related to economy of scale. On the other hand, this positivity also gave the consulting engineers an easy approval of Government’s demand for a monopoly in the electricity sector. Prepared in 1946, the Preece, Cardew & Rider report was based on Hall’s investigation and forwarded a plan with estimates of the capital expenditure, annual costs of operation and also the revenue to be expected from an island-wide grid. The consulting engineers estimated that the mining purposes and public supply services ← 209 | 210 → throughout the island would create an estimated 22,000 kW demand at the end of a development period of ten years. They suggested that two plants should be erected for preventing blackouts: one at Larnaca with three 7,000 kW turbo generators and one at Xeros with two similar generators. Accordingly, the transmission system was proposed to be entirely an overhead system comprising of 3-phase 1,100 miles of 33 kV and 11 kV lines with transforming substations and low-voltage overhead lines for supplying the customers. The cost of the proposed system was calculated at £3,351,000, of which £1,495,000 was for the power stations and £1,856,000 for the transmission and distribution system.34

One of the Report’s most important proposals was about the progress of realising the scheme. They suggested proceeding in stages which would mark some of the scheme’s future consequences. They argued that this would provide an opportunity to make alterations as the demand was shaped steadily by the consumers and communities. Alternatively, in its early years, the scheme could be limited to supplying only those existing consumers in the central part of the island. These were the largest consumers/producers then in existence. Hereon in, progress would depend on the demand at any given time period. Consequently, the first stage would cost around £1,830,000. The proposal split the scheme into small projects which would be financially agreeable to the Colonial Office thus securing the Government’s, i.e. the client’s, plans for electrification. Its slow and demand-centred expansion would secure a stable and foreseeable income for the first years. This would also keep the Government and Colonial Office satisfied and guarantee the continuation of the scheme. In line with Cyprus Government’s wishes, it was proposed to establish an Electrical Department, which would ensure that the “people” were supplied with “cheap” electricity which, according to Hall, was the way to secure clientele. This organisation was proposed to be a central authority that would co-ordinate and develop supplies throughout the island: it would be a governmental department organised as a commercial undertaking selling supply without loss or profit. This was a prototype of the British Electricity Authority. Furthermore, in time this central authority would acquire the existing undertakings and their networks; it would take the initiative for the electrification of rural areas in the first phase.35

The aim of the design was to sustain the highest possible load with the lowest amount of infrastructural expenditure; in the shortest time period; to achieve the maximum load, in order to have a certain low production price. The Government had initially based its electrification case on the ← 210 | 211 → development and welfare of rural areas. However, the provisions of Stage 1 merely showed that the Grid would contend the pre-existing load – the big towns, cities and mass consumers like mines, the government and military departments and hotels. Whether or not rural development was the cornerstone of the Government’s ideology and scope of colonial development, in electrification it had to wait behind the city. Even in Stage 2, the Grid would extend only to those villages adjacent to the major consumers, thereby excluding the Paphos and Karpasia regions, which were populated by a substantial number of small villages with agrarian economies. Only in Stage 3, which was projected to be realised in 15 or more years, would the whole of Cyprus be unified under one electricity grid. The scheme was to prove another political failure and headache for the Government. The Stage 3 was completed way after the British rule ended in 1960. By 1972, Electric Authority was supplying 95% of the population. Somewhat ironically for Cyprus’ electrification history, when the grid came to a total completion the island was politically separated because of the Turkish intervention/invasion in July 1974.

Figure 1. Extract from Preece, Cardew & Rider’s report. This is the proposed Stage 1. See that the Grid’s first direction of expansion was the load. Besides connecting every big town and city (except the mountainous rural areas of Paphos and Karpasia), the transmission line passing over the Troodos Mountain linked the Grid with heavy consumers like various mines and hotel resorts


Source: Report Messrs. Preece, Cardew & Rider on The Development of Electricity supply Services Throughout the Island of Cyprus, April 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3 ← 211 | 212 →

Taylor’s Proposals

By this point the Colonial Office had altered its ambivalent attitude and developed a growing interest in the scheme. The Cyprus Government observed this change and acted to have swift progress on the scheme. Chief Secretary Turnbull wrote to the Colonial Office and asked for a meeting in view of this growing interest. He enclosed the preliminary review of P.P. Taylor, substantive Director of Public Works of the Cyprus Government.36 Taylor’s comments on the consultants report were not particularly positive. First of all, he considered the report disappointing and unable to provide any direction “as to the practical problems”. Actually, he was arguing for a policy on the future of the existing plants of the private companies. He proposed the integration of these companies to the scheme as auxiliary supply plants. According to Taylor, reaching an agreement with the existing companies was a pre-condition of a grid project. He pointed towards an absolute government monopoly in the sector through compulsory acquisitions of the existing plants which would be one of the main characteristics of scheme’s technopolitics. He refused the second plant on the grounds that it increased the cost at a stage when the Government had to overcome the financial question marks in the mind of the Colonial Office.

Taylor, as a local official, had an insight into the first issue, and probably saw what was coming. He suggested negotiations on the legal, financial and technical issues ought to be left in the hands of a man well-qualified and experienced to deal with such matters. Moreover, he accused the report of being merely a theoretical work. As the Government’s top engineer, he was concerned with emergent issues that lay ahead of him and his government. The existing power regime was on the brink of collapse due to old machinery; Cyprus needed to manage the power supply in one way or another until the new power station would start feeding the transmission lines. As a man on the ground, he foresaw that compulsory acquisition was more than a method proposed in a report. For him, the report showed that Preece, Cardew & Rider did not understand either the existing conditions or the financial resources of the island. However, ironically for Taylor, if the report had served to convince the Secretary of State for the Colonies of the benefits of electrification then it had served its purpose; having served its purpose henceforth it could be disregarded.

In another decisive proposal, he suggested that a very experienced first-class engineer, “unbiased” and “commercial minded,” with no ← 212 | 213 → company relations, ought to prepare a report in one year. He proposed that this engineer must take into consideration all aspects of the scheme – such as technical, financial and legal – but not necessarily the construction and operation. He underlined that the expert would do all of these “in the Island” with the main objective of carrying the negotiations with the existing companies. Besides being practical, Taylor clearly pushed for the control of the decision-making to be transferred to Cyprus, giving him – the man on the ground – a more influential position in the project; this fitted with the policy of putting the stamp of the Cyprus Government on the scheme over and above competing interests.37 This suggestion would lead to Hall’s employment as the super-engineer and the creation of the Working Committee where Hall managed the technical and operational issues and Taylor the construction matters. Taylor’ strategy was to be practical in financial and legal matters and bring the scheme under the control of his government. In general, Taylor’s role was of utmost significance. As the head of the Public Works Department, he had the authority on matters of the infrastructure of the island. His approach and action proved to be those of a policy-maker rather than of an engineer. He proposed a policy for the realisation of the electrification rather than giving technical advice; his main concerns were with management, operation, finance and law.38

The Cyprus Government would shortly send its own report and comment on the four questions raised by the Colonial Office. Taylor’s influence is clear throughout the report. The report produced for the Colonial Office was the result of the governor’s and his head technical staff’s meeting: Substantive Department of Public Works Taylor, Acting Department of Public Works M.L.F. Weldon, The Electrical and Mechanical Engineer A.N. Capner. In the report, the Government disagreed with the recommendations of the consultant engineers and argued in favour of the compulsory acquisitions of municipal undertakings because the policy would guarantee the monopoly it aspired to establish.39 The Government was even ready to take “measures,” so the reduction in prices would pass on to the consumers: ← 213 | 214 →

The history of electricity supply undertakings in Cyprus has been such that it would be over sanguine to expect such action without a measure of coercion, yet the financial success of a central undertaking will depend on its ability to sell a sufficiently large number of units to make large-scale economies possible.40

A policy of complete public monopoly over electrical energy required, Governor Woolley claimed, compulsory acquisition of the existing undertakings and compensation for the legal and contractual rights, even at the expense of coercion. They would, then, be incorporated into the Grid:

The total amount payable for compensation would be large, but against it would be set off the tangible assets and additional earning power acquired in exchange.41

The governor also noted that “a publicly controlled company for operating the grid supply” was favoured. This was an idea shaped after his communications with C. J. Thomas, the Comptroller of Inland Revenue, and Monson, of the Economic Department of the Colonial Office.42 According to the governor, this undertaking must not be hampered by restrictions on management, finance and recruitment of personnel, which were inseparable from the operation of government department. Consequently, he suggested the following:

the establishment by law of a central authority, adequate power being taken to protect the interests of consumers and provision being made for effective Government intervention necessary. The authority would be empowered to raise the required capital and might well absorb within its framework some employees of those generating and distribution concerns which it would take over.43

In order to make his proposal concrete, the governor noted that he was ready to pay a salary of up to £5,000 a year – an amount monumental for Cyprus – for a “first-class consultant electrical engineer.”44 This suggestion resonated with Taylor’s opinion and resulted in the employment of Hall. After further deliberations, and as suggested by the Governor, the Colonial Office and the Crown Agents decreed to Preece, Cardew & Rider, that only one power plant should be considered due to high initial capital costs and doubts over the necessity of having two ← 214 | 215 → power stations – some of the existing plants could be utilized as back-up supply stations. In addition, it was agreed to seek the expert the governor had asked for. The result of this meeting was Cyprus’ great progress in proceeding in the Government’s plans.

Preece, Cardew & Rider prepared a short report which corroborated Taylor’ suggestions. They affirmed that one station would be enough for the first few years.45 They gave the Cyprus Government the technocratic and ideological support for a complete public monopoly. They considered the alternative proposal of the Cyprus authorities for an island-monopoly, “in accordance with the modern ideas” (i.e. UK Nationalisation of Electricity Supply Industry). They noted that this modern idea regarding the public utilities would “without doubt provide more rapid and efficient development. It would also increase the revenue of the Central Authority.”46 These communications between the Governor, Taylor, Turnbull, the Crown Agents, the Consulting Engineers and the Colonial Office cemented the possible options for the policy of electrification.

Forging the monopoly further: organisational and managerial advices

The year 1947 was decisive in the course of the Cypriot electrification scheme. In this year, the scheme acquired publicity in London,47 where it was discussed in the House of Commons and given approval for its materialisation.48 Finally, Cyprus reached a conclusion in March 1947 and announced that the technical officers of the Government had decided to substantially adopt the recommendations of the original report of the consulting engineers.49 ← 215 | 216 →

Again Taylor framed the policy guidelines of the Government. A memorandum by Taylor was attached to the dispatch for the consideration of the Colonial Office advisers. The memorandum contained the framework of the scheme and the steps to be taken for action. Accordingly the scheme was to connect efficient power plants into an island-wide grid system, which would be supplied by a central station located in Larnaca. Legislation would be passed in order to give the Government the right of monopoly on generating power, bulk distribution, and control of the rates and conditions governing retail distribution to the consumers. It was also proposed that the grid be operated by an authority appointed by the Government, comprised of persons “competent” to conduct on a “sound business footing”. The authority was to be given power by law to raise the necessary capital, either through the mediation of the Government or with the Government’s guarantee, though it was proposed, in the initial stages, to finance it from loans raised directly by the Government.50 In relation to the financial implications of the scheme, the Government envisaged a fifteen year period for expenditure and not the ten year development programme proposed by the consulting engineers. The Cyprus Government would undertake the finances through an incoming government loan. In order to forge further the monopoly, Cyprus’ Government established the Working Committee. The Working Committee51 would deal with technical, legislative and financial tasks and, later on, would evolve into the main decision-making body.

It was the Working Committee that decided upon the municipal issue. It had been agreed to sanction the municipalities and companies to obtain equipment after the recommended tenders had been scrutinised by the Working Committee.52 This caused the Government some anxiety because the municipalities, as the governor noted, would not be “slow to lay [the responsibility] at the door of the Government.”53 The increased pressure pushed the Government to reassess the issue. For instance, it considered absolving the municipal corporations of responsibility by undertaking the whole cost of the renewal of municipal equipment. It was an action that ← 216 | 217 → would leave the Government free to take the desired measures for the integration of these undertakings in the grid.54 The Committee also decided to hire a technical officer on a three-year contract. Due to his experience in Nigeria, Hall was considered to be the most suitable candidate to the position. Preece, Cardew & Rider searched alternative names by issuing advertisements in the category of higher paid colonial posts.55 However, the candidates did not match their criteria which was: “knowledge of and ability to develop demands in a comparatively backward community so far as electrical services [are] concerned.”56 The appointee had to be someone who had been involved in a general electrification project from scratch. This also meant that they would not be from the UK or some western European country but suitably from a colony. The preference was for an engineer with experience in “one of the larger Colonial Government Electricity Undertakings” like Malaya (Malaysia), Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Nigeria.57 After the Colonial Office’s communications with Nigeria and the Crown Agents, Hall agreed to work for Cyprus, where he would be the Chairman and ‘super-manager’ of the scheme.58

Amongst other things, this also meant the increasing likelihood of full state monopoly on supply. A sum of £40,000 was to be expended on the municipal orders for which the Government had now taken responsibility, and which would be covered by advances for the electricity grid, pending the formation of the Statutory Grid Authority.59 Preece, Cardew & Rider were also given the task of preparing plans, specifications and quantities for the entire electrical work and were also to be responsible for the submission, adjudication and co-ordination of all electrical and mechanical contracts through the Crown Agents. Hall had taken his post as Chief Engineer and Manager of the scheme, and assumed full responsibility for supervision, co-ordination and construction in Cyprus.60 While Taylor would deal with the issues of the construction of the building of the power plant and other related construction works, Hall would take care of the electrical engineering issues. This meant that decision making would ← 217 | 218 → solely take place in Cyprus and that assistance would only be asked for in relation to designs or equipment orders/tenders. In the meantime, the Bill was scrutinised in comparison to certain points of the UK Nationalisation Act, which were related to the buying out of the existing undertakings. The bill, entitled the Electricity Development Law 1952, was enacted by Governor Woolley on 27 October 1952. It established the Electricity Authority of Cyprus, a corporate body which would have a Board of no more than four persons appointed by the governor.

The crisis of trust between the administration and the Cypriots can be traced to the appointment of the Chairman of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC).61 The question was raised as to who would be head of the new institution: a Cypriot or British national? As far as the lower engineering and technician services were concerned, Hall’s Working Committee was going to temporarily depend on expatriates.62 While the governor was ready for the appointment of a Cypriot for the head of the Authority, it was Hall who opposed this prospect. He prioritized the selection of a British citizen and eventually it was Herbert Franklin Carpenter who was employed as the chairman. Carpenter’s experience and engineering qualifications were decisive in his selection. Carpenter, a member of the Organisation Review Committee of the British Electricity Authority, was proposed by the Colonial Office, and appointed as the Chairman of EAC on 9 December 1953. The Chairman was not to be resident in Cyprus but would pay periodical visits to the island for the purpose of presiding at Board meetings and other such purposes as might be required. Chief Engineer Hall was appointed ex-officio Vice-Chairman, leaving three vacancies to be filled by local Cypriot appointments.63 Thus, Hall continued to be the de-facto super-engineer and manager of the electrification. It was this decision to employ British engineers and technicians and to have a British Chairman that triggered political tensions within the Island.

Failed “designs” and politics

The mass demonstration on 31 January 1954 with which we began our story was the peak of the tensions created by the electrification scheme. The unified Greekcypriot enosist politics, comprised by the Greekcypriot right, leftist AKEL and Cyprus Greek Orthodox Church viewed the scheme as another expression of British colonialism. Practically all the aspects ← 218 | 219 → of the scheme were contested: the governance pattern, the technological design and the financial policies. Each of these items were, on the one hand, in line with the Government expectations and intentions, at least in general terms, and on the other, they were configured or transmuted either by Preece, Cardew & Rider, Taylor or Hall.

The monopoly regime as conceptualised and materialised by British engineers and authorities was interpreted as a dictatorial government under disguise.64 On the other hand prices did not initially prove to be cheaper, or, they were codified in complex tariffs (in English), based on “connected load” of which, Hall admitted, the calculation was far from the “ability of laymen.”65 The Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO) of AKEL would be the political organisation that frequently criticised the prices. For PEO – the union of left-wing syndicates with a strong popular base – the tariffs announced on 9 June 1953 were “on the same level as that of luxury goods” and not lower than those provided by the Nicosia Electric Company. PEO also expressed discontent on the missed “chances of expanding and disposal of electric current to the rural areas.” It argued that the governmental scheme would not provide cheap electricity either to poor labouring people or to rural communities. PEO also accused the Government of hiring mostly expatriate higher level staff of EAC with “princely salaries” and published the salary figures of nineteen EAC managers and engineers.66

In December 1953, just after his appointment and before his visit to Cyprus, Carpenter sent a press release. In it, he tried to cool the tensions provoked by the municipalities. He stressed that the EAC was a non-profit public utility which existed solely to “serve the people”. It was an argument of “welfare-like imperialism” that Government was engaged in from the beginning.67 However, as usual, theory did not equal the reality. ← 219 | 220 → The main article of a right-wing newspaper put it simply when it stated: “It’s always bad, the Imperialism. Especially when it is also senseless.”68


In this article, we have studied the decision-making, designing and construction of the first phase of colonial Cyprus electrification. We focused on the Cyprus Government and Colonial Office as well as the British engineers, consultants and advisors. We conclude that their actions and decisions had a monumental impact on the technical, organisational and operational shape of the electrification scheme and also on the island’s politics. In this context, the visions and priorities built and negotiated by engineers and policy-makers produced technological assemblages that functioned differently than intended on the political scene. We argue that experts were agents in shaping visions, framing technical solutions and thus configuring the governance regime of colonial Cyprus. Finally, we represented engineers such as Hall and Taylor as key actors in making the local colonial factor decisive over the metropolitan engineers and decision makers such as Preece, Cardew and Rider, and the Colonial Office. Our case study shows that the joint actions of engineers and local colonial servants further localised the decision making process of the material and political reproduction of the colonial establishment.

1 Referred in William Mallinson, A Modern History of Cyprus (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2005), 20.

2 In Cyprus’ historiography this has remained as the “never statement”. The statement was also a source of shame for Britain in front of the international community and especially the USA.

3 In the printed media of the island, we see references (i.e. four newspaper articles) to the need of a wider policy on electrification in 1946. We cannot claim that they express public opinion on the issue. Serkan Karas, “Between politics and technopolitics: critical episodes in energy and transportation infrastructures in colonial Cyprus” (Ph.D. diss., University of Athens, 2014), 286.

4 The unionist political agenda was also supported by the Cypriot-lefts’ dominant party, Anorthotiko Komma tou Ergazomenou Laou (AKEL).

5 Stathis Arapostathis, “Consulting Engineering in the British Electric Light and Power Industry, c. 1880 to 1914” (Ph.D. diss., St Cross College, University of Oxford, 2006); Stathis Arapostathis, “Morality, Locality and ‘Standardization’ in the work of British consulting electrical engineers, 1880-1914,” History of Technology 28 (2008): 53-74.

6 Both Gabrielle Hecht and Timothy Mitchell have recently stressed the importance of engineering experts in shaping techno-politics in regional, national and transnational settings. Hecht and Mitchell argue that while participating in the making of the technopolitical landscape, the experts shaped and legitimized roles, identities and technocratic ideologies in dynamic interrelation with local actors and interests. This approach resonates nicely with the historiographic agenda of STEP (Science and Technology in European Periphery) the research network that has stressed that the scientific and technological transition in peripheral countries should be understood as a process of ‘appropriation’ of scientific and technological knowledge and expertise. In this setting the ‘appropriation’ analytical tool can be used to understand the construction of colonies beyond the metropolitan centres. Gabrielle Hecht, The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009); Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). For the STEP approach see Kostas Gavroglu et al., “Science and Technology in the European Periphery: Some Historiographical Reflections,” History of Science 46/2 (2008): 153-75.

7 Bernard Porter, The Lion’s Share: A Short History of British Imperialism, 1850-2004 (London: Pearson/Longman, 2004), 312.

8 During the Labour government of the late 1940s and Conservative government of the early 1950s Cyprus preoccupied the politicians. In the history of Labour government policy, Cyprus occupies a central position. Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 150.

9 Sabine Clarke, “A Technocratic Imperial State? The Colonial Office and Scientific Research, 1940-1960,” Twentieth Century British History 18/4 (2007): 453-80.

10 Frank Heinlein, British Government Policy and Decolonisation, 1945-1963: Scrutinising the Official Mind (London: Frank Cass, 2002), 27-30.

11 Under-secretary Creech Jones wrote that “the whole unhappy problem of Cyprus would have to be taken in hand at an early date.” William Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism (London: Oxford University Press, 1984), 213.

12 National Archives (hereafter NA), CAB 129: 11, Proposed New Policy for Cyprus, 40.

13 The “urgency“ appears from 1944: State Archives 1 ( hereafter SA 1), S3:1:1944, Governor to Secretary of State, 28th June 1944.

14 The confusion expressed by Ivan Lloyd Phillips, the district commissioner for Nicosia in 1949-51, is typical of that of many colonial officials. “It is difficult to attempt an estimate of how deep-seated the “enosis” movement really is,” Lloyd Phillips wrote to his father in England. “Much of it is clearly emotional, but it lacks economic inducement and in the countryside, apart from a display of Greek flags, one sees little positive desire for it”. Tabitha Morgan, Sweet and Bitter Island: A History of the British in Cyprus (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), 202. See also Robert Holland and Diana Markides, The British and the Hellenes: Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850-1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

15 Louis, The British Empire, 219.

16 Anastasia Yiangou, Cyprus in World War II: Politics and Conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), 140.

17 Woolley to George Hall, 7th June 1946, NA, CO 67: 328: 12.

18 See Report on Electrical Distribution Survey in Cyprus by James Owen Hall, 25 October 1945, NA, CO 67:325:2, and Report by Messrs. Preece, Cardew & Rider on the Development of Electricity Supply Services Throughout the Island of Cyprus, April 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3.

19 Ibid.

20 For the details of these projects see: NA, CO 67:329:7 Position of Cyprus with Regard to Colonial Development and Welfare Grants 1944.

21 For these correspondences see: NA, CO 67:325:2 Cyprus Electricity Supply 1945.

22 Gavin Ure, Governors, Politics and the Colonial Office: Public Policy in Hong Kong, 1918-58 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012), 22-4.

23 Callender’s Cable and Construction Company Limited had been pursuing semi-official negotiations with the Cyprus Government for acquiring a licence for a general electricity supply scheme in the late 1930s. Callender had been unofficially promised to be granted a licence for setting up a grid parallel to the existing power companies and networks. However before any official settlement war broke up and the matter left in abeyance. Karas, “Between politics and technopolitics,” 220-7.

24 Minute to Luke, 23rd March 1945, NA, CO 67: 325: 2.

25 Crown Agents (hereafter CA) to Barton, 12th May 1945, NA, CO 67: 325: 2. Juxton Barton is the head of Mediterranean Department of the Colonial Office.

26 Preece, Cardew & Rider, electric power and telecommunications experts, was founded in 1899 by Sir William Preece, engineer in chief to the General Post Office, and Major Phillip Cardew, electrical advisor to the Board of Trade. Preece’s son Arthur was in the consultancy from the early days of the partnership. The latter was increased in 1915 with the inclusion of the electrical engineer John Hall Rider. For Preece, Cardew and Rider see Stathis Arapostathis, Consulting Engineering, 163-246; Stathis Arapostathis, “Electrical Innovations, Authority and Consulting Expertise in late Victorian Britain,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 67/1 (March 2013): 59-76; E. C. Baker, Preece and those who followed: Consulting Engineers in the Twentieth Century (Brighton: Reprographic Centre Ltd, 1980).

27 Preece, Cardew & Rider to CA, 4th May 1945, NA, CO 67: 325: 2.

28 James Owen Hall was member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London from the 1930s. He received an OBE in 1946. He worked in Lagos, Nigeria as Chief Electrical Engineer, in the Public Works Department from 1930 to 1947. In the late 1940s he moved to Cyprus where he remained active until 1965 initially as Chief Engineer and Manager and then as Advisor in the electricity supply industry of the island. We know very little about Hall since biographical information is scarce. For any biographical information about Hall we would like to thank Anne Locker and Jon Cable archivists in the Institution of Engineering and Technology (previously known as the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London).

29 CA to Under-Secretary of State, 12th June 1945, NA, CO 67: 325: 2.

30 Report on Electrical Distribution Survey in Cyprus by James Owen Hall, 25 October 1945, NA, CO 67: 325: 2.

31 The report says that there is urgency for plentiful and cheap electric current in Cyprus. The Committee urges the Government to eliminate the delay at this stage of the process when “it is essential to obtain general sanction and proceed with technical side of application before the hillsides are completely stripped and ruined”. Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Preece, Cardew & Rider, Report on The Development of Electricity supply Services Throughout the Island of Cyprus, April 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3.

35 Ibid.

36 London Office of Cyprus Government to Stockdale, 16th August 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3.

37 He recommended clearly that Government but not the Colonial Office should decide whether the expert’s report was practical or not. Report of Acting Director of Public Works, 28th July 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3.

38 We can argue that Taylor’s recommendations were also influenced by the British Nationalisation Act, which was in preparation at that time. The model of organisation and the work of the central authority resembled CEB in the matter of negotiations and legal issues and BEA in the structure and ownership of the production and distribution. This “modern practice” – full state monopoly over electrification (nationalisation) – perfectly suited the developmental policy of the Cyprus Government.

39 Woolley to Henry Hall, 15th August 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 This meant an engineer with firm technological knowledge, legal, financial and managerial mind and experience.

45 The second technical point was the choice of diesel vs. turbo generators; turbo-generators were favoured for reasons of general economy of money and plant space. Moreover, diesel and turbo generator contracts of the same output had proven to cost almost the same in recent years. Preece, Cardew & Rider to Crown Agents, 8th October 1946, NA, CO 67: 325: 3.

46 Ibid.

47 “It is reported here that the Colonial Office has approved in principle plans for establishment of a central power station and grid system at a cost of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. A company is to be formed, financed chiefly by Cyprus capital. The project will take two years to complete--Reuters”. Ibid. See also: Financial Times, February 8, 1947. (CORRECT?)

48 Dodds-Parker asks Creech Jones (Secretary of State for the Colonies) whether such a plant (as he has been informed by goodwill mission) would be given assurance that due consideration and priority be given to this scheme. Jones answers that “it will be most seriously considered.” Hansard Extract form Official Report of 5 March 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 1.

49 Turnbull to Creech Jones, 20th March 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 1.

50 “Moreover, it is likely that the course now proposed would command more general public acceptance. Lastly, by refraining from the immediate assumption of responsibility for meeting demands for power throughout the island, Government will be enabled to proceed at a pace better suited to the equipment, the personnel and the finances at its command.” Ibid.

51 The files of the Working Committee had been removed from the State Archives in Cyprus at an unknown time and place. Unfortunately, together with those of the Working Committee, the main files under the category of “Electrification” are also missing.

52 Watson to Barton, 12 August 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 1.

53 Taylor to Colonial Secretary, 13 June 1947, SA1: 853: 1947.

54 Minute, 12 July 1947, SA1: 853: 1947.

55 Alternatives of Hall were: Col. Brazil of Ceylon and J.H. Angus Public Utilities Branch, Control Commission, Germany. Watson to Barton, 10th September 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 1.

56 Preece, Cardew & Rider to Crown Agents, 16th April 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 1.

57 British Malaya was already going through electrification by 1950. Timothy Norman Harper, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 196.

58 Crown Agents to Emanuel and Shute, 24 October 1947; Barton to Turnbull, 3 November 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 1.

59 Winster to Creech Jones, 31 October 1947, NA, CO 67: 345: 2.

60 Secretary of State to Governor, 4 September 1948, NA, CO 67: 345: 2.

61 For British confusion in Cyprus policy before the ‘Emergency’, see: “A Crisis of Trust 1950 – 1 April 1955,” in Robert F. Holland, Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-1959 (London: Clarendon Press, 1998).

62 J.O. Hall to Colonial Secretary to Cyprus, 20 December 1949, SA1:417: 45: J.

63 Minutes of the Executive Council Meeting, 14 October 1952, NA, CO 69: 70.

64 Several gatherings of Mayors and demonstrations, like the one in Famagusta in September 1953, preceded and prepared the road for the demonstration of 31st January 1953. ‘Έθνος, 9 November 1952, 1.

‘ΤΟ ΝΟΜΟΣΧΕΔΙΟΝ ΕΞΗΛΕΚΤΡΙΣΜΟΥ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΔΙΑΚΥΒΕΥΟΜΕΝΑ ΥΨΙΣΤΑ ΣΥΜΦΕΡΟΝΤΑ ΤΩΝ ΔΗΜΩΝ ΤΗΣ ΝΗΣΟΥ’, Ελευθερία, 22 October 1952, 4; Mayor Pouyiouros to Colonial Secretary, 20 September 1953, NA, CO 69: 70.

65 Minute Hall, 21 August 1953, SA1: Tariffs for Government Building 45: T.

66 Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO) to Colonial Secretary, 16 June 1953, SA1: 417: 45: S.

67 Carpenter had served 12 years as the Secretary of Electricity Authority of West Midlands Company. Then he was appointed as the Secretary of British Electricity Authority where he worked from 1947 till 1951. ‘ΤΙ ΕΔΗΛΩΣΕΝ Ο ΝΕΟΣ ΠΡΟΕΔΡΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΛΕΚΤΡΙΚΗΣ ΑΡΧΗΣ’, Ελευθερία, 11 December 1953, 1.

68 ‘ΟΤΑΝ Ο ΙΜΠΕΡΙΑΛΙΣΜΟΣ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΚΑΙ ΑΝΟΗΤΟΣ’, Έθνος, 3 February 1954, 1.