Henry Harrison Vaskess

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Henry Harrison Vaskess, Esq., O.B.E. (1891-1969)

  • Colonial Secretary at the time the bones were brought to Fiji.
    • The Colonial Secretary was virtually a dictator. The Governor was a ceremonial figure and might set policy, but the Colonial Secretary was the CEO. He had three telephones on his desk, gave orders, and approved spending.[1]
    • "The head of the High Commission secretariat was Harry Vaskess, an Australian by birth, who at the time of my arrival (1945) had been Chief Secretary for sixteen years, so what he did not know about the territories was not worth knowing. His knowledge, however, had been acquired almost entirely at headquarters since he had rarely visited the various islands because of the difficulties and slowness of travel. His headquarters' outlook made him suspicious of the three Resident Commissioners--Gilbert and ellice, Solomons and New Hebrides--considering that a close control should be kept on them, lest they wittingly or unwittingly do something not in order. The Resident Commissioners on their side objected to being treated like children. Nonetheless, I found Vaskess a most helpful and likeable colleague and I always felt at ease in my mind that nothing would get past him that should not" [2]
  • Vaskess was known as the "Prince of Bureaucrats," not just because he had an iron-bottom and a mind for endless details, but because he was incorruptible.[3]
  • Tofiga agrees that Vaskess was not the kind of man to be careless about his responsibilities. "You could squeeze blood from a stone more easily than you could get money from Vaskess." He was a good man, careful and responsible. His wife was in Australia. His room was barren--he was clearly not in the habit of taking things from the office to decorate his quarters. Vaskess did a lot of exercise to keep fit. He walked from his home each day up the Museum hill to the office, carrying a bag of sandwiches for his lunch and having a smoke. He would arrive before 8 AM and leave at 5:30 PM.
(In 1946, Vaskess helped Tofiga's home community on Vaitup in Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands) purchase the island of Kioa in Fiji.)
  • "The enigmatic Henry Vaskess, Secretary of the Western Pacific High Commission, ... was an absolute loner (he lived with a part-European) given only to rare exclusive tennis on his own court."[4]
  • Vaskess spent his entire career from 1911 to 1947 as a British colonial government administrator in Fiji, except for WW1 service (1915-1919) with the Australian artillery at Gallipoli and France. The Colonial Office List (1950) gives this career outline:
- Vaskess, Henry Harrison, C.M.G. (1946), O.B.E. (1938).
- b. 1891;
- on mil. Serv., 1915;
- clk., W. Pac. H. C., 1911;
- clk. in ch., accts., 1919;
- ch. clk. and acctnt., 1920;
- sec., W. Pac. H. C., 1929.
  • Vaskess retired as Secretary of the WPHC in early 1947 (Pacific Islands Monthly, 17 [January 1947], p. 8).
  • In 1947, he was appointed a Commissioner (representing the U.K.) for the newly formed South Pacific Commission, whose headquarters were in Noumea, New Hebrides. (The name is similar, but its not the same institution as the Western Pacific High Commission.) His name was listed in reports of sessions of the South Pacific Commission up to 1958, so he was still active in regional affairs until at least that date.
  • Short ad found in an old magazine in Auckland: "H. H. Vaskess (Proprietor). Fairview House, Suva Fiji." He was there in 1967, according to the son of his daughter-in-law's sister: "She remembers that he was blind from glaucoma by then and was cared for by a Fijian women named Essi."
  • On his WW1 Attestation Form (Australian War Memorial website) dated 17 June 1915, he gave his age as 23 years 11 months, which indicates he was born in July 1891.
  • Died July 7, 1969. Death record in Suva, Fiji, is #65/69. Probate #10701.
  • His wife, Coral Loloma (Letford) Vaskess, and the two boys went to Sydney at the outbreak of WWII and never returned to Fiji. Mrs. Vaskess died in Canberra on 20 Jul 1990.
  • Two sons:
    • Keith Harrison Vaskess, born 23 Aug 1924; married Winsome Anne Lynch (1929-1976);
    • Colin Francis Vaskess, born 12 Sep 1927.


  1. 2003 interview with Gatty.
  2. Sir Alexander Grantham, Via Ports: From Hong King to Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1965), pp. 80-81.
  3. 2003 interview with Tofiga.
  4. Philip Snow, The years of hope: Cambridge, colonial administration in the South Seas and cricket (1997: The Radcliffe Press), p. 235.