British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by Anthony Kirk-Greene
The Colonial Service Training Courses
Imperial Institute
It was in the 1920s that the professionalization of the Colonial Service (CS), symbolized by its formal training programmes, finally brought to an end the general lack of preparation for the new entry and became a prerequisite of employment. Henceforth CS recruitment and training became two halves of a single process.

The first CS training scheme was inaugurated in 1908. Faced with the huge expansion in administrative staff for service in its new African territories, the CO set up an induction course for its Tropical African Administrative Services. Located at the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, it took the form of a somewhat ineffective three month course in law, accountancy, tropical hygiene and (the forte of the Institute) tropical resources.

After World War I the dynamic R.D. Furse, who was then Private Secretary (Appointments) to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and was eventually to spend forty years responsible for CS recruitment, turned to overhauling CS training. Later he was to say that he aimed at inaugurating a training scheme for at least one new branch of the CS every year between 1924 and 1939.

The Colonial Service Training Courses
Sir Ralph Furse
While he himself took the lead in the training of the Colonial Administrative Service (CAS), his assistant, F. Newbolt, took charge of the Educational and Police Services and G. Irby all the scientific branches. Strengthening his case by recommendations from a number of high-powered committees established to consider recruitment and training, notably the Lovat Committee on the Agriculture and Veterinary Services, the CS now laid down pre-posting training requirements for all its branches. Medical officers underwent six months training at the London, Liverpool or Edinburgh School of Tropical Medicine. Forest officers were appointed to a one year probationship at the Imperial Forestry Institute at Oxford. For agriculture probationers, the training was a year's scholarship at an approved post-graduate study in the UK, followed by nine months at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad. Veterinary scholarships were awarded for up to four years, leading to the MRCVS Diploma or, for those already qualified, up to three years' postgraduate work. Police cadets were sent to the Metropolitan Police College, Hendon, and Survey probationers to the Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton. Education officers took a year's training at London University's Institute of Education.

The Colonial Service Training Courses
London School of Tropical Diseases
In his plans for the Administration, Furse was determined to raise the CAS to the level of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) as the first choice for Britain 's undergraduates seeking a Crown civil service appointment abroad. Aware that, prestige apart, one of the attractions of the ICS was the post-graduate probationary year offered at Oxford, Cambridge or Trinity College Dublin, in 1926 Furse arranged with Oxford and Cambridge (and subsequently the London School of Economics) to start a Tropical African Services (later CAS) course. It consisted of instruction in field engineering, tropical hygiene and natural resources, as well as anthropology, law, languages and British colonial history. Whenever possible, a serving CAS officer seconded to the CO acted as Course Supervisor.

During 1944 the Devonshire Committee designed new-look training for a newlook CS after the war. The favoured CO option was a holistic approach to the training of the administrative cadres. This would take the shape of a three stage programme. Purse's "sandwich" course: a preliminary year at the university, followed by two years' supervised apprenticeship in the field, and concluding with a return to university for a further year followed by confirmation and final posting to the territory. However, colonial governors were not enthusiastic about the 'luxury' of waiting so long for desperately needed manpower. Ultimately, the new Devonshire Course 'A ' was not the revolution in training Purse had hoped for. Superficially the curriculum was, in content, not all that different from the pre-war CAS courses, and the final six (out of fifteen) months' language training at SOAS was soon dropped in favour of language tuition during the year's course itself. Instead of a possible Colonial Service Staff College for senior officers, a Devonshire Course 'B' was introduced, offering a sabbatical year in what was believed to be the critical 7-10 years' service period. It was expressly laid down that the Devonshire 'B' (later the Colonial Service and finally the Overseas Course 'B') should be open to departmental officers as well as the CAS. This was also attended by colonial officials from, for example, France and Portugal. In the 1960s Course 'B' became an important opportunity for junior non-graduate officers of the new localized civil services to add knowledge and polish to their undoubted experience. In 1969 both Courses were closed, making way for an overseas course in Development Studies at Cambridge and a one-year Foreign Service Programme for overseas diplomats at Oxford.

Checking the Books
Devonshire Course, 1948/9
Few administrators recruited between 1926 and c.1960 did not undergo one of these postgraduate training courses. Nearly every post-1946 'Devonshire' product has his own view of its value. Paradoxically, the one thing the CAS cadets were never taught (other than briefly at the USE) was Public Administration, at the heart of their future work. For most probationers, eager to get out to the field, apart from language training the course was felt to be a waste of time - unless one was keen to have a fourth year in which to obtain a Blue or to indulge in drawing a salary and being allowed to own a car, both while still in statu pupillari. My own Resident, in welcoming me to N. Nigeria in 1950, had no doubt what he thought of the CS Course: "It sounds as if what you learned would equip you to be the Governor rather than one of my cadets. A pity they did not teach you how to audit the Native Treasury accounts and how to type my confidential correspondence with Kaduna". In the event, I was to spend much of my first tour doing both - untrained and self-taught.

"Candidates Are Expected to Answer..."
Colonial Service Training Enquiry May 2000
The training we received before taking up our appointment in the Colonial Service, or later in HMOCS, has long been the subject of retrospective reflection, often in anecdotal mode. Few of the many memoirs now being published fail to comment on the courses, those at Oxford, Cambridge and LSE rather than on the specialist ones in Agriculture (ICTA Trinidad), Education (London), Veterinary (Edinburgh), Police (Hendon), etc.

We also have quite a lot of detail about the curriculum, notably from R.D. Furse's 1943 memorandum on reforming the pre-war Colonial Administrative Service (earlier the Tropical African Services) Course into what was to become the Devonshire Courses. In this context, we might note en passant the shock to present-day professional administrators in the fact that the Colonial Administrative Service probationers were rarely if ever taught anything recognisable as "Public Administration" or even "Administration". The first occasion when "Public Administration" was taught and examined on the Oxford course was in 1966 - several years after the last p. and p. British administrative cadets took the course and just three years before the course, now restyled Overseas Course in Government and Development and essentially aimed at those coming from overseas governments, was abolished. But of course Oxford and Cambridge (LSE proved a little more flexible) had right from the beginning of the courses in 1926 eschewed anything as redolent of 'vocational training' as Administration and refused to be deflected from the stem priority of 'education'.

There is doubtless more to be said about what we were (or were not) taught, how and by whom in terms of experience and authority, and how useful (or otherwise) it proved to be or could have been made to be, on reflection either then or since.

There remain three matters connected with the Colonial Service training courses at Oxford, Cambridge and LSE which currently engage my research and on which I would welcome further information and views. One is to compile a profile of just who our Course Supervisors were, say between 1926 and 1969, what experience they brought to the course, and what post-secondment positions in the Service they went on to hold. After all, it was a very responsible assignment, and presumably the Colonial Office nominated high-flyers and men of promise rather than deadbeats or passed-over DOs/DCs. My two Course Supervisors at Cambridge, in 1949 and in 1955, were both first-class men, one of them going on to become Colonial Secretary, Bahamas and finally deputy Governor-General of Nigeria, while his predecessor became Secretary to the Prime Minister of Nigeria. Simultaneously, Oxford had L.C. Giles, one of the best minds in the Northern Nigerian Service, and LSE the very able H.P. Elliott.

Another project is to resolve the question whether doing well on the Course or just scraping through (before the war a panel of CO officials and serving officers used to meet to try and rank the results into the time-honoured classes of First, Upper or Lower Second, Third or Fail) made any difference to one's initial posting within the already predetermined colony, and whether anyone (and if so, who, at what level) ever read or took account of the Supervisor's reports on the cadets.

The third project, broached here, is to raise our gaze from syllabus and supervisors to the final examination. To initiate this, we need to revisit the Examination Questions set by the various Boards and Committees locally responsible for running the Colonial Service Course. A major check is at once encountered. Oxford has retained none of the examination papers in its file of University Examinations, and the LSE report on what it holds is not promising. Cambridge alone has a workmanlike archive. Occasional copies are to be found, more or less by chance, in the personal papers donated by some of us to the Oxford Colonial Records Project and its successors. Despite these disappointments, I have now been able to scrutinise a fair sample of Colonial Service/Devonshire/Overseas Courses examination papers set at Oxford and Cambridge between 1950 and 1962 (the LSE research is yet to come). In that year the Colonial Service Course 'A' was dropped and a new syllabus for the Overseas Course was introduced. In 1969 the courses were again - and finally - redesigned, the hitherto 'Colonial' Service courses being closed and replaced by the Foreign Service Programme at Oxford and a course in Development Studies at Cambridge. It so happens that I kept the Colonial Service Course examination papers which I sat at Cambridge in 1950 (with each question I answered neatly ticked!), and it is from these that the examples are taken.

On the 1949/50 First Devonshire Course there were five exams of three hours each, with four questions out of six to be "attempted" in Law; five out of nine in Agriculture and Forestry; five out of twelve in General Paper I (History); three out of eight - "no more shall be attempted" - in GP II (Government of Dependent Territories); and a generous four out of thirteen in GP III (Anthropology and Economics). The three General Papers were taken in April, the other two exams were sat in more traditional June. I recall how my impression, even in 1950, was emphatically that many of the questions would have been better addressed to - and answered by - those who, like the Second Devonshire officers with us at Cambridge, had already had some practical exposure to colonial administration in situ, rather than eliciting parrotty answers from us probationers, who had simply learned the theory in the lecture hall. I recall how I boldly (or was it brashly?) even wrote a comment along these lines as a PS to one of my examination scripts... and seemingly got away with it! Examples of what I have in mind include "In what ways do you think anthropological research can be of use to the Colonial Administrator?" (Oxford, 1947) and "In what ways has the work of the colonial administrative officer changed during the last thirty years?" (Oxford 1947).

Turning to Cambridge 1950, this criticism is not valid for Law, in which the paper was sensible and straightforward (my tutor was a future Chief Justice of England). In the Agriculture and Forestry paper, I feel now - as I felt, rebelliously then - that a worthwhile answer to "What part would an officer of the District Administration play in the execution of an agricultural development policy? How does such a policy differ from a campaign for increased food production?" could not be learned in the classroom. Again, while "What are the general principles upon which a scheme for the improvement of the livestock of a colony should be based?" might properly be put to a Chief Veterinary Officer rather than an administrative probationer, the question "What are the chief matters that should be dealt with in a statement of Forest Policy for a Colony, and how is a District Administrative Officer concerned with them?" seems to be more suited to the Colonial Secretary than an untried colonial cadet.

The paper on Government of Dependent Territories, on the other hand, reads today, as it did in 1950, as fairly attuned to probationers whose knowledge had merely been learned from lectures, though I do wonder what nonsense I wrote from my ignorance in answer to the complexities of "Since 1942 the terms 'Indirect Rule' and 'Indirect Administration' have disappeared from the vocabulary of modern British administrative theory. Why?" That was Cambridge in 1950; amusingly, six years later Oxford was still asking its administrative probationers "What future do you foresee for 'Indirect Rule' as a form of administration?" Another case of another lost cause? History, like Law, clearly lent itself to instruction in tutorial and lecture, so there was little to quarrel with questions like "Discuss the statement that Lugard meant by The Dual Mandate the same things as Livingstone had meant by Christianity and Commerce" or "Illustrate from any one example the dictum that the first task of trusteeship is to teach the native a care for the soil", and we were probably better equipped than our future Resident or Senior District Officer (outside Fiji, bien entendu) to pontificate from our lectures on "What factors have gone to make Fiji 'an admirable example of the benefits to be achieved by a combination of British rule, native land-holdings, and imported capital'?"

As for Economics, I can no more answer the examination paper today than I could fifty years ago - no wonder my tutor fled from Cambridge in mid-term! Somehow I passed, despite my instinctive ironic reply to "What do you think economics to be about?" of "What indeed?".

When it came to Anthropology, I am back to my worry over whether we could really know enough from the Cambridge teaching to elicit worthwhile answers. "What do you understand by a) totemism b) tabu?" might be satisfactory, but what about "What do you consider the most effective method of dissipating the fear of witchcraft amongst an African people?" or "Which do you consider would be of most use to a colonial Government faced with the problem of soil conservation and agricultural development in a backward area: a survey of the area by a social psychologist, an economist, or a social anthropologist? Give reasons."

Maybe a study of the Course examination questions rather than a bald reading of the syllabus (few of us will have kept our lecture notes) will throw more light on what we probationers were taught and expected to know about colonial problems and policy. I'd certainly like to know more about these examinations and the impressions we came away with.

"Candidates Are Expected to Answer..."
Examiner's Report October 2001
As promised, here are extracts from the responses received on the Colonial Service training courses. Discarding, as I hope, the often derogatory - at times seemingly grudging - tone of conventional examiners' reports, let me declare right away that all were 'first-class' answers, displaying a vivid and valuable recall of an interlude experienced between 35 and 55 years ago. Several neatly recaptured impressions of fellow-cadets on the Course as well as of the teaching staff, while nearly every one pointed up new aspects of or offered fresh data on the training received - or not, as was the case with many officers from the 1946-48 vintages. Although the Editor thoughtfully pointed out that contributions would not be individually acknowledged, so many interesting ideas were put forward that in the event I was inspired to write and briefly thank nearly every one who sent me material.

No significance (beyond an approximate sense of chronology) attaches to the order in which the excerpts are presented. Nor have I, as I would want to do in an analysis of greater substance, drawn on the often detailed descriptions of Colonial Service training courses to be found in published memoirs, for instance - to take just a handful of recent accounts - in C. Blake (1989), P. Dennis (2000), R.T. Kerslake (1997), and G. Winstanley (2000).

Two respondents unanticipatedly enriched the project by providing data on the pre-1946 Devonshire Courses, which had opened at Oxford and Cambridge in 1926 as the Tropical African Services (TAS) course and later at London. R. Hobson (N. Rhodesia) gave me a copy of his substantial unpublished memoir of Vernon Brelsford, who went out to N. Rhodesia as a cadet in 1930. At Oxford, Brelsford recorded, Islamic Law was irrelevant to those posted to N. Rhodesia, nor was he ever sent to a district where Chinyanja, taught on the course, was spoken. "Surveying", he adds, "I remember because the retired brigadier who taught us invariably took us on field trips into the Parks whenever there was a cricket match". J.H.D. Stapledon (N. Nigeria), who attended the renamed Colonial Administrative Service (CAS) Course at Oxford in 1935/6, writes that "all my working life I realised how little I had been taught and of how little value it was". Above all, he lamented the absence of any instruction on Maliki Law and on the pre-colonial history and culture of the Islamic emirates of N. Nigeria. However, he never forgot the solemn advice "to take my quinine daily, always to wear a spine-pad and a solar topee, and never to fail at night to wear a knitted woollen tummyband firmly attached by a safety-pin to both jacket and trousers of my pyjamas".

Among those who attended the inaugural Devonshire Course of 1946/7 at Cambridge was A.C.W. Lee (Tanganyika). All were ex-servicemen (with a sprinkling of lieutenant-colonels), and Lee recalls how the CO's advice was not to waste time in getting a degree before joining the Colonial Service (advice which an able colleague in N. Nigeria bitterly regretted throughout his career). In mutual compensation, perhaps, Lee was sent back to Cambridge for the Second Devonshire at the end of his very first tour. His letter contains splendid pen-portraits of Cambridge and LSE lecturers, not all of them material for public obituaries! Another cadet with a similar experience in being nominated for the Second Devonshire Course after only one tour was P.M. Mawhood (Tanganyika), who attended the First Devonshire at Cambridge in 1947/8 and the Second in 1951/2. His assessment of this rapid-fire practice by the Tanganyika Government was that they simply did not know what to do with the places offered. Such uncertainty spread to the Course, where, in Mawhood's view, "neither the CO nor the Tanganyika Government seemed to know what should be done with it and the individual candidate was left to make his own programme". As it happened, Mawhood's shrewd choice of specializing in Local Government turned out to be the start of 50 years' study and distinguished teaching of it. He commends the enterprising joint CO/Second Devonshire visit to the Ecole Coloniale in Paris.

R. Hill's (N. Rhodesia) memory of the First Devonshire of 1947/8 at Cambridge is "frankly, the Course was pure delight...utter bliss", coming at the end of five years of war service. Once again, the Chibemba taught on the SOAS leg was never used during his ten years, but what Prof. Guthrie did teach proved an invaluable guide to the structure of other Bantu languages which had to be learned in the field. The Cambridge Colonial Service Club raised its own rugby XV, captained by the future governor Dick Luyt. Equally competitive was the struggle to kidnap the famous hartebeeste's head from the Oxford Club - a cunning hide-and-seek contest still a highlight of the visit to Oxford, as I recall, in 1950 and still in 1956! Incidentally, many a postwar Cantab cadet commented enviously on the superior quality of life in Oxford's Colonial Service Club in South Parks Road (removed from the Broad in 1948) when set beside the limited facilities of 'our' Club in Petty Cury located over a noisome British Restaurant. J. Lewis-Barned (Tanganyika) showed me not only a set of exam papers for the 1950/51 Oxford course but an up-beat letter from the Supervisor extolling the 'hotel' facilities of the new Club premises, recommended by him as "a very good centre for a family holiday on your next leave". Incidentally, nobody mentioned the two distinctive Club ties, nor the London one (what was it?).

R. Gumming (N. Rhodesia), who was on the course in 1949/50, speaks for many Cambridge cadets who recall with gratitude the inspired teaching of law by Geoffrey Lane or who recoiled with dismay from the economics classes of Peter Bauer. By now, the extra language term at SOAS had been dropped and African languages were taught as part of the Oxford and Cambridge curricula. In general, language and law emerge as the most appreciated subjects on the course in so far as future value in the field was concerned. D. Nicoll-Griffith (Kenya) attended the First Devonshire at Cambridge in 1951/52, where he found a bonus in that the ad hoc Supervisor (appointed for just one year), J.W. Howard, was a Kenya DC, who communicated his enthusiasm as well as his grass-roots knowledge of District work in Kenya. He suggests that this could have been a lesson for the CO, to consider appointing more 'bush' DCs and fewer Secretariat wallahs as Course Supervisor. J.H. Smith (N. Nigeria) was on the Oxford course in 1950/51, and with his letter enclosed a sheaf of valuable documents, among them a list of those attending the Course and a programme of the Club's functions for the Hilary Term, along with a copy of a stirring appeal from the Supervisor, L.C. Giles, for "Oxford to send forth her best sons into the Colonial Service". He also included a copy of the language exams, which I failed to mention in my original article because no library could show me any.

From Sir Frank Kennedy (E. Nigeria) came a major account and analysis of the Second Devonshire of 1952/3 at London. He points out that it is incorrect to refer to it as the LSE Course; while cadets were taught law and economics at LSE, they were taught anthropology at UCL, language and government at SOAS, and imperial history at King's College. Much of the teaching at London he rates first class (J.H. Smith, who took his degree at London, found the calibre of Oxford teaching palpably inferior), and by common consent the three weeks spent at Wye Agricultural College were "exceptionally informative and enjoyable" - and, unusually, vocational rather than academic. However, Sir Frank is critical of the language teaching, arguing that while it was adequate for easier languages like Hausa, Swahili and Malay, it was totally insufficient for the harder, tonal languages of Igbo, Yoruba or Mandarin. As for the exams, "compared to the final degree examinations which most of us had recently taken, they were a breeze". Sir Frank wonders whether on occasion the choice of Supervisor was not made by the CO on compassionate grounds (eg. health, etc) rather than on strictly meritocratic ones. His final paragraph strikes at the real issue in post-war Colonial Service training: "Were we not trained for the problems of simple, rural societies, rather than for the hugely different economic and political problems of societies emerging into the modem world in all its complexity?"

J. Tedder (BSIP) was one of those who attended the restyled Course 'A' at Cambridge in 1954/5. Understandably, he felt that having already served three years in the Western Pacific High Commission, Course 'B' might have been more appropriate, so he set about doing his own thing. However, in anthropology Melanesian society (which he naturally wanted to study) was a non-starter in the Cambridge of the day, and his degree in economics from Sydney University and his field experience in the Solomon Islands led to a difference of opinion with Bauer. In summary, for Tedder it was the contact with the wide range of Course members, both 'A' and 'B', and learning about their different, non-Pacific problems, rather than any academic or practical input that made the Course worthwhile. D. Taylor (Tanganyika) was on the Cambridge Course 'A' of 1955/1956. He recalls the Supervisor, H.H. McCleery, as a first-rate appointment who stood by him when Taylor wrote a highly critical report on a "useless" attachment to Bristol City Council. On arrival in Tanganyika he quickly realised how singularly lacking the teaching had been on nationalism, decolonization, and the "political aspects of colonial administration into which one was immediately pitched on arrival". M. Crouch (Aden), who was on the Oxford Course 'A' in 1957/8, made three points of special interest. He felt that the Course was overwhelmingly designed in terms of Africa, to the detriment of those destined for other parts of the Empire. He believes that this "waste of public money" was identified by the South Arabian Political Service, for he was the last recruit to be sent on the Oxford Course'A'. Secondly, for him the real dividends lay in the ability to meet West Indians and Africans from the newly independent (or about-to-be) countries, and in the local government attachment. On the other hand, Arabic lessons (by an eminent Oxford professor, who had better remain nameless) were "a nonsense... he was no Arabic speaker". Finally, Crouch claims a rare place in history for having failed - and having nobly confessed it here! - all his final exams, "an aberration", as his caring Supervisor, H.P.W. Murray, quickly wrote to Aden, reassuring the Secretariat (as Crouch later discovered when he came to shred the Residency files) that this was still a promising young officer.

What are of unusual value are the unexpected reflections of those who never attended a First Devonshire Course. Predominantly but not exclusively these were the men who joined the Colonial Service in the immediate aftermath of the war, at a time when the manpower situation in the colonies was desperate and the CO's overriding priority was to fill the vacancies in the field without delay. One such non-Course cadet was J.A. Jones who, posted to Eastern Nigeria in 1946, did not undergo any training until 1950, when he was sent to Cambridge on the Second Devonshire. Deciding to specialize in race relations, he was allocated to the anthropologist G.I. Jones (formerly a DO in Eastern Nigeria), who insisted on Saturday afternoon for his tutorials: they would watch the Wales rugby match before turning to a discussion of race relations. As for what he heard of the First Devonshire Courses, his conclusion is "Thank God I didn't do it - it sounds as if it were a complete waste of time". Yet another who went straight out to his colony was N. Goldie-Scot (Gold Coast), who was flown out (a very early instance) to Accra in February 1947, assured by the CO that to get out and on with the job was far better than wasting three years getting a degree. He is of the opinion that he did not lose out by not attending the Course, persuasively adding: "Provided one was put under a good DC, on-the-job training was a pretty comprehensive way to learn". Then there was J.P.L. Scott (Sierra Leone), one of the very few appointments made in 1941. Since, he argues, all of us in the end had to learn the job as we went along, whether we had attended the Course or not, "the real question is whether the Course enabled us to learn quicker or more easily than one would have done otherwise". Thought-provokingly, he goes on to say he cannot recall a single instance of any of his seniors who had done the Course "ever seeming to rely on course-gained evidence to make a point". Another who was not sent on the First Devonshire was C.H.F. Blake (Malaya). Having been with the British Military Administration in Malaya from 1945 to 1946, he was transferred into the Colonial Administrative Service there. However, in an important paragraph, he notes how he had already "received some elementary instruction in law and language at an army training establishment near Madras, which had been put together by the BMA". Furthermore, he still had to attend an interview in Whitehall. Nominated for the Second Devonshire at LSE, he found it "of little use for what one did on the job", and concludes that its main purpose seemed to be to groom high-flyers. Once again we have the considered opinion that no Course could ever provide better training than that experienced under a dedicated, in loco parentis DO, a judgement which many of us might warmly endorse. In retrospect, it is perhaps a pity that on the Second Devonshire we were not made aware of how Furse had envisaged its purpose and catchment area, as set out in the 1946 White Paper, Postwar Training for the Colonial Service - not overlooking the very Fursian caveat that its object was inter alia: "to counteract those 'bolshie' tendencies which are said to be most common about the fifth to seventh year of service by teaching him where he fits into the general scheme of colonial government... to deflate his conceit if he thinks he knows too much; and to fortify his morale after any shocks which his idealism may have received". Incidentally P. Gore (CO), who served under Furse in 1946, retailed an original anecdote about what his boss really thought about the psychiatrists on whom the Civil Service Commission relied so heavily at its House Party interviews for the Diplomatic and Home Civil Services.

So to three contributions which offered something extra among so many helpful replies. D. Heaton (Gold Coast) did the very first Devonshire Course, in 1946/7, at Oxford and then London. With his letter he enclosed his pocket notebook, with notes on lectures, books and language (Twi), all scrupulously (and so tidily) written-up. High among his memories is the visit to the Club by Lord Hailey, who told the story against himself of how his wife had tried to read his An African Survey in bed but found it so boring that it sent her straight to sleep and so heavy that when it fell on the floor it woke her up! D. Barton (Tanganyika) suspects that his mother may ["unaccountably" - but we praise her!] have kept all his lecture notes and essays from his Oxford course of 1951/2; the search continues in loft and garage. Writing from New Zealand, R.E.N. Smith (Nyasaland) has indeed retained his "voluminous notes" made on the 1948/9 Course at Oxford, LSE and SOAS, as well as the detailed lecture lists. He even has a record of his own marks! His earlier article Checking the Books points to a widely regretted (at least by our seniors in situ) lacuna in the Colonial Service training syllabus, namely simple book-keeping. Of exceptional interest are the fifteen pages (from his 1000pp. unpublished autobiography) devoted to a minute description of the First Devonshire Course, its members, teachers, customs and curricula at both Oxford and London.

The reports from B. Silk (Gold Coast) and A. Ker (Uganda) carry a distinctive value among the corpus gathered. Silk's experiences are characterized by the fact that he was the last (and is possibly the last surviving) of the seven CS/HMOCS lecturers in Tropical Agriculture who taught the Administrative cadets - not the Agricultural Probationers: they were guided (and guarded) exclusively by the Reader in Agriculture, though they nevertheless enjoyed and keenly participated in the activities of the Colonial Service Club - at Cambridge between 1946 and 1960. His recollections are thus, uniquely in this project so far, from the staff side, and contain many items of teaching interest, including Professor Engledow's insistence on checking his staff's spelling when setting examination papers lest they expose him to mockery from his fellow dons at St. John's high table. Ker's reply is also unique, in that he sent an eight page extract from his memoirs. This document relates, in valuable detail, his experience in 1953/4 of the nine months spent by the Agricultural Probationers at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) in Trinidad on the postgraduate course which they were required to attend immediately following the Cambridge year. In the same vein, J.M.A. Sly (WAIFOR, Nigeria) reports that he has retained all his lecture notes and exam papers for both the Cambridge Diploma of Agricultural Science (1953/54) and the Trinidad Diploma of Tropical Agriculture (1954/55). He has also devoted twenty pages of his very handsomely illustrated memoir "A Pictorial Record of Life in the Colonial Service in West Africa, 1953-1966" to a diary of his training experiences.

Lastly, a few points made in telephoned responses. R.E.S. Tanner (Tanganyika) assures me that when he attended the Devonshire Course at Oxford he found he had so much time - and zeal? - to spare that he was able simultaneously to work for the Diploma in Anthropology. D. Physick (N. Nigeria) recalls that on the 1937/8 CAS course at Cambridge (TAS gave way to CAS when the Eastern Cadets were admitted after the 1932 establishment of a unified Colonial Administrative Service) the exams were not looked on as all that important by the probationers, all of whom had faced far worse in the previous year when they sat their Tripos/Finals. Far more daunting, P. Dennis (Gold Coast) confirms, was the final board at the CO, at the end of which the probationers learned whether they had passed or not. Dennis also recalls the vigorous personality of K. Bell, Fellow of Balliol College, who acted as the Supervisor of the Oxford CAS course in 1939. Bell, as Furse makes plain in his autobiography, was very much the CO's talent scout at Oxford, with a brief to pick out the likely lads and direct their career thoughts towards the Colonial Service.

As extremely rewarding and productive as this exercise has been (the replies have all been filed along with other Colonial Service training documentation destined for Rhodes House Library), three things are missing so far. One, we could do with more reports like that of B.J. Silk, reflecting on what the tutors thought of both the students and the syllabus. Actuarial reality, alas! may militate against such a likelihood. Two, while we are typically well off for recollections from those who attended the CAS/Devonshire/'A' and 'B'/Overseas Courses at Oxford, Cambridge and (somewhat less so) at London, what is as yet in short supply is any feed-back from departmental probationers who did their pre-Service course in, for example. Education at London, Forestry at Oxford, Veterinary Science at Edinburgh or Police at Hendon. Three, what is totally absent is the view from all those Caribbean/Malayan/African/Pacific colleagues (many of us can recall at least one on the course) who attended either the First Devonshire Courses or the later Course 'B' (a rare glimpse is given by J. Oputa Udoji in his memoir Under Three Masters, 1995). Several replies quoted above mention such meeting and mixing with nationals from territories coming up to independence as the most valuable aspect of the Course. Nor has anybody touched on the questions posed in the original article: did our performance on the course influence our first posting? And was the Supervisor's report ever seriously read by anyone in the Secretariat or GH?

Meanwhile, for my part and out of mere curiosity, I am, inspired by comments in many of the replies so helpfully sent, going to try and construct a career profile of just who the Course supervisors were at Oxford, Cambridge and London between 1946 and 1969, and who directed the pre-war TAS and CAS courses from 1926 to 1940. All clues and contributions gratefully received!

Africa Map
British Empire Map, 1897
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 77: May 1999
OSPA Journal 80: October 2000
OSPA Journal 82: October 2001
Additional Articles by Author
The District Officer in the African Colonial Novel
For Better or for Verse?
New Gubernatorial Profiles and Pedigrees
The Colonial Office


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