The British Empire Library


Diary of a Colonial Wife: An African Experience

by Joan Sharwood-Smith

An African Life: Tales of a Colonial Officer

by M. C. A. Atkinson

Kingdoms in the Sand and Sun

by N. C. McClintock


Courtesy of OSPA


Review by A.H.M. Kirk-Greene (Nigeria 1950-66, lecturer in Modern History of Africa, Oxford University)
Here are the first three volumes from the newly established Radcliffe Press. What a welcome they deserve! Attractively produced in every department - printing, layout, illustrations, binding, dust-jacket, index (a pity about the modern disease of proof-reading even in these sound volumes) - and in no way impossibly priced for 125-200 pages of superior-looking text in hardback, they will deservedly earn as much respect for the enterprising publishers as they will give a full measure of pleasure to their readers - and an angostura-like dash of justifiable pride to the authors, too. Only for me, properly faced by the editorial ukase of 'not more than 1200 words', is the opportunity for exuberant indulgence limited.

Joan Sharwood-Smith, whose manuscript "Uwargida" lay for too long unappreciated in the archives at Oxford until it was 'discovered' by Helen Callaway as one of the sources for her brilliant study of European women in colonial Nigeria (1987), will be already known to many readers as the wife of the late Sir Bryan Sharwood-Smith, Governor of Northern Nigeria 1952-1957, and to yet others who used to read the then Colonial Service journal Corona. To Sir Bryan's first-class autobiography. But Always as Friends (1969) - the American title differs -, Joan Sharwood-Smith now adds her own important memoir, covering the years from 1939, when she sailed to Lagos and joined her husband who was then SDO Kontagora (colloquially, and to the initiated, Mai Wandon Karfe)uip to 1957 when, in the wake of the double triumph of the Royal visit and the marriage of Sir Bryan's daughter, Sarah, to HE's former ADC, Victor Hibbs, the Sharwood-Smiths left Kaduna on retirement. It is typical of the author that she should not choose to title her story in a Government House mode. Instead, her quiet yet positive sense of humour, her capacity for lively observation, and above all her creative gift for warm-hearted portraits, emerge endearingly from every chapter of what she prefers to look on as the experience of just another Colonial Service wife. Undoubtedly one of the most engaging colonial memoirs I have read for many a harmattan, it is also a personal record I shall want to return to again and again in what working years are left to me.

The fact that I was privileged to read the next two manuscripts some five years ago has simply made me all the more eager for their publication. Like fine wine, they are all the better for a shrewd period of laying down. Lord Grey hits the nail neatly on the head when he introduces Mike Atkinson's delightfully readable memoir of service in the Provincial Administration of the Western Region from 1939 to 1959 as "the story of one man ... and of his wife, daughter and son ... in one part of Nigeria ... a light-hearted tale of strenuous, yet enjoyable and deeply satisfying, endeavour". Atkinson's explanation of his need to write his book as an exorcism of nostalgia, to get "the Bush out of my Soul", is a telling thought. He will already be known to readers as the compiler of two volumes of amusing Nigerian Tales (see Nos. 56 and 61), with a third reportedly in hand. The literary dimension is evident in this "Tales of a Colonial Officer", too. Granted Atkinson's punctilious identification of who was who in his story, it is maybe only fair to agree with him that the DO whose house was deliberately burnt down should remain unnamed, however instantly recognisable by his brother officers as "the least sympathetic character among them". While nearly every chapter is, mutatis mutandis, bound to provoke one's own memory of the scenes and incidents described, often routine yet never the same, outside analysts of Colonial Service life will be grateful to Atkinson for his calculated breakdown of how he spent his time both as a DO (Ch. 2) and as a Permanent Secretary (Ch. 10). An even braver and equally valuable - attempt is his insight into expatriate social life in the Western Region (Ch. 9). Is it only Northern conservatism (certainly not puritanism!) that may lead others from 'the Holy North' to question the alleged post-Nigerian comprehensiveness of the West's "pattern of drinking [as] consistent and conventional ... a tendency to be boastful and exhibitionistic about one's drinking prowess'7 True, the Elder Dempster ships could be a great leveller of castes!

Like Atkinson's, McClintock's book is also a masterpiece of unhyped description of the daily yet never dull nature of official, personal and social life as an Administrative Officer in post-WWII Nigeria. His is the longest of the Radcliffe Press volumes under review. If it is, too, arguably the most reflective in its intent and its subtitle (the rationale is firmly set at p.vii), the positive carrying-you-along character of the narrative represents a boon to the reader. In addition to the HQ view from both Lagos and Kaduna and a spell in Kano, Nicky McClintock, who served for some fifteen years in Nigeria focuses essentially on his several sojourns in 'his' Bornu Province, equally the 'home'(and, in 1912, sadly the grave) of an illustrious relative, the legendary Major Augustus McClintock, widely known as Mai Doron Yaki, 'the one who carries the whole burden of the war upon his shoulders'. For a number of years now I have tried to find a Northern Nigerian memoir to match Kenneth Bradley's longstanding Colonial Service classic from Northern Rhodesia, The Diary of a District Officer (1943). With the publication of Nicky McClintock's Kingdoms in the Sand and Sun to join John Smith's stimulating Colonial Cadet in Nigeria (1968), I feel that, as they say in the best police circles, the search has been called off.

British Empire Book
Author
Joan Sharwood-Smith
Published
1992
Pages
160
Publisher
Radcliffe Press
ISBN
1850435243
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
M. C. A. Atkinson
Published
1992
Pages
136
Publisher
Radcliffe Press
ISBN
1850435235
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
N. C. McClintock
Published
1992
Pages
208
Publisher
Radcliffe Press
ISBN
1850435227
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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