Elspeth Huxley

This is a photograph of Mervyn Maciel with Elspeth Huxley at her Wiltshire cottage.

On her death in 1997, Veronica Bellers (fellow OSPA member) wrote these words in tribute to her:

The former Colonial Service in Africa has lost a friend in Elspeth Huxley. Her honest observations on all aspects of the Administration, and her admiration for their contributions to the fabric of African life provide posterity with an invaluable record. Although in her most authoritative work White Man's Country she remarks that the Kenya settler resented "the tendrils of bureaucracy [which] groped for him even in the wilds", she stoutly defended the Kenya administration against charges by Margery Perham of not listening to African views. "A large part of their job is to find out native feelings and to support their interests", she admonished.

She took a keen interest in all aspects of government efforts "to improve the conditions of the people". In the field of education she recognised the "propellent quality that whirls forward . . . all in his path" of an Education Officer in Gambia whose dream was to see every Gambian child with book and pencil in its hand. And when she visited the "clean and spruce" hospital at Kakamega she was moved by the malnutrition block and a "tiny creature . . . [with] a puny wizened face . . . light as thistledown and its hair was white . . ." She noted that the patients came from one location where "although all the families own cows . . . the men drink [the milk], or make it into ghee to sell".

Mrs Huxley sympathised with the lonely policeman in Kitosh where "Arson is the principal amusement here" and who, when asked what he did in the evenings, said "Sometimes I watch bats chasing the rats out of the rafters". But it was agriculture which interested her the most and the Agricultural Officers struck her "as happy men . . . for they have a job they believe in unmixed with politics". A small village in Nigeria reeled under the ministrations "of a Welsh crusader who with all the fervour, eloquence and fanaticism of his race . . . " set about reforming cocoa and palm oil production and creating prosperous cooperatives.

Refreshingly unclouded by political correctness, Mrs Huxley's love of Africa and Africans gleams and twinkles through all her reportative writings. In Four Guineas she described one of the more ticklish problems facing an official: how to word an invitation to a Gambian dignitary with several wives. Should it be marked "Mr, and one Mrs Jahumpa", or "Mr and the Mrs Jahumpa, or in what manner?".

Bwana Karani