The British Empire Library

The Tilapia Trail: The Life Story of a Fish Biologist

by Ro Lowe-McConnell

Courtesy of OSPA

P B N Jackson (N Rhodesia/Nyasaland 1951-63 Director of East African Freshwater Fisheries Research Organisation 1963-65)
This very interesting book departs from the ordinary run of colonial-era autobiographies in dealing with an unusual topic. It is the story of Rosemary Helen Lowe-McConnell, whose entire career was engaged in the study of tropical freshwater fish. Her primary target is that most important sub-group of fishes in the world, freshwater or no. These are what Ethelwynn Trewavas called the Tilapines in her 1983 revision, though that name was never used by Ro in her book. She mentions many other tropical freshwater fish as well, both of Africa and South America, and gives the names of many people and places, adding greatly to the value of her book.

Ro spent the war years in taking her degrees at the University of Liverpool and was recruited by Dr Charles Hickling, CMG, then Fisheries Adviser to the Colonial Office, as the first Fisheries Research Officer, later followed by many. She was first posted to Nyasaland to study the fisheries in the southern part of the lake, and this book is a detailed, informative and entertaining account of events leading up to her departure for Africa and her work and experiences since then.

Overall this book is strongly recommended for all those whose interest in natural history takes them to the tropical areas of Africa and South America, since there are photographs and descriptions of many different freshwater fish, not only of tilapia. To those of us who served in various capacities in the Colonial Service in the 1950's and early 1960's this book should have an appeal in referring to many personalities and places not directly relating to fish. All this makes for a valuable and highly readable book, an important addition to the history of freshwater fisheries development in Central and East Africa, as well as South America, in the decades following the war; and from which I for one, fish biologist though I am, learned a lot.

On the debit side, this book would perhaps have benefited from another revision. For example this might have included short descriptive phrases such as "blue green algae" before "Anabaena" and other organisms not generally known to laymen. For a book such as this which deals with so many different names and places, an Index would have been most useful, as would a Glossary briefly explaining the technical terms. Several authors correctly cited in the text are not listed in the References.

Her childhood and background are given in much less detail. Photographs of her parents are later given, but nowhere are their names or careers mentioned. In Uganda in 1953 she married Richard McConnell of the UK Overseas Geological Surveys, then accompanied him to Bechuanaland Protectorate and later British Guiana, for many happy years.

British Empire Book
Ro Lowe-McConnell
MPM Publishing
0 9545596 4 9