The British Empire Library

Sixty-Nine Years Together

by Francis G Smith

Courtesy of OSPA

David Connelly (Tanganyika 1954-1962)
The principal author of this memoir, Dr Francis Smith, was for 13 years 1949-62 the Tanganyika Government's Beeswax Officer. About one third of the book is about the life in Tanganyika of the author and his family.

The book's scope and the author's aims are wider than those of the usual Colonial Service memoir. In his introduction he says "I have put together these memories to express the togetherness of Joan (his late wife) and me, the oneness of which we were aware..." The book therefore covers the whole course of the author's life from his teenage years to the death of his wife Joan in 2008. The format reflects this togetherness, in that many events are described twice, first by Francis Smith in an ordinary typeface, and again in extracts from Joan's writings, in an italic typeface. Many will find that this is not a happy arrangement for the reader. It also means that relatively minor day to day events, especially in the Smiths' post-colonial life in Western Australia, are given undue prominence and attention.

Like so many others, Francis Smith's life and expectations were transformed by the war. In 1939 he was a 19-year old bank clerk and a territorial soldier in the ranks of the Surrey Yeomanry; by 1945 he had been commissioned and had developed a taste for the outdoors. Experience of a forester's life in the German forests whilst he was with the army of occupation focused his interests on forestry and he decided to pursue this. The outcome was that he graduated in forestry at Aberdeen University. As a student the author set up house with his family at Torphins in rural Aberdeenshire and whilst living there he began to keep bees in order to supplement his income by the sale of honey. He was therefore very well qualified, perhaps uniquely so, when in 1949 the Colonial Office offered him appointment as Beeswax Officer in Tanganyika. He is clearly a very energetic and capable person, and during his first six years there he embarked on a study of the pollens on which bees were feeding. The results of this work was a DSc degree from Aberdeen University.

At this point your reviewer must register a wish for more detail and more explanation. What led the Tanganyika Government to decide, in those difficult post war years, that it needed such an exotic creature as a Beeswax Officer? What was the economic case for the appointment of a relatively expensive expatriate - and a few years later there were also three Assistant Beeswax Officers on the establishment? About the reason for his appointment the author says only that the problem he was required to fix was adulteration of beeswax, and that contamination was also a problem - both were dealt with. It would have been interesting to have a more detailed account of his solutions to these problems and how they were developed and communicated to the man in the bush who gathered the beeswax - from wild bees - at the start of the commercial chain. Also, how did that same man in the bush set about his business and then bring his goods to market?

Overall, this is an interesting and lively account of a family's life and travels. But it is a disappointment that the author did not draw on his unusual knowledge and experience to tell us more about African bees and beeswax, and perhaps honey as well.

British Empire Book
Francis G Smith
Melrose Books
978 1 907 732 37 9


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