The British Empire Library

African Honeymoon: When Malawi Was Nyasaland

by Gordon and Marian Burridge

Courtesy of OSPA

Gordon Landreth (District Commissioner in Karonga during the latter part of the Burridges time in Chisenga)
Gordon and Marian Burridge, Glaswegians, spent the years from 1957 to 1960 in the remote Northern Province of Nyasaland where he was an Agricultural Supervisor in the government service. Letters written by both of them to their family at home were kept by Gordon's mother and found in a bag in a garden shed in Australia where they had emigrated in 1972. Reading them fifty years after they were written, the Burridges realised they had a good story to tell, and the book tells of many adventures, hardships and scary incidents. A good read indeed.

Gordon was 21 and Marian 18 when they became engaged in 1956. Gordon had completed his agricultural training with the highest Diploma qualifications, but was due to spend two years in National Service. To avoid this he took a job as a single man as an Agricultural Supervisor in Nyasaland, as Malawi was then called. They decided to postpone their marriage, and there was an emotional farewell at London docks as Gordon sailed for Africa on the Braemar Castle in July 1957.

His first letters home describe his month-long journey by ship to Cape Town, up the coast to Beira, and by rail to Blantyre. Here he learnt he was posted to the Northern Province, and as his work would take him on bush tracks unsuitable for ordinary cars he was granted a loan sufficient to buy a new Landrover. The loan was repaid by monthly deductions from his salary, which meant he was always short of money, and had to learn how to maintain the vehicle, as there were no commercial garages in the area he served.

Three months after leaving London Gordon arrived at the district headquarters of Karonga, met the local expatriate community and learned the administrative and other aspects of his job. It was another month before he moved into his new home at Chisenga in the hill area of Karonga with the Public Works Department supervisor and his wife as the only other European neighbours.

Gordon arranged for his fiancee to fly out to Nyasaland early in 1958, and they were married in April by the District Commissioner, Jo Maynard, in Karonga District Office. Gordon had no local leave available, so they had their wedding night at a hotel in Mbeya, across the Tanganyika border, after a terrible drive on muddy roads. So much for the African Honeymoon!

Their first months together in Chisenga were happy times however and they made good friends with the small number of expatriates living in the Karonga hill area. One special event was the visit of the Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Lord Dalhousie, in July.

The riots in Karonga District in March 1959 brought many excitements to the Burridges, and Gordon had various adventures working with the security forces, while Marian, with their first child due in a few weeks, went down to Mzuzu and eventually Lilongwe to be near medical facilities. Baby Ian was born in Lilongwe hospital on 7 April and Marian returned with him to their Chisenga home. They had to move at the end of June to another agricultural station near Mzuzu, still in the Northern Province, and then to Mzuzu itself, where facilities and services were much better than in the Karonga hills.

Faced with uncertain prospects in Nyasaland, the Burridges decided to leave and went back to the UK, a pleasant journey by train and boat, in August 1960. So ended three full and colourful years serving in a place of few creature comforts, related in exciting detail in these old letters home.

African Honeymoon would make a good companion volume to Not out of Malawi by Enid Waterfield, reviewed in the OP, No. 100, October 2010 and dealing with the lives of government servants in the same northern part of Nyasaland.

British Empire Book
Gordon and Marian Burridge
KB Productions
978 0 646 54364 2


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe