The British Empire Library

Of Cargoes, Colonies And Kings

by Andrew Stuart

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Sir Rex Hunt (Uganda 1951-62, CRO/FCO 1963-85, Falkland Islands 1980-85)
I read both of this book with great pleasure. Not surprisingly, it struck an immediate chord with me because, like the writer, I was a District Commissioner in Uganda before becoming a 'colonial retread' in the Diplomatic Service. Our paths never crossed, but we shared similar experiences.

We quickly realised that the Diplomatic Service was an entirely different profession from the British Colonial Administrative Service. Andrew Stuart writes with a deft touch and good humour about the painful and often demoralising experience of being turned into a diplomat. Richard Posnett admits that he has never been able fully to cast off the colonial character even when wearing a diplomat's clothing.

Both explain the difference between the two professions. 'For the Diplomatic Service officer', writes Richard, 'Britain's interests were always paramount', whereas most officers in the Colonial Service 'developed a loyalty to the government of their own territory and indeed to the territory itself, rather than to London'. In short, 'going native' was frowned upon in the Diplomatic Service but necessary in a colony. As I was about to leave the FCO for the Falklands, my Permanent Under-Secretary said, 'Your first task is to get to know the islanders and win their confidence'. My second was left unsaid but we both knew what it was: to sell them down the river to Argentina.

Andrew points out that the Diplomatic Service had difficulty in staffing the remaining outposts of Empire. 'The trouble is that most diplomats are unaccustomed to administering anything. Ideas are their stock-in-trade and they are good at them. Building a dam, collecting a tax, judging a case or mending a Land Rover is foreign to them. It makes them dither'. He might also have added 'reaching a decision' - their nickname in the Ministry of Defence is 'The Better-Notters'. Andrew acknowledges, however, that many of his diplomatic colleagues had fine and flexible minds. In his words, they were, 'if not all Rolls Royce minds, at least something between a Jaguar and a Rover. One or two of them indeed were Ferraris'.

His account of working in the FCO in the sixties is both perceptive and highly amusing. I particularly liked his tale of the Assistant Head of Department who instructed him in the art of pinning flags to draft answers to Parliamentary Questions.

His diplomatic career took him to interesting places in changing times, including Hong Kong, the Seychelles, Diego Garcia and the New Hebrides, where he was Resident Commissioner. The last ten chapters of his book chronicle the difficulties he had there in dealing with his French counterpart (and the FCO) while guiding the Condominium to Independence. It is a fascinating story and confirms my belief that a Condominium in the Falklands could never work. He describes the system as 'truly a monster. Nothing worked sensibly or, in many cases, at all'.

The problem was compounded by the French belief that decolonisation from France was an act of self-destruction, not of re-birth, while we believed that it was our job to prepare the colonies for Independence. With such contradictory views, no wonder that the Condominium was popularly known as the 'Pandemonium'.

Andrew makes light of the troubles caused by his fellow Resident Commissioner and even writes of him with affection. He was probably equally frustrated by the 'Heaven born' in the FCO, who dithered over sending troops to put down a simmering insurrection. Fortunately Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister at the time and a personal telegram to her did the trick. The Royal Marines appeared on the scene and the 'Coconut War' was over. (Their next overseas adventure was the Falklands War.)

Andrew left the new Republic of Vanuatu short afterwards. 'I felt terrible,' he writes, 'at the thought of a job that seemed only half complete.' I felt the same when the Argentines flew me out of the Falklands; but I was able to return.


Lord Carrington "This is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read for some time. Andrew Stuart writes with wry humour of some of the bizarre occurrences of his diplomatic and colonial life. It is a very good read and thoroughly to be recommended".

Alyson Bailes, Director Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) "I should tell you how much I enjoyed reading your book - it had not only the appeal of the exotic and of times irretrievably past, but a wonderful blend of humour and underlying deep concern."

Sir Michael Palliser, former PUS Foreign Office "Seldom can there have been a more entertaining account of the end of Empire than in this engaging - and in parts acerbic - book by Andrew Stuart. I read it with real pleasure and constant chuckles".

David Newson, former US Under-Secretary of State "Andrew Stuart is uniquely qualified to describe the tumultuous Twentieth Century transition from Empire to Independence. He does so with insight, sensitivity and good humour. Of particular current interest is his chapter on Diego Garcia".

British Empire Book
Andrew Stuart
The Radcliffe Press
1 86064 713 8


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