The rationale for this book is given by Tony Kirk-Greene in his thoughtful and wellinformed
Foreword: "One can't expect to grasp what imperialism was until one first
understands who the imperialists were". He places it in the historiographic movement
towards personal studies of colonial officials and notes that it is the first to look beyond
administrators to educationists.
Whitehead starts with a short (78 page) study of Indian educational policies and
service, presumably as a sort of ancestor of the Colonial Educational Service and then
goes on to short biographical sketches of eight people influential in British colonial
policy and practice in education: Hanns Vischer, Arthur Mayhew, Eric Hussey,
Christopher Cox, W E Frank Ward, Margaret Read (the dust jacket, horribly, mixes her
up with Margaret Mead!), Freda Gwilliam and William (Bill) Dodd.
For readers of The Overseas Pensioner, the bulk of the book devoted to colonial
educational policy-makers will hold more interest. Four or five of the eight people
described will probably have been encountered by at least some readers and the
wonderfully genial Bill Dodd has only just died alas, at the time of writing this review.
Each person is written up as an individual and because some of the studies have been
published as articles elsewhere there is a certain amount of repetitious explanation. But
this treatment has the advantage of showing up the connections and relationships
between these officials. It also shows up one or two "grey eminences" in the colonial
education story, particularly J. H. Oldham of the International Missionary Council.
The individual biographies are preceded by a short more general piece on the Colonial
Education Service, mentioning several other persons and suggesting further subjects.
The author is conscious that the women educators have mostly been unsung - perhaps
because they mostly soldiered on in the field and didn't rise to the policy levels.
Freda Gwilliam's battle with the Colonial Office over her salary and status throws some
light on this!
Meticulous work has been done on the main subjects' backgrounds and careers. Five
were Oxford graduates, the other three went to Cambridge and the subjects they studied
were: History (3), Lit. Hum. (2 - one with a brilliant First, the other a more modest
Third), Anthropology (2) and Philosophy (1). There was not a scientist among them and
only one had any formal qualification in Education seen as a profession; this was
Bill Dodd, who in his own time studied by correspondence for a Certificate in Education.
All except Freda Gwilliam had done some work in India or Africa, although it comes as
a bit of a surprise that Christopher Cox, the great mandarin of Colonial (and as the
author says, post-colonial) Education should have had precisely two years in the field, as
Principal of Gordon College, Khartoum (if that counts as the field!).
Such reflections and discoveries kept me reading this book, and as a pioneer venture it
is commendable, but I found it sometimes unsatisfactory. It is avowedly about persons
and not policies, but these people were all in powerful policy positions and it would have
been interesting to have had a more connected discussion on their ideas and
The moral basis for their work is well described -- all had a powerful ethical
(generally Christian) drive and would fulfil Freda Gwilliam's criteria for a good Director
of Education; humanity, selflessness and a concern for the indigenous people. A hint of
paternalism is there, but Vischer, Ward and Hussey were outstandingly not paternalist -
I was touched too by the description quoted of Hussey, that "He was a living example of
the truth of how much a man can accomplish if he doesn't care who gets the credit".
The book is uneven, in that some figures get more attention that others, but it is
enlivened with some good stories - I particularly liked the scene in which Frank Ward
got the Protestant and Catholic Bishops of Mauritius on their knees saying the Lord's
Prayer before discussing their schools.
We now need more books about and/or by people who were educators working in the
field, their relationships with pupils and parents and their views of the policy-makers