The British Empire Library

Colonialism: The Golden Years

by J. A. Golding

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by A.H.M. Kirk-Greene
From a book which advertises itself as "a nostalgic read of those days when the 'sun never set' .... (evoking) memories of Sanders and Bosambo", readers will expect to encounter that kind of proud imperial premise and perspective which was often quietly taken for granted decades ago and is generally derided in the literature today. Nor will he or she who turns the pages of this book in such an anticipation be disappointed. It is the sub-title rather than the title which has inspired J. A. Golding, who joined the Tanganyikan administration in 1946 and then after independence moved on as Administrator of the Turks and Caicos Islands, to give us this detailed, straightforward and interesting account of his own 'golden years'.

Because of the deliberately provocative intent of the title, the outline had best be presented in the author's own words. The memoir, of 250 closely and well printed pages enhanced by a large number of personal photographs, faithfully observes his own guidelines:

"In recent years it has become fashionable to apologise for English colonialism and to denigrate our civilising mission throughout the Empire. The popular view is of oppression and economic exploitation. The position, certainly in East Africa, was quite the opposite .... far from the truth."

Written with plenty of detail and data, frankly, factually and without a surfeit of retrospective or introspective analysis. Colonialism: the Golden Years seems to this reviewer to end up as far more of an effective autobiography of one who "had the privilege of serving in the Colonial Service" than a serious support of the author's argument of how the "paternalism" of British rule so sheltered "the political African" that he was "unaware of the hard economic and administrative facts of life" and the "impression was created that it was all too easy to govern". Mr. Golding is on surer ground when he described, as he does so tellingly, the daily round and common task of the colonial civil servant than when he prophesies that "the time will come when the period of colonial rule will be acknowledged as being a Golden Age of justice, peace and plenty".

As a straightforward record of what Mr. Golding did in Tanganyika, however, this is a worthwhile exercise. Yet, while Colonialism: the Golden Years is a welcome addition to my special collection which I would have been vexed to have missed, its premise and conclusions are more likely to find favour with the converted rather than to appeal to a wider, newer audience. Hopefully there may still be others who will care to read Mr. Golding's interesting view of "how it really was".

British Empire Book
J. A. Golding
Birlings (Kent) Ltd.


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