The British Empire Library

A Grain of Sand: The Story of One Man and an Island

by Brendon Grimshaw

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Bernard Pauncefort (Tanganyika 1956-63)
It must surely be the dream of every colonial administrator to spend his retirement years living on his own island in the sun. Humphrey Arthington-Davy almost managed it after distinguished careers in the Indian Political and British Diplomatic Services by staying on in Tonga (with the express approval of the King) after his final posting there. But it is a former newspaperman in Tanganyika who has realised that dream. Since 1962, Brendon Grimshaw has been the resident owner of 2272 acres of tropical island a few degrees south of the equator in the Indian Ocean. It is Moyenne Island in the Seychelles group and Grimshaw has now written about it in "A Grain of Sand". In 210 pages there are no less than 94 "chapters". The book is, therefore, a collection of snapshots rather than a careful chronology of the author's life since he was born in Yorkshire in 1925.

He learned his trade with the Batley News and the Sheffield Star but it was when he accepted an appointment as senior sub-editor with the East African Standard in Nairobi that his love affair with East Africa and the Seychelles began. He writes about his eight years in Nairobi - and a further eleven in Dar es Salaam as editor of the Tanganyika Standard - with the critical eye of the professional journalist commenting on the developing political scene during those years, from Mau Mau to the 1964 army mutiny in Dar. But the Job that gave him most satisfaction was making himself redundant by training his 300 African and Asian staff at the Standard to take over from him. This he achieved in 1970, earning the thanks and friendship of Julius Nyerere who invited him to be Tanzania's first public relations consultant. He held the job for three years travelling overseas with official delegations and supervising trade stands at international fairs. He recounts his impressions of Japan, Russia, Hong Kong, Zambia and Zanzibar plus a backward glance at his National Service days in pre-independence Cyprus and Palestine.

Grimshaw finally left Tanzania in 1973 to live on, and develop, the island he had bought ten years earlier for 10,000 pounds. The heart of his book is the pain and pleasure he experienced rescuing Moyenne from an overgrown wilderness neglected by man since 1915 when Miss Emma Best was the last owner to live there. He tells how, with the minimum of help, he cut a path round the island; levelled a site on the hillside for his house; dug an underground water reservoir; installed a generator; rebuilt sea and retaining walls and restocked the tangle of old and decayed trees with some 12,000 new saplings that are now fully grown.

With his snapshot writing style, Grimshaw has the irritating habit of breaking continuity to pursue a specific theme, whether, for instance, it be his commitment to International Rotary (by which he has raised considerable sums for deserving causes) or his passionate support for legislation and enforcement to protect the marine environment of the Seychelles. However, this style does make for a book in which to browse. East Africa and the Seychelles before and after independence; the story of a modern Robinson Crusoe; and impressions of foreign travels on behalf of a newly independent country are the three main divisions of this book. Dip in it where you will. There is much of interest to former colonialists, including those who have seen the green flash at sundown.

British Empire Book
Brendon Grimshaw
Camerapix Publishers International Ltd


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