The British Empire Library

Lasting Legacy: A Story of British Colonialism

by Kenneth Blackburne

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
With thirty-two years service in Nigeria, Palestine and The Gambia, in beachcombing at the Colonial Office and governing first the Leeward Islands and then Jamaica, Sir Kenneth Blackbume's memoirs will have an immediate appeal to hundreds of former members of the Colonial Service. Those who go one step further and realise that appeal by reading the book will find a story worth telling and modestly told.

Educated at Marlborough and Clare College, Cambridge, the young Blackburne (one of the almost unbelievable number of sons of clergymen who chose a career in the Colonial or Sudan Political Service, a high percentage of whom entered the doors of Government House) gladdened the eagle eye of Sir Ralph Furse by supplementing "a modest degree" in geography with a good chance of a rowing Blue if he stayed on for that highly successful recruiting ploy of a 'Fursian Fourth' [year at Oxbridge]. In retrospect. Sir Kenneth's sole regret of those halcyon days on the old Tropical African Services Course was that they were taught so little about the history of the colonies to which they were destined. His negative motivation is important in this cheerless age of snide sneers at the agents of empire: "I had no starry-eyed visions of service to humanity, nor of changing the face of the world". The Colonial Service was simply a worthwhile job, a career of service.

His five years in Nigeria, where in 1930 he was posted as ADO to Owerri Division, Sir Kenneth likes to label 'Paternal Colonialism'. An accident to his fiancee persuaded him life would be less demanding on the now limited manoevurability of his future wife in Cyprus, where two vacancies were on offer to junior officers from West and East Africa. But the Colonial Office's last-minute discovery that they had in error just assigned a Jew to Palestine (he had changed his name by deed-poll) resulted in the Blackburnes ending up in Galilee instead. Incidentally, in my current research into the Colonial Service, I am fascinated by which a select, sterling and successful training ground a posting to Palestine proved for many of those who went on to the top. Quaere, did Palestine constitute the elite service among elites? Former MCS officers need not reply!

Sir Kenneth's time as the first Director of Information Services at the Colonial Office (1947-50) were momentous years in the projection of the Colonies at home and abroad, and he rightly devotes a fair section of his memoirs to this. Similarly, his years as a Governor (and later as a Governor-General) are described in detail and throw useful light on some of the work (and play: good GH stories abound) of that now almost coelacanth-like creature, the colonial HE. In particular. Sir Kenneth disclosed interesting clues about relations between incoming and outgoing Governors -- he himself succeeded the unbelievably unorthodox Lord Baldwin -- and about the famous card index in the Promotions Branch. His tribute to the Colonial Service, to whom his memoirs are dedicated, is rounded off with a striking observation on the genuineness of their concern for those for whose welfare they were responsible: "There can be few retired members of that Service today who are not still in touch with their former friends overseas, ranging from men who are now ministers of government to those who merely served in our homes as domestic staff".

Based on letters home from his wife and himself, kept unknown to him by his parents for nearly forty years, and on his private diary during his Palestine period and his CO tours to East Africa and the Far East, Sir Kenneth Blackburne's autobiography is not only a record of a distinguished member (at 42 he was the youngest serving Governor, at 33 the youngest serving Colonial Secretary) of a distinguished Service, but also an important contribution to the future history of HMOCS.

British Empire Book
Kenneth Blackburne
Johnson Publications


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