The British Empire Library

Life On The Rocks

by Robin Hazell

Courtesy of OSPA

K V Arrowsmith, MBE (Nigeria, Uganda, Hong Kong 1949-69)
At the start of the introduction to this book the author writes "much of my life was occupied by travel to remote corners of the world.... I inevitably worked where there were few geologists and a great many rocks".

On graduating in 1948, aged 21, while full of self-confidence, he had no particular objective in view, but decided to apply for appointment in the Colonial Geological Service. Three years in the sun at 575 pounds a year was preferable to 18 months National Service in post-war Britain at one shilling and six pence a day (29 pounds a year). He opted for Nigeria and in due course arrived at Lagos on a cargo-boat. He spent 13 years of service in different parts of the vast country, first in the Northern Region and later in the Eastern Region. It was through his association with the Fathers of the Holy Ghost Mission, long established in the Cross River area, that he ceased to be an Anglican and became a Catholic. Following the religious ceremony there was a great feast organised by the nuns of the Order.

Robin clearly did well in his chosen career because at the time of the young Queen's visit to Nigeria in 1956 he had become "Geologist in Charge, Eastern Region", covering an area of about 150,000 square kilometres. For their visit a wing of Government Lodge was made available to the Queen and the Duke. "At the Banquet the traditions of the Coast were observed. Before dinner, by hallowed ritual, the ladies went upstairs to "powder their noses", while the gentlemen, headed by the Duke, trooped outside into the velvet night to "see Africa" and incidentally to water the flower beds".

In the limited space available it is difficult adequately to review this book. It gives an account of his life from 1940, when at the age of 13 he was evacuated with his sister and brother to New Zealand, up to a few years ago. Apart from Nigeria his work took him, inter alia, to Chad, Pakistan, Burma, Liberia, Libya, Iran, Zaire, Somalia, Uganda, India, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

At the end of the book he mentions the Nigerian Consultancy which he set up in Bauchi Province, Northern Nigeria. In 2005 he decided to discontinue running this on a profit-making basis and registered it as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), the purpose of which was the renovation of hand-pumped boreholes. In the eighties and nineties thousands of village boreholes had been drilled in the Northern Region but no provision was made for their maintenance and repair.

Apart from being a geologist, hydrologist and geophysicist, Robin had many other accomplishments. It is apparent from his book that he was an anthropologist, knowledgeable about local customs and historical background; he was a naturalist, and informative about fauna and flora; a bird lover and fisherman - and a bridge player when opportunity offered.

Wherever he is and whatever he is doing Robin writes entertainingly and reveals a delightful sense of humour. He mentions, for instance, a military grave near to his house on the outskirts of Lagos "where Major Price, of a Welsh border regiment, was laid to rest in 1916. His slate memorial was the focus of many carefree parties; we could truthfully aver that drinks were on the major". This is an excellent book, which grips one's attention from start to finish.

British Empire Book
Robin Hazell
Compass Publishing
978 1 907308 99 4


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