The British Empire Library

The Long Garden Master in the Gold Coast: Life and times of a Colonial Agricultural Officer in the Gold Coast 1929 - 1947

by Charles, Marjorie and Sylvia Lynn

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Hugh Brammer (Soil Surveyor Gold Coast / Ghana 1951 - 1961)
Charles Lynn followed the common course of colonial Agricultural Officers: Wye College; Cambridge; ICTA (the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture) in Trinidad; and then - after waiting for his 21st birthday to arrive in December 1929 - the seeming lottery selection of a posting to a colony and to a station within that territory. For Charles, the colony that came out of the hat was the Gold Coast and, after some temporary postings in the south - including the Aburi botanic gardens where Agricultural Officers were still known as Garden Masters; his title was later unofficially enhanced to 'long' because of his height - an eventual posting of 17 years in the Northern Territories of which 15 years were at one station, Zuarungu, in the far north. Today, such a career would be impossible, except possibly for some missionaries. International agencies, DFID and NGOs move staff on after a maximum of five - sometimes only three - years. In the supposed Interest of career development, oblivious of the interests of the country and the job in hand. That would not have worked in the pioneering days of administration and development described in this book.

The book provides a highly personal, sometimes day-to-day account comprising a reminiscence that the principal author had started to draft himself, combined with lengthy extracts from letters written to his mother, compiled into a single, free-flowing text by his daughter Sylvia who also provides a lengthy, contextsetting Preface. The developing story is augmented by lengthy comments, mainly given in endnotes, by two socio-anthropologists who worked with a neighbouring small tribal group for three years, providing insights and comments that were often contrary to official administration policy. Both they and the author make interesting commentaries on the implementation of the policy of indirect rule then being introduced in what was then still socio-politically virtually terra incognita. One is left wondering, however, if the anthropologists had had their way, if tribal society would have been preserved in aspic as it were and modern 'development' - for all its faults and problems, but also its eventual social and economic benefits - prevented.

Charles spent his first tour of 18 months based on the agricultural station at Tamale, the headquarters of the Northern Territories administration, but he was almost immediately seconded to control a locust invasion in areas further north which lasted throughout the rainy season of 1930. This provided his first experience of trekking on foot in areas then beyond the limits of motor transport, with 25 or more men head-carrying his loads, including camping and cooking equipment, all walking 10-15 miles in a day. At Tamale, he enjoyed leisure activities including polo and game-shooting in the neighbouring countryside. Of the 30 European residents in Tamale at that time, he reported that five died in the six months that he was on his first six months home-leave, and he describes further deaths of several young colleagues and friends in subsequent years: the Gold Coast was still 'the white man's grave'.

On returning from leave in December 1931, he was posted to Zuarungu, 98 miles north of Tamale, the first Agricultural Officer to be posted to this denselysettled, food-short area where he was to remain for almost the remainder of his service in the Gold Coast. This is where he did his pioneering work carrying out statistically-designed agricultural surveys and introducing mixed farming, bullock ploughing and soil conservation together with the training of farmers and teaching of agriculture in schools, all under the severe budget limitations of the 1930's depression years. The work involved nearly continuous trekking throughout an extensive District, mainly on foot or on horseback.

Doing the same job in the same places over a long period of years, his tour-bytour account inevitably includes much repetition of his tasks, places visited, people met, the weather and problems experienced. Yet that's how life was for him and for many of his generation: progress was slow in a region of stillprimitive tribal culture, and it took much personal effort and dedication to achieve. That was not always appreciated at high official levels in his first few years: colonial policy was to develop export crops that would generate revenue, not simply improve farming methods and food security. The value of his work was eventually recognised: he was awarded the MBE in 1943 and eventually transferred to ICTA in 1948 to pass on his knowledge of extension methods.

Periodically, Charles returned to Tamale to write his reports or to take over as officer-in-charge while the incumbent was on leave. He also describes enjoyable and refreshing local leaves taken mainly on the coast. While on his way back to the UK after his fourth tour of duty in 1937, he met and soon married his wife (joint author Marjorie), who returned to Tamale and Zuarungu with him. World War II broke out while they were on home-leave in 1939, so their next long leave was taken in South Africa in 1941 where Marjorie remained for the birth of their first child - Sylvia, joint author of this book - whom Charles did not see for the first time until she was 19 months old on his next long leave in South Africa in 1943. Eventually, after the end of the war, they were both allowed to return to live with him in Tamale where he spent the last few months of his Gold Coast career.

I enjoyed reading this book, with a growing sense of nostalgia, in part because I later spent ten years soil surveying in the Gold Coast/Ghana myself and so recognised many of the places and landscapes described and knew some of the people named. The book deserves to be read by both policy makers and practitioners (including NGOs) involved in agricultural development in tropical Africa as a cautionary tale against the setting of over-ambitious, short-term, achievement targets: local knowledge, sympathetic understanding, tongue-biting patience and sustained personal involvement are as much needed now, even with modern communications, as they were in Charles Lynn's day.

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Charles, Marjorie and Sylvia Lynn
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