The British Empire Library

My Colonial Childhood In Tanganyika

by Julia Tugendhat

Courtesy of OSPA

Christine Nicholls (Oxford)
Julia Tugendhat has written this book mainly for her grandchildren, she says, but the rest of us will find it enjoyable and informative. As the middle child of Kenneth Blair Austin Dobson, who served the Colonial Service in Tanganyika from 1930 to 1957, Julia grew up in Tanganyika and went to school in Kenya (Loreto Convent, Msongari, Nairobi, where she was permanently hungry). She echoes her father's dismay at being continually shifted from post to post, just as he got to know a district and its peoples. She delineates accurately the duties of a District Officer - making sure the poll tax was collected and maintaining law and order. There were, of course, the other duties, such as killing man-eating lions terrorising the villagers, going on safari to local chiefs' domains, attending barazas, co-operating with local missionaries etc. To settle African disputes, Dobson thought that 'a good dose of common sense and a pragmatic approach were as important as knowledge of the law'. Julia expresses well the conflict between the missionaries and DCs - 'District Officers were at pains to allow the natives to follow their customs without due interference whereas some missionaries thought it their duty to stop polygamy, combat the power of witch doctors and discourage puberty rituals like female circumcision.'

We get to know Governor Twining, a believer that independence would come sooner rather than later. Influenced by Twining, Julia's father 'always got cross when the motives and good intentions of the British administrators were misconstrued or impugned. He never doubted that whatever he and his colleagues did, they did in the best interests of the Africans and the wellbeing of the country.' It is good to hear this today, when colonialism is continually demeaned. Julia believed that her father worked hard and honestly to deliver security, peace, justice, education, health and improved agriculture.

We learn much about the social life of the government servants. Anyone travelling through could be expected to be housed and fed by a fellow European. We hear about Hans Cory, who collected African figurines and gave them to a museum. As so often, these artefacts are now mouldering away uncatalogued and in disarray. This is tragic', says Julia, 'because the tribal history recorded by Cory is in the process of being lost.'

Children grew closer to their African servants than did adults, and Julia brings this out well. As the story of what it was like to grow up in colonial society, this book is valuable in recording a vanished age. It is also refreshingly well written (though we would have preferred Karen Blixen not Blixon and Jane Austen not Austin). The facility with her pen is not surprising, for Julia has written eleven books for children. Her early education at Loreto Convent was good enough for her eventually to study at Oxford University. She Is married to the MP Christopher Tugendhat. She shares a trait with me - 'To this day the sound of carelessly running tap water makes me feel anxious.' We both grew up where water was scarce.

British Empire Book
Julia Tugendhat
The Choir Press
9 780 957 070 70 7


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe