Brief History
Nyasaland was made famous to the British public through the exploits and explorations of David Livingstone in the 1850s. This strong willed Christian was adamantly opposed to the horrors of the slave trade and he found plenty of evidence for it around the lake. His pioneering efforts would prove a magnet for British missionaries keen to follow in his footsteps. Indeed, Scottish missionaries were even more keen to make their mark in this colony.

Missionary activity in the area was actually to be fortuitous for the plans of the British Government and of a certain Cecil Rhodes. The Portugese had claimed that their lands in Mozambique ran across the continent to their lands in Angola. If this had been the case, then British plans for uniting their southern colonies with her eastern colonies would have been dead in the water. Instead, the existence of British missionary activity and the absence of any Portugese settlements of any kind was a convenient diplomatic excuse for the British to lay claim to the intervening land. Additionally, the British owned African Lakes Company had also been acquiring its own treaties over the area. This combination of commercial and missionary activity was enough to allow the British government to declare the area around Lake Nyasa a British protectorate in 1889. This claim became particularly acute when a force of armed Arabs under Portugese leadership invaded the area. These Arabs were armed with machine guns and shot any native Africans who refused to submit to their rule. After long and trying negotiations, a treaty was signed in June 1891 in which the Portugese finally relinquished their control over the area, although a guerilla warfare continued on and off for many more years to come.

These negotiations had been taking place concurrently with events in Matabeleland where Rhodes and his British South Africa Company was trying to negotiate mineral prospects (see Rhodesia). The extent of Lobengula's Matabele empire was left deliberately vague to maximise their prospecting potential. In 1893, the BSAC would find an excuse to fight a war against the Matabele and claim their lands. The BSAC would combine the vague treaty limits with buying out the African Lakes Company to take control of the Nyasaland protectorate in 1893. However, it needed to continue to expend serious resources and manpower to subdue the slavers in the area. It was not until 1897 that they could fully claim to have pacified the region.

The authorities would encourage white settlement at the expense of black Africans. The settlers found that the area was suitable for growing coffee. They began to plant coffee plantations with extensive use of African labour. Although the Africans did find that Christianity could provide some defence against the racist policies of the settlers and the BSAC government. It was much harder for the BSAC to discriminate against or dispossess Christians. It also helped that the churches back in Britain could provide effective lobbies. In fact, it was partly as a result of this lobbying that Nyasaland was withdrawn from BSAC control in 1907 and returned to direct British rule.

Black ordained ministers would provide one of the first effective forms of opposition to colonial rule. This would be demonstrated in 1915 when John Chilembwe, a black minister, led a revolt against British rule whilst Britain was distracted by the First World War. The revolt was put down with relative ease but it did see the deaths of a number of white settlers and would provide inspiration for later acts of rebellion.

World War One would also provide a strategic threat to the colony as the German Tanganyika commander Paul von Lettow Vorbeck fought a highly effective guerilla campaign throughout Eastern and Central Africa for the entire duration of the war. Many settlers and Africans would be called up to help fight this German force. It was a serious drain on resources.

The 1920s and 30s saw substantial infrastructural improvements; railways, roads and port facilities were all improved. There was also to be a subtle shift back towards African rights in the colony. The 1923 Devonshire Paper and the 1930 Passfield Memo both argued the wisdom of giving black Africans more rights in the colony. The white settlers were vehemently opposed to these developments. However, as the crown appointed the majority on the Legislative Council it could afford to ignore the sentiments of these settlers. In fact, this ignoring of the settlers would make these same whites far more sympathetic to the idea of a union between the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland. Although World War two would delay any federation until after it had finished.

Federation was attempted from 1954 to 1963. It was really an experiment to create larger, viable colonies that were supposed to be more able to handle independence. In reality, the Africans thought of the experiment as a way of delaying independence. Meanwhile, the white settler run colony of Southern Rhodesia was reluctant to fund the investment required in the other two colonies. Events in South Africa would act as a spur to the destruction of the Federation. Its introduction of racist policies and its withdrawal from the Commonwealth made all black nationalist leaders wary of being ruled by white settlers. The British Government felt compelled to encourage black majority participation in its legislative councils. Southern Rhodesia was the exception as it had already been granted its own white dominated self government back in 1923/4 and it was just about to announce its own Unitary Declaration of Independence. In contrast, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia were about to use their newly enhanced black representation in their legislative councils to declare the dissolution of the Federation, enhanced democracy and declarations of independence. Nyasaland was to declare itself independent as Malawi in 1964.

Nyasaland Imperial Flag
map of Nyasaland
1908 Map of Nyasaland
1922 Map of Africa
1935 Map of Land Utilisation
1959 Nyasaland Map
Southern tip of Nyasland Map
Central African Federation Map, 1960
Historical nyasaland
Images of Nyasaland
National Archive Nyasaland Images
Nyasaland Administrators
1894 - 1964
Nyasaland Primary Sources
Nyasaland Civics Textbook
Adapted by David Potter in 1962, this textbook gives an informative overview of the constitutional arrangements in place for Nyasaland in the last years of colonial rule.
Nyasaland Video
Independence Day Celebrations
Riot Drill
Eric Bult gives an account of the earliest stages of the Cholo riots and disturbances. In this more 'innocent' phase, alll involved were a little 'naive' to what rioting actually entailed.

We're off to Nyasaland
David Potter gives an account of his posting to Nyasaland as an education officer in the last days of its colonial rule and the first few years of newly independent Malawi. He adds many other anecdotes about the joys and challenges of living and working in Central Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

First Foot Ulendo
Ted Wilmot gives an account of being thrown in the deep end by having to go out on Ulendo without supervision within days of arriving to his post in Nyasaland.

R.E.N. Smith recounts the trials, tribulations and delights in having to tour his various districts in Nyasaland as part of his job as a District Officer.

The Lap of Luxury
R E N Smith explains how basic housing conditions were for colonial officers like himself serving in Nyasaland in Central Africa in the 1950s and the mismatch between the privileged lifestyles people thought they were living and the actual conditions on the ground.

Mkango - The Lion
Eric Bult explains that a Nyasland police officer could be called upon to undertake actions that no police officer in the UK would ever have to contemplate.

The Centurion
R. E. N. Smith remembers the occasion that a fine looking ex-RSM from the King's African Rifles turned up at his door in Nyasaland seeking employment.

White Mischief
Dr Robert Carr examines the role of the Central African Federation in the decolonisation process.

Agricultural Enforcement in Nyasaland
R E N Smith recounts how he helped modernize and improve the efficiency of agriculture in one of Central Africa's less developed colonies.

Ufiti: Witchcraft and Law in Nyasaland
R E N Smith explains the medical role played by practitioners of witchcraft in 1950s Nyasaland and how difficult it became to disentangle medical negligence in the colony's legal system.

MV Ilala 2
W W Summerscales recounts his role in preparing the communications systems on Motor Vessel Ilala which was the descendent of Livingstone's steamer on Lake Nyasa. Amazingly, Ilala II is still in operation on the lake all these years later.

The Human Crocodile Man
Christopher Bean recounts an unusual court case he became involved in when one criminal in Nyasaland took another to court for failing to honour payment for murdering a young girl.

High Court Capers
Eric Bult recounts how a serious High Court affair in Lilongwe, Nyasaland descended into a comical scene of counsels and officials started recreating the crime scene with innovative props.

Malawi's Pioneering Role in the Development of Land Husbandry
Anthony Young explains the revolutionary approach to conservation and yield increase during the transition years from Nyasaland to Malawi.

Further Reading
Expatriate Experience Of Life And Work In Nyasaland
by Collin Baker

A Fine Chest of Medals: the Life of Jack Archer
by Colin Baker

Mangoes on the Moon: An Anthology of Nyasaland Malawi Anecdotes
by Colin Baker

Retreat from Empire: Sir Robert Armitage in Africa and Cyprus
by Colin Baker

Sir Glyn Jones: A Proconsul in Africa
by Colin Baker

State of Emergency: Crisis in Central Africa, Nyasaland 1959-1960
by Colin Baker A Rough Passage: Memories of Empire - Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Ken Barnes

The Nyasaland Survey Papers 1938-1943, agriculture, food and health
Edited by Veronica Berry

Before the Wind of Change
by W T C Berry

The Parting Years: A British Family and the End of Empire
by Sheila Bevan

Alfred Sharpe of Nyasaland: Builder of an Empire
by Robert Boeder

Alarms and Excursions
by Philip L. Burkinshaw

African Honeymoon: When Malawi Was Nyasaland
by Gordon and Marian Burridge

Khaki and Blue: Military and Police in British Colonial Africa
by Anthony Clayton and David Killingray

Nyasaland Days: 1902-1919
by J.B. Davey

The Real Paradise: Memories of Africa 1950-1963
by Ann Davidson

African Ambit
by Reginald Dickenson

African Small Chop
bu Sir Hector Duff

Gentleman Pauper
by Sir Ronald Garvey

Goodbye to Empire: A Doctor Remembers
by John Goodall

Memories Of A Colonial Product
by P.H. Hamilton-Bayly

African Naturalist: The Life And Times Of Rodney Carrington Wood, 1889-1962
by David Happold

Time Remembered: Reminiscences of Education in Uganda and Nyasaland
by Harry Hudson

Capricorn - David Stirling's Second African Campaign
by Richard Hughes

The Colour Bar in East Africa.
by Norman Leys

A Last Chance in Kenya.
by Norman Leys

Rise of Our East African Empire
by F.J.D. Lugard

Filming Emerging Africa: A pioneer cinematographer's scrapbook from the 1940s to the 1960s
by Geoffrey Mangin

Corporal Haussmann Goes To War; Armed With Motor-Cycle And Camera
by Colin Martin

African Afterthoughts
by Sir Philip Mitchell

Shenton of Singapore: Governor and Prisoner of War
by Brian Montgomery

Just The Job: Some Experiences of a Colonial Policeman
by G J Morton

Retreat from Africa
by Patrick Mullins

From Obscurity To Bright Dawn: How Nyasaland became Malawi, An Insider's Account
by Henry Phillips

The Last Of The White Ants
by Pattie Pink

Livingstone's Lake: The Drama of Nyasa Africa's Inland Sea
by Oliver Ransford

Hammer, Compass and Traverse Wheel: a Geologist in Africa
by William H. Reeve

I’ll Do Better Next Time
by Denys Roberts

Joys, Jobs and Jaunts
by Sir Martin Roseveare

Not Out of Malawi
by Enid Waterfield

Chintali: Life and Times of Sir Thomas Page CBE, KB
by Lorna E. Webb

Catching the Bag: Who’d be a Woman Diplomat?
by Margaret West

The Story of David Livingstone
Full (abridged) biography written by Vautier Golding

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