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I speak of Africa

Nyasaland

The first British protectorate in the territory of present-day Malawi was established in 1891 under the name Nyasaland Districts Protectorate and included the land adjoining Lake Nyasa. In 1893 it was extended to incorporate the territories where British missionaries had been active to protect the missions from Arab slavers and its name was changed to British Central Africa Protectorate. From 1907 it was called the Nyasaland Protectorate. Malawi became independent in 1964.

Photograph showing the commissioners on their mission of enquiry, from: Nyasaland. Native Reserves Commission. Nyasaland Protectorate Native Reserves Commission (North Nyasa District) 1929 Report [typescript]. 1929 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. DT3216 NYA]Photograph showing the commissioners on their mission of enquiry, from: Nyasaland. Native Reserves Commission. Nyasaland Protectorate Native Reserves Commission (North Nyasa District) 1929 Report [typescript]. 1929 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. DT3216 NYA]In 1929 the governor of the protectorate, Sir Charles Calvert Bowring (1872-1945), appointed Haythorne Reed (1873-1934), Judge of the High Court of Nyasaland, John Conrad Abraham (1889-1939), an administrative officer, and Edward Henry Cholmeley, a representative of the British South Africa Company, as commissioners to ‘make recommendations for the demarcation and assignment in the North Nyasa district of Nyasaland of permanent Reserves suitable and sufficient for the agricultural, pastoral, industrial and other requirements of the natives.’

Furthermore, they were to propose ‘measures to be adopted to encourage and induced the natives to occupy and use to the best advantage the reserves assigned to them’ as well as to suggest ‘what compensation should be made to natives for the relinquishment of land now occupied by them outside such reserves.’

In the end, the commission only consisted of Reed and Abraham, as Cholmeley had fallen ill shortly before the commissioners left for the northern district. The commissioners travelled extensively by bushcar and on foot. Talking to the local chiefs in the area, they found that, even though the British South Africa Company considered ‘that it own[ed] practically the whole district, having obtained it from the African Lakes Corporation which claim[ed] to have bought it from native chiefs’ and the Company had been paying taxes on the land to the British government, this did not seem to reflect the whole truth of the situation, as some of the chiefs insisted that they had never sold their land. The commissioners were also told that the natives suffered from ‘marauding elephants’ and other game, causing damage to their crops and cattle. In the end the commission recommended that 2,730 square miles (out of a total area of 4,503 square miles) be allocated to the 50,000 native inhabitants of the district. At the time there were 54 Europeans and 5 Asians living in the district.

On display are photographs showing the commissioners on their mission of enquiry.

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