David Salmon

I am very happy to make a contribution to your research. The simplest way for me will be to provide a straightforward biographical narrative hoping that it is not too egocentric and leaving you to draw your own conclusions on what I think of the country.

I was born in Stoke-on Trent, the Potteries, on 3rd August 1935. My parents came from the terraced streets of Fenton, one of the constituent six towns. I was lucky enough to be harassed by my grammar school into going to university and after National Service in the navy read history at Cambridge. One of the subjects was the history of the expansion of Europe overseas. My interest in Africa was stimulated by members of my college who were on the Overseas Services Course. A Northern Rhodesia recruitment team visited Cambridge. As a result I applied for a position in Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service, was accepted and undertook the one year post graduate course at Cambridge.

On 2nd July 1959 I sailed on the Carnarvon Castle from Southampton to Capetown. I was posted as a cadet in the administration to Kalabo in Barotseland, now the Western Province. I arrived there on July 22nd having travelled by train to Livingstone and by air first to Mongu and then Kalabo. It was an idyllic station on the river Luanginga, a tributary of the Zambezi. Apart from me the other Europeans were the District Commissioner [divorced], a District Officer [divorced] another cadet [married] and a Livestock officer [single]. A retired Swiss missionary lived on the boma and there were two European store owners and a South African labour recruiter within a couple of miles. The Africans were friendly and helpful. It is hard to imagine a better place to start one’s African career.

To my disappointment I was transferred after a year to the Protectorate Development centre at Namushakende.  After a further year I was confirmed as a District Officer and seconded for two unpleasant months to Chinsali in the Northern Province where there was widespread insurrection after the British Government backed down on its initial proposals for African political advancement. I returned to Barotselend for a final year in the provincial headquarters at Mongu.

After home leave I went to Fort Jameson [now Chipata] as district officer to the Chewa Native Authority. The sixteen months there involved organising the first full census, the first registration of voters on a one man , one vote basis and the first universal election. The work was fascinating and the social life good. From there it was back to the real bush in Balovale [now Zambezi] as District Commissioner. On November 11 1965 I read the Independence declaration at midnight. I finished the tour in the provincial headquarters at Solwezi in the office of the Resident Secretary.

When I returned from leave in early 1966 UDI had been declared and the border between Zambia  and Southern Rhodesia closed. We were looking for alternative routes to the sea for the export of copper and the import of oil. One of these was through Malawi down to Beira in Mozambique. We had no diplomatic representation in Malawi and needed someone to oversee the operations there. Banda was not keen on having an African and I therefore spent the next two and a half years as the Zambian Government Liason Officer in Malawi.

It was plain that there was no long term future for Europeans in the civil service and in mid 1968 I resigned and returned home. I had no real idea what I wanted to do and after a few months drifted via a graduate entry scheme into Post Office management in London. It soon became apparent that that was something I definitely did not want to do and I resigned again. I decided that I would try to qualify as a solicitor and for financial reasons went back to live with my parents in Stoke. I was lucky enough to get articles with a long established firm, qualified in 1973 and became a partner in 1974. I married in 1975.

I became a family law specialist and head of the family department. At the end of 1989 I decided to leave as I disagreed with the policy of reducing legal aid – potentially a disastrous  decision as I had two young daughters at the time. Luckily my partners treated me generously and allowed me to take the family law department to set up my own firm which grew fairly quickly to a four partner practice. I also became a part time immigration judge in which I continued until I had to retire on age grounds at 72.

I had been back to Zambia on holiday with my wife in 1982 but in 1991 I was fortunate enough to get on a four man Law Society team to monitor the election which saw the advent of the third republic.

After the death of my father we found that my parents had kept all my letters home between 1959 and 1968. Most of them have now been transcribed and some were used by an American historian, Eugenia Herbert, in a book about Barotseland. With her encouragement I produced the first year’s letters in book form a couple of years ago. Having completed this I cast around for something to do in retirement and last year completed a Master’s Research in the Humanities degree at Keele University in African History. My thesis had the rather pedestrian title “The Creation of Zambia” but I was able to use some of my later letters and those of Malcolm Christie, a friend and contemporary, with some of the more conventional sources.

I have been encouraged to continue and have been accepted to do a PhD at Canterbury University on the relationship between the Barotse aristocracy and the mainstream Zambian political parties. I fear the logistics may defeat me however.


David Salmon has now published all three volumes of the letters he refers to – they are fascinating.

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