Each year brings many historical anniversaries to remind us (and perhaps introduce us to) events and people of the past. In 2015 we are remembering Magna Carta (1215), the battle of Waterloo (1815), the ending of the Second World War (1945), and the death of Sir Winston Churchill (1965). Recently, and unexpectedly, my research has made me aware of two very different anniversaries with an unusual connection: 2015 marks eighty years since the founding of Penguin Books, and forty years since the independence of Mozambique. So what’s the connection?
Much of my research focuses on missionaries from Britain who worked in Africa during the twentieth century. When asked to speak at a conference in Lisbon to mark the ending of Portugal’s overseas empire in Africa in the 1970s, I hunted around for a suitable subject. My search brought me, not unexpectedly, to missionary society archives in London and Oxford. It also brought me to the Penguin Books archive, located at the University of Bristol.
In 1935 Allen Lane founded a company whose name and logo became probably the most famous in modern publishing history. Success stimulated expansion, and also diversification; Lane and his successors would publish an enormously wide range of titles, many in book series such as Penguin Classics and Penguin Modern Classics.
In 1962, the Penguin African Library (PAL) began. Africa – and African independence – were then at the forefront of British and world attention. PAL titles provided detailed background and contextual information – as well as analysis – to a level not feasible in newspaper and other media coverage. The series editor was Ronald Segal (1932-2008), South-African born and an anti-apartheid campaigner and author. Forced into exile in 1961, Segal came to England and settled in Walton-on-Thames, not far from Kingston. Under his guidance, the PAL became successful and influential. Like all Penguins, they had strikingly-designed, memorable covers.
Historians contributed to the series, as also did journalists and political activists. Ranging in geographical terms from Egypt to South Africa and from Nigeria to Kenya, the books encompassed politics, economics, religion, culture and literature.
Over the course of 14 years, Penguin published 43 titles. By the mid-1970s, however, Africa no longer excited as much attention – or optimism – as it had a decade or so earlier. In 1975 a colleague confided to Segal that any future PAL publication would be doomed to a low sales rate. The last title in the series came out in May 1975. Its title was Mozambique: Memoirs of a Revolution. The author was John Paul, an ordained Anglican missionary.
Born in Plymouth in 1928, Paul had originally considered medicine as a career, but decided instead on the priesthood. In 1957 he went out to Mozambique – than an ‘overseas province’ (in effect a colony) of Portugal. For more than 12 years he worked at Messumba in north-east Mozambique. The mission, which included a hospital and schools as well as a church, was an anomaly – an Anglican outpost in a part of Africa not under British colonial rule. It was also remote, being more than 2,000 kilometres from the capital city, Lourenco Marques (now Maputo).
Preoccupied with work, it took Paul some time to realise the extent of African anger at Portuguese rule. Revolt began in earnest in 1961, in another Portuguese African territory, Angola. The following year saw the formation of an armed liberation movement in Mozambique, FRELIMO. In late 1964, the war of independence spread to the Messumba area. The mission became a place of refuge for people in flight from the conflict. With some success, Paul negotiated with local Portuguese officials and FRELIMO represenatives for the mission to be regarded as a ‘neutral zone’. Its work continued, but under difficult and dangerous conditions.
Paul thus gained first-hand experience of the Mozambican revolution. In the process he became sympathetic to FRELIMO and, conversely, critical of Portugal. He did not express his views openly. As an Englishman and an Anglican priest he was subject to official suspicion on two counts: nationality and religion. In Mozambique the Roman Catholic Church occupied a favured place; Protestants (whatever their nationality) were subject to discrimination. When, in late 1969, Paul’s work at Messumba came to an end and he returned to Britain, he had no plans to write about his experiences.
That changed in 1973. On 10 July, The Times of London published explosive allegations by Adrian Hastings, an English Catholic priest: Portuguese armed forces had carried out a massacre at Wiriyamu, in Mozambique. In Britain, the allegations sparked strong criticsm of and public protest against Portugal, whose Prime Minister was on an official visit. News of the allegations and the protests prompted John Paul to think about writing an account of his own experiences in Africa. For editors at the Penguin African Library, meanwhile, the time now seemed right for a new book on Mozambique.
Fortuitously, Penguin Books published Mozambique: Memoirs of a Revolution just a few weeks ahead of Mozambique’s independence from Portugal (declared on 25 June 1975). Before and after publication, Paul was much in demand as a speaker on African affairs. He even attended a conference in East Berlin, and spoke on the evils of Portuguese colonialism and on Christianity as a force for reconciliation. In the book (which, as the title attests, is indeed a memoir), his criticism of Portugal was measured but clear. Segal wrote in the introduction that, while Messumba may have been a ‘neutral zone’, Paul never became a neutral zone himself: the mission and its inhabitants were his first priority. Paul maintained close links with Mozambique until his death in 2009.
In 1960, Allen Lane donated books to the University of Bristol; these would become the nucleus of the Penguin Archive – a rich source not only for the study of publishing history but also, as I have found, for the study of Africa, and Mozambique – and missionaries.
The eightieth anniversary of Penguin Books has received some media attention in the UK, the fortieth anniversary of Mozambican independence remarkably little. Yet the history of connections between the two countries is more interesting, and more complicated, than many of us may realise.
John Stuart is Associate Professor of History at Kingston University
Some useful websites to explore:
History of Penguin Books:
Penguin Archive, University of Bristol:
Penguin First Editions website: