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I got this image from Flick Commons. It is posted by a man named Tony Murphy. It has the description:

This is one of the Bedford lorries we worked on one weekend to convert into water tankers. An African driver turned it over 3 times and got out without a scratch. Cost the British taxpayer £650!

Tony Murphy has several images like this posted on Flickr Commons and I have used some of these images for illustration purposes in my classes. I am going to be using this image not simply for illustration but also to uncover the history. Most of his images are titled “Kongwa” and some of them have interesting and revealing comments from people who were in Kongwa in the 1940s and 1950s. Let me digress for a moment to share a comment posted by someone in one of the images picturing Tony Murphy’s African houseboy. She commented:

I do wish I had photos of my ex- houseboys and girls. We did not own a camera until the 70’s but still, it shames me that I never thought of taking their pictures. A couple of them were such good men, and even the odd rogue who had to be sacked is still remembered fondly with one exception: he threatened me,saying “he wanted to leave and leave now and be paid now.” He was new, and an absolute treasure of competence. I couldn’t believe it! We had not had words, so far as I knew I had not been rude to him… My reaction was to grab the broom that was handy nearby, beat it over his head until he retreated from the kitchen and out into the back garden, then locked all the doors, counted out what he was owed to date plus a month’s notice, put it into his hand and said, “Kwaheri”, feeling very tearful but no longer afraid. His head was down, he did not look up at me and turned and walked away. My hubby came home several hours later to find me still very shocked. We could not understand the man’s behaviour until two days later when Astorre went to his cupboard where he had hidden his salary which he had not yet paid into the bank. He was paid cash at that time. Later, we found out from another houseboy of a neighbour that ours was in a hurry to return to Kenya, from where he had had bad news. I wish he had told us. We would have helped him willingly.

When one reads in between the lines in these descriptions and comments, you can discern the way Africans were treated by these colonial officials. Simply looking at the image above and the short description does not tell us much about the history. However, based on his description and the image itself, we can ask certain questions: About what time period was that Bedford Lorry made? Where was it manufactured? Where was this photograph taken? Who took this photograph? Why did he take it? He mentions that they had to convert the Lorry to a water tanker, why? Why was he specific that it was an African driver that had an accident with it? He provides what it costs the British Tax Payer, why is this little fact important? Without digging deep into the history, by telling us that it was driven by an African driver and looking at the scenery, we can make an educated guess that the photo was taken in Africa during colonial rule.

By just looking at the photograph by itself, it would be difficult for the students to even discern where it was taken. They could even say it was taken several decades ago in an unpaved road in North America or Europe. With the students, we would explore the history behind this photo. Tony Murphy does not say much by way of description, but I know enough of the history  to guide my students along paths where like good investigators, they would find revealing answers about this photo and the history of development in colonial Africa.