Rodney Wood was a remarkable man, a great naturalist who spent 50 years mainly in Nyasaland (now Malawi) studying and collecting mammals, birds, fish, insects, shells, and plants. After a good education, he turned his back on the formalities of life in England and became a cotton farmer in Africa. He never settled: he was always looking for new challenges and experiences. At various times, he worked on a cotton estate, owned a tea estate, was the first game warden of Nyasaland, taught biology and agriculture in schools, and finally became a beach-comber in the Seychelles. He was also a tracker and hunter who preferred to hunt with a bow and arrow rather than with a gun. At other times, he travelled throughout eastern and southern Africa, and for a few years in the 1920s he was Camp Chief for the Boy Scouts Association at Gilwell Park
and in Canada. Throughout his career in Africa, collecting in the most meticulous and scientific fashion was his all-absorbing passion. Rodney Wood was not the typical “colonial,” far from it. The many and various jobs that he had during his life were secondary to his passion for collecting, and it is his collections and his contributions to conservation in Nyasaland/Malawi that make him such a remarkable and memorable person. His valuable collections are now in prestigious museums and several species have been named after him, and yet his name is almost unknown except to the most ardent lovers of African natural history.
During his many years in Nyasaland, Wood never wanted to settle permanently in one place or have the same job for a long time. At each new place, he built himself a little cottage and planted his own garden (which rapidly became a jungle). He loved plants, especially orchids, and he collected seeds and cuttings wherever he travelled. All his jobs were simply to earn a living so that he could indulge in his love of collecting and studying the local animals and plants. He did not have any interest in money—as long as he had just enough to survive. It is hardly surprising that Wood spent most of his life in Malawi: it is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa with great biological diversity, wonderful scenery, and friendly people.
Everyone who knew Wood thoroughly enjoyed his company because of his great knowledge of African biology and his enthusiasm about everything he saw. He was a determined conservationist and was responsible for many conservation initiatives in Nyasaland including establishing the first National Parks in the country. Wood had the ability to get on with people from all walks of life; from little children, local fishermen, game scouts and farmers to Colonial Governors and knights of the realm. Living in Africa during the colonial period provided many challenges (mostly resulting from bad roads, poor communications, and scarcity of some commodities), but also it provided wonderful opportunities for adventure and travel. Besides recording Wood’s life, my book, African Naturalist, also describes some of the beautiful environments of Malawi and details the history of zoological collecting before Wood arrived in the country.
I researched Wood’s diaries, notebooks and collections, and on the accounts of many people who knew him personally. Stories about Wood’s collections and travels are interwoven with detailed accounts of the challenges and enjoyments of living in Africa during the colonial days. I hope that you find interest within the book: check out Amazon to purchase a copy today.