Mad Dogs and Englishmen: The Imperial Climate

Information as to the Conditions and Cost of Living in the Colonial Empire (3rd Edition) Issued by the Colonial Office and Printed by His Majesty’s Stationary Office 1937

The British Empire 1897

Prefatory Note.

The Information contained in this publication regarding conditions and the cost of living in the various Colonies, Protectorates, and Mandated Territories has been supplied by the Governments of the Dependencies concerned in reply to the questionnaire printed on page iv. It is intended primarily for the use of persons who contemplate taking up Government employment in the countries mentioned, but it is hoped that it may be of use to others also. The publication will be periodically revised and brought up o date. While every endeavour has been made to see that the information contained in this volume is as far as possible accurate, neither the Secretary of State for the Colonies nor the Governments concerned can accept responsibility for the absolute accuracy of every statement made, especially in such matters as comparisons of standards and cost of living, which depend largely upon the individual.

Questionnaire. (As circulated to Colonial, etc., Governments.)

1. Climate (especially with regard to its suitability to men, women, and children from the United Kingdom) and any special precautions to be observed by Europeans.


"...prolonged residence causes gradual but definite deterioration of health and efficiency..."

The climate of Aden is fairly healthy, though the warmth and humidity are trying between April and October. During the north-east monsoon, that is, between the latter part of October and April, the climate is generally cool and pleasant. Sickness is rather more prevalent during the colder months than in the hot weather, a circumstance which is perhaps connected with the wider variations of temperature in the cool season. The principal diseases which affect Europeans are a mild form of dysentery, dengue and sand-fly fever, minor fevers of influenzal type, and pharyngeal and bronchial catarrh. Malaria is practically non-existent, but it can only be kept in abeyance by constant supervision of the potential breeding grounds of anopheline mosquitoes in Sheikh Othman and elsewhere. Mosquitoes of other kinds and indeed winged insects of all kinds, including house flies, beetles, and winged ants, are comparatively rare in Aden, except after heavy rain (which rarely occurs), and local swarms of mosquitoes, when found, are generally due to the carelessness in the storage of domestic supplies of water. The use of mosquito-nets is not necessary. Enteric fever (typhoid) is comparatively rare, but it is advisable for newcomers to be protected through inoculation.The only common infectious diseases in Aden are chicken-pox and mumps, but the incidence of these diseases is mainly among the Arab and Indian population. Contrary to the general impression, heat-stroke and sun-stroke are not common in Aden, but the use of some form of protective head-gear is necessary during the hot hours of the day. The glare from the sun during the greater part of the year is very intense, and the use of sun-glasses is to be recommended. The climate of Aden is such that prolonged residence causes gradual but definite deterioration of health and efficiency, and it is not advisable, as a rule, to spend more than two hot seasons and three cold seasons consecutively without a period of leave in the United Kingdom or in a similar climate. This particularly applies to women and children, for whom a stay of three consecutive seasons is too much; infants and children up to three or four years of age and adolescents generally do well even during the hot months, but children of school age are better away from Aden.


The climate of the Bahamas during the winter is delightful. There is never any frost and the average temperature is about 70 F; there is little rain and cool breezes prevail. The rainy months are May, June, September, and October, and it is during these months that the greatest heat is experienced, the temperature ranging from 80 F to 90 F. The heat during the summer months is very humid and trying and owing to the complete absence of elevated land no alleviation is obtainable locally. Nevertheless, the islands are at no time unhealthy, and young white children thrive throughout the year. Few tropical diseases exist, malaria being practically non-existent. Houses generally are screened and in some localities mosquito nets can be frequently be dispensed with. A pipe-borne water supply and a sewerage system extend throughout the city and suburbs.


The climate of Barbados is equable and cooler than the proximity of the island to the Equator would suggest. It is suitable to men, women, and children from the United Kingdom to a greater extent perhaps than any other West Indian Colony. From November to May it enjoys constant north-easterly winds, and the temperature at night falls sometimes as low as 64 F. During the rainy season the temperature in the shade ranges between 80 F and 86 F, but the heat is seldom very oppressive. Barbados is much patronized for health purposes by residents in the neighbouring Colonies, numbers of whom avail themselves of the excellent facilities for sea-bathing which the island affords.

"...excellent facilities for sea-bathing.."

Special precautions against disease are not taken generally by local residents. As a precaution, however, against mosquitoeborn infection many residents sleep under mosquito nets, and newcomers should invariably do so. The water supply is good, but it is advisable that newcomers to Barbados should be inoculated against typhoid fever.


The climate is generally healthy, and it is suitable for adults and children of both sexes and all ages. The mean monthly temperature for 1935 was 70.5 F., the absolute minimum was 47.5 F. in March, and the absolute maximum 88.8 F. in July. The mean relative humidity was 78, the driest month was January with a figure of 73, and the most humid August with a figure of 84. Rainfall averages about 60 inches per annum and is fairly evenly spread throughout the year. In winter months a fire in the evening, whilst not an absolute necessity, adds considerably to one’s comfort. The summer months of July to September inclusive are somewhat enervating, more on account of the humidity than on account of the temperature. On the other hand there is almost always a pleasant sea breeze blowing. In the winter these breezes frequently become strong winds which are less pleasant. Hurricanes do occur, but there has not been a serious one since 1926. Bermuda is singularly free from diseases, and malaria is now unknown. The death-rate in 1935 was 9.9 per mille.

British Guiana

In spite of the Colony being so near the Equator, the climate is more sub-tropical than tropical. For most months of the year the maximum shade temperature is about 85 F., and even in the hottest months 89 F. is rarely recorded, while the night temperature of 70 F. is very rare. There are two wet and two dry seasons in the coastland regions; the long wet season, usually from April to August, being succeeded by the long dry season up to the middle of November, followed by the wet weather towards the end of January, and the short dry season until April. The rainfall average is about 85 inches on the coastland belt, and 58 inches on the savannahs. In the forest regions of the interior the contrast between the wet and dry seasons is less marked than on the coast, the rainfall being more regular throughout the year. In the savannah region of the interior there is a well-marked dry season from October to February; while the wettest months are from May to August. It may be said also that the range of temperature is slightly greater in the forest regions than on the coastland region, and is even greater still on the savannah region; thus on the savannahs the main maximum shade registered is 92.5 while the minimum shade is 72.2. Fresh sea-breezes blow steadily almost without intermission during the daytime for the greater part of the year; during the months of January, February, and March they continue both night and day and make life, even for the European, exceedingly pleasant. The general direction of the wind is north-east, east north-east, or east. Occasionally, however, during the wet months of the year, a land-breeze is experienced from the south-east, south, or south-west, and with this wind the heaviest falls of rain occur. The wind varies from “gentle” to “fresh” and gales are exceedingly rare. Hurricanes are unknown. The constant winds temper the heat of the tropical sun and keep the temperature inside the houses cool and pleasant. Visitors from other tropical countries frequently express surprise at the pleasantness of the climate. The nights, too, throughout the year are uniformly cool and conducive to sleep. There are rarely twenty days in any year on which bright sunshine is not recorded. The daily average throughout the year is little over six hours, but except when rain is falling dull and cloudy weather is very rarely experienced. In the dry season the average record of sunshine is nearly ten hours a day. Rain generally occurs during the early part of the day. Generally speaking, Europeans look well and, with care, retain good health in the coastal belt where, in view of lack of development in the interior, practically all European recruited staffs reside. European women and children have better health and a healthier appearance than in most other parts of the tropics.

British Honduras

The climate is suitable for men, women and children of any age. Special precautions to be taken by Europeans:- Light tropical clothing, including undergarments, should be worn. Exposure to the sun should be avoided, as much as possible, between the hours of 11.0 a.m. and 2.0 p.m. After severe exertion and if tired, warm baths rather than cold should be taken.


At the lower elevations, in the hot weather, the climate of Ceylon is unmistakably tropical, but during the cooler seasons, which depend on the monsoons, frequent rain cools down the atmosphere and the blazing sunshine is veiled by clouds.

Andrew Carnegie in Ceylon January 1879

In the hills, the air temperature falls with increase in altitude, and at the higher elevations the hot season resembles a continuous summer in the temperate zone. During the monsoon periods much of the hilly country is subject to heavy rainfall and the percentage of rainy or even sunless days is very high. On the whole, the climate of Ceylon is fairly good for the tropics. The accessibility of the hills is a great boon to the plain dwellers and a change to the sea is beneficial to those who live in the hills. In the low country the districts which have been opened in rubber, coconuts, and other products are generally fairly healthy, but in the unopened localities malaria is common.


The climate of Cyprus, generally speaking, is temperate and healthy and is equally suitable to men, women, and children from the United Kingdom. The excessive heat of the plains during the summer is trying to Europeans, but the heat is dry except on the coast and the winters are cold and invigorating. There are numerous resorts in the hills at altitudes varying from 6,000 to 2,000 feet where the summer season from June to September can be passed in eminently healthy surroundings and without discomfort or inconvenience. The rainfall is slight and almost confined to the winter months. During the hot weather in the plains it is necessary to sleep under nets that are proof against both mosquitoes and sandflies, but otherwise there are no precautions to be observed by Europeans.

Falkland Islands

The climate of the Falkland Islands is characterised by the same seasonal variations as in the United Kingdom. During the summer months the constant high winds are rather trying. The winters are slightly colder and the summers several degrees cooler than in the United Kingdom. The range of mean temperature is 12.6 F. only, that is between 49.3 F. in January and 36.7 F. in July, as against 62.7 F. in July and 38.8 F. in January at Kew. The mean for the year is about 7 degrees lower than at Kew but the winters are not so damp or trying as they are in the greater part of England.

The Gambia

The climate of the Gambia is unsuitable for Europeans for long periods of residence. Frequent visits to more temperate climates are necessary to enable them to recuperate. The climate is generally agreeable from November to May, but during the rainy season from June to October is unpleasant at times and presents the unhealthy features common in tropical countries during and before the rains. The climate is unsuitable for European children not only on account of the probability of their getting malaria, but also because of the lack of suitable foods and companionship. The changes in temperature during the cool season are also very trying. Europeans tend to become anaemic, and European children particularly so. It is generally inadvisable for Europeans to remain for more than eighteen or twenty-four consecutive months in the Gambia without proceeding to a more temperate climate. Changes of scene and air cannot be obtained to the extent required.


The climate is similar to that of Europe with the temperature ranging between about 42 F. and 94 F. and a rainfall of about 36 inches. No special precautions need be observed by residents, but all drinking water should be boiled.

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast climate is not nearly as bad as is sometimes believed. It is hot and damp, but is cooler than most tropical countries in similar latitudes. The temperature averages about 80 F. for the year, dropping considerably up-country during the months of January and February, and on the coast in June and July, to a degree reminiscent of an English summer day, with cold nights when a warm blanket is appreciated. The wet season begins about the end of March and continues in varying degrees all over the Colony, Ashanti, and the Northern Territories until October, with short dry spells. In the Colony and Ashanti where most of the country is covered with large forest, the rains are heavier than in the Northern Territories, where the country is covered with scrub, or in Accra, Winneba, and Cape Coast, where vegetation is sparse.

Rule No. (7) Don't go out after 8 a.m. without a helmet!

The highest rainfall recorded in 1935 at any single station was 130.39 inches and the lowest 26.19 inches. The country is not suited for settlers or permanent residents, and the usual length of tour varies from one year to eighteen months, after which about four and a-half months are spent in a temperate climate. The number of European women in the country increases annually, and as a whole they stand the climate well. Few stay out for more than a year at a time. Newcomers would be well advised not to bring out their wives until they have themselves seen the conditions of living or until they have consulted some woman who has previous residence. A Government official must obtain permission to bring out his wife. This is rarely refused save to an official in his first tour. Children should not be brought out without previous experience of the Colony. The chief tropical diseases are mosquito-borne, but these can be avoided to a great extent and with reasonable care it is possible for a European to keep fit. A newcomer would be well advised to observe the following rules:

(1) Don’t forget the daily 5 grains of quinine.

(2) Don’t drink alcohol before sundown.

(3) Don’t drink unboiled or unfiltered water.

(4) Don’t sit about after games without a sweater.

(5) Don’t sleep without a mosquito net.

(6) Don’t forget mosquito boots after dusk.

(7) Don’t go out after 8 a.m. without a helmet.

(8) Don’t neglect inspection of your kitchen utensils and your kitchen.

(9) Don’t forget to have your filter scrubbed weekly.

(10) Take regular exercise.


The climate of Jamaica is probably one of the best tropical climates in the world, but it is desirable, although not essential, for European children to spend some of their school years in a temperate zone. On the sea coast the period from June to October is sometimes uncomfortably hot and it is wise for European women and children to go to the hills for that period if possible. Special precautions should be observed with regard to water supply, contamination of fresh fruit and raw vegetables, and contamination of food after  cooking. In certain districts anti-malarial precautions are necessary.


The geographical area which comprises the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya is situated 5 degrees North and 5 degrees South and is bounded on the east by the Indian Ocean and Italian Somaliland, on the north by Abyssinia, on the west by Lake Victoria and the Uganda Protectorate, and in the South by Tanganyika Territory.
The country may be described consisting of:
(i) The Coastal Belt which is essentially tropical, although the nights are frequently cool except during the hottest months from November to April. The mean shade temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the average rainfall about 40 inches.
(ii) A region between just over sea level and under 3,000 feet stretching from the near coast to the foot-hills of Mount Kenya and round to Lake Rudolph in the north. This region, which includes more than half the area of the Colony is sparsely populated has an average temperature of between 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and an average rainfall of about 10 inches.
(iii) The Highlands, consisting of alternating mountain ranges and high level plateaux, bounded by the low lying areas on the east and north and by the Lake Area in the west. These plateaux are at elevations varying from 3,000 to 9,000 feet, the mountains being of greater altitude. Mount Kenya, after which the Colony is named, is 17,040 feet in height and is capped by continual snow and ice. Mount Elgon is 14,000 feet high and is just below the snow line. The Aberdare range, on the east of the Rift Valley, reaches 13,000 feet, and the Mau Escarpment, on the west of the Rift Valley, attains a height of over 10,000 feet. In this highland area the climate is invigorating, with cool breezes and cold nights especially from June to August. The mean shade temperature is between 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The average rainfall ranges generally from 30 to 50 inches, but is higher in certain parts.
(iv) The Lake Area, consisting of the region bordering the shores of Lake Victoria (3,726 feet). This area is at an average height of 4,000 feet, has an average annual rainfall varying from 40 inches to over 70 inches in different localities.
The heaviest rainfall is normally experienced during the “long rains” of March to May and “short rains” of October to December, but seasons vary considerably. January and February are usually dry and sunny, while July and August are cloudy and cool.
Generally speaking, the climate of the highlands is pleasant and suitable for European adults provided reasonable precautions are taken. The country lies on the Equator and the sun should be treated with respect. In the case of children it is generally considered advisable that at least a part of the period between the ages of 8 and 20 years should be spent in a country where a more uniformly temperate climate is found.
In a considerable part of this area there are numbers of European farmers and facilities for social intercourse are enhanced accordingly. Given reasonably adequate housing conditions a high standard of health can be maintained by both officers and their families.

The Land Settlement Commissioners commented on the climatic conditions in the East Africa Protectorate, signed Nairobi on the 21st November 1918:

“An important matter for the consideration  by each person who is contemplating settling in the East Africa Protectorate* is the suitability of the climate for a white race. In respect of this matter the medical faculty hold widely divergent views. Some are of the opinion that a frequent change to a temperate climate is essential, while others consider that with ordinary care in living, which means wholesome food, proper housing, and the ordinary precautions which are observed in other tropical climates, there is no reason why a white man should not make a home for himself and his family in this country. This would appear to be borne out by the testimony of many old resident settlers who gave evidence. Only time can prove whether the virility of our race can be maintained without change to a temperate climate.”

*Now Kenya Colony and Protectorate

Oversea Settlement Office (1924) General Information as to Kenya Colony and Protectorate, London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office. p. 8.


About J.F. Gjersø

PhD in International History, LSE.
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