My object is precious to me as family history, and as a small but important part of world history. It is the detailed and meticulously annotated album of 400+ photos my grandfather, H.J.Brock, compiled between 1902 & 1909, documenting the survey and construction of the Shiré Highlands Railway in very difficult terrain in what is now Malawi.
Dr Livingstone's earlier discoveries in the Zambezi basin had drawn attention to the potential of this region,and the British government therefore set up settlements at the south end of Lake Nyasa and in the high land along the Shiré river. They saw railways as a key strategic factor in opening up the area. This was part of the questionable race by competing European powers to grab territory: the Scramble for Africa.
My grandfather was appointed by the Crown Agents as Assistant Engineer in charge of surveying and construction. He was 21, the son of a coastguard, and had hardly travelled beyond Dorset and Cornwall where he was brought up. His sea journey to Africa via the Suez canal would have been incredibly exotic and exciting for him, and the extraordinary sights and smells and sounds in foreign ports were a defining experience for him.