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your window into East Africa’s past.

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Old Africa books

Old Africa books are well-told stories in the same tradition as the shorter pieces

our readers have come to enjoy from the pages of Old Africa magazine.

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Old Africa magazine seeks to tell the story of East Africa’s past through well-written stories and vintage photographs. Founded in October 2005, the first issue featured a story about the Royal Navy’s ill-fated attempt to launch a naval presence on Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana) and an account of the Kedong Massacre. Since then the magazine has published stories and photos from Kenya’s diverse ethnic groups – African, Asian and European – to preserve East Africa’s history. 


Stories of Workers on a White Farm

Stories of Workers on a White Farm   Elspeth Huxley recorded some stories of the workers on the farm of her mother, Nellie Grant, which give a fascinating insight into the history of Kenya. The Grants’ first farm was near Thika and then they moved to a farm at Njoro.   Njombo Came from Gethumbwini, Thika. At the time of the first famine his mother went to Ukambani to get food, but never came back. His father died (when Njombo was 12 or 13), then his brother, then his twin brother and his sister. They had no food and no one to look after them and there were two small children, so Njombo took them to an uncle who sheltered them. He then went to Nairobi to work at road making and dug building stone from a quarry. Thereafter he went to Thika to work as a driver, having been taught by a Dutchman. His job was to drive the wagon from Thika to Nairobi. He saw his first Europeans in 1912. He was sent to Blue Posts Hotel to fetch Elspeth, Mrs Grant’s daughter. His clan rejected him because he thought his father had been killed, so he ran away to Kiambu and went for one term to the Africa Inland Mission school at Kabete, and then to the Roman Catholic school. He returned to his village to avenge the poisoning (he thought) of his brothers and his daughter. He heard Mrs Grant was going to Njoro and was looking for people to follow her. He walked to Njoro and Mrs Grant promised them all gardens, saying they...

How Farm Workers Came to Settler Farms

How Farm Workers Came to Settler Farms We can get an idea of the motivation of African farm workers if we look at some specific cases. Nellie Grant (Elspeth Huxley’s mother) went to Kenya in 1912 and farmed coffee at Thika. After the First World War she heard she had been granted land at Njoro in the soldier-settler scheme and decided to try her luck there. But she would need labour. How did she go about getting it? It seems she took some workers she already had, got others by word of mouth, and some arrived by chance. Here are a few examples of how people ended up on her farm, as told to her daughter Elspeth Huxley: Kibunyu Kibunyu came to the Grants after working for Algy Cartwright, who farmed at Njoro. Cartwright sent messengers round to villagers saying he wanted to employ squatters at Njoro. He signed them on at Kabete. About 100 people from Kiambu and some from Fort Hall came to Njoro by train and Cartwright showed them where they could have gardens. When they arrived there were no Kikuyu, only Dorobo, and it was all thick forest. There were buffalo near the river and many bushbuck and forest pig. The Dorobo killed three of the Kikuyu. The Kikuyu drove the Dorobo away into the forest, cutting down the smaller trees and burning the big ones by setting fires in their trunks. During the war Kibunyu looked after the Cartwright farm. Wambogo Wambogo first worked for the DC John Ainsworth at Kilima Kiu. About 300 people were caught by Chief Kinanjui and sent there. A...

The Jewells and Mombasa Hospital

The Jewells and Mombasa Hospital Last month I talked about the Mombasa Hospital. From 1920 onwards Norman Jewell was in charge of the establishment, and his letters and diaries show us what medical hazards were faced by Mombasa’s inhabitants in the 1920s. Jewell had begun his tropical medical career in the Seychelles, but on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was appointed to the East Africa Protectorate and became an army doctor. He travelled with the troops all over Tanganyika, often working under appalling circumstances. It must have been a relief for him to have been posted to Mombasa after the war. From left: Norman Jewell, Norman Jewell on the Mombasa Hospital veranda, John Jewell Jewell found there was a high standard of hygiene and health control in Mombasa, overseen by Dr Henry Speldewinde de Boer. To prevent plague, there were daily autopsies on rats, enabling Jewell to be forewarned should plague occur. Rat-catching was carried out assiduously. And food inspections and mosquito control were energetically pursued. Yet there were unforeseen hazards such as ten inches of rain in a few hours, which burst the pipes and flooded the streets, uprooted trees and washed boats from the harbour. Then there was an outbreak of smallpox in Mombasa in 1925. Jewell made vaccination compulsory for all, and the only European who died had washed off the vaccine. Over 230,000 people were vaccinated. There were many cases among the African population of the disfiguring yaws, an infection of skin, bones and joints caused by a spirochete bacterium. The sufferers were injected with neosalvarsan as a treatment. But...