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Old Africa books

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

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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. 


When did Electricity Come to Nairobi?

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi? In order to supply electricity for lighting and power in the district of Nairobi, the Nairobi Electric Power and Lighting Company Limited, with a capital of £30,000, was founded in February 1906. Its originator was Clement HA Hirtzel (misspelt Hertzel in most sources), who had arrived in East Africa from South Africa in January 1904. Described as ‘a penniless counter-jumper from the Cape’ by McGregor-Ross, Hirtzel had actually been born in Exeter and had obtained engineering qualifications. He also had a motor car and motor cycle business in Nairobi, where he lived at Parklands, and he obtained a farm at Limuru. He was awarded an OBE and became a freeman of the city of Exeter, to which he later retired. In April 1904 Hirtzel obtained a concession for fifty years from the Governor, Sir Charles Eliot, to supply Nairobi with electricity. He signed a draft contract to do so in 1905, and set up a company named the Nairobi Power and Lighting Syndicate. Charles Udall was chief engineer and the managing director was RC Bayldon, formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who later became chairman of Nairobi’s Chamber of Commerce. The general scheme was to generate electricity by means of water power, then running to waste, to supply Nairobi and the surrounding country. In November 1906 the company chose to use the first fall on the Ruiru River below the Fort Hall road, some 18-½ miles by road from Nairobi. A bungalow for the engineer was erected near the site of the works and the task of damming the river was undertaken....

How did Christianity come to Kenya?

How did Christianity come to Kenya?   The first Christians to visit East Africa were Vasco da Gama and his crew, including Roman Catholic missionaries, in 1498. He did not, however, leave any of these in East Africa and the next missionary we hear about is Francis Xavier, the pioneer missionary, on his way to India, who had talks with Muslim leaders in Malindi in 1542. In 1564 the Portuguese Viceroy of India ordered that the gospel be preached around Mombasa and three years later an Augustinian monastery was established there. Fort Jesus, with its Christian name, was begun in 1592 by the Portuguese, who occupied the town intermittently for the next century and a half. In 1597 the Augustinian friars at Mombasa claimed that they had 600 African converts, including slaves, Swahilis and Bantu people from the interior – among them the exiled King of Pemba. This is hard to believe, but the following year three Augustinian priests were stationed on the islands of Lamu, Pate and Faza. The Muslim governor of Faza also helped to build a chapel, resulting in a flourishing Christian community, and the Portuguese also built a chapel at Shela, on Lamu. In 1607 the Brethren of Mercy arrived in Mombasa to care for the converts from Islam. The main buildings in Mombasa’s Ndia Kuu were the Convent of the Augustinians, the parish church and the church of the Misericordia.These were mentioned by a French visitor in 1846, but they have now all disappeared. In 1846 part of the Augustinian Convent had become the kadhi’s house, the small Misericordia church was the home of...

Odoriferous Mombasa

Odoriferous Mombasa In the first decades of the twentieth century Mombasa was often a far from pleasant place to work or live in. The old town had a graveyard where leg and skull bones stuck out of the thin layer of soil. In the Old Harbour there was a large deep tank filled with shark oil, used to prevent marine growth in dhow hulls. During the northeast monsoon the stench from this tank blew across the town. The streets were stacked with mangrove poles that had lain in shallow water for months and smelt as bad as the shark oil. Some godowns were stocked with dried shark emitting a stink even worse than shark oil or mangrove poles. At the entrance to the old port, in Vasco da Gama Street, the lower storeys of some of the houses were stacked with bags of molasses. When it was particularly hot the molasses turned into a runny liquid and escaped into the street. The town had no piped sewage disposal because the water supply coming from the Kwale hills (two-and-a-half million gallons) reached only the port, railway, industry and main thoroughfares, together with Mrs Lund’s steam laundry. The rest of the town acquired water mainly from wells and roof catchment tanks — large concrete reservoirs from which water was pumped into small tanks in ceilings. When there was a tropical storm, a common occurrence at Mombasa, the roof tanks overflowed and the water descended via pipes into the street where it would lie stagnating for days, providing a lovely breeding ground for mosquitoes. In the dry season people carried water home...