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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. 


Violet Donkin and Fritz Schindler – Matron of Scott Sanatorium Grieves After Fiancee Dies Following Lion Attack

Violet Donkin and Fritz Schindler For the last two months I have been talking about the founding of the Scott Sanatorium, and the part Violet Donkin played in this. However, a year after the facility opened, she departed for England. Why? A scrutiny of the surviving manuscripts gives us a clue. We learn from The Leader of 24 January 1914 that Violet had recently left ‘upon medical advice.’ Then, in an obscure journal of Brian Havelock Potts held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, we find that Potts served in the army after the outbreak of the First World War, contracted amoebic dysentery, and was taken to the Scott Sanatorium. There he was nursed by Violet Donkin, who had clearly returned to East Africa. She was, he learnt, to have been married to one Fritz Schindler before he was killed by a lion. If we then look at when Schindler met his unhappy fate, we find it was in January 1914. He was taken, badly gored, to the Scott Sanatorium, where he died. He must therefore have been nursed by his own fiancée. It is no wonder that she felt she must have a break. Who was Fritz Schindler or, as it was frequently written, Schindelar? The British had a tendency to call all German-speaking people ‘Fritz.’ There was a Fritz Schindler in the Nandi district in 1901, involved in a brick-making operation at Entebbe in 1902, and we learn of trader Fritz Schindler in January 1905 buying cattle in Ruanda. This is probably the person who applied for a Resident’s Game Licence in 1909 in Nairobi. We know that...

On Call in Africa – book review

On Call in Africa in War and Peace, 1910-1932 by Norman Parsons Jewell     Norman Jewell’s memoir gives us the best eyewitness account of medical conditions among the troops fighting in East Africa that has been published so far. It is a riveting story of the horrors of warfare in the heat, mud, flies and dust of Kenya and Tanganyika. Jewell was a medical officer in the Colonial Medical Service and served in World War I as a captain in the 3rd East African Field Ambulance. Before he died he wrote his memoirs, which have been amalgamated in this book with his unique daily diary written in the field during the war. The book also contains a preface by World War I historian Edward Paice and a section written by the author’s granddaughter about the Jewell family. The book has been professionally edited and has wonderful explanatory footnotes. The book begins with a splendid account of life in the Seychelles in 1912, where Jewell was first posted for four years. He was then sent to Kisumu to take charge of the Native Hospital as well as a temporary hospital for European troops. He cannot have made himself popular when he ordered all the European patients out of the nearby local bar and back to bed, forbidding further excursions. Jewell tells interesting stories about the disbandment of Ross’s Scouts after an enquiry, the success of Drought’s ‘Skin Corps’ and the composition of the Legion of Frontiersmen. He always describes the tribes of the region and the ailments they suffered – for example, he dealt successfully with bubonic and pneumonic...

Violet Donkin and the Scott Sanatorium

Violet Donkin and the Scott Sanatorium Last month we read about the establishment of the Scott Sanatorium outside Nairobi under the leadership of the nurse and midwife (Frances) Violet Donkin. Who was she? I mentioned her in my blog of 9 May 2012, but gave few details. She was born on 19 September 1875 in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, the second daughter of Edward Francis Donkin and Margaret Russell Wilford, who died in 1884. She was the great-great-granddaughter of General Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin (Port Elizabeth in South Africa was named after his wife, as was the Donkin Reserve there, forever a green space in the centre of the city). Violet was brought up by her grandmother Elizabeth Wilford, of 9 Church Hill, Milverton, Warwickshire. She trained as a nurse at the Royal South Hampshire Hospital and Southampton Hospital, and in 1903 qualified as a midwife with a certificate from the London Obstetrical Society. At the age of thirty-three Violet departed for British East Africa on 4 September 1908, arriving in Mombasa on 29 September. She was then recruited to head the Scott Memorial Sanatorium, an advertisement for which appeared in The Leader on 2 August 1913. The Sanatorium flourished, with Violet active in her fundraising efforts, as detailed in the local paper: The Leader – 10 October 1913 The dance given last Friday in aid of the Scott Sanatorium was a great success. The fine Railway Institute, so well equipped for dancing … Smart society was well represented, while our visitors from the provinces, at Nairobi during Race Week, largely patronised the affair. The Stewards … were indefatigable in their attention...