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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 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...

The Scott Sanatorium

The Scott Sanatorium In 1912 it was felt that there was a need for a sanatorium in Nairobi for white settlers, and the idea for the Scott Sanatorium took root. What was the origin of its name? It was named for the Rev. Henry Edwin Scott, LRCP and SE, a medical missionary. Dr. Scott, who died in 1911 in his forty-eighth year, was educated at the Royal High School and the University of Edinburgh. He was a distinguished football player and a good all‑round athlete. He had been a missionary of the Church of Scotland since 1890 and was first stationed at Nyasaland. In December 1907 he was transferred to Kikuyu, British East Africa, to act as the head of the Church of Scotland Mission there. He took a prominent place in the public life of the community. He was a member of the Government Board of Education, and the Government also called on him for advice in connection with native affairs. He also helped to found the YMCA in Nairobi. He was so honoured and respected by the local community that they named the Scott Memorial Sanatorium after him.   The generosity of Northrup McMillan, the Nairobi benefactor, enabled the project to go ahead. He gave a donation of £1,000 and stood guarantor for a loan of a further £2,500. Subscriptions were solicited and the nurse and midwife Violet Donkin was recruited in England to lead the sanatorium. We can trace the building’s progress from the local paper, The Leader. The Leader – 10 August 1912 The subscriptions to date for working expenses on behalf of the Scott...

An Eccentric East African Hotelier

An Eccentric East African Hotelier   If you crossed the Kenya border into Uganda in the 1940s you came across a rather dilapidated building with a faded tin roof, half a mile from the border, at Tororo. On a board it announced itself as a bar: ‘Prop.: H.H. Aitken. Licensed to sell liquor to whom, how, and at what hour he pleases.’ You entered a dark room, with a bar displaying bottles of liquor behind it. Bottles of beer were in an icebox in the corner, and there was a price list. Customers were invited to leave money in a bowl on top of the bar. There was also an invitation to answer calls of nature behind the house.   If you desired to stay, you were presented with this price list: Tororo Hotel, Tororo, Uganda, Prop.: H.H. Aitken, P.O. Box 9, phone 8. Per day single room shgs 17.50                 double room   32.00 Dinner, bed, bath, morning tea and breakfast. Visitors who do not bath, 2 shgs extra. (There were also prices for meals and board terms for four to six days and for a week.)   After this was proclaimed: Nuisances: Children: In proportion to food and accommodation, Noise and Nuisance to Visitors and/or the Proprietor. Livestock: Dogs and other fleasome beasts and Birds are not allowed in the hotel. Servants: Cannot as a rule be catered for. Corkage is charged on Visitors’ own Wines, Spirits and Beer Golf free to hotel visitors   This strange establishment was the brainchild of Herbert Henry Aitken, a man who was a legend on both sides of the border. Who...