Book Review: Under the Shadow of the Oath

Book Review: Under the Shadow of the Oath

Here’s an excellent book review by Jeremy Hooker on one of our recent Old Africa book titles. The review first appeared in August 2013 in the Powys Journal no XXIII and we thank the Powys Journal and Jeremy Hooker for their permission to share the book review here. Under the Shadow of the Oath: A Selection from the African Journals of Mary Casey Edited and introduced by Louise de Bruin Kijabe, Kenya: Old Africa Books, 2012. 216 pp. ISBN: 978-9966-757-02-9. £9.99. Anyone familiar with Mary Casey’s writings but previously unaware of the facts of her life in Africa is likely to be surprised, as I was, by aspects of this publication. In these pages one hears of the poet learning to fire a rifle, and taking a revolver with her on a walk in the forest. It is in some ways a desperate story the journals have to tell. For Gerard and Mary Casey were farming in Kenya during the period of the Mau Mau Emergency, when sheep and cattle were slashed and killed, farms burned, and near neighbours, Europeans and Africans, murdered. Horror and acts of cruelty are graphically described in these pages, which cover the period from August 1950 until the end of 1957. As Louis de Bruin explains in her informative Introduction, the title ‘refers to the oaths taken by those of the Kikuyu revolting against the colonial powers; a rebellion that became known as the Mau Mau Uprising or State of Emergency’. The Caseys evidently treated the Africans working for them well, but with men among them ‘who have taken blood-curdling oaths for your destruction’,...
Mayence Bent and The New Stanley Hotel

Mayence Bent and The New Stanley Hotel

Mayence Ellen Bent, the founder of the New Stanley Hotel (now the Stanley Ramada) in Nairobi, had a most interesting early life. She was born in the district of St Pancras, London, on 17 April 1868, the daughter of Walter Bentley Woodbury and Marie Olmeijer. Her own name and those of her sisters (Florence, Constance, Hermance, Valence, Fayence and Avence) alert us immediately to the fact that this was an unusual family. And indeed it was. Her father W.B. Woodbury was a famed photographer (just google him to see how famous he was) and her mother was the daughter of a Borneo trader, Charles William Olmeijer, of mixed Dutch-Malay descent. Joseph Conrad had visited his trading outpost at Tanjung Redeb on the Pantai river and this gave rise to his famous story Almayer’s Folly. When Woodbury was photographing in the Dutch East Indies, he saw a beautiful schoolgirl, Olmeijer’s daughter Marie. He determined to marry her and this he did in Batavia in 1863, taking her back to England with him. There the couple had one son and six daughters with the unusual names – Mayence is the French form of the town Mainz. How did Mayence get to Nairobi? She lived in Penge and Croydon as a child and then she and her sister Constance went out to South Africa, where Constance opened a boarding house. They were joined by their step-brother William Stanley Bent. What had happened was that the girls’ father, Walter Woodbury, had died in Margate in 1885, and five years later his wife Marie married Edward Stanley Bent, a struck-off solicitor who spent five years...