Herbert Kay Binks

Herbert Kay Binks

Herbert Binks (1880-1971), mentioned in Old Africa Aug/Sept 2013, was a photographer and astronomer, and one of Kenya’s earliest English residents. The red-headed ‘Pop’ was a well known figure in Nairobi for over sixty years, and many of his photos of people and places still exist. Unfortunately the photo archive he gave to the Kenya Archives was ruined in a flood. Binks wrote a memoir, African Rainbow (1959), which many of you will have read. Alas, it is not entirely accurate, having been dictated in old age when memories fade, but it gives a good picture of early Nairobi. For example, Binks says he arrived in East Africa in 1900, but we know that he did not set foot there until 4 February 1902 (Binks’s diary). In 1901 he was in Plymouth, training to be a chemist (see 1901 census). He had been born in Outwood, near Wakefield, on 1 August 1880, the youngest child of six of John Binks, stonemason and builder, and his wife Elizabeth. His brothers also became stonemasons, but Herbert had different ambitions. After his chemist’s training with Robert Roper in Plymouth, he set sail for Africa. He bought land on the boundary of the Kikuyu reserve, north-west of the railway line (Land Grant Application, 12.8.1902), and tried farming at ‘Kalula’, Thembigwa, near Limuru, for a few years, at first with potatoes and then with vegetables. As it proved not to be lucrative, he opened a photographic studio in Nairobi and sold his first photos in 1904. His fortunes rose and fell – there are several law cases against him noted in the Kenya Gazette in these years, presumably for unpaid...