Nairobi in the 1920s

Nairobi in the 1920s

Nairobi in the 1920s After the end of World War I Nairobi started to develop as a town. It had a population of  8,000 Europeans, 8,000 Asians and an indeterminate number of Africans.  Lying at mile 327 of the Uganda Railway, it was at an altitude of 5,575 feet, standing at the front of the Highlands and on the edge of the great plains country that led down to the sea over 300 miles away.  A Uganda Railways poster to popularize British East Africa Formerly only the headquarters of the Uganda Railway, it had become the seat of the Governor and government offices.  It had developed quickly from a mere collection of wood and iron buildings to a town of considerable dimensions. The water supply came from a reservoir 13 miles northwest, and the electric power from a plant 12 miles northeast.  There were three banks, two English daily newspapers, a theatre and several churches, these being Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.  There was also a synagogue.     Government Road in 1927   The main thoroughfare was Government Road leading from the station to one of the chief suburbs, Parklands. A less fully developed through road ran at right angles – Sixth Avenue leading to Government House, the hospital, the school, and the chief official residences.  Along Sixth Avenue were the Anglican church, the post office and the treasury, all stone buildings.  The main suburbs were the Hill, where senior officials resided; Parklands, especially occupied by business residents and with a small English church, St Mark’s;  Riverdale separating the Hill from Parklands;  Kilimani behind the Hill where there was...

Tea and Limuru School

Tea and Limuru School   What have Kenya tea and Limuru Girls’ School got in common? The answer is Arnold Butler McDonell, the founder of both the Kenyan tea industry and Limuru School. Three McDonell brothers, Ronald, George and Arnold, and their sister Gertrude (later Magee), came to East Africa in 1905 and 1906. Arnold (born on 17 October 1872 at Forest Gate, London) found work at a logging station, but in 1910 bought 350 acres at Limuru, where he built a house and started a farm, which he called Kiambethu. Because of the altitude (7,200 feet) he failed with corn, flax and coffee. Then the First World War intervened and he joined the East African Mounted Rifles.   At the end of the war a friend sent him some tea seeds (Camellia sinensis assamica) from India. He planted a few acres and found that the bushes flourished – conditions were just right. From these small beginnings the Kenya tea industry developed into a billion dollar enterprise. At first the tea was all processed on the farm and sold to Nairobi traders, but tea soon caught on and was planted elsewhere on high land in Kenya. Brooke Bond built a tea factory at Limuru in 1926.   McDonell married in 1908. His future bride, Agnes Evelyn Harriott Lillingston (born on 2 February 1877), the youngest of a vicar’s eleven children, arrived in Mombasa and was whisked straight to the church to be married in case she changed her mind. The marriage produced four daughters – Evelyn, twins Mary and Edith, and Violet (‘Judy’). How were these girls to be...
Mt Ololokwe – Old Africa’s Mystery Mountain

Mt Ololokwe – Old Africa’s Mystery Mountain

In our August-September issue (#84) of Old Africa we showed some photos of Mt Ololokwe, which I had climbed with my son Reid and his wife and four of my grandchildren in July. We used those photos as our History Mystery contest. We had an amazing response and we received the most correct answers of any History Mystery Contest – 16. Dick Moss from Nairobi was chosen as the winner, having mapped the the mountain in 1959 and then climbed it in the mid-1970s.  Amazingly, we also received a correct answer from Alec Abell, who had climbed Mt Ololokwe with Dick Moss in 1974!  We only had space in our magazine to print six answers. But so many answers were good that we didn’t want our readers to miss out on them. So we’re offering some of those answers here as “runners-up” for our contest.  We plan to send all our runners-up a free book from Old Africa. Dick Moss will receive his first prize of a 3000/- gift certificate to Text Book Centre. We encourage you to read the latest issue of Old Africa and enter our newest History Mystery Contest. Mt Ololokwe History Mystery Contest from Issue 84 Runners-up answers How could I fail to recognise my favourite NFD mountain of which we have an attractive oil painting hanging on our wall.  It has two names.   Ol Lolokwe and Ol Donyo Sabachi and is in Samburu District just north of the Samburu National Park on the Uaso Nyiro river and just off the new Tarmac road to Marsabit.    I have climbed the mystery mountain three...

Gailey & Roberts

Who were Mr Gailey and Mr Roberts? The firm Gailey & Roberts has been known over East Africa for more than a century, but who were Mr Gailey and Mr Roberts? John Hamilton Gailey, born in Edmonton in 1870 and educated at King’s College School in London, and David Owen Roberts, born in Merionethshire on 10 September 1871, arrived in East Africa in 1896 and 1897, to work on the construction of the Mombasa–Lake Victoria railway.  As an engineer Gailey was put in charge of the bridge building between Nairobi and Muhoroni in 1899, while Roberts was assistant engineer with the maintenance division, resident at Masongoleni.. After the completion of their contracts with the railway in 1903 the pair went into partnership in Nairobi as retail ironmongers, estate agents and surveyors. Their idea was to import all sorts of hardware, electrical goods and machinery for the putative farmers now beginning to settle in East Africa. They would also be surveyors and estate agents. With the motto ‘Enterprise is the keystone to success’ they pursued their business in the lobby of Nairobi’s only hotel; it was said that if you wanted land, you went to see Gailey, but if you wanted to know where to settle, Roberts was your man. Gailey would joke that the enterprise was started more as a joke than anything else and was nicknamed ‘Gaily They Rob Us’. A sideline was that they experimented with growing tobacco at the Red House Estate near Nairobi in 1907.   JH Gailey Roberts married Gladys Edith Annie (1881-1946) – and settled her on a farm, Ngewe, at the junction...

John Rathbone: Storekeeper and Newspaper Pioneer

Storekeeper and Newspaper Pioneer Few will remember the Dewdrop Inn at Rumuruti, but the newspaper the Sunday Postwill ring many a bell. One man was responsible for both endeavours: John Sylvanus Rathbone. Clutching a map provided by the Land Office, in 1920 Rathbone walked from Thika in the direction of what became known as Nanyuki, excited by the prospect of developing a well-watered farm. The streams and rivers on the map, and its injunction preventing the structure of any wharves, landing stages or ferries, proved to be illusory. Instead Rathbone opened the first duka in Nanyuki, calling it Township Stores. Rathbone was born in Sheffield on 25 Nov 1963 and was given the names John Silas. One of his first jobs was as a private tutor and elementary teacher in Sheffield, and there he met Emma Lucie Brenner, a language teacher born in Germany, but of Swiss nationality and a scion of the famous family for which the Brenner Pass is named. They married and soon had a son and a daughter. The daughter, born in 1906, seems to have provoked a breakdown, because we find Emma Lucie in ‘South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum’ that year. The child lived only three years. At the start of World War 1 Rathbone joined the army and fought in the German East Africa campaign. Of literary bent, he started a magazine for the troops called ‘Doing’.  He was assisted in this enterprise by fellow soldiers George Kinnear (later editor of the East African Standard), and Herbert ‘Pop’ Binks, who called his column ‘What Binks Thinks.’ Returning to England after the war, Rathbone decided...
A Most Unusual Missionary

A Most Unusual Missionary

A Most Unusual Missionary Charles Henry Stokes was far from being your traditional missionary. Irish, excitable, easily swayed, unreliable, passionate, he regarded the making of money as a most important aspect of life.  To this end he deviated from his missionary calling to become a gun runner. But he had his virtues. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he respected Africans and never ill-treated them. He was therefore able to become a most successful leader of caravans from the coast to the interior before roads and railways were built. He first appeared in East Africa in 1876 as a lay missionary, under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society. In this role he soon gained expertise as a leader of caravans to Uganda, and in 1885 he left the CMS. He became an independent trader and could be hired in Zanzibar as a caravan leader, sometimes with as many as 2,500 African porters. He always kept his word with the porters. Stokes’s business ventures prospered and he joined the German service in their territory as an Assistant Commissioner. His trading exploits included the trading of guns and powder for ivory. This was his downfall. The Belgians in the Congo were most unhappy that he was supplying Africans with guns and began to suspect, wrongly, that he was trying to foment rebellion against Belgian rule. One Captain Lothaire, in charge of a disturbed district in the Congo, determined to put a stop to the gun running. He decided that execution was to be an appropriate punishment. He captured Stokes, gave him a summary trial by court martial, and sentenced him to...
Martin and Osa Johnson: Early Years of the Pioneer Film Makers

Martin and Osa Johnson: Early Years of the Pioneer Film Makers

Issue 84 of Old Africa has a story about Martin and Osa Johnson and their first safaris to Kenya to film Africa’s wildlife. This blog gives some of the background on Martin and Osa’s life before coming to Africa. Movie poster from the film Trailing African Wild Animals Backstory When he was 12 years old Martin Johnson moved to Independence, Kansas with his family in 1896. His father, John, opened a combination jewelry store and book shop. In addition he acquired a franchise to sell Eastman-Kodak cameras and film. Little did he know this decision would affect the course of his son’s life. Martin fell in love with photography and John encouraged him, even building a darkroom for his son in the rear of the store. Bored with his routine life in school and helping in his father’s store as a teenager, Martin announced that he was going to travel and make money. In the summer of 1901 when Martin was 17 he took a camera and a tripod and a tent for a darkroom and set off in an old buckboard pulled by a pony named Socks. As an itinerant photographer, he roamed from town to town in southeastern Kansas. Late that summer he stopped at Chanute, a town with no photographer, and set up his studio. One customer who came for a ten-cent portrait was seven-year-old Osa Leighty. With her dime clutched in her hand, Osa dragged her three-year-old brother Vaughan to the photographer. Vaughan arrived with his sister, hot and tired, with tears staining his face. Osa had envisaged a prim and proper portrait of her...
Sharing Northrup McMillan’s Millions

Sharing Northrup McMillan’s Millions

Sharing Northrup’s Millions by Judy Aldrick   I always enjoy receiving feedback and discovering new information.  It makes writing about East African history all the more worthwhile for me. Imagine my surprise when several years after my book about Sir Northrup McMillan had been published(Judy Aldrick, Northrup: The Life of William Northrup McMillan, 2012, Old Africa Books) I received a mysterious message on my Linked In network.  A retired lawyer, Mike Cronan, wished me to get in contact as papers relating to Northrup had come into his possession, which he thought might interest me.  I sent him my contact details. A week or so later a parcel of papers arrived in Kent from the USA.  It was the details of a lawsuit brought in 1929 by a McMillan relative against the St Louis Trust Company and Lady Lucie McMillan, Northrup’s widow.  Mike Cronan had been researching the life of a prominent Missouri lawyer and politician called James Reed and had come across the information amongst his papers. Reed had represented Lady Lucie in the case brought against her. Cronan did not include the McMillan affair in his book about Reed, as after Reed had filed a preliminary motion, the case was dismissed. Alice Warfield, a cousin of Northrup, brought charges against Lucie McMillan, claiming that she had been defrauded of her inheritance.  William McMillan, Northrup’s father, had died in 1901 a very wealthy man and left his fortune to his wife and only son, however, with certain strings attached. He was a cautious man and did not want his wife and son to spend his hard earned money all at...
Benjamin Eastwood, a Pioneer Railway Official

Benjamin Eastwood, a Pioneer Railway Official

They were eccentrics and drunkards, adventurers and sober engineers – people who were recruited to run the brand new railway snaking from Mombasa to Lake Victoria before the start of the twentieth century. One such character was Benjamin Eastwood, born in Weymouth on 19 March 1863 and educated at Fleetwood. He arrived in East Africa in 1897, as a trained accountant. Two years later he had been promoted to the post of Chief Accountant of the Uganda Railway. He was variously described by his colleagues: ‘makes no pretence of being a gentleman’, ‘a good accountant but a bad mannered man’, ‘a quiet, unassuming man’. When thirteen personal complaints were made against him, he dealt with them with these remarks: ‘This I deny in toto,’ ‘This is most ridiculous,’ and ‘This is wholly untrue.’ One complaint he did concede – when accused of not providing merit bonuses he said, ‘I really cannot see how meritorious work can be expected of men, most of whom have been picked up locally and know nothing of accounts work.’ He was always tough, dismissing two clerks as ‘useless’ and another as ‘drunk and incompetent.’ Eastwood was one of eight officials named by the Railway Strike Committee as treating their subordinates with ‘extreme discourtesy and tyranny.’ But he was much in demand as an efficient organiser – he became a member of the Governor’s Council, the War Council, the Nairobi Municipal Council and the School Board; he was chairman of the Local Priority Committee, Secretary and Treasurer of Mombasa and Nairobi Clubs, honorary Treasurer and Steward of the East African Turf Club and Editor of...

Ann Louise Hudson – An enterprising pioneer woman in Nairobi

An Enterprising Female Pioneer Who remembers their parents buying their school uniforms from Hudsons Ltd in Nairobi? You probably never wondered who Hudson was. In fact, the name belonged to a very enterprising woman who came to East Africa in August 1899 – Ann Louise Hudson. Born in 1871, she was one of twelve children of a Welsh labourer called Sharp. She married one John Hudson in Manchester in 1899. Her husband had gone to East Africa in 1897 to work on the construction of the Uganda Railway. He took his wife to Mombasa in 1899 and their first home was a tent in Kilindini stuffed with packing cases. They moved to the nascent town of Nairobi where their first child, Sophia, was born in 1902. Upon the railway’s completion the family moved to India, but returned to East Africa in 1910, when John got another job on the railway. To swell the family’s finances Ann went to work with the new Nairobi firm – Whiteaway Laidlaw. Ann Louise Hudson Then John died in 1919, of pneumonia not helped by his heavy drinking. With three children to support, Ann embarked on a second marriage, but it proved a disaster. She left her husband and was almost destitute. She had to find the money to pay for schooling for her three children, two daughters and a son, who were now in England living with relatives. She utilised the talent she possessed – skilled needlework. From a small room in Government Road she mended and altered curtains, repaired and made dresses, created hats and did beautiful embroidery. She was soon in...