Claude Martin Vernon – An Early Doctor in Kenya

www.christinenicholls.co.ukwww.europeansineastafrica.co.uk     Born in 1866 in Leyton, Sussex, Claude Vernon aspired to be a doctor. After training in London and Cambridge he landed a job as Medical Officer of Health in Ashford, Kent, where he stayed until 1913.  After the First World War he decided to move to Kenya in 1920 with his growing family – wife Edith Augusta and children Maurice, Joan and Nancy. His adventures began. In Nairobi he met the Hon. Berkeley Cole, Legislative Council representative for Nanyuki, who told him that the town needed a doctor. The prospect was enticing, because the job went with a farm which had been allocated to a doctor who never arrived. After a stint in Nyeri waiting for formalities to be completed, the family travelled to Nanyuki to find the 2,000 acre farm they had been given. It was depressing – utterly undeveloped, covered in oat grass and cedar and with no living accommodation. As his training had not equipped him to build a house, Vernon engaged the son of a neighbouring farmer to construct a simple mud and wattle dwelling while the family lived in a tent. He trained himself to be a carpenter to make furniture out of the wooden boxes that held petrol tins. The family grew their own vegetables. Fortunately Vernon had shot at Bisley before leaving England, so he was able efficiently to provide buck meat for the pot. He named his farm Simba Shamba because the roar of lions could be heard every night. He set up his practice in Nanyuki, although the farm was thirteen miles distant and entailed crossing five...

Talbot Mundy, Author of King of the Khyber Rifles

Talbot Mundy Everyone has heard of Rider-Haggard, but there was a contemporary novelist of almost as great renown who spent years of his life in Kenya – Talbot Mundy. His most famous book is King of the Khyber Rifles, and he also wrote 47 bestsellers and scores of novelettes, short stories and articles. He was a bit of a fantasist in his personal life, as well as on paper. He was born on 23 April 1879 in Hammersmith, London, as William Lancaster Gribbon, the son of an accountant. He won a scholarship to Rugby School and while he was there his father died suddenly. This caused him to leave Rugby without any qualifications, in 1895. On a trip to India working as a Daily Mail reporter, he met Kathleen Steele, whom he married in 1903. The pair then fled to South Africa to evade their creditors, and they ended up in Mombasa in 1904. Like many of his contemporaries Gribbon engaged in elephant hunting in British East Africa, an activity he fictionalised in his later book The Ivory Trail. Calling himself ‘Sir Rupert Harvey, Baronet,’ Gribbon killed more than 50 lions and acquired a herd of 4,000 cattle bearing the brand of an official entitled to own only two. He was arrested and sentenced to six months’ hard labour. After his release he worked on road construction and, somewhat surprisingly, was appointed town clerk of Kisumu. When he pursued and shot a rogue elephant that had been destroying villages, the beast fell on him, breaking his collar bone, shoulder and ribs. His African companions carried him to a local...
New Arusha Hotel – History Mystery Contest Answers

New Arusha Hotel – History Mystery Contest Answers

In Old Africa issue 86 (December 2019-January 2020) our History Mystery Contest generated many correct responses.  We could only publish the winning answer from Morag Urquhart from Scotland. But we have sent book prizes to the 11 runners up. Here are their answers I know the answer to your history mystery contest in Old Africa issue 85. I recognize it as the New Arusha Hotel, which is still there although owned by a large South African hotel company now and it has been extensively remodeled.  I think that tree – or parts of it – might still be there. I was there last in February 2019. One can still find tourists in their safari outfits just like the one in the picture in that hotel, waiting for their big adventure to begin. Paul Bolstad, USA   I do believe that I have the right answer. Arusha and Arusha New Hotel just near the Post Office. From 1990 to 1998 I used to work in Tanzania and travel widely. Arusha was my favourite spot to stay overnight. In the evening I used to have stroll around town. I think they changed the labels and fitted by welding the directions on a waterpipe three-inches in diameter. I do like this town and feel very much at home. My last visit was five years ago. Per Akesson, Bamburi, Kenya   The photograph shown in your History Mystery Contest is taken outside the new Arusha Hotel in Arusha, Tanzania. The sign is no longer in this position, but it is now on a signpost in the middle of the crossroads. We often stayed in the hotel with our two...

A Maverick Politician – Shirley Victor Cooke

A Maverick Politician – Shirley Victor Cooke In the very early days of colonial Kenya it was rare for officials to assume that the welfare of the native population should be paramount. One such man was SV Cooke. Born at Ennistimon, County Clare, in 1888, he was the son of an Irish parson. He began his career in Kenya as a District Officer in 1919. As was the practice, he was posted from place to place, never staying very long in each, before he ended up in Lamu. While there in 1929 he fell out with his superior HR Montgomery, brother of the Field Marshal and Provincial Commissioner at Mombasa, whom he called a ‘bloody fool’. Montgomery would not tolerate the insult and Cooke was moved. This was not the first of his misdemeanours. While at Marsabit in 1927 he was censured for being insubordinate. The settlers once instituted an enquiry about him, because he supported African interests against theirs. This irrepressible Irishman was transferred to Tanganyika, where there were fewer settlers, but again he quarrelled with his superiors. By 1930 he had left the Colonial Service and entered politics. He had now found his true vocation. He remained a member for the Coast of Kenya’s Legislative Council for more than twenty years, putting forward the African point of view and generally taking an individualistic line. Indeed he was the enfant terrible of LegCo for his outspoken comments. He particularly deplored the lack of medical services for Africans, and their substandard housing. He urged the government in 1940 to organise sociological surveys of the large towns. He heavily criticised...

Database of Europeans in East Africa 1880-1939

Database of Europeans in East Africa 1880-1939   A database prepared by Peter Ayre and Christine Nicholls is now on the internet at http://www.europeansineastafrica.co.uk It features 25,000 Europeans who were in East Africa (mainly in Kenya) before 1939 and provides personal and career details of each.    The database will be ‘live’ for a year or so, to give an opportunity for information to be added, or corrections to be made, and then it will be hosted by a scholarly library.   If you have any information you would like to add, after viewing an entry, or any corrections, please email cs.nicholls@tiscali.co.uk...
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...