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...

Charles Cottar

Charles Cottar     The name Cottar is well known in Kenya, but who was the first Cottar to arrive? An American born in 1874 in Cedar County, Iowa, went to East Africa on an exploratory safari in 1912. This man, Charles Cottar, returned with his father in 1913 and the pair started hunting and taking films. A return to the States demonstrated that the films were popular, so much so that the Globe Theatre in New York showed the first full-length movie of African wild life in the United States. Encouraged, Charles Cottar moved his family to East Africa and set up Cottar Safaris. Physically huge, well over six feet in height, with a mane of shaggy hair and a barrel chest, he wore a ten-gallon Stetson and braces made of cut strips of car tyre inner tubing. As a former sheriff in the US corn belt, he was a crack shot with a simple approach to life. If he liked you, that was fine, but if not … and his reach was long and his knuckles hard. The fact that he always carried a cudgel did not inspire confidence in strangers. Feared by adults, he was adored by children and dogs.   At the time safaris travelled through fever-stricken areas with foot porters, donkeys or oxcarts, and Cottar suffered more than once from blackwater fever. He also nearly died from the spirilium tick fever, but his porters carried him for miles, unconscious on a stretcher, until they reached medical aid. Photographic safaris were particularly dangerous, because animals had to be enticed near the cameras and they would...

Charles Bulpett

The Wild ‘Uncle Charles’ Charles William Lloyd Bulpett, known to all as ‘Uncle Charles’, arrived in East Africa from Sudan with Sir Northrup McMmillan on a shooting safari in 1904. He had already had a wild, eventful youth. As a young man in the 1880s he swam the Thames at Greenwich in a frockcoat, top hat and cane, for a wager of £100 to £25. He ended up over a mile downstream, but had reached the opposite bank. He then swam the Hellespont, like Lord Byron, and climbed the Matterhorn and performed mountaineering marvels in Mexico. There he became enamoured of a siren, ‘La Belle Otero’, who denuded him of over £100,000. Yet his father was a banker, so that probably did not matter all that much and in any case, he said, she was worth every penny.  Karen Blixen was very fond of Uncle Charles. She found him ‘unusually nice and amusing… He reminds me so much of Uncle Laurentzius in his younger days, but is more brainy and has had such an interesting life.’ She was pleased to have an intelligent person to talk to and borrow books from, in French and English. Once she asked him if he would like to live his life again and he replied with the greatest enthusiasm ‘Oh, every moment of it!’ He had told her: ’The person who can take delight in a sweet time without wanting to learn it, in a beautiful woman without wanting to possess her, or in a magnificent head of game without wanting to shoot it – has not got a human heart.’  Bulpett was...

Africana Books Pre-1900

Peter Ayre’s Books Greenham Hall, Greenham, Wellington, UK. TA21 OJJ O1823 672603 peterjayre@aol.com   Africana Books – Pre 1900. Sadly, my husband Peter passed away in June 2018, and I have decided to take on his book business, which is why I am contacting his past customers. Peter had been unwell for the last few years, and had not been very active with the books. I am slowly learning my way round his stock system, and am relying on the descriptions he had made for the books he held in stock. I am more than happy to attempt to provide more detail if you require it, or send photos on request. I am sending this list to you, in the hope that it may be of interest to you. I would also be happy for you to pass it on to anyone you feel may be interested. If you do not wish to have any further lists sent, please let me know and I will make sure you are not sent any further lists. My first selection of books consists of books printed prior to 1900. Age has not been kind to some, so do please read the descriptions carefully. If you are interested in any of them, please note the reference number especially if more than one is listed. I will deal with orders in order of receipt.  Post and packing will be quoted depending on size, weight and destination and choice of service. Payment can be made using Paypal, or direct to bank.  Listings are made up as follows:-  Author, title, publisher, country, date, edition, size, weight,...

The Chimp Who Typed His Name

The Chimp who Typed his Name Many Colonial Service staff could be described as eccentric, but one who surpassed others in this respect was Geoffrey Brisco Rimington, variously known as ‘Rim’. He had originally been a ‘Mountie’ in Canada before the First World War broke out. He then fought in France as a liaison officer between the British and French. At the end of the war he took the exam to become a District Officer and was posted to Kenya in 1920. On disembarking at Mombasa he was astounded to see a man he had been chasing for years across Canada; of course, he went to have a drink with him. Then the raw recruit was issued with some safari equipment, a tent and a chop box and told to make his way to Meru. His job there was to assist the DC, the ‘Shauri Bwana’, to build roads and bridges and collect taxes. A later posting at Thika found him making the road from the foot of Karatina’s pole pole hill in a straight line to Sagana, a road known for many years as ‘Rim’s road’. Other postings included Lokitaung, Kabarnet and Kapenguria. It was at Kapenguria that Rim indulged his hobby – training wild animals. The first of these was a chimpanzee, and then he tried his skills on an ostrich, which he succeeded in riding and trained to pull a buggy. The chimp accompanied Rim to Malindi in 1935 where she was taught to ride a trike. At Isiolo Rim trained a Grevy’s zebra to be ridden – an extremely difficult feat with these curmudgeonly and...