More about Frank Hall

More about Frank Hall Last month I talked about Frank Hall, for whom Fort Hall was named. He arrived at Fort Smith, about eight miles from present-day Nairobi, in 1893, and one of his jobs was to supply the caravans of people who marched from the coast to Uganda. These were a regular occurrence and could be composed of large numbers. In January 1895 there were caravans of 1050 men camped at Fort Smith, among them eight Europeans. It was a constant strain to secure supplies. Much was purchased from local people – the Kikuyu were keen to barter their crops, but Hall also planted gardens of European produce; in 1894 he had tomatoes, lettuces, French beans, peas, marrows and onions. Things should have become easier once the British Government took over the East African enterprise from the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1895. Surveyors began to arrive to plot the route of the proposed Mombasa-Lake Victoria railway. Frank Hall reported in August 1896: “Kikuyu is very different now…There are some Europeans about 100 yards from the Fort, building stores for two Mombasa firms, and one man planting coffee about 3 miles from here.’ But his optimism did not last long. The following month he reported that things were infinitely worse than they were under Company rule, because transport arrangements had completely broken down. He had to send a caravan of 100 men the 300 miles to Mombasa for supplies. His colleague Ainsworth was starving at Machakos, so had to draw his food from Fort Smith. The trouble was that every available man was being used on railway...

Why was Fort Hall given that Name?

Why was Fort Hall given that Name? Many of you will remember Murang’a as Fort Hall, and you may have wondered at the name. When the railway reached the end of the Kapiti plains in 1899, it was half way to its final destination – Lake Victoria. The directors decided to build a depot on the boggy flat ground they began to call Nairobi before tackling the uphill gradient to the lip of the Rift Valley and the precipitate descent down its wall. This meant that Fort Smith, a few miles uphill from Nairobi, and for many years the government station on the route to Uganda, was no longer needed as a staging post. It was decided to abandon it and establish a centre in Nairobi instead. John Ainsworth, the government representative in Machakos, managed to bag the coveted administrative post in Nairobi and this meant that Frank Hall, who had been at Fort Smith since 1892, was relegated to Machakos, much to his disgust. He felt (and he was probably right) that he understood the Kikuyu better than any other white man. He was certainly fluent in their language and in Swahili. Finally Hall managed to get back into the Kikuyu area when the government decided to establish a post at Mbirri and asked Hall to build it. Frank Hall Who was Frank Hall? Educated at Sherborne and Tonbridge, he abandoned his job in the Bank of England and went to teach in South African schools. Leaving teaching, he tried storekeeping and farming in South Africa, but he finally found his feet when he joined the Imperial British...
New Book! For Love of Soysambu

New Book! For Love of Soysambu

For Love of Soysambu In this new book Juliet Barnes traces the history of the Delamere family in Kenya. She starts the story over 100 years ago when Lord Delamere, Hugh Cholmondeley, the Third Baron, went on a hunting expedition in Somaliland in 1891, followed by more trips. In December 1896 he mounted a larger exploratory trip through Somaliland, arriving in Kenya in 1897. Lord Delamere married Lady Florence Cole in England in July 1899, and took her to Kenya later in the year to collect bird specimens for the British Museum. On this trip they first saw Lake Elmenteita, pink-rimmed with thousands of flamingos. Little did they know then that the land on the other side of this soda lake would later become their Soysambu ranch. Lord Delamere returned to settle in Kenya in 1901. The book goes on to tell the story of how Lord Delamere was instrumental in developing the agricultural backbone of modern Kenya, planting wheat at Njoro, importing sheep and cattle, and later interbreeding them with hardy stock owned by his Maasai neighbours.  After Lord Delamere died in 1931, heavily in debt, his son Tom became the next Lord Delamere, the Fourth Baron. Tom, raised by relatives in England, didn’t return to Kenya until after World War II, and worked hard to make Soysambu profitable. Tom was committed to Kenya succeeding as an independent nation and took Kenyan citizenship, as well as maintaining a friendship with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first President. When Tom died in 1979, his son Hugh became Lord Delamere, the Fifth Baron. Hugh continues to run cattle on Soysambu, which...

Nakuru in 1930

Nakuru Township in 1930 Nakuru became a township originally because in 1900 it was a stopping place for the railway on the floor of the Rift Valley after the difficult descent into the valley. How had it fared thirty years after a station was built there just after the turn of the century? Allister Macmillan visited the place in 1929 and this is what he said about it: ‘Nakuru is embowered by trees and consists of one main street named Donald Avenue with various short thoroughfares branching off on each side.  The little town is noted for its hospitality and gaiety and its various sports and social clubs, amongst the best institutions of the kind in Kenya. Nakuru  has an excellent race course, golf course, and two Masonic lodges, two good hotels, a cinema, and a very fine government school, and a large European Hospital supported by voluntary efforts. About 200 Europeans lived in and around the town and there was an Asian population of about 600, but the number of Africans has not been recorded. Initially farming around the area was not a success because of what became known as ‘Nakuruitis,’ a disease of animals suffering from a shortage of minerals.  Once the cause of the disease was established, appropriate mineral mixtures solved the problem. Apart from the farmers there were several business concerns in the settlement. There were more than three garages, most necessary for the repairs required by vehicles rattled by the corrugated murram roads. A branch of Gailey & Roberts, whose headquarters were in Nairobi, provided a comprehensive stock of agricultural implements, while the nearby...

Sir Charles Eliot

Sir Charles Eliot ‘His pet hobby is the study of nudibranchs or sea slugs. Never more closely did a man resemble the objects of his hobby.’ Who could this be describing? Surprisingly, it was the first Governor, or Commissioner as it was called then, of the East Africa Protectorate (later named Kenya and Uganda). This was Sir Charles Eliot, born on 8 January 1862, son of a clergyman, unmarried, donnish, learned and utterly out of touch with the world. He had a vision: ‘He envisaged a thriving colony of thousands of Europeans with their families, the whole of the country from the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya to the German border divided up into farms; the whole of the Rift Valley cultivated or grazed, and the whole country of Lumbwa, Nandi to Elgon and almost to Baringo under white settlement. He intends to confine the natives to reserves and use them as cheap labour on farms. I suggested that the country belonged to Africans and that their interests must prevail over the interests of strangers. He would not have it; he kept on using the word ‘paramount’ with reference to the claims of Europeans. I said that some day the African would be educated and armed; that would lead to a clash. Eliot thought that that day was so far distant as not to matter and that by that time the European element would be strong enough to look after themselves; but I am convinced that in the end the Africans will win and that Eliot’s policy can lead only to trouble and disappointment.’ The prescient writer of this description...
From Company to Colony: the 1890s in Kenya

From Company to Colony: the 1890s in Kenya

From Company to Colony: the 1890s in Kenya   When it became clear that a commercial company could no longer control Kenya and Uganda (called British East Africa before 1920), the British government took over the administration of the area. In the mid 1890s they adopted the officials of the Imperial British East Africa Company, who were already in situ, and they were a motley lot. One was an illiterate Maltese sailor called James Martin, who managed to get by when a kindly Goan clerk taught him to sign his name; he became a rich merchant in Uganda. There was the one-armed Eric Smith and his assistant W P Purkiss, who loved his pet parrot; both of them laboured to build Fort Smith a few miles from where Nairobi now stands. Purkiss made the bricks from local baked earth. The mad Francis Dugmore was a thorn in their sides – once he sent James Martin’s wife an elephant foot as a delicacy for her table. Then there was Frank Hall, for whom Fort Hall was named, an active man who got on quite well with local Africans and liked to be out in the field. In contrast was penpusher and meticulous organizer John Ainsworth who tried to set up proper systems of government and was resented by his colleagues as a ‘counter-jumper’ (that is, not a gentleman, but of a commercial background). These people had to persuade the local Africans to honour the British Queen Victoria, about whom they knew nothing.   An ‘F’ Class Locomotive UR 35 with the inaugural passenger train from Kilindini Station to Voi in...

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...