Who Started Kenya’s Gold Rush in Kakamega in the 1930s?

Who began the Kakamega Gold Rush in the 1930s? A tall, bony American set forth from Eldoret with his wife in an ancient Ford in 1930, with two other Europeans and five Africans, on a prospecting expedition to northern Tanganyika, after the price of maize had fallen and their farms faced ruin. They found nothing, but on the way back they stopped at Kakamega near the Yala river. They thought they might as well pan the river, and to their surprise,they found gold flecks. Quickly borrowing some money, they bought provisions and petrol and started to stake out claims. Thus began the Kakamega gold rush. Who was this American? We find him, Louis Andrew Johnson, in the 1910 US Census living with his parents and working as a labourer on a fruit farm. Born in Iowa on 23 July 1877, he was now over six feet tall with a shambling walk and ill-fitting dentures that gave him a clamped-jaw appearance and a jutting chin. He had been a storekeeper in the Klondyke in Alaska where he learned to use prospecting pans and earned money by carrying buckets of water to the local brothels (apparently he had to leave hurriedly after a gambling episode).  The fruit farm was not to his liking, so he set out for Kenya and settled on the top of the bluff at Turbo. In those years he would play his violin in Eldoret and he and his wife were excellent hosts before the railway came, though in later years he turned dour. One acquaintance said he only ever heard him utter two words in the...

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...

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...