More Stories from East Africa's past for you to enjoy

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...

Corkscrew Edwards

Corkscrew Edwards Whether Charlie Edwards was nicknamed ‘Corkscrew’ because of his bandy legs, or whether the name referred to his erratic flying technique, is a moot point. Charles Hugh Edwards first came to East Africa in the late 1920s and he soon established himself as a character.  He was a keen horse racer: the first horse he owned being ‘Make Haste.’  He claimed to have run in the Grand National and he was also the owner of ‘Pretty Poll’ in 1930, when he was living at Kakamega running a bar called the Corkscrew Inn. But Charlie misbehaved on the racetrack and was warned off for life.  One day he had a large bet with another man in Torrs Hotel that he could get into a racecourse and place a bet, which, of course, he was not allowed to do, since his ban prevented him from entering the racecourse. He went to GD Fleming and his wife for assistance. Fleming takes over the story: ‘He had bought or borrowed a grey wig, an old dowager’s hat covered in flowers, a long dress with high neck (boned), and a pair of high-heeled black buckled shoes and grey stockings, an umbrella and handbag. We had the difficult job of making him up with cosmetics. The powder would not stick to his large hooked nose, his lips were so thin there was no room for lipstick, and he had almost no eyelashes to black. His eyebrows were thick and bushy. We eventually succeeded, and I have never seen such a shocking sight. He looked like a drink-sodden, wicked old woman of about 70,...

Mary Hodge: An Indomitable Pioneer

Molly, or Margaret Mary Vere Neilson, to give her her full name, was born in Kettering, England, on 30 July 1896, the daughter of a bank manager.  During World War I she started training as a nurse and then transferred to become an ambulance driver and finally an instructor of ambulance drivers.  A year after the war ended, in 1919, she met Stephen Hodge, on leave from Kenya after being seconded to the army in East Africa as an intelligence officer during the war. They  got married that year and Molly followed her husband to Kenya, travelling on the Garth Castle. Stephen met her in Mombasa and they took the train to Gilgil. One of Molly’s first impressions of Kenya was surprise at seeing a hen sitting on its eggs near the head of Lady Colvile’s bed at Gilgil. Stephen was posted as DC in Rumuruti, whither the pair travelled on mules. The Hodges spent ten days on the journey from Gilgil to Rumuruti, cutting down trees to cross streams on the way. As they arrived at their house, Somalis and their goats bustled out of it to make way for the new owner and his wife.  Because of the difficulty of transport and roads in those years (1920-21), they never moved out of the area for the whole duration of their two-year posting. They had been wise to come to Rumuruti well stocked up with necessities, and all they purchased locally was paraffin, sugar, soap and flour. Stephen (always known as ‘Hoaj’) was pre-occupied with the Soldier-Settler scheme concocted by the Government after World War I. Some of...

The Other Adamson: Terence, Brother of the More Famous George

The Other Adamson: Terence, Brother of the More Famous George We hear a great deal about George Adamson, of Born Free fame, but he had an extraordinary brother, whose life needs celebrating. The Adamson brothers, George and Terence, came to Kenya with their parents, Henry Graham Adamson and Katherine, after World War 1. ‘Harry’ Adamson, a small, adventurous man, had been in the Royal Navy and then worked in India, on an indigo plantation, and that is where his sons were born. They were sent to school in England but in the 1920s joined their parents in Kenya on the small coffee plantation in Limuru taken up by Harry. The farm was not a great success and Harry died of a heart attack in 1928. This so distressed Katherine that she took to drink and towards the end of her life her precarious mental health declined even further. She was regarded as slightly batty and called the ‘Countess of Kildare’ by her neighbours. She was hardly ever visited by George and it was left to her other son, Terence, to look after her. She died in 1950. In World War 2 Terence joined the army and the most well known story about him concerned the cheap suit given to him by the military when he was demobbed. Owning no other formal clothes, Terence buried the suit in an airtight can on his property, digging it up years later when he made his only overseas trip. When he returned home he put the suit back in the can and reburied it. Terence became one of Kenya’s great ‘odd job’ men,...

Peter Aarup, Karen Blixen’s Friend

Karen Blixen’s Friend, Peter Aarup AARUP, Peter M., son of Joergen Madsen Aarup, was born in 1863 in Kolding, Denmark. He went to South Africa, to the diamond mines, and we first hear about him in East Africa in 1900. By 1906, according to an advertisement he placed in the East African Standard, he has set himself up in Mombasa as a  boat builder, boat sailmaker, tent maker (any size), and purveyor of tarpaulin waterproof sheets. He moved his business to Naivasha by 1909, adding taxidermist to his list of accomplishments, and the manufacture of horsewhips made of hippopotamus hide. His boatyard offered boats for hire (Advertiser, 1909). According to Lars Therkelsen, Aarup’s grandson who has written a biography in Danish of his grandfather – Gamle Knudsen, 2018 – he expanded to Lake Victoria, developing novel fishing methods, but he once lost some of his boats in a storm, when everyone drowned except Peter Aarup.   When the First World War began in East Africa, Aarup and his boat crew were taken prisoner by the Germans, who asked him to establish a new sawmill. His sight was so weak that he had to use very strong glasses. One day they broke and the Germans could not help him replace them. Peter Aarup’s ‘captain’, Kazimoto, offered to collect spare glasses from Peter’s home in Kisumu. This was a very dangerous trip of 900 km, through both German and English front lines and country teeming with wild animals. Nonetheless, Kazimoto returned with the glasses. After the battle in Bukoba the English took back Peter Aarup as a prisoner. Eventually he was released....

Nairobi in 1922 – Excerpt from new book Among Whistling Thorns

Nairobi in 1922 by Joan Booth   Old Africa recently published a memoir written by Joan Booth, who came to Kenya in 1922 to help her brother Eric Booth establish a ranch in Rumuruti.  The manuscript had been in the possession of Celia Owles of Naivasha for many years. She approached Old Africa, asking if we’d be interested in publishing her Aunt Joan’s book.  The book, Among Whistling Thorns,  is now available in Kenya from select bookstores in Nairobi or directly from Old Africa (email us at editorial@oldafricamagazine.com) The book is also available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk   Here is an excerpt from the book, Among Whistling Thorns, where Joan Booth describes her arrival in Nairobi in 1922.   By this time we were travelling down to the Athi River, the last lap to Nairobi. The plain to the right of the line became empty of game, while they still crowded the area to the left. The animals already knew that this side was reserved for them. The other was dangerously near the town and was open to anyone with a licence to shoot. Even so, we soon learnt that leopards would come into the suburbs looking for dogs, considered by them to be a delicacy, and all over the town at night you heard the noise of hyenas overturning rubbish bins, and quarrelling over the contents. We had to do a great deal of scraping before trying to wash the dust off and make ourselves presentable for arrival at the one platform station. Built of stone, it was quite a superior building and fairly seething with Indians, Somalis,...

Mystery of Italian Inscription at Longido Solved

Mystery of Italian Inscription at Longido Solved by Annamaria Alfieri The first step in this quest belongs to Old Africa Magazine.   A few years ago, as a new subscriber delving into back issues, I came across—in Number 12—a photo of a rock wall in Longido Tanzania. Rock wall in Longido with Italian inscription. Local history says the rocks were bunkers for German guns in World War I, which led to some of the misunderstanding of how the Italian words came to be written on the rock. An inscription chiseled into that stone presented an intriguing mystery: why were those words there and who had taken the trouble to turn the wall into a monument?  On the most basic level: what did the words mean? Old Africaoffered a prize to anyone who could decipher the inscription.  The letters were reproduced on the magazine’s page: BENVENUTA ELIA NATO  7.2.1912 PARATICO  BRESCIA  WL ITALIA WRE  Below were some equally unclear numbers:  26 3 43 Closer view of rock inscription in Longido.  But the meaning of the words was plain to anyone who reads Italian.  Or so I thought. “Benvenuta” means “welcome” to a female.  But that did not go with “Elia,” which is a man’s name in Italy.  So the inscription must actually begin “BENVENUTO.”  A close look at the photo confirmed that the Old Africa photo was not exactly clear.  “Nato” means “born” in the masculine.  Paratico is a town in Italy in the Provincia of Brescia.  What looked like a W, in Italian stands for doppio V—double V.  In this context it means “Viva.” Re is Italian for “king.” So I read “Welcome,...

Architectural Treasures to be Featured in History Mystery Contest

Janfrans van der Eerden is a Dutch architect with a keen interest in 20th century architecture in Kenya. At present teaching classes at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, he travelled around Kenya for many years, looking for old houses and taking photos. He is trying to collect as much history as he can about these houses – location, old pictures, building drawings, builders and previous owners, as well as other stories.   Old Africa will be using some of his photographs in upcoming issues of the magazine for our History Mystery Contest. Be sure to get your copy of the April-May issue of Old Africa and look at the amazing photos Van der Eerden has provided of a house near Elburgon. You have a chance at winning a gift certificate from Text Book Centre if you can identify the building. In addition we are looking for any photos, drawings and other details abaout the featured house, which Old Africa will pass on to Van der Eerden so they can be preserved for the future.   Unfortunately, many of these old buildings are in poor repair and being demolished. An example is this pink house, pictured below, which van der Eerden photographed a few years ago near Menengai Crater at Maili Sita. The Happy Valley Heritage Trust, of which Van der Eerden is a trustee, is working to find ways to preserve some of the old buildings before they are lost forever. Sadly, the Maili Sita house no longer stands. We suggest you visit the Facebook page for the Happy Valley Heritage Trust by clicking on this link...

Early Farming Disasters in Kenya

Early Farming Disasters in Kenya When the first white settlers started farming in Kenya in the early twentieth century, their enterprise was far from successful. Potatoes were tried, but they died of blight. At his first farm at Njoro Lord Delamere decided to raise sheep. He ordered Ryeland rams from England; and from New Zealand, Leicester, Lincoln and Romney March rams. The English batch arrived early in 1904 under the care of a shepherd, Sammy McCall. They were joined later that year by 500 pure-bred merino ewes from New Zealand, as well as Hereford cattle from England. The cost of all this was borne by Delamere mortgaging his English estate. Soon the sheep began to sicken and die. Why? The local name for the land Delamere had bought was ‘angata natai emmin’, Maasai for ‘the plain of the female rhino without any milk’. The Maasai had never grazed their flocks in the area Delamere occupied. His merinos got footrot, his Ryelands lung disease and all his sheep had worms and harboured a grub which hatched in sinews. Four-fifths of the merinos died, as well as many of the others. It was not until 1925 that the disease suffered by his livestock was identified, by the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. It was named ‘Nakuruitis’, and was found to be caused by the land being deficient in minerals, mostly cobalt. Not until then was the disease conquered by giving animals mineral supplements. Meanwhile, at Njoro Delamere turned to cattle. He imported more Herefords, crossing them with native cattle. Unfortunately the native cattle gave the imported ones pleuro-pneumonia, while Redwater fever felled...

Kisettla, a dialect of Kiswahili?

In 1932 a writer identified only as JW wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about the evolving language of Kisettla, spoken in Kenya by settlers as they attempted to communicate with their African neighbours and staff.  The article first appeared in the East African Standard and was later published as a booklet with illustrations by DSW.   Here are some excerpts.   This text book on a most interesting language was prepared ten years ago, but withheld from publication in order that further research might correct, or vindicate, its tenets. In a decade, more idioms have been registered but only a few exceptions to the grammar…             A superficial scrutiny might lead one to suppose that Kisettla was unformed, varying with the wit, or lackwit, of the speaker. This is erroneous; years of study have proved it to be constant; following definite rules of grammar and syntax, with an idiom peculiarly its own…             I must acknowledge with gratitude the assistance given me in the compilation of this work by many friends who have so readily, and often unconsciously, made valuable contributions. Space, and certain sections of the penal code, alone prevent me from mentioning them by name. History Kisettla, or ‘mimi-kupiga-wewe’ Swahili, is believed to be derived from Kiswahili or ‘watu-wale-wawili-walipokuja’ Swahili… Grammar The Article If any, as in English, e.g. ‘hapana sahau the viazi.’… The Adjective Few in number and invariable in form. Generally mingi, mbaya, mizuri, kubwa, yote and kidogo can be eked out with British profanity. Adverbs Sana, kabisa, polepole, tu. Personal Pronouns Mimi, wewe and (rare) sisi. These are worked to a standstill; the use of...

Rinderpest Brings Disaster in the 1890s

Rinderpest Brings Disaster in the 1890s In the 1890s many of the early European visitors to what became Kenya commented on the famine that had hit the country. What had happened? The famine was largely caused by the disease rinderpest, which had started to infect cattle in 1889 and raged until 1897. Rinderpest is a viral disease, with symptoms of diarrhoea, nasal and eye discharge, and mouth ulceration. It was airborne and therefore difficult to prevent, as well as being spread by contaminated water and direct contact. The cattle herds of communities all over East Africa were decimated, causing economic and social chaos, because the staple diet of many communities was milk and meat. The disease also affected buffaloes, large antelopes, giraffes, wildebeestes and warthogs. Most animals died within six days of contracting the virus. How did the disease reach East Africa? The cause is not really known, but FD Lugard, an official of the British East Africa Company, said that it came from Somaliland via infected cattle imported from India and Aden in 1889, to assist the Italian army in its campaign in Abyssinia [Ethiopia]. There is also an alternative explanation – that the disease crossed into sub-Saharan Africa from Egypt where contaminated cattle were imported by the British army for the Nile Valley campaigns of 1884-5. The disease was first recorded in 1891 in Maasailand on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. Raiders brought diseased cattle back to the interior from the coast at the end of 1890 and within months the Loitokitok cattle were destroyed. Efforts to replenish stocks by raiding the herds of the neighbouring Kamba...

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi?

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi? In order to supply electricity for lighting and power in the district of Nairobi, the Nairobi Electric Power and Lighting Company Limited, with a capital of £30,000, was founded in February 1906. Its originator was Clement HA Hirtzel (misspelt Hertzel in most sources), who had arrived in East Africa from South Africa in January 1904. Described as ‘a penniless counter-jumper from the Cape’ by McGregor-Ross, Hirtzel had actually been born in Exeter and had obtained engineering qualifications. He also had a motor car and motor cycle business in Nairobi, where he lived at Parklands, and he obtained a farm at Limuru. He was awarded an OBE and became a freeman of the city of Exeter, to which he later retired. In April 1904 Hirtzel obtained a concession for fifty years from the Governor, Sir Charles Eliot, to supply Nairobi with electricity. He signed a draft contract to do so in 1905, and set up a company named the Nairobi Power and Lighting Syndicate. Charles Udall was chief engineer and the managing director was RC Bayldon, formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who later became chairman of Nairobi’s Chamber of Commerce. The general scheme was to generate electricity by means of water power, then running to waste, to supply Nairobi and the surrounding country. In November 1906 the company chose to use the first fall on the Ruiru River below the Fort Hall road, some 18-½ miles by road from Nairobi. A bungalow for the engineer was erected near the site of the works and the task of damming the river was undertaken....

How did Christianity come to Kenya?

How did Christianity come to Kenya?   The first Christians to visit East Africa were Vasco da Gama and his crew, including Roman Catholic missionaries, in 1498. He did not, however, leave any of these in East Africa and the next missionary we hear about is Francis Xavier, the pioneer missionary, on his way to India, who had talks with Muslim leaders in Malindi in 1542. In 1564 the Portuguese Viceroy of India ordered that the gospel be preached around Mombasa and three years later an Augustinian monastery was established there. Fort Jesus, with its Christian name, was begun in 1592 by the Portuguese, who occupied the town intermittently for the next century and a half. In 1597 the Augustinian friars at Mombasa claimed that they had 600 African converts, including slaves, Swahilis and Bantu people from the interior – among them the exiled King of Pemba. This is hard to believe, but the following year three Augustinian priests were stationed on the islands of Lamu, Pate and Faza. The Muslim governor of Faza also helped to build a chapel, resulting in a flourishing Christian community, and the Portuguese also built a chapel at Shela, on Lamu. In 1607 the Brethren of Mercy arrived in Mombasa to care for the converts from Islam. The main buildings in Mombasa’s Ndia Kuu were the Convent of the Augustinians, the parish church and the church of the Misericordia.These were mentioned by a French visitor in 1846, but they have now all disappeared. In 1846 part of the Augustinian Convent had become the kadhi’s house, the small Misericordia church was the home of...

Odoriferous Mombasa

Odoriferous Mombasa In the first decades of the twentieth century Mombasa was often a far from pleasant place to work or live in. The old town had a graveyard where leg and skull bones stuck out of the thin layer of soil. In the Old Harbour there was a large deep tank filled with shark oil, used to prevent marine growth in dhow hulls. During the northeast monsoon the stench from this tank blew across the town. The streets were stacked with mangrove poles that had lain in shallow water for months and smelt as bad as the shark oil. Some godowns were stocked with dried shark emitting a stink even worse than shark oil or mangrove poles. At the entrance to the old port, in Vasco da Gama Street, the lower storeys of some of the houses were stacked with bags of molasses. When it was particularly hot the molasses turned into a runny liquid and escaped into the street. The town had no piped sewage disposal because the water supply coming from the Kwale hills (two-and-a-half million gallons) reached only the port, railway, industry and main thoroughfares, together with Mrs Lund’s steam laundry. The rest of the town acquired water mainly from wells and roof catchment tanks — large concrete reservoirs from which water was pumped into small tanks in ceilings. When there was a tropical storm, a common occurrence at Mombasa, the roof tanks overflowed and the water descended via pipes into the street where it would lie stagnating for days, providing a lovely breeding ground for mosquitoes. In the dry season people carried water home...