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

The Donovan Maule Theatre

The Donovan Maule Theatre Many of you will remember Nairobi’s Donovan Maule Theatre. My abiding memory is of us Kenya High School girls trying to persuade our headmistress, Miss Stott, to let us go to see Lock up Your Daughters there in 1960. She eventually relented. Who were the couple who founded the theatre? Donovan Maule was born in Brighton on 24 June 1899 and his wife Mollie was born in London on 24 June 1897. Both came from theatrical families and toured the country with their parents. They were married in 1920. Donovan Maule joined the army in World War II and ended his army career in Egypt as director of drama, Middle East Land Forces. He and his wife Mollie then sailed to Kenya. They docked in Mombasa on 4 September 1947 and made for Nairobi, but found that the theatres there had all been converted to cinemas during the war. They proposed to start a professional repertory company in Nairobi and began by doing a broadcast for Children’s Hour at the Cable and Wireless transmitter at a tiny studio at Kabete. They had to make all their own sound effects. To make ends meet they began their own drama school using a space in front of the screen at the Capitol cinema. Their first play was The Dear Departed. The Theatre Royal had become the Cameo cinema but the Maules decided that this was a better venue for them, though they could only use it for matinees so that films could be shown in the evenings. They began to build their own theatre in 1949 –...

Herbert Hugh Cowie Comes to British East Africa

Herbert Hugh Cowie On 9 July 1902, at St Mary’s church in Johannesburg, Captain Herbert Hugh Cowie (born in South Africa on 8 September 1870) married Ada Evelyn Harries, the eldest of the nine children of Charles and Olivia Mary Ann Harries. She was born in Maseru, Basutoland, on 5 October 1877 and had grown up there and learned the native language. The couple lived for several years in Vereeniging, while Captain Cowie, who had earned his rank fighting in the Boer War, particularly in the Langberg Campaign, pursued his legal career. He had begun as clerk to the Attorney-General in Cape Town, and as Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate, Hope Town. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1894, when he transferred to Namaqualand, where he became commissioner for the relief of distress in Namaqualand and Bushmanland (South West Africa) in 1897. He was Civil Commissioner and Chief Magistrate in Bechuanaland, and joined the Bechuanaland Rifles. In the Boer War he served with the Yorkshire Light Infantry (mounted section) and was seriously wounded four times. After eight months’ sick leave, in 1900 he was attached to the staff of Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Girouard, in charge of South African military railways. Cowie heard about British East Africa from his wife’s family members who had already gone there. Attracted by big game hunting, in June 1905 he decided to resign his important appointment as criminal magistrate in Pretoria. He and his wife sailed for Mombasa in May 1905. Their first home was a rented shack in Victoria Street, Nairobi, where their first son, Dudley Hugh, was born. They later moved...

More about Thomas Remington

More about Thomas Remington In last month’s blog I wrote about Thomas Remington. One of Remington’s relatives has contacted me and kindly given me more information about this extraordinary man who established postal services in East Africa. The Frenchwoman he married in Zanzibar was Henriette Mary Dumonteil Delagreze, and it was in Zanzibar that their only son Felix George was born in 1895. Thomas became a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London in 1896 while he was living in Mombasa. He provided the London Zoo with a monkey. Henriette and Felix returned to London after Thomas’s death. Unfortunately, Felix died fighting in France in the First World War, on 11 May 1917, and he is buried there. Henriette then took up extensive travelling. Christine Nicholls...

How did the Mail get Delivered in East Africa before 1910?

How did the Mail get Delivered in East Africa before 1910?   The postal service of East Africa was first begun as a branch of that of Zanzibar, and its first postmaster-general resided in Zanzibar for eight years before coming to British East Africa in 1899. In those early days the postal importance of Zanzibar was much greater than that of the mainland. However, when the construction of the Uganda Railway was begun, the growth of its business in East Africa so increased the postal importance of Mombasa that a change of headquarters was needed. The postal association of East Africa and Zanzibar was terminated at that time. The East Africa Protectorate was admitted to the Postal Union in 1895 and six years later the postal service of Uganda was united with that of East Africa. The principal feature of the postal service in early years was the immense value of money orders to remit to India on behalf of the Indian workers employed in the construction of the Uganda Railway. That this was completed successfully was due to the work of Thomas Edward Crew Remington. Born in Teddington, Middlesex, on 26 August 1867, Remington lost his father in his early years, necessitating his mother taking in boarders and putting him out to work as a telegraph messenger before he was fourteen. He worked with Kingston on Thames post office before departing for East Africa as an employee of the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1890. After an initial posting to Taveta, he took charge of the IBEA Co’s postal department in Mombasa in 1891, living in a...

The Rise and Decline of Cotton Growing in Kenya

The Rise and Decline of Cotton Growing in Kenya Some pioneer settlers thought cotton might succeed in East Africa. So the British East Africa Corporation Ltd was established in 1906 with the aim of spreading the work of the British Cotton Growing Association, a body designed to encourage cotton growing in the British Empire and to establish cotton ginning factories and plantations. Some missionaries had tried growing cotton in what became Uganda with some success. It was thought that other activities would greatly assist the establishment of a cotton trade if there were associated industries such as tourism and sport and general trading. Capital of £500,000 was raised, a considerable sum in those days, which encouraged the Colonial Office to provide an annual grant for experimentation and education. The Office provided 30,000 acres for government experimental farms and granted them free of rent initially and thereafter at modest rents. The Colonial Office also lent the services of Major EHM Leggett of the Royal Engineers to be general manager of the British East Africa Corporation. He had previously been employed in South Africa on land settlement issues. In 1907 work began by exploration of the districts which looked as if they would be promising cotton growing areas. Agriculturalists were sent into the districts to distribute seed to Africans who were given practical teaching on how to plant, look after and gather the crop. They were guaranteed a minimum price. Ginning factories were built at Malindi, Kilindini and Kisumu and experimental farms were established at Malindi, Voi, Mombasa, Kibos and Kisumu. Top: The offices of the British East Africa Corporation. Below:...

Stories of Workers on a White Farm

Stories of Workers on a White Farm   Elspeth Huxley recorded some stories of the workers on the farm of her mother, Nellie Grant, which give a fascinating insight into the history of Kenya. The Grants’ first farm was near Thika and then they moved to a farm at Njoro.   Njombo Came from Gethumbwini, Thika. At the time of the first famine his mother went to Ukambani to get food, but never came back. His father died (when Njombo was 12 or 13), then his brother, then his twin brother and his sister. They had no food and no one to look after them and there were two small children, so Njombo took them to an uncle who sheltered them. He then went to Nairobi to work at road making and dug building stone from a quarry. Thereafter he went to Thika to work as a driver, having been taught by a Dutchman. His job was to drive the wagon from Thika to Nairobi. He saw his first Europeans in 1912. He was sent to Blue Posts Hotel to fetch Elspeth, Mrs Grant’s daughter. His clan rejected him because he thought his father had been killed, so he ran away to Kiambu and went for one term to the Africa Inland Mission school at Kabete, and then to the Roman Catholic school. He returned to his village to avenge the poisoning (he thought) of his brothers and his daughter. He heard Mrs Grant was going to Njoro and was looking for people to follow her. He walked to Njoro and Mrs Grant promised them all gardens, saying they...

How Farm Workers Came to Settler Farms

How Farm Workers Came to Settler Farms We can get an idea of the motivation of African farm workers if we look at some specific cases. Nellie Grant (Elspeth Huxley’s mother) went to Kenya in 1912 and farmed coffee at Thika. After the First World War she heard she had been granted land at Njoro in the soldier-settler scheme and decided to try her luck there. But she would need labour. How did she go about getting it? It seems she took some workers she already had, got others by word of mouth, and some arrived by chance. Here are a few examples of how people ended up on her farm, as told to her daughter Elspeth Huxley: Kibunyu Kibunyu came to the Grants after working for Algy Cartwright, who farmed at Njoro. Cartwright sent messengers round to villagers saying he wanted to employ squatters at Njoro. He signed them on at Kabete. About 100 people from Kiambu and some from Fort Hall came to Njoro by train and Cartwright showed them where they could have gardens. When they arrived there were no Kikuyu, only Dorobo, and it was all thick forest. There were buffalo near the river and many bushbuck and forest pig. The Dorobo killed three of the Kikuyu. The Kikuyu drove the Dorobo away into the forest, cutting down the smaller trees and burning the big ones by setting fires in their trunks. During the war Kibunyu looked after the Cartwright farm. Wambogo Wambogo first worked for the DC John Ainsworth at Kilima Kiu. About 300 people were caught by Chief Kinanjui and sent there. A...

The Jewells and Mombasa Hospital

The Jewells and Mombasa Hospital Last month I talked about the Mombasa Hospital. From 1920 onwards Norman Jewell was in charge of the establishment, and his letters and diaries show us what medical hazards were faced by Mombasa’s inhabitants in the 1920s. Jewell had begun his tropical medical career in the Seychelles, but on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was appointed to the East Africa Protectorate and became an army doctor. He travelled with the troops all over Tanganyika, often working under appalling circumstances. It must have been a relief for him to have been posted to Mombasa after the war. From left: Norman Jewell, Norman Jewell on the Mombasa Hospital veranda, John Jewell Jewell found there was a high standard of hygiene and health control in Mombasa, overseen by Dr Henry Speldewinde de Boer. To prevent plague, there were daily autopsies on rats, enabling Jewell to be forewarned should plague occur. Rat-catching was carried out assiduously. And food inspections and mosquito control were energetically pursued. Yet there were unforeseen hazards such as ten inches of rain in a few hours, which burst the pipes and flooded the streets, uprooted trees and washed boats from the harbour. Then there was an outbreak of smallpox in Mombasa in 1925. Jewell made vaccination compulsory for all, and the only European who died had washed off the vaccine. Over 230,000 people were vaccinated. There were many cases among the African population of the disfiguring yaws, an infection of skin, bones and joints caused by a spirochete bacterium. The sufferers were injected with neosalvarsan as a treatment. But...

Mombasa Hospital’s Early Days

Mombasa Hospital’s Early Days   When the Imperial British East Africa Company began to trade in East Africa in the early 1890s, there was a need for a hospital for Europeans, prone to fall sick so easily in a country with an unfamiliar climate, where malaria was still imperfectly understood. IBEAC appointed Dr WH Macdonald, registered as a medical doctor in Edinburgh in 1889, to be Mombasa’s doctor. Then the Company received a donation to build a church and hospital. The Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers were given the running of it, under the supervision of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr WH Macdonald. In the same year the British Government took over the administration of the East Africa Protectorate, and with it the management of the hospital.   Macdonald now worked for the government and had as his assistants three sisters of the Order of St Joseph de Cluny, from France. They were Mother Auxanne Maugee, from Martinique, who was in charge, Sister Benilda Houston from Donegal in Ireland, and Sister James Hearty from Scotland. This mixed band manned the hospital until 1901, when they handed over to lay sisters arriving from England on 1 November. Mother Auxanne died in France in 1902. A plaque in her memory was placed in the Holy Ghost Cathedral in Mombasa and later moved to the hospital. The other two sisters went to the Seychelles.   Macdonald was not thought highly of as a doctor. The High Commissioner Eliot said, ‘I cannot conscientiously recommend any scheme which does not include the removal of Dr Macdonald from the post of PMO.’ A missionary doctor...

Where Antelope Roam – A book review

Where Antelope Roam Reviewed by Rachel Woodworth   A book review ought to start, more than likely, with the book. But my review can’t begin there. It begins with the man. The man who wrote the book, who gathered days and moments, adventures and seasons, who recalled and reminisced and turned memories to words, to pages, to chapters, to book: a collection of short stories bound in Where Antelope Roam. I cannot separate the book from the man; but then, I don’t need to. This is autobiography—what makes the book worth reading is the man who lives a life worth reading. I vouch for the value of both.   I begin, however, with the author. An author I first knew as a professor.   With an energy and eagerness (either endearing or embarrassing) of my college freshman self, I sat in his Cultural Anthropology classroom. Before the end of his two hour class, I remember clearly thinking, “I want to do what he does.” Now this, I’m coming to learn, has less to do with the specifics of doing—with mimicking job or education or, not to give too much away, the handling of horned vipers—but the being. And this is harder to articulate and harder to enact.   What I sensed in that classroom, and what I sense in the pages of this book, is this fullness of life. A character and a being, a posturing, that is wonderful—that is, really, full of wonder. It is this unwavering joy in life—a firm confidence in the value of here: this place, this person, this landscape and moment before me. It...

The Wrens in Mombasa in World War II

The Wrens in Mombasa in World War II The Mombasa of today is so different from the Mombasa of the Second World War that it is worth having a look at what the town was like previously. One of the best people to describe it is an officer in the Wrens who was posted to Mombasa, arriving in a Short Sunderland flying boat with blinds carefully drawn as it flew through neutral Portuguese East Africa. Mombasa was brightly lit with well stocked shops, so different from the England of the day. Wrens were housed in the Lotus Hotel, run by Mrs. Lotus Johnson. They were part of a detachment for the Eastern Fleet, which had recently retreated to Mombasa from Colombo. The Lotus Hotel had been commandeered for the Wrens and was comfortable apart from the ankle attacks from Mrs. Johnson’s mongoose. The Allidina Visram School was also commandeered for a headquarters for the Eastern Fleet and in a temporary banda in the schoolyard was set up the Cypher Office manned by the Wrens and FANYs, with Jack Nixon, Roger Hardman and Tony Holloway, in charge. These men and the FANYs were all local Kenyan people. Among the Mombasa FANYs were Susan Ridley, Rhoda Ransome, Cynthia Bellhouse and Bunty Goodall.                            Wrens in Mombasa The Wrens got about on bicycles because there were only a few rickshaws and taxis were rather expensive. Azania Drive from the Likoni ferry round to the Florida was shut off for harbour defences with concrete gun posts manned night and day. The golf course was not in action and the Florida degenerated into a...

Who was Freddy Ward?

Who was Freddy Ward? The name Freddie or Freddy Ward crops up so repeatedly in the early land dealings of East African settlers that it is worth finding out about the man behind the name. Like many of the early white settlers, Hamilton Frederick Ward fought in the Boer War (in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the Irish Guards, where he reached the rank of Major) straight after he left Eton, and developed a love for Africa. He came from a military family – his grandfather was Vice-Admiral James Hamilton Ward, from Viscount Bangor’s family, and his father Robert Frederick Ward was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who died young, when Freddy was eleven (he was born on 3 September 1880). His mother Rose was left to care for Freddy and his younger sister Mabel, and in 1891 we find them living in a hotel in Bournemouth. As soon as the Boer War was over, Freddy Ward organised a shooting party to travel to East Africa in 1904. He made a second trip in 1905, and fell in love with the country. He managed to get himself seconded to the King’s African Rifles in April 1906, as a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, from which he resigned in 1908. We first really hear of him in 1905 when he joined other colonists to protest against the death sentence of a white man for murder – Max Wehner, who had shot and killed a man he had hired as his guide to a hotel in Nakuru. Eventually the sentence was overturned by the Privy Council. Ward tired...

The Sandbach Bakers and Kenya’s First Dairy

The Sandbach Bakers and Kenya’s first Dairy One of the first white settlers to be given land in Nairobi was Frederick Baker. He was granted 1,600 acres in Muthaiga by John Ainsworth, the Sub-Commissioner, on condition that he supplied Nairobi with dairy products. Who was Baker and why had he come to East Africa? He was not a young man, having been born in in Bunbury, Cheshire, in December 1849 to Thomas Baker, a draper and grocer, and Eliza Sandbach, and he arrived in Nairobi in 1901 with his second (or, possibly, third) wife Marie Vera, usually known as Queenie. This lady may have been born in 1856, the daughter of George Salmon, a master butcher in Stoke on Trent, but that person is supposed to have died in 1897 and before that was known as Mary Maria. The wife who accompanied Frederick to East Africa in 1901 was Maria Vera and claimed she was twenty years younger than her husband, whereas if she had been born in 1856 she would have been only six years younger. It is possible that she was indeed Maria Salmon and added Vera to her name, and lied about her age to her new husband. Frederick’s first wife Alice Oliver had died in September 1887 and he had married Mary Maria Salmon in 1888. He had been a cotton cloth agent in Stretford, Lancashire (some said he went bankrupt). He took to East Africa with him his wife and his son Guy, a former shipping clerk (born in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, to his first wife Alice Oliver in October 1882). Marie was the...

Mombasa’s Law Courts

Mombasa’s Law Courts   On 30 August 1984 the new Law Courts were opened in Mombasa, but where had justice been dispensed beforehand? A British court, presided over by an English barrister, had been established in a godown near the old harbour in Mombasa in 1890, when the Imperial British East Africa Company was in charge of the area. In about 1898 the court moved into the old police headquarters opposite the entrance to Fort Jesus (where the curio market now is). Then magnificent new premises were built in Fort Jesus (now Nkrumah) Road. On 31 December 1902 a fine building to house the law courts, as shown below, was opened by the Commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, and the High Court based in Zanzibar moved to Mombasa. To begin with the judiciary followed the practices of Bombay’s High Court and was staffed almost entirely by personnel trained in India. In 1911 the High Court was transferred from this building to Nairobi, and British Indian legal practices ceased to be observed. Instead, the practices of English law were substituted. Non-High Court cases were still heard in Mombasa.   The building material used was coral rag bound with lime mortar and faced with plaster. A deep arcaded veranda surrounded the building on the ground floor, supporting an open-air balcony above. It was more usual in this style of building for the upper balconies to be enclosed. Everywhere internally they used dark, solid, well-carpentered wood for doors, staircases, shutters, balconies and floors. Teak was the wood generally used, for it was almost impervious to white ants.   The Law Courts has a...

Where Antelope Roam: by Jon Arensen

New From Old Africa books!  Where Antelope Roam: And Other Stories Out of Africa by Jon Arensen The short stories in this book are all connected to Jon Arensen’s experiences in East Africa. They are deeply personal and are narrated in the first person. As in any good anthology, there are diverse topics with different conclusions – clever, sad, funny, surprising, cultural, educational and spiritual. The author’s reputation as a storyteller is well known. Here are some of his favorite stories. buy now at...

Brian Havelock Potts

What caused young men to join the exodus from Britain to East Africa in 1910-1912? Let us take one example and look at his memoir. Brian Havelock Potts, born in Brixton on 30 March 1891 as a fourth child and only son, came from a middle-class family. His father William Potts was a journalist (a parliamentary reporter in 1891) at the Morning Standard and was made redundant when Brian was 15. Brian became an office boy in a London stockbroker’s. There a friend told him his brother was growing coffee in Nairobi. This prompted the young Brian to visit Rowland Ward’s (the taxidermist in Piccadilly), and next door stood the safari outfitters Newland Tarlton…

Violet Donkin and Fritz Schindler – Matron of Scott Sanatorium Grieves After Fiancee Dies Following Lion Attack

For the last two months I have been talking about the founding of the Scott Sanatorium, and the part Violet Donkin played in this. However, a year after the facility opened, she departed for England. Why? A scrutiny of the surviving manuscripts gives us a clue. We learn from The Leader of 24 January 1914 that Violet had recently left ‘upon medical advice.’ Then, in an obscure journal of Brian Havelock Potts held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, we find that Potts served in the army after the outbreak of the First World War, contracted amoebic dysentery, and was taken to the Scott Sanatorium…

On Call in Africa – book review

On Call in Africa in War and Peace, 1910-1932 by Norman Parsons Jewell     Norman Jewell’s memoir gives us the best eyewitness account of medical conditions among the troops fighting in East Africa that has been published so far. It is a riveting story of the horrors of warfare in the heat, mud, flies and dust of Kenya and Tanganyika. Jewell was a medical officer in the Colonial Medical Service and served in World War I as a captain in the 3rd East African Field Ambulance. Before he died he wrote his memoirs, which have been amalgamated in this book with his unique daily diary written in the field during the war. The book also contains a preface by World War I historian Edward Paice and a section written by the author’s granddaughter about the Jewell family. The book has been professionally edited and has wonderful explanatory footnotes. The book begins with a splendid account of life in the Seychelles in 1912, where Jewell was first posted for four years. He was then sent to Kisumu to take charge of the Native Hospital as well as a temporary hospital for European troops. He cannot have made himself popular when he ordered all the European patients out of the nearby local bar and back to bed, forbidding further excursions. Jewell tells interesting stories about the disbandment of Ross’s Scouts after an enquiry, the success of Drought’s ‘Skin Corps’ and the composition of the Legion of Frontiersmen. He always describes the tribes of the region and the ailments they suffered – for example, he dealt successfully with bubonic and pneumonic...