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

First European Schools in Kenya

The First European Schools in Kenya On reaching Nairobi in 1900 the Uganda Railway set up its own school there for the children of its white workers, in a corrugated iron shed near Nairobi station. The first school for European children in Nairobi was set up by the Uganda Railway in 1900 in a corrugated iron shed, similar to the ones in this photo,near Nairobi Railway Station. Soon this school decided to accept settler children as well. The teachers, A J Turner, a thin, dour man, and his wife A M Turner, had a total of 38 pupils by 1904. The school roll shows that many of these came from schools in India because their fathers had previously worked on railways there, a few from schools in South Africa and one from the Loreto Convent in Nairobi, a small school begun by Roman catholic nuns and sometimes called St Joseph’s Convent. By the second term of 1904 ten pupils had left Mr Turner’s school out of the roll of 70, but by August 1906 his roll had risen to 99. In January 1903 Tommy Wood’s store announced that a Miss Ellis had opened a day school in one of its upper rooms, but this establishment cannot have lasted long because nothing more is heard of it. In 1906 another school was added, at Kijabe on the edge of the Rift Valley – the Rift Valley Academy, run by the Africa Inland Mission primarily for the children of missionaries, although many settler children attended in its early days. With the completion of the railway, Mr Turner’s school became the general...

The Kakamega Goldfields

The Kakamega Goldfields The recent interest in gold in the Kakamega district reminds us of the first gold rush in the region – in the early 1930s. In 1930 Kakamega township was an open space with a few Indian dukas, but in the middle of the decade it became a prosperous and crowded township. What had caused this transformation? The worldwide slump had occasioned the bankruptcy of many settler farmers and when in October 1931 an American, Louis A. Johnson, a farmer at Turbo and formerly a storekeeper in the Klondyke, turned up in Eldoret with gold he had found at Kakamega, impoverished settlers flocked there to earn a living. Johnson had been alerted to the possibility of gold being in the area by A. D. Combe, of the Uganda Geological Survey, who wrote a report in 1930 on a geological reconnaissance of parts of North Nyanza Province and recommended that prospecting be carried out there. The new arrivals panned for gold on the Yala and other nearby rivers and sank shafts at Kimingini reef. By 1932 there were 200 of them and they had established a settlement. After passing the government boma (the District Commissioner’s office) you crossed a river, and went past ‘Seven Dials’ on a good road up to ‘Piccadilly Circus’ where there were many camps formed of reed matting. The huts were thatched and surrounded by little gardens. From ‘Piccadilly Circus’ you continued to Golders Green, with its lovely view, then to ‘Palmer’s Green’ and finally ‘Hampstead Heath’, where there was an aerodrome, built by an American speculator, de Ganahl. The first miners who found...

Home Guards Killed While Returning Escaped Prisoners

Solomon Njihia was the head chef for the Rift Valley Academy kitchen when I was a student there in the 1970s. I just heard he has passed away. Another link to Kenya’s past has gone. About eight years ago I interviewed Solomon and he told me a story of how he and a group of home guards captured some escaped prisoners after the Naivasha Prison attack during the early years of the Emergency. The story appeared in issue 11 of Old Africa and we thought it would be good to share it again.  Home Guards Killed While Returning Escaped Prisoners Told by Solomon Njihia Kairu   1953 We noticed a group of people walking up the road in a line at about 11 p.m. near the Kiambogo School above the AIM Kijabe mission station. We went out and stopped them by shouting, “Halt!” We asked who they were. They replied, “We are the ones who were released from the Naivasha prison by the Mau Mau.” They explained they just wanted to find their way home. Many of our people worked at the mission or had gone to school there. A number of us had been recruited to serve as home guards. Some of our home guards started slapping the escaped prisoners with their hands. Others said to stop because we didn’t know if these people were bad or not. They had been in prison, but that didn’t mean they were Mau Mau. We decided to tie them up and return them to the police. We found ropes and tied the escaped prisoners two by two. We borrowed a Mercedes lorry...

Firebrand Editor of the Kenya Press: Harold George Robertson (‘Rab the Rhymer’)

Firebrand Editor of the Kenya Press: Harold George Robertson (‘Rab the Rhymer’)   From the age of ten in the 1950s I was an avid daily reader of the Mombasa Times and loved its crossword. So I was very interested to come across some details of one of its former Editors, Harold George Robertson, or ‘Rab the Rhymer’. He was a Scotsman, born on 3 January 1884, probably in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, the son of William and Martha Robertson. He went to Kenya on 9 August 1912, describing himself on the ship’s manifest as an artist. With him went his wife Mrs M. Robertson, eight years older than himself, and three sons – aged six, four and an infant. His elder brother James G. Robertson followed him three months later and as a contractor was responsible (with Gow and Davidson) for the building of the New Stanley Hotel in 1913. Harold Robertson thrust himself immediately into journalism in Nairobi, joining the staff of the East African Standard and the Leader. This did not satisfy him and he began the East African Tatler and Free Lance, published by the Leader. The Tatler, a satirical magazine without advertisements and containing articles, short stories, poems and cartoons, all of them composed mainly by Robertson, did not continue after the outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914. Harold joined the armed forces, serving in the East Africa Pioneer Company, East Africa Supply Corps and East African Ordnance Department, earning the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Yet his journalistic instincts remained with him during the war and he contributed poems to...

Wavell 100 Year Memorial Tour

Join Guerrillas of Tsavo author, James G Willson on Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th January 2016 when he will lead a tour Commemorating the centenary of the January 1916 Mkongani Battle, Kwale, where Major Arthur Wavell MC and 15 of his loyal Arab Rifles lost their lives. In thanks giving for protecting Mombasa from this invasion by the German Schutztruppe, the grateful town’s people erected, in memory to the Arab Rifles, the obelisk standing beside Fort Jesus. This tour will walk the battle site; visit Wavell’s stockade; pay respects at the memorials to the fallen. There will also be an evening multimedia presentation on the life and times of Wavell. All this will take place while enjoying the beauty and wildlife of the Shimba Hills National Reserve. Over-night at Shimba Hills Lodge and/or KWS Sable Self Catering Bandas. For further information and bookings contact james@guerrillasoftsavo.com Signed copies of Guerrillas of Tsavo will be available....

Escape from Singapore

Escape from Singapore Our December-January edition of Old Africa magazine has a story by Barbara Dods. She tells about growing up in Nairobi while her father, Arthur James Scott Hutton was the architect overseeing the building of Kenya’s Government House (which later became State House) and the Law Courts in the late 1920s and into the 1930s. After finishing those jobs, Arthur Hutton took a job in Singapore. He was there when the Japanese attacked in World War 2 and his family was in Australia. He had a narrow escape when the Japanese overwhelmed Singapore. For weeks Barbara Dods and her mother and sisters didn’t know what had happened to their father. Barbara has a copy of the letter her Father wrote to her Mother describing his escape from Singapore. We had planned to use it as a sidebar article to accompany Barbara’s memories of growing up in Nairobi. But we ran out of space. So here’s the letter. And if it piques your interest, be sure to get a copy of Old Africa issue 62 where you can read Barbara’s story about her Nairobi childhood.   Written by Arthur James Scott Hutton at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, 11th March 1942. Margaret My Darling, I have not dared to tell you of my whereabouts before this but I am hoping that mail from Bombay will reach you in Perth. You will have received my Bombay cable informing you that I was free, safe and well and you may have had official notification from Ceylon of my safety before my cable. I felt your anxiety on my behalf from...

More About Vladimir Verbi

I’d like to return to the subject of Vladimir Verbi (see my blogs of February and December 2013), the missionary who shot his mother-in-law in the Taita Hills in 1941. To recap, Verbi was having trouble with his second wife, Lascelles, and forbade her going to a party in Voi. When she disobeyed, he angrily took his gun into the garden, because he was trying to deter crows from eating his strawberries…

Lady Sidney Farrar

My last blogs have been concerned with the role of European women in Kenya, particularly in World War 2. It has become clear that a leading role was played by Lady Sidney Farrar. Who was she? She was the daughter of the 7th Earl of Buckinghamshire, who boasted the names Sidney Carr Hobart-Hampden-Mercer-Henderson…

New from Old Africa books…The Sultan’s Spymaster

The Sultan’s Spymaster tells the story of Peera Dewjee, an Ismaili merchant who crossed from India to Zanzibar as a boy. Later he became Sultan Barghash’s barber and valet, where he became a confidant to the Sultan and a trusted advisor. Peera Dewjee acted behind the scenes during momentous events in the history of Zanzibar and East Africa – the closing of the slave markets and imperial expansion by Germany and Great Britain.

The Role of Kenya’s Settler Women in World War 2

As troops flocked into Kenya to defend the country from possible Italian invasion from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in the north, so Kenya’s women rushed to help the war effort. Up-country towns such as Nanyuki became gorged with South African troops, and its hotel, the Sportsman’s Arms, rang with their favourite song, Sarie Marais. As the male farmers flocked to the recruitment offices, their womenfolk took over the running of the farms. Nearly 800 women were employed as owner-farmers, assistants, or acting on behalf of menfolk serving in the forces…

What happened to the education of European children in World War 2 in Kenya

Hazel MacGregor (née Kempton, of K Boat Yard in Mombasa) remembers the day war was declared in 1939, when she was ten years old. The European Grocery Shop in Mombasa was run by a German couple – the Von Rittens, who had left Germany because they were not supporters of Hitler. After being rounded up, Germans above military age were sent back to Germany. This greatly distressed the Von Rittens, who had no warm clothes. They were given clothes by Hazel’s mother and off they went, only for Herr Von Ritten later to be executed by the Nazis…

Kenya and the Outbreak of the Second World War

How did Kenya settlers hear about the outbreak of the Second World War and how did they react? The radio of course alerted settlers to the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, and able-bodied men rushed to join up, while the women prepared to take over the running of the farms. Most young European settlers had belonged to the Kenya Defence Force, and had been summoned twice yearly for a fortnight’s training. The Kenya Regiment had also begun in 1937, with the purpose of training officers and NCOs for the King’s African Rifles…

Small of Stature but Stout of Heart: Tich and Dolly Miles

Tich and Dolly Miles were born into a military family. Their father, Frederick Tremayne Miles, a captain in the 18th Hussars, had married an American from New Orleans, Anna Carolie Sellar, in 1883, and they had four children. Olive, the only girl, was born in Middlesex in 1887 and her brother Arthur Tremayne Miles, in 1889. By the time of Arthur’s birth the family was living in Bourton, Much Wenlock, Shropshire. The father died on 12 February 1896, under chloroform on the sofa while being operated on for piles, and Arthur was then sent to school in Rottingdean, Sussex…

Tea for Breakfast

About 1910 my father W.J. Dawson, known always as W.J., bought the Plains Dairy, that vast flatland where the Nairobi Airport is today. He and three other young Scotsmen had great times in the corrugated iron house he built there. The others were George Taylor, Will Jaffray and Sandy Milne. One morning my father, who was always particular about his early morning tea, spat out the first mouthful in disgust at the taste. He went outside and asked George Taylor if he thought the tea undrinkable. Taylor replied, “I hadna’ noticed.”…

Climbing Mount Longonot

Soon after the outbreak of World War II we boarders from the Prince of Wales School were moved to the old Sparks Hotel at Naivasha because the military required our school building at Kabete for a military hospital. We boys regarded our time at Naivasha like a long holiday, but they required us to work at our lessons as well. The spacious school grounds extended down to Crescent Island Lake. Sunday afternoons we could roam where we wished – only the dukas in Naivasha town were out of bounds…

A Kenya Heroine from World War II

Phyllis (‘Pippa’) Ada Latour Doyle was awarded France’s highest honour, the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, on 25 November 2014, by the French ambassador to New Zealand. What prompted this gesture? An extraordinary story has emerged of an ex-Kenya girl, now 93, and her derring-do during World War II. Phyllis Latour was born on 8 April 1921 in Durban, with a British mother and French…

Salama Fikira Derby – April 12, 2015 – #SFkenyaderby2015

The Third Annual Salama Fikira Kenya Derby 2015. For the third consecutive year, Salama Fikira will be sponsoring the Kenya Derby on Sunday 12th April 2015 at the Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya. The Kenya Derby is the biggest event of its kind in East Africa’s horseracing circuit. This year will mark the 110th anniversary of horse racing in Kenya…

Donald Garvie and the First Cinema in Kenya

Who were the Garvies and why did they come to the Uasin Gishu Plateau? The first white residents on the Plateau were the van Breda brothers – Bon, Dirk and Piet, who arrived in 1902. In the same year two more families arrived – Donald Garvie, a Scotsman, and his wife Cornelia (Nellie) Gertrude Steyn, and her youngest brother Stephen Steyn. The Steyns were a Boer family resident in Orange Free State…