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

Nairobi in the 1920s

Nairobi in the 1920s After the end of World War I Nairobi started to develop as a town. It had a population of  8,000 Europeans, 8,000 Asians and an indeterminate number of Africans.  Lying at mile 327 of the Uganda Railway, it was at an altitude of 5,575 feet, standing at the front of the Highlands and on the edge of the great plains country that led down to the sea over 300 miles away.  A Uganda Railways poster to popularize British East Africa Formerly only the headquarters of the Uganda Railway, it had become the seat of the Governor and government offices.  It had developed quickly from a mere collection of wood and iron buildings to a town of considerable dimensions. The water supply came from a reservoir 13 miles northwest, and the electric power from a plant 12 miles northeast.  There were three banks, two English daily newspapers, a theatre and several churches, these being Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.  There was also a synagogue.     Government Road in 1927   The main thoroughfare was Government Road leading from the station to one of the chief suburbs, Parklands. A less fully developed through road ran at right angles – Sixth Avenue leading to Government House, the hospital, the school, and the chief official residences.  Along Sixth Avenue were the Anglican church, the post office and the treasury, all stone buildings.  The main suburbs were the Hill, where senior officials resided; Parklands, especially occupied by business residents and with a small English church, St Mark’s;  Riverdale separating the Hill from Parklands;  Kilimani behind the Hill where there was...

Tea and Limuru School

Tea and Limuru School   What have Kenya tea and Limuru Girls’ School got in common? The answer is Arnold Butler McDonell, the founder of both the Kenyan tea industry and Limuru School. Three McDonell brothers, Ronald, George and Arnold, and their sister Gertrude (later Magee), came to East Africa in 1905 and 1906. Arnold (born on 17 October 1872 at Forest Gate, London) found work at a logging station, but in 1910 bought 350 acres at Limuru, where he built a house and started a farm, which he called Kiambethu. Because of the altitude (7,200 feet) he failed with corn, flax and coffee. Then the First World War intervened and he joined the East African Mounted Rifles.   At the end of the war a friend sent him some tea seeds (Camellia sinensis assamica) from India. He planted a few acres and found that the bushes flourished – conditions were just right. From these small beginnings the Kenya tea industry developed into a billion dollar enterprise. At first the tea was all processed on the farm and sold to Nairobi traders, but tea soon caught on and was planted elsewhere on high land in Kenya. Brooke Bond built a tea factory at Limuru in 1926.   McDonell married in 1908. His future bride, Agnes Evelyn Harriott Lillingston (born on 2 February 1877), the youngest of a vicar’s eleven children, arrived in Mombasa and was whisked straight to the church to be married in case she changed her mind. The marriage produced four daughters – Evelyn, twins Mary and Edith, and Violet (‘Judy’). How were these girls to be...

Mt Ololokwe – Old Africa’s Mystery Mountain

In our August-September issue (#84) of Old Africa we showed some photos of Mt Ololokwe, which I had climbed with my son Reid and his wife and four of my grandchildren in July. We used those photos as our History Mystery contest. We had an amazing response and we received the most correct answers of any History Mystery Contest – 16. Dick Moss from Nairobi was chosen as the winner, having mapped the the mountain in 1959 and then climbed it in the mid-1970s.  Amazingly, we also received a correct answer from Alec Abell, who had climbed Mt Ololokwe with Dick Moss in 1974!  We only had space in our magazine to print six answers. But so many answers were good that we didn’t want our readers to miss out on them. So we’re offering some of those answers here as “runners-up” for our contest.  We plan to send all our runners-up a free book from Old Africa. Dick Moss will receive his first prize of a 3000/- gift certificate to Text Book Centre. We encourage you to read the latest issue of Old Africa and enter our newest History Mystery Contest. Mt Ololokwe History Mystery Contest from Issue 84 Runners-up answers How could I fail to recognise my favourite NFD mountain of which we have an attractive oil painting hanging on our wall.  It has two names.   Ol Lolokwe and Ol Donyo Sabachi and is in Samburu District just north of the Samburu National Park on the Uaso Nyiro river and just off the new Tarmac road to Marsabit.    I have climbed the mystery mountain three...

Gailey & Roberts

Who were Mr Gailey and Mr Roberts? The firm Gailey & Roberts has been known over East Africa for more than a century, but who were Mr Gailey and Mr Roberts? John Hamilton Gailey, born in Edmonton in 1870 and educated at King’s College School in London, and David Owen Roberts, born in Merionethshire on 10 September 1871, arrived in East Africa in 1896 and 1897, to work on the construction of the Mombasa–Lake Victoria railway.  As an engineer Gailey was put in charge of the bridge building between Nairobi and Muhoroni in 1899, while Roberts was assistant engineer with the maintenance division, resident at Masongoleni.. After the completion of their contracts with the railway in 1903 the pair went into partnership in Nairobi as retail ironmongers, estate agents and surveyors. Their idea was to import all sorts of hardware, electrical goods and machinery for the putative farmers now beginning to settle in East Africa. They would also be surveyors and estate agents. With the motto ‘Enterprise is the keystone to success’ they pursued their business in the lobby of Nairobi’s only hotel; it was said that if you wanted land, you went to see Gailey, but if you wanted to know where to settle, Roberts was your man. Gailey would joke that the enterprise was started more as a joke than anything else and was nicknamed ‘Gaily They Rob Us’. A sideline was that they experimented with growing tobacco at the Red House Estate near Nairobi in 1907.   JH Gailey Roberts married Gladys Edith Annie (1881-1946) – and settled her on a farm, Ngewe, at the junction...

John Rathbone: Storekeeper and Newspaper Pioneer

Storekeeper and Newspaper Pioneer Few will remember the Dewdrop Inn at Rumuruti, but the newspaper the Sunday Postwill ring many a bell. One man was responsible for both endeavours: John Sylvanus Rathbone. Clutching a map provided by the Land Office, in 1920 Rathbone walked from Thika in the direction of what became known as Nanyuki, excited by the prospect of developing a well-watered farm. The streams and rivers on the map, and its injunction preventing the structure of any wharves, landing stages or ferries, proved to be illusory. Instead Rathbone opened the first duka in Nanyuki, calling it Township Stores. Rathbone was born in Sheffield on 25 Nov 1963 and was given the names John Silas. One of his first jobs was as a private tutor and elementary teacher in Sheffield, and there he met Emma Lucie Brenner, a language teacher born in Germany, but of Swiss nationality and a scion of the famous family for which the Brenner Pass is named. They married and soon had a son and a daughter. The daughter, born in 1906, seems to have provoked a breakdown, because we find Emma Lucie in ‘South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum’ that year. The child lived only three years. At the start of World War 1 Rathbone joined the army and fought in the German East Africa campaign. Of literary bent, he started a magazine for the troops called ‘Doing’.  He was assisted in this enterprise by fellow soldiers George Kinnear (later editor of the East African Standard), and Herbert ‘Pop’ Binks, who called his column ‘What Binks Thinks.’ Returning to England after the war, Rathbone decided...

A Most Unusual Missionary

Charles Henry Stokes was far from being your traditional missionary. Irish, excitable, easily swayed, unreliable, passionate, he regarded the making of money as a most important aspect of life.  To this end he deviated from his missionary calling to become a gun runner. But he had his virtues. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he respected Africans and never ill-treated them. He was therefore able to become a most successful leader of caravans from the coast to the interior before roads and railways were built…

Sharing Northrup McMillan’s Millions

I always enjoy receiving feedback and discovering new information.  It makes writing about East African history all the more worthwhile for me…

Imagine my surprise when several years after my book about Sir Northrup McMillan had been published(Judy Aldrick, Northrup: The Life of William Northrup McMillan, 2012, Old Africa Books) I received a mysterious message on my Linked In network.  A retired lawyer, Mike Cronan, wished me to get in contact as papers relating to Northrup had come into his possession, which he thought might interest me.  I sent him my contact details.

Benjamin Eastwood, a Pioneer Railway Official

They were eccentrics and drunkards, adventurers and sober engineers – people who were recruited to run the brand new railway snaking from Mombasa to Lake Victoria before the start of the twentieth century. One such character was Benjamin Eastwood, born in Weymouth on 19 March 1863 and educated at Fleetwood. He arrived in East Africa in 1897, as a trained accountant…

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....