A Maverick Politician – Shirley Victor Cooke

A Maverick Politician – Shirley Victor Cooke In the very early days of colonial Kenya it was rare for officials to assume that the welfare of the native population should be paramount. One such man was SV Cooke. Born at Ennistimon, County Clare, in 1888, he was the son of an Irish parson. He began his career in Kenya as a District Officer in 1919. As was the practice, he was posted from place to place, never staying very long in each, before he ended up in Lamu. While there in 1929 he fell out with his superior HR Montgomery, brother of the Field Marshal and Provincial Commissioner at Mombasa, whom he called a ‘bloody fool’. Montgomery would not tolerate the insult and Cooke was moved. This was not the first of his misdemeanours. While at Marsabit in 1927 he was censured for being insubordinate. The settlers once instituted an enquiry about him, because he supported African interests against theirs. This irrepressible Irishman was transferred to Tanganyika, where there were fewer settlers, but again he quarrelled with his superiors. By 1930 he had left the Colonial Service and entered politics. He had now found his true vocation. He remained a member for the Coast of Kenya’s Legislative Council for more than twenty years, putting forward the African point of view and generally taking an individualistic line. Indeed he was the enfant terrible of LegCo for his outspoken comments. He particularly deplored the lack of medical services for Africans, and their substandard housing. He urged the government in 1940 to organise sociological surveys of the large towns. He heavily criticised...

Database of Europeans in East Africa 1880-1939

Database of Europeans in East Africa 1880-1939   A database prepared by Peter Ayre and Christine Nicholls is now on the internet at http://www.europeansineastafrica.co.uk It features 25,000 Europeans who were in East Africa (mainly in Kenya) before 1939 and provides personal and career details of each.    The database will be ‘live’ for a year or so, to give an opportunity for information to be added, or corrections to be made, and then it will be hosted by a scholarly library.   If you have any information you would like to add, after viewing an entry, or any corrections, please email cs.nicholls@tiscali.co.uk...
Nairobi in the 1920s

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...

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...