Claude Martin Vernon – An Early Doctor in Kenya

www.christinenicholls.co.ukwww.europeansineastafrica.co.uk     Born in 1866 in Leyton, Sussex, Claude Vernon aspired to be a doctor. After training in London and Cambridge he landed a job as Medical Officer of Health in Ashford, Kent, where he stayed until 1913.  After the First World War he decided to move to Kenya in 1920 with his growing family – wife Edith Augusta and children Maurice, Joan and Nancy. His adventures began. In Nairobi he met the Hon. Berkeley Cole, Legislative Council representative for Nanyuki, who told him that the town needed a doctor. The prospect was enticing, because the job went with a farm which had been allocated to a doctor who never arrived. After a stint in Nyeri waiting for formalities to be completed, the family travelled to Nanyuki to find the 2,000 acre farm they had been given. It was depressing – utterly undeveloped, covered in oat grass and cedar and with no living accommodation. As his training had not equipped him to build a house, Vernon engaged the son of a neighbouring farmer to construct a simple mud and wattle dwelling while the family lived in a tent. He trained himself to be a carpenter to make furniture out of the wooden boxes that held petrol tins. The family grew their own vegetables. Fortunately Vernon had shot at Bisley before leaving England, so he was able efficiently to provide buck meat for the pot. He named his farm Simba Shamba because the roar of lions could be heard every night. He set up his practice in Nanyuki, although the farm was thirteen miles distant and entailed crossing five...

Talbot Mundy, Author of King of the Khyber Rifles

Talbot Mundy Everyone has heard of Rider-Haggard, but there was a contemporary novelist of almost as great renown who spent years of his life in Kenya – Talbot Mundy. His most famous book is King of the Khyber Rifles, and he also wrote 47 bestsellers and scores of novelettes, short stories and articles. He was a bit of a fantasist in his personal life, as well as on paper. He was born on 23 April 1879 in Hammersmith, London, as William Lancaster Gribbon, the son of an accountant. He won a scholarship to Rugby School and while he was there his father died suddenly. This caused him to leave Rugby without any qualifications, in 1895. On a trip to India working as a Daily Mail reporter, he met Kathleen Steele, whom he married in 1903. The pair then fled to South Africa to evade their creditors, and they ended up in Mombasa in 1904. Like many of his contemporaries Gribbon engaged in elephant hunting in British East Africa, an activity he fictionalised in his later book The Ivory Trail. Calling himself ‘Sir Rupert Harvey, Baronet,’ Gribbon killed more than 50 lions and acquired a herd of 4,000 cattle bearing the brand of an official entitled to own only two. He was arrested and sentenced to six months’ hard labour. After his release he worked on road construction and, somewhat surprisingly, was appointed town clerk of Kisumu. When he pursued and shot a rogue elephant that had been destroying villages, the beast fell on him, breaking his collar bone, shoulder and ribs. His African companions carried him to a local...

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...