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...

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

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,...