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

A Most Unusual Missionary

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. He first appeared in East Africa in 1876 as a lay missionary, under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society. In this role he soon gained expertise as a leader of caravans to Uganda, and in 1885 he left the CMS. He became an independent trader and could be hired in Zanzibar as a caravan leader, sometimes with as many as 2,500 African porters. He always kept his word with the porters. Stokes’s business ventures prospered and he joined the German service in their territory as an Assistant Commissioner. His trading exploits included the trading of guns and powder for ivory. This was his downfall. The Belgians in the Congo were most unhappy that he was supplying Africans with guns and began to suspect, wrongly, that he was trying to foment rebellion against Belgian rule. One Captain Lothaire, in charge of a disturbed district in the Congo, determined to put a stop to the gun running. He decided that execution was to be an appropriate punishment. He captured Stokes, gave him a summary trial by court martial, and sentenced him to...
Benjamin Eastwood, a Pioneer Railway Official

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. Two years later he had been promoted to the post of Chief Accountant of the Uganda Railway. He was variously described by his colleagues: ‘makes no pretence of being a gentleman’, ‘a good accountant but a bad mannered man’, ‘a quiet, unassuming man’. When thirteen personal complaints were made against him, he dealt with them with these remarks: ‘This I deny in toto,’ ‘This is most ridiculous,’ and ‘This is wholly untrue.’ One complaint he did concede – when accused of not providing merit bonuses he said, ‘I really cannot see how meritorious work can be expected of men, most of whom have been picked up locally and know nothing of accounts work.’ He was always tough, dismissing two clerks as ‘useless’ and another as ‘drunk and incompetent.’ Eastwood was one of eight officials named by the Railway Strike Committee as treating their subordinates with ‘extreme discourtesy and tyranny.’ But he was much in demand as an efficient organiser – he became a member of the Governor’s Council, the War Council, the Nairobi Municipal Council and the School Board; he was chairman of the Local Priority Committee, Secretary and Treasurer of Mombasa and Nairobi Clubs, honorary Treasurer and Steward of the East African Turf Club and Editor of...

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...