The Sandbach Bakers and Kenya’s First Dairy

The Sandbach Bakers and Kenya’s First Dairy

The Sandbach Bakers and Kenya’s first Dairy One of the first white settlers to be given land in Nairobi was Frederick Baker. He was granted 1,600 acres in Muthaiga by John Ainsworth, the Sub-Commissioner, on condition that he supplied Nairobi with dairy products. Who was Baker and why had he come to East Africa? He was not a young man, having been born in in Bunbury, Cheshire, in December 1849 to Thomas Baker, a draper and grocer, and Eliza Sandbach, and he arrived in Nairobi in 1901 with his second (or, possibly, third) wife Marie Vera, usually known as Queenie. This lady may have been born in 1856, the daughter of George Salmon, a master butcher in Stoke on Trent, but that person is supposed to have died in 1897 and before that was known as Mary Maria. The wife who accompanied Frederick to East Africa in 1901 was Maria Vera and claimed she was twenty years younger than her husband, whereas if she had been born in 1856 she would have been only six years younger. It is possible that she was indeed Maria Salmon and added Vera to her name, and lied about her age to her new husband. Frederick’s first wife Alice Oliver had died in September 1887 and he had married Mary Maria Salmon in 1888. He had been a cotton cloth agent in Stretford, Lancashire (some said he went bankrupt). He took to East Africa with him his wife and his son Guy, a former shipping clerk (born in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, to his first wife Alice Oliver in October 1882). Marie was the...
Mombasa’s Law Courts

Mombasa’s Law Courts

Mombasa’s Law Courts   On 30 August 1984 the new Law Courts were opened in Mombasa, but where had justice been dispensed beforehand? A British court, presided over by an English barrister, had been established in a godown near the old harbour in Mombasa in 1890, when the Imperial British East Africa Company was in charge of the area. In about 1898 the court moved into the old police headquarters opposite the entrance to Fort Jesus (where the curio market now is). Then magnificent new premises were built in Fort Jesus (now Nkrumah) Road. On 31 December 1902 a fine building to house the law courts, as shown below, was opened by the Commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, and the High Court based in Zanzibar moved to Mombasa. To begin with the judiciary followed the practices of Bombay’s High Court and was staffed almost entirely by personnel trained in India. In 1911 the High Court was transferred from this building to Nairobi, and British Indian legal practices ceased to be observed. Instead, the practices of English law were substituted. Non-High Court cases were still heard in Mombasa.   The building material used was coral rag bound with lime mortar and faced with plaster. A deep arcaded veranda surrounded the building on the ground floor, supporting an open-air balcony above. It was more usual in this style of building for the upper balconies to be enclosed. Everywhere internally they used dark, solid, well-carpentered wood for doors, staircases, shutters, balconies and floors. Teak was the wood generally used, for it was almost impervious to white ants.   The Law Courts has a...
Brian Havelock Potts

Brian Havelock Potts

What caused young men to join the exodus from Britain to East Africa in 1910-1912? Let us take one example and look at his memoir. Brian Havelock Potts, born in Brixton on 30 March 1891 as a fourth child and only son, came from a middle-class family. His father William Potts was a journalist (a parliamentary reporter in 1891) at the Morning Standard and was made redundant when Brian was 15. Brian became an office boy in a London stockbroker’s. There a friend told him his brother was growing coffee in Nairobi. This prompted the young Brian to visit Rowland Ward’s (the taxidermist in Piccadilly), and next door stood the safari outfitters Newland Tarlton. A salesman in Newland Tarlton convinced Brian that British East Africa had been created for his benefit. Without more ado, Brian booked a passage on the Kronprinz. From Nairobi Brian went to Chania Falls (now called Thika) where he was taken on by the farmer Alan Cuninghame at his farm ‘Mzuri.’  Blue Posts Hotel, Chania Bridge Cuninghame, whom Potts describes as ‘a devious fellow,’ put the young man into a grass rondavel and spent the days shooting birds rather than overseeing the clearing of the land. His wife Mary, a large Irish lady and wonderful cook, was unsuccessful in keeping an eye on her husband. Every day Cuninghame stationed Potts at the window of the dining hut to warn him of Mary’s approach. Cuninghame downed two scotches but at Potts’s whistle put a lime juice in his hand, saying to his wife that he was dying of thirst. Potts claimed he did all the work...
Violet Donkin and Fritz Schindler – Matron of Scott Sanatorium Grieves After Fiancee Dies Following Lion Attack

Violet Donkin and Fritz Schindler – Matron of Scott Sanatorium Grieves After Fiancee Dies Following Lion Attack

For the last two months I have been talking about the founding of the Scott Sanatorium, and the part Violet Donkin played in this. However, a year after the facility opened, she departed for England. Why? A scrutiny of the surviving manuscripts gives us a clue. We learn from The Leader of 24 January 1914 that Violet had recently left ‘upon medical advice.’ Then, in an obscure journal of Brian Havelock Potts held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, we find that Potts served in the army after the outbreak of the First World War, contracted amoebic dysentery, and was taken to the Scott Sanatorium. There he was nursed by Violet Donkin, who had clearly returned to East Africa. She was, he learnt, to have been married to one Fritz Schindler before he was killed by a lion. If we then look at when Schindler met his unhappy fate, we find it was in January 1914. He was taken, badly gored, to the Scott Sanatorium, where he died. He must therefore have been nursed by his own fiancée. It is no wonder that she felt she must have a break. Who was Fritz Schindler or, as it was frequently written, Schindelar? The British had a tendency to call all German-speaking people ‘Fritz.’ There was a Fritz Schindler in the Nandi district in 1901, involved in a brick-making operation at Entebbe in 1902, and we learn of trader Fritz Schindler in January 1905 buying cattle in Ruanda. This is probably the person who applied for a Resident’s Game Licence in 1909 in Nairobi. We know that he was a tall, thin...
On Call in Africa – book review

On Call in Africa – book review

On Call in Africa in War and Peace, 1910-1932 by Norman Parsons Jewell     Norman Jewell’s memoir gives us the best eyewitness account of medical conditions among the troops fighting in East Africa that has been published so far. It is a riveting story of the horrors of warfare in the heat, mud, flies and dust of Kenya and Tanganyika. Jewell was a medical officer in the Colonial Medical Service and served in World War I as a captain in the 3rd East African Field Ambulance. Before he died he wrote his memoirs, which have been amalgamated in this book with his unique daily diary written in the field during the war. The book also contains a preface by World War I historian Edward Paice and a section written by the author’s granddaughter about the Jewell family. The book has been professionally edited and has wonderful explanatory footnotes. The book begins with a splendid account of life in the Seychelles in 1912, where Jewell was first posted for four years. He was then sent to Kisumu to take charge of the Native Hospital as well as a temporary hospital for European troops. He cannot have made himself popular when he ordered all the European patients out of the nearby local bar and back to bed, forbidding further excursions. Jewell tells interesting stories about the disbandment of Ross’s Scouts after an enquiry, the success of Drought’s ‘Skin Corps’ and the composition of the Legion of Frontiersmen. He always describes the tribes of the region and the ailments they suffered – for example, he dealt successfully with bubonic and pneumonic...
Violet Donkin and the Scott Sanatorium

Violet Donkin and the Scott Sanatorium


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Violet Donkin and the Scott Sanatorium Last month we read about the establishment of the Scott Sanatorium outside Nairobi under the leadership of the nurse and midwife (Frances) Violet Donkin. Who was she? I mentioned her in my blog of 9 May 2012, but gave few details. She was born on 19 September 1875 in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, the second daughter of Edward Francis Donkin and Margaret Russell Wilford, who died in 1884. She was the great-great-granddaughter of General Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin (Port Elizabeth in South Africa was named after his wife, as was the Donkin Reserve there, forever a green space in the centre of the city). Violet was brought up by her grandmother Elizabeth Wilford, of 9 Church Hill, Milverton, Warwickshire. She trained as a nurse at the Royal South Hampshire Hospital and Southampton Hospital, and in 1903 qualified as a midwife with a certificate from the London Obstetrical Society. At the age of thirty-three Violet departed for British East Africa on 4 September 1908, arriving in Mombasa on 29 September. She was then recruited to head the Scott Memorial Sanatorium, an advertisement for which appeared in The Leader on 2 August 1913. The Sanatorium flourished, with Violet active in her fundraising efforts, as detailed in the local paper: The Leader – 10 October 1913 The dance given last Friday in aid of the Scott Sanatorium was a great success. The fine Railway Institute, so well equipped for dancing … Smart society was well represented, while our visitors from the provinces, at Nairobi during Race Week, largely patronised the affair. The Stewards … were indefatigable in their attention...