Eccentric Pioneers

Last Sunday I went to lunch with ex-DCs Peter Fullerton and John Golds. There was talk of old times in the Tana River area, and of Kenya’s Governors Sir Evelyn Baring and Sir Patrick Renison.

As ever, the eccentricities of early pioneers were in our minds. I am reminded of H.M. (‘Black’) Harries and his family, about whom Elspeth Huxley’s mother Nellie was so funny. Black Harries was a firm believer in heat treatment for arthritis. He got into bed with five labradors on top and a bottle of port. His wife, enthusiastic about his ideas, had her own version of treatment. A visitor, having been told that she was in the garden, could not find her. He returned to the kitchen where the cook directed him to look just to the left of a little gateway. There he found a large compost heap, with a hat on top, and, beneath the heap, Mrs Harries. Black Harries used to say, ‘I have a bath once a month, whether I need it or not.’

Black Harries owned the neighbouring farm to Nellie at Njoro. After he had been jailed for six weeks he went to South Africa, selling the farm on easy terms to Cockie Birkbeck, who married Blor Blixen. But Cockie was too idle to send the quarterly cheque, so the farm reverted to Harries, who returned to Kenya. Nellie said she had to shoo the ducks off the Chippendale chairs if she visited the Harries house.