Ostrich Feathers and the Hill Cousins

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lasix dieretic side effect hard stools The Prince of Wales’ Coat of Arms consists of three white ostrich feathers encircled by a gold coronet.  In the 18th century ostriches were heavily hunted for their feathers, used as adornments for hats, scarves and stoles by fashionable people. By the 19th century, the farming of ostriches allowed farmers to pluck the feathers instead of having to kill the birds, and the trade peaked as the century closed. Two cousins, Harold and Clifford Hill, both born and brought up on ostrich farms in South Africa, went to East Africa in 1904 (Clifford) and 1905 (Harold) to exploit the fashion. They were grandsons of a British settler in South Africa (1820), where Harold was born in Salem in 1881 and Clifford in Grahamstown in 1876.  Both had served with distinction in the Boer War, when Harold, a member of Nesbitt’s Scouts, was Colonel Wavell’s ‘galloper.’

generic cialis usa They bought leasehold land on the Kapiti plains and captured and reared twelve ostrich chicks at Limuru. In 1905 they bought eighty birds from a German syndicate and put them on a train at Voi to take them to Limuru.  Ten birds died, so the rest were taken out at Kiu and had to walk to Limuru. Eventually the Hills acquired 10,000 well-watered acres and carried on the ostrich feather business at Katelemba, Wami and Kilima Farms, fifteen miles from Kapiti station and four miles from the Machakos boma. Lady Thorp, Harold’s daughter-in-law, said, ‘I stood in great awe of Harold Hill, my father-in-law, not so much because of his reputation with gun and rifle, but rather for his complete mastery of an environment strange to me, his forthright attitude, his inability to suffer fools gladly and his amazing store of physical energy. One of Harold’s first acts was to set a broody hen on 13 eggs. When he proudly took a visitor to see his initial farming enterprise, he found no hen or eggs, but a cobra coiled up in the nest. Harold shot the cobra, recovered the eggs intact from its insides, found the terrified hen and re-set her. It is typical of his lack of bombast that he never embroidered the story – the eggs didn’t hatch.’

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enter Clifford, too, was a great personality. Philip Percival, game ranger, said of him: ‘I reckon he was the best hunter and bush fighter I have ever known. He went right through the Boer War and I saw a lot of him in the Kaiser’s War when he won the DSO – and you don’t get that for nothing! I met him again in uniform, as imperturbable as ever on the Abyssinian border during the last war.’ Clifford played his part in the First World War, joining the East African Mounted Rifles, becoming a major and winning a DSO to complement another he had won in the Boer War. He also served with the EA Pioneer Corps in the Second World War.

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After the First World War fashions changed and ostrich feathers no longer provided a profit. Then Britain issued a ban on the importation of feathers. The Hills diversified into wheat, which was a failure owing to locusts and weeds, and oranges, coffee and cattle. They were no longer interested in hunting (Harold had despatched 135 lions threatening his livestock, and Clifford had accounted for 160). At the age of 75 Harold handed Katelembo over to his son Norman and retired to a small piece of land, planting oranges and coffee and rearing cattle. He was still working at this when he died in 1963 at the age of 82. Clifford had died three years earlier. 

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