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Old Africa books

Old Africa books are well-told stories in the same tradition as the shorter pieces

our readers have come to enjoy from the pages of Old Africa magazine.

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Old Africa magazine seeks to tell the story of East Africa’s past through well-written stories and vintage photographs. Founded in October 2005, the first issue featured a story about the Royal Navy’s ill-fated attempt to launch a naval presence on Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana) and an account of the Kedong Massacre. Since then the magazine has published stories and photos from Kenya’s diverse ethnic groups – African, Asian and European – to preserve East Africa’s history. 


Sir Charles Eliot

Sir Charles Eliot ‘His pet hobby is the study of nudibranchs or sea slugs. Never more closely did a man resemble the objects of his hobby.’ Who could this be describing? Surprisingly, it was the first Governor, or Commissioner as it was called then, of the East Africa Protectorate (later named Kenya and Uganda). This was Sir Charles Eliot, born on 8 January 1862, son of a clergyman, unmarried, donnish, learned and utterly out of touch with the world. He had a vision: ‘He envisaged a thriving colony of thousands of Europeans with their families, the whole of the country from the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya to the German border divided up into farms; the whole of the Rift Valley cultivated or grazed, and the whole country of Lumbwa, Nandi to Elgon and almost to Baringo under white settlement. He intends to confine the natives to reserves and use them as cheap labour on farms. I suggested that the country belonged to Africans and that their interests must prevail over the interests of strangers. He would not have it; he kept on using the word ‘paramount’ with reference to the claims of Europeans. I said that some day the African would be educated and armed; that would lead to a clash. Eliot thought that that day was so far distant as not to matter and that by that time the European element would be strong enough to look after themselves; but I am convinced that in the end the Africans will win and that Eliot’s policy can lead only to trouble and disappointment.’ The prescient writer of this description...

From Company to Colony: the 1890s in Kenya

From Company to Colony: the 1890s in Kenya   When it became clear that a commercial company could no longer control Kenya and Uganda (called British East Africa before 1920), the British government took over the administration of the area. In the mid 1890s they adopted the officials of the Imperial British East Africa Company, who were already in situ, and they were a motley lot. One was an illiterate Maltese sailor called James Martin, who managed to get by when a kindly Goan clerk taught him to sign his name; he became a rich merchant in Uganda. There was the one-armed Eric Smith and his assistant W P Purkiss, who loved his pet parrot; both of them laboured to build Fort Smith a few miles from where Nairobi now stands. Purkiss made the bricks from local baked earth. The mad Francis Dugmore was a thorn in their sides – once he sent James Martin’s wife an elephant foot as a delicacy for her table. Then there was Frank Hall, for whom Fort Hall was named, an active man who got on quite well with local Africans and liked to be out in the field. In contrast was penpusher and meticulous organizer John Ainsworth who tried to set up proper systems of government and was resented by his colleagues as a ‘counter-jumper’ (that is, not a gentleman, but of a commercial background). These people had to persuade the local Africans to honour the British Queen Victoria, about whom they knew nothing.   An ‘F’ Class Locomotive UR 35 with the inaugural passenger train from Kilindini Station to Voi in...

Claude Martin Vernon – An Early Doctor in Kenya

www.christinenicholls.co.ukwww.europeansineastafrica.co.uk     Born in 1866 in Leyton, Sussex, Claude Vernon aspired to be a doctor. After training in London and Cambridge he landed a job as Medical Officer of Health in Ashford, Kent, where he stayed until 1913.  After the First World War he decided to move to Kenya in 1920 with his growing family – wife Edith Augusta and children Maurice, Joan and Nancy. His adventures began. In Nairobi he met the Hon. Berkeley Cole, Legislative Council representative for Nanyuki, who told him that the town needed a doctor. The prospect was enticing, because the job went with a farm which had been allocated to a doctor who never arrived. After a stint in Nyeri waiting for formalities to be completed, the family travelled to Nanyuki to find the 2,000 acre farm they had been given. It was depressing – utterly undeveloped, covered in oat grass and cedar and with no living accommodation. As his training had not equipped him to build a house, Vernon engaged the son of a neighbouring farmer to construct a simple mud and wattle dwelling while the family lived in a tent. He trained himself to be a carpenter to make furniture out of the wooden boxes that held petrol tins. The family grew their own vegetables. Fortunately Vernon had shot at Bisley before leaving England, so he was able efficiently to provide buck meat for the pot. He named his farm Simba Shamba because the roar of lions could be heard every night. He set up his practice in Nanyuki, although the farm was thirteen miles distant and entailed crossing five...