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Old Africa books

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

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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. 


Nakuru in 1930

Nakuru Township in 1930 Nakuru became a township originally because in 1900 it was a stopping place for the railway on the floor of the Rift Valley after the difficult descent into the valley. How had it fared thirty years after a station was built there just after the turn of the century? Allister Macmillan visited the place in 1929 and this is what he said about it: ‘Nakuru is embowered by trees and consists of one main street named Donald Avenue with various short thoroughfares branching off on each side.  The little town is noted for its hospitality and gaiety and its various sports and social clubs, amongst the best institutions of the kind in Kenya. Nakuru  has an excellent race course, golf course, and two Masonic lodges, two good hotels, a cinema, and a very fine government school, and a large European Hospital supported by voluntary efforts. About 200 Europeans lived in and around the town and there was an Asian population of about 600, but the number of Africans has not been recorded. Initially farming around the area was not a success because of what became known as ‘Nakuruitis,’ a disease of animals suffering from a shortage of minerals.  Once the cause of the disease was established, appropriate mineral mixtures solved the problem. Apart from the farmers there were several business concerns in the settlement. There were more than three garages, most necessary for the repairs required by vehicles rattled by the corrugated murram roads. A branch of Gailey & Roberts, whose headquarters were in Nairobi, provided a comprehensive stock of agricultural implements, while the nearby...

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...