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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. 

Mary Hodge: An Indomitable Pioneer

Molly, or Margaret Mary Vere Neilson, to give her her full name, was born in Kettering, England, on 30 July 1896, the daughter of a bank manager.  During World War I she started training as a nurse and then transferred to become an ambulance driver and finally an instructor of ambulance drivers.  A year after the war ended, in 1919, she met Stephen Hodge, on leave from Kenya after being seconded to the army in East Africa as an intelligence officer during the war. They  got married that year and Molly followed her husband to Kenya, travelling on the Garth Castle. Stephen met her in Mombasa and they took the train to Gilgil. One of Molly’s first impressions of Kenya was surprise at seeing a hen sitting on its eggs near the head of Lady Colvile’s bed at Gilgil. Stephen was posted as DC in Rumuruti, whither the pair travelled on mules. The Hodges spent ten days on the journey from Gilgil to Rumuruti, cutting down trees to cross streams on the way. As they arrived at their house, Somalis and their goats bustled out of it to make way for the new owner and his wife.  Because of the difficulty of transport and roads in those years (1920-21), they never moved out of the area for the whole duration of their two-year posting. They had been wise to come to Rumuruti well stocked up with necessities, and all they purchased locally was paraffin, sugar, soap and flour. Stephen (always known as ‘Hoaj’) was pre-occupied with the Soldier-Settler scheme concocted by the Government after World War I. Some of...

The Other Adamson: Terence, Brother of the More Famous George

The Other Adamson: Terence, Brother of the More Famous George We hear a great deal about George Adamson, of Born Free fame, but he had an extraordinary brother, whose life needs celebrating. The Adamson brothers, George and Terence, came to Kenya with their parents, Henry Graham Adamson and Katherine, after World War 1. ‘Harry’ Adamson, a small, adventurous man, had been in the Royal Navy and then worked in India, on an indigo plantation, and that is where his sons were born. They were sent to school in England but in the 1920s joined their parents in Kenya on the small coffee plantation in Limuru taken up by Harry. The farm was not a great success and Harry died of a heart attack in 1928. This so distressed Katherine that she took to drink and towards the end of her life her precarious mental health declined even further. She was regarded as slightly batty and called the ‘Countess of Kildare’ by her neighbours. She was hardly ever visited by George and it was left to her other son, Terence, to look after her. She died in 1950. In World War 2 Terence joined the army and the most well known story about him concerned the cheap suit given to him by the military when he was demobbed. Owning no other formal clothes, Terence buried the suit in an airtight can on his property, digging it up years later when he made his only overseas trip. When he returned home he put the suit back in the can and reburied it. Terence became one of Kenya’s great ‘odd job’ men,...

Peter Aarup, Karen Blixen’s Friend

Karen Blixen’s Friend, Peter Aarup AARUP, Peter M., son of Joergen Madsen Aarup, was born in 1863 in Kolding, Denmark. He went to South Africa, to the diamond mines, and we first hear about him in East Africa in 1900. By 1906, according to an advertisement he placed in the East African Standard, he has set himself up in Mombasa as a  boat builder, boat sailmaker, tent maker (any size), and purveyor of tarpaulin waterproof sheets. He moved his business to Naivasha by 1909, adding taxidermist to his list of accomplishments, and the manufacture of horsewhips made of hippopotamus hide. His boatyard offered boats for hire (Advertiser, 1909). According to Lars Therkelsen, Aarup’s grandson who has written a biography in Danish of his grandfather – Gamle Knudsen, 2018 – he expanded to Lake Victoria, developing novel fishing methods, but he once lost some of his boats in a storm, when everyone drowned except Peter Aarup.   When the First World War began in East Africa, Aarup and his boat crew were taken prisoner by the Germans, who asked him to establish a new sawmill. His sight was so weak that he had to use very strong glasses. One day they broke and the Germans could not help him replace them. Peter Aarup’s ‘captain’, Kazimoto, offered to collect spare glasses from Peter’s home in Kisumu. This was a very dangerous trip of 900 km, through both German and English front lines and country teeming with wild animals. Nonetheless, Kazimoto returned with the glasses. After the battle in Bukoba the English took back Peter Aarup as a prisoner. Eventually he was released....