Welcome to Old Africa

your window into East Africa’s past.

subscribe now

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.

check out our titles

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. 

The Jewells and Mombasa Hospital

The Jewells and Mombasa Hospital Last month I talked about the Mombasa Hospital. From 1920 onwards Norman Jewell was in charge of the establishment, and his letters and diaries show us what medical hazards were faced by Mombasa’s inhabitants in the 1920s. Jewell had begun his tropical medical career in the Seychelles, but on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was appointed to the East Africa Protectorate and became an army doctor. He travelled with the troops all over Tanganyika, often working under appalling circumstances. It must have been a relief for him to have been posted to Mombasa after the war. From left: Norman Jewell, Norman Jewell on the Mombasa Hospital veranda, John Jewell Jewell found there was a high standard of hygiene and health control in Mombasa, overseen by Dr Henry Speldewinde de Boer. To prevent plague, there were daily autopsies on rats, enabling Jewell to be forewarned should plague occur. Rat-catching was carried out assiduously. And food inspections and mosquito control were energetically pursued. Yet there were unforeseen hazards such as ten inches of rain in a few hours, which burst the pipes and flooded the streets, uprooted trees and washed boats from the harbour. Then there was an outbreak of smallpox in Mombasa in 1925. Jewell made vaccination compulsory for all, and the only European who died had washed off the vaccine. Over 230,000 people were vaccinated. There were many cases among the African population of the disfiguring yaws, an infection of skin, bones and joints caused by a spirochete bacterium. The sufferers were injected with neosalvarsan as a treatment. But...

Mombasa Hospital’s Early Days

Mombasa Hospital’s Early Days   When the Imperial British East Africa Company began to trade in East Africa in the early 1890s, there was a need for a hospital for Europeans, prone to fall sick so easily in a country with an unfamiliar climate, where malaria was still imperfectly understood. IBEAC appointed Dr WH Macdonald, registered as a medical doctor in Edinburgh in 1889, to be Mombasa’s doctor. Then the Company received a donation to build a church and hospital. The Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers were given the running of it, under the supervision of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr WH Macdonald. In the same year the British Government took over the administration of the East Africa Protectorate, and with it the management of the hospital.   Macdonald now worked for the government and had as his assistants three sisters of the Order of St Joseph de Cluny, from France. They were Mother Auxanne Maugee, from Martinique, who was in charge, Sister Benilda Houston from Donegal in Ireland, and Sister James Hearty from Scotland. This mixed band manned the hospital until 1901, when they handed over to lay sisters arriving from England on 1 November. Mother Auxanne died in France in 1902. A plaque in her memory was placed in the Holy Ghost Cathedral in Mombasa and later moved to the hospital. The other two sisters went to the Seychelles.   Macdonald was not thought highly of as a doctor. The High Commissioner Eliot said, ‘I cannot conscientiously recommend any scheme which does not include the removal of Dr Macdonald from the post of PMO.’ A missionary doctor...

Where Antelope Roam – A book review

Where Antelope Roam Reviewed by Rachel Woodworth   A book review ought to start, more than likely, with the book. But my review can’t begin there. It begins with the man. The man who wrote the book, who gathered days and moments, adventures and seasons, who recalled and reminisced and turned memories to words, to pages, to chapters, to book: a collection of short stories bound in Where Antelope Roam. I cannot separate the book from the man; but then, I don’t need to. This is autobiography—what makes the book worth reading is the man who lives a life worth reading. I vouch for the value of both.   I begin, however, with the author. An author I first knew as a professor.   With an energy and eagerness (either endearing or embarrassing) of my college freshman self, I sat in his Cultural Anthropology classroom. Before the end of his two hour class, I remember clearly thinking, “I want to do what he does.” Now this, I’m coming to learn, has less to do with the specifics of doing—with mimicking job or education or, not to give too much away, the handling of horned vipers—but the being. And this is harder to articulate and harder to enact.   What I sensed in that classroom, and what I sense in the pages of this book, is this fullness of life. A character and a being, a posturing, that is wonderful—that is, really, full of wonder. It is this unwavering joy in life—a firm confidence in the value of here: this place, this person, this landscape and moment before me. It...