Sammy Jacobs (1887-1951)

In my blogs of 2 January and 25 January 2012 I talked about the arrival of Jewish families in Kenya.  One person I mentioned was Solomon (Sammy) Jacobs, proprietor of the Dustpan emporium in Nairobi before the First World War. Recently his grandson David, who lives in Canada, contacted me as a result of the blog, requesting more information about Sammy’s daughter Violet, his mother. With the help of a family tree kindly provided by the grandson and some more research, I have found out more about the remarkable Jacobs family in early Kenya. Sammy’s father was Herman Brodent, a tailor originally from Lodz, who changed his name to Jacobs and went to live in Hull in Yorkshire, and his mother was Dora Moscow (from the Moscovitch family in Poland), who ran a boarding house. Sam was actually born in England on 16 January 1887, in Hull, being taken to South Africa as a child in 1892, on the Dunottar Castle, and he had a brother ([Abraham] Marks, born 1884) and three sisters, Leah (born 1877), Esther (Hettie, born 1881) and Gertrude (Gertie, born in 1883). It seems that Mark, Gertie and Sammy came to East Africa in 1906, because Sammy had worked for the East African Standard in South Africa.

Sammy opened the Dustpan store, as well as investing in the Metropolitan Hotel in Mombasa. Later he bought 200 acres of sisal and 300 acres of coffee at Murufu estate near Thika. The Dustpan (later renamed S. Jacobs Ltd.) opened branches in Nakuru, Eldoret and Mombasa.  Sammy became a member of the Legislative Council and Deputy Mayor of Nairobi. Together with others, including Michael Harrtz, who became his brother-in-law, he founded the Nairobi synagogue in 1912 and their names are on the Foundation stone. In fact, according to their first Minute Book, he had become Hon. Secretary of the Jewish Community in May 2009. He was also a freemason, a member of the Donyo Sabuk Lodge, and was in the Parklands soccer team when they won the cup in 1909. His brother Mark did not stay for long in East Africa. In about 1910 Sammy’s father Herman died in South Africa and consequently his mother Dora, sister Hettie and sister Leah (with her husband ‘Jack’ Hyman Lazarus) joined Sammy in East Africa. Hettie began working for her brother, but then branched out to own several successful hotels in Nairobi – the Victoria, Trocadero, Avondale, and the large Avenue Hotel. She married Gus Jarrettsky, who had his own orchestra in Nairobi. As for Gertrude, she was a member of the League of Mercy from 1910 and a founder member of the Lady Northey Home and many other social welfare organisations in Kenya. She married in Mombasa, in February 1907, Philip Raphael, well known in Nairobi as a businessman, auctioneer, general merchant, cabinet-maker, wheelwright and Land Agent. He was a member of the first Convention of Associations and the Nairobi chamber of commerce. He died in 1925 and Gertrude married Michael Harrtz, an early arrival in East Africa (1901), founder of the tinsmiths Harrtz & Bell, who died in 1943. Leah and Jack Lazarus (who died in 1917) started a furniture business in Nairobi’s Victoria Street.

Sammy’s mother Dora died on 1 March 1930 at the age of 79, and is buried in Nairobi South cemetery. The slump took its toll on Sammy and he was bankrupt in 1932. What had happened was that he had borrowed £25,000 in 1924 from financiers in London, to establish a sisal farm with machinery for making rope. But after five years there was no harvestable crop, the financiers called in the loan, and Sammy was declared bankrupt. The price of coffee had also fallen dramatically in the Great Depression and he left Kenya for England in 1932, to run businesses in London.

Sammy had married on 9 August 1914 Marion (May) Goldberg, who was born in 1892 in South Africa. In the picture here of their marriage, Philip Raphael is on the back row at the left, with his wife Gertrude next to him, and on the right is Sammy’s brother Mark and sister Hettie (or Leah).  Next to Sammy is his mother Dora. Sammy died on 17 October 1951 in Richmond, London, unexpectedly during an operation, but his wife lived on for many years, dying at the age of 96 in 1988. Her daughter Violet died in 2013 at the age of 97. What an extraordinary entrepreneurial family, that made such a contribution to the early economy of Kenya.