Europeans Settle in Molo

In 1819 Sir Frederick Jackson was travelling from Naivasha to Sotik. When he emerged from the Mau forest he saw miles of rolling countryside. The first surveys of this area were made in 1903. It was an uninhabited plateau, too cold at 8,000-9,000 feet for native livestock and lacking in water. But 1,000 feet below, the railway had arrived and European colonists began to look at the area. The first pioneers there were Edward Powys Wheatley Cobb, Bertram Fitzgerald Webb, Jasper Abraham, Eric Hamilton Crake and John Hill-Williams. The most eccentric and innovative of these was Cobb. He introduced KT1 wheat (later known as Equator wheat) which was prevalent in the area until the 1950s. He imported steam driven ploughs, the wonder of his neighbours. All other ploughing was done by oxen because tractors did not arrive in the area until the 1920s. Apart from wheat, oats and barley were also grown.

Jasper Abraham decided to try livestock and imported Romsey rams which he crossed with Maasai sheep. These became very popular as they flourished in the climate. Jasper’s brother Mike brought in Corriedales in the late 1920s. As for cattle, the foundation stock was Boran and Ankole cows, but in 1908 Powys Cobb used Shorthorn and Devon bulls. Hill-Williams bought in Friesians and pedigree Ayreshires. Milk production was, however, low initially, though by 1914 had risen sufficiently for Cobb to establish a creamery at Lumbwa. Horses did splendidly at Molo and seemed to evade the horse sickness prevalent elsewhere, at least until the 1920s. Molo therefore became a premier horse breeding district. In 1910 Cobb imported Talisman from India, a stallion to become famous in Kenya. In 1923 a hunt was formed at Molo, by GA Alexander.

Powys Cobb was a true eccentric, a dreamer full of hare-brained ideas at his farm, Keringet. He also started a sisal plantation at the coast. He imported huge machinery at Kismayu, but it sank into mud and lay in abandonment for many years. Made bankrupt, Cobb decided to build his own fleet of boats, but laid the keel of the first in Lake Naivasha. How was it to be transported to Mombasa?

Another prominent character in Molo was Gertrude Hill-Williams. She arrived in 1908, with her two small daughters, to join her husband John. Elspeth Huxley said of the family: “Gertrude Hill-Williams had surrounded their cosy little thatched house made of rough-cut cedar planks from the forest with a garden full of English flowers – roses, extra-tall delphiniums, phlox, peonies, larkspur, tiger-lilies were there as well as daffodils and narcissi, and other bulbs of the English spring…Despite [John’s] age and the aftermath of a serious injury – he had fallen into the blades of a mower, been gashed to the bone and stitched together by Powys Cobb – John Hill-Williams re-joined the Army in 1915 and, two years later, died of cerebro-spinal meningitis contracted in Dar es Salaam. The two daughters Hilda and Tuppence were then at school in Nairobi. They stayed for half a term. They were old enough to help their mother on the farm, and there was no money for school fees.” After John’s death Gertrude ran Marindas until 1926, when she and her daughters started the Sportsman’s Arms hotel in Nanyuki.

After World War 1 more young men came to Molo. Pyrethrum was experimented with and was successful, and it replaced many a field of wheat, changing the yellow of the landscape to white from pyrethrum flowers. As the new people and their visitors needed a place to stay, a hotel was required. In 1921 May Radcliffe put up paying guests in her house, which she developed into the Highlands Hotel. This establishment was followed in 1932 by Wenman’s Hotel.

It was with such entrepreneurs that Molo developed into the productive town it is today.