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PROLOGUE

This could, I suppose, be called a pre-historic record.


Often we hear people say how they regret not having asked their deceased relatives, especially grandparents, more about their lives. Every person who has lived man’s allotted three score years and ten has a tale to tell. Point me to a person who has avoided all accident and incident, all love and all controversy and you are pointing me to someone with the remarkable tale of an impossible existence!

That is why my wife and I both decided to leave a record for our children and their future generations. She has already written most of hers; this is my tale. However, to understand it, you may need some background of the country in which I grew up.

Kenya became a colony almost by accident. When Britain decided, in 1896, to build a railway, ostensibly to combat slavery in Africa, the territory over which it ran on its way from the Indian ocean to lake Victoria needed to be brought under British jurisdiction. The almost 600 miles of proposed railway, dubbed in parliament as “the lunatic line”, were completed in 1901 and not only gave mobility in the fight against Arab slave traders: The line also connected the Indian ocean with a huge inland sea the size of Ireland, 150 miles long and 250 miles wide, on which steam ships were soon being used to tap into the riches of the many kingdoms of Uganda. Eventually more ships plied on other large lakes along the upper Nile, right into Southern Sudan.

The well populated coastal area of Kenya was a British protectorate, theoretically under the jurisdiction of the Arabian Sultan of Zanzibar. The vast hinterland became annexed as a British colony, the two parts being known collectively as “The Colony and Protectorate of Kenya”. The interior was a mainly wild, uncivilised territory, many parts of it desert or semi-desert and all of it sporadically populated by a great diversity of warring, territorial tribes. It didn’t even appear to have exploitable natural resources, like the diamonds found in German East Africa. Only in the highlands on either side of the Great Rift Valley did there seem to be much agricultural potential.

The settlement of Kenya was not typical of earlier colonies. Leaving aside those who were native to their land, colonies like the Americas and Australia had been mainly settled in by “desperate” people. In the former case by those desperate to escape religious or political persecution: In the latter by those so desperate that they stole sheep or corn, food for their starving families, and suffered the consequences. Kenya was remarkably different, a product not of desperation but of events in the early twentieth century.

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It was settled by three broad categories. Firstly, there were the fiercely independent South African Boers who, after the Boer war, had trekked the 4,000 miles overland with their families, stopping when they reached the Eldoret area, deep in Kenya’s highlands. Strangely, here they were still under British control, albeit nominal.

Then there were the Indians. When Britain built the lunatic line, immortalised in the book “Lunatic Express” by Charles Miller, there was a dearth of “educated” skilled local labour so it was decided to recruit a few thousand workers from India and the posts were duly advertised. At the time work was scarce in India and applicants far exceeded the posts available, so the selectors became very choosy, enrolling only the physically fittest and most mentally alert of a very large group. Before the railway was even completed, many of these fit, bright and hard working men, who had brought their families with them, had set up small businesses at the larger stops along the line, mainly supplying basic goods or technical services. The majority of these above average Indians did not return to a life in India, thus creating a high quality gene pool for future descendants.

Lastly, there was a British influx of missionaries, colonial administrators and motley settlers, many of them secondary members of the British upper classes. To understand why the latter came you need to remember that in Britain it was traditional for the eldest son to inherit the family property and title, whilst lesser sons sought a career in the church or as a commissioned army or naval officer. But times had changed and life in the military or church held no appeal for many an aristocratic “second son”, who craved adventure and a chance to make his own place in the world. Kenya seemed to offer “a man’s life”, with all the heroic, pioneering qualities held dear by people brought up in an environment that was steeped in the glories of empire. When amongst these adventurers, one could easily be served afternoon tea from a solid silver pot and handed sandwiches on the finest of bone china plates, whilst sitting on a home made chair in a mud walled home that had the odd insect dropping from the grass thatch roof. They bequeathed to Kenya a special character.

Kenya’s interior was sparsely populated, much of it by nomadic tribes, and most it pretty arid. With British government approval many early settlers acquired large areas of crown land, for which they paid, but it was undeveloped and they poured their lives into it, breeding disease resistant cattle, experimenting with crops and creating fledgling industries and businesses. It was not a life of ease and leisure for the vast majority of early settlers. Wealth could be created, but only by hard work or good luck. My grandmother, who arrived alone in the early nineteen twenties, experienced a lot of the first and a fair bit of the second, along with hardships and heartache.

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As the early twentieth century progressed more settlers arrived, but the pattern had been set. I was part of the last generation of colonial settlers to be born, bred and educated in East Africa, and also part of the first generation of us to live and work there in the post colonial era. My parents, being neither in the colonial service nor in the army, were true settlers; they had to “sink or swim” on their own merits and hard work. Please put aside the myth of jack booted colonial masters lording it over terrorised de facto slaves, so beloved to makers of movies about the American South. Where anything remotely resembling that stereotype existed it was usually recent civil service arrivals with an over rated opinion of themselves.

We locals preferred to call ourselves settlers, if only to make a distinction between ourselves and overbearing, “anything-but-civil” servants, usually out in “the colonies” on short-term, renewable contracts, complete with regular “home leave”. My father never saw the home he had left behind in the early thirties for over 20 years.

Of course we had servants, we were socially advantaged; we were near the top of the pecking order. Kenya was a bastion of the lifestyle of olden day Britain, as portrayed nowadays in many a television serial. The servants were part of one’s household but were also one’s responsibility. My family treated them as people, with feelings, and I was taught to say thank you for any service received. I was mainly in the care of an African “ayah” (nanny) and I would also follow the African herdsmen around, talking and learning. My parents actively encouraged it: Kenya was our home, for life we thought.


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