Every so often one comes across a reference book that not only provides gems of
factual information but is totally fascinating, and one such book that should be seen
by anyone who has lived in East Africa is Stephen North's listing of early pioneers of the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. One tends to accept that there were only a few early
explorers and missionaries who spread the word, but not until you open this book does it
become apparent just how many Europeans were in this part of Africa at the time. The
period 1888-1905 covers the early days of the Imperial British East Africa Company
through to the year when the territory was transferred from the Foreign Office to the
From the early days of the Zanzibar mission and the Royal Navy anti-slavery
patrols through to the opening up of the mainland territory, hundreds of enthusiastic
men and women from all walks of life arrived at Zanzibar and Mombasa and
journeyed into the unknown. These people all played their small part in the opening up
and development of the region many of us called home. Life was by no means easy
and many of these early pioneers paid the ultimate price of venturing into what was
still regarded as the 'dark continent'. The number of young Victorian ladies in the
prime of life eager to rush off into the bush is almost unbelievable. Many married and
returned to England, some settled, others were not so fortunate and lie in long
forgotten graves in overgrown churchyards.
With the building of the Uganda Railway, Kenya or British East Africa was inundated
with an extraordinary collection of employees whose diverse skills covered everything
from office clerks to ship's captains. Not all were upright individuals, and at least thirty
were asked to leave on the grounds of insobriety. One chief engineer on the lake selected
full astern instead of full ahead and left on the next train.
What makes this work so interesting are the many and varied comments beside the
names of some of the well and less well known people who according to their
compatriots were anything but the sterling chaps that history has portrayed them.
Richard Meinhertzhagen who spent some years in East Africa was an outspoken critic,
and one of his individual comments regarding Sir Charles Eliot bears repeating, "his
pet hobby is the study of nudibranchs or sea slugs. Never did a man so closely
resemble his hobby".
With over 4,000 entries and 800 photographs this splendidly presented reference is a
truly masterful effort of research, and without doubt Stephen has produced a book that is
worth reading once a week for the comments alone.