The British Empire Library

Europeans In British Administered East Africa: A Biographical Listing 1888-1905

by Stephen North

Courtesy of OSPA

Kevin Patience
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 Colonial Office.

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.

British Empire Book
Stephen North
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