Ewart Grogan was a major figure in the western-style development of Kenya. Edward Paice has given us a lively, fast-moving account of his extraordinary career.
Inspired by the current views of imperialism, Grogan went to South Africa in 1896 to help
Cecil Rhodes' column of settlers defend themselves from Ndebele and Shona revolts
against the invasion of their land. Under Rhodes' spell, he never abandoned the view of
the great civilizing mission of the British in Africa. He proved his devotion to Rhodes'
vision of a Cape to Cairo railway by walking the route over the years 1898 to 1900. This
achievement brought him fame of which he made use for the rest of his life, as well as
enabling him to state that he understood Africa and Africans. His physical strength, his
resourcefulness, his courage, and above all, his independence, could never be doubted. He
was helped by a private income, supplemented by that of his wife, which meant that he
never had to seek employment or learn to cooperate with others.
After serving in Milner's Kindergarten in South Africa, Grogan, accompanied by his
wife, arrived in the then British East Africa Protectorate in 1904 to start a timber industry.
His energy, enterprise and charm brought him the support of the first Commissioner, Sir
Charles Eliot, who was anxious to promote economic development. Grogan received not
only timber concessions on the western side of the Rift Valley leading to the Uashin Gishu
Plateau, but farming leases and valuable commercial land in Nairobi and Mombasa.
For nearly sixty years Grogan's life was a roller-coaster of attempts to make his
fortune in developing his assets in Kenya. Paice describes with clarity and vigour his
business ventures, his colourful personal life, his battles with the Colonial Office and
local officials, his partnerships that flourished and broke up acrimoniously, and his several
near-bankruptcies. For health and family reasons, he was based in England for much of
the inter-war years, but he was fully occupied in pressing his demands upon politicians
and Colonial Office officials, and his visits to Kenya were frequent. In both World Wars
he was an intelligence agent in Africa, most successful in liaising with the Belgians in the
Congo. His later years were spent developing the barren land around Taveta, irrigating it
with underground water, and producing sisal and food crops on a large scale. He had
spells of serving as the settlers' leader on the Kenya Legislative Council; his electorates
sometimes supported him, sometimes resented his arrogance.
In the earlier years, Grogan and Delamere were allies in promoting the interests of
settlers. By the end of the 1920s Grogan thought Delamere's policy of cooperation with
the colonial officials unproductive, and they became political opponents. Elspeth Huxley,
arriving back in Kenya in 1933, received the Delamere family's version of events and
said little of Grogan's contribution to developing the economy. It was clear that they had
little interest in each other. Elspeth never fell for Grogan's charm - she also was of
independent mind and found his egoism unattractive. Yet they had a great deal in
common: a real love of Africa, its scenery, its people and its animals. Grogan, of an older
generation, thought that Africans could not do without British rule for many years, but he
respected them and their traditional ways of life, and called many Africans his friends.
Elspeth was concerned to understand African thinking, in particular the Kikuyu
resentment at the loss of land, and moving among the post-war liberal circles in England
realised that independence would come faster than Europeans in Kenya could
contemplate. Both were critical of the inertia of British policy, and its inability to take
decisive action either to support settlers and western development, or to act effectively to
promote the concepts of trusteeship, with political and economic development for
Africans. Both appreciated the strain that this placed on the colonial officials in Kenya -
though Grogan, with occasional exceptions, would criticize them fiercely, while Elspeth
would be grateful for their assistance and friendship.