The British Empire Library

Opening Africa - The Life Of James Martin - From Finding Obama's Tribe to Founding Nairobi

by Philo and M J Pullicino

Courtesy of OSPA

Tommy Gee (Uganda 1949-65)
Philo Pullicino's manuscript The Life of James Martin written in 1994, the year before he died, was 'dressed up' by his son Mark and published last year under the title above. James Martin became a professional caravan leader in East Africa enabling European access along the corridor route through Kenya in the slow advance by foot to Uganda. He was an illiterate Maltese sailor, twice shipwrecked, who landed in Zanzibar where he soon acquired language skills in Arabic and Swahili and knowledge of the coastal people. He became No 2 in Joseph Thomson's 1883 expedition to Masai territory reaching Taveta where he set up a useful staging point. This was the first of 23 lengthy pioneering foot journeys from the coast which established his reputation. He became second in command of the Sultan of Zanzibar's army of 1400 regulars, and indispensable in supply convoys to Lugard's Uganda mission, especially guns. Then in 1894 when the British Government took over from the British East Africa Company, Martin was appointed a District Officer in the Uganda Administration in charge of Eldama Ravine (later transferred to Kenya), and finished up finally in the Secretariat in Entebbe. He left Uganda service in 1907 to become manager of the Mabira Rubber Company and died aged 67 in 1925 in Portugal, home of his wife Elvira. Being illiterate, he kept no records (no diary, journal or ship's log) and remains a shadowy figure, a challenge for the biographer. Should he be in the Pantheon of those who set out to explore the unknown?

Philo Pullicino's own uncanny destiny led him to live and work in the same places as Martin some 50 years later. They were both sailors and both were trusted employees of the Sultan. Both were proteges of illustrious pro-consuls. Martin served Lugard. Andrew Cohen spotted Philo during the war when both were in Malta and later brought him up to Uganda from Zanzibar knowing he had the right person skills - the ones that made Martin invaluable in establishing good relations between the British and Africans. Neither Martin nor Philo were the archetypal administrators recruited by Ralph Purse, who took the view that the Colonial Office relied on Oxbridge and the public schools. At the end of my national service the RN Commodore in Ceylon asked me what I intended to do in "civvy street" and when I told him "African administration" he said that I was not the type. In 1947 boys from state schools were not "born to govern". However many were needed to fill the war-time vacancies.

Philo realised that he and I were kindred spirits when he arrived at the Entebbe Secretariat in 1954. We each built GP14s from the same plans to sail on Lake Victoria. Later he became Clerk of Legco and I was Clerk of Exco. We also both had a role in establishing Cohen's All Races Club in Kampala for up-country African MPs.

British Empire Book
Philo and M J Pullicino
M P I Publishing
978 0 9544906 2 1


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