Home' Travel News : June-July 2016 Contents 48 travel news june/july 2016
june/july 2016 travel news 49
Jim’s parents, Thomas and Mary Feyhad been South Kinangop’s first white settlers
back in 1906. With their children - Nell, Norah and Jim - and 100-porters carrying
Granny in her Sedan chair, as well as all their household goods including a grand piano,
they’d walked 18-miles from Naivasha, up the steep escarpment to settle here near the
Chania River. They imported horses and cattle from Australia and New Zealand and
a racehorse from India (from whence they’d come) farming by trial and error; trying
out cattle farming, ostrich breeding and saw-milling. Nell married Max Nightingale in
1908 and Jim later married Barbie Polehill, daughter of another settler family on the
Kinangop. Isolated on their farms settlers tended to marry the girl (or boy) next door,
which makes for a confusing muddle of relationships.
In 1922 Fey sold the sawmill and John’s job ended. But he’d bought - for £200, 150-acres
from Fey, who’d bought it off soldier-settler George Willis. It was windswept, flat and
treeless, but John planted blue gums and bought some cows, which delighted the many
resident lions. John’s other neighbours were Nell and Max, who’d started a logging
business, sending their timber to Naivasha by ox-wagon, which took two days. John
went into partnership with Max, buying and selling various pieces of land until by 1929
their partnership included saw-milling, farming and gold-mining enterprises.
John fell deeply in love with Max and Nell’s daughter, Fey Nightingale. The couple
became engaged when she was only 17, finally getting married in 1930. It was very
wet year, coming straight after the driest year on record. This had resulted in 90% crop
failure for Kinangop farmers, although John’s surviving Fresian cows were milking well
and he was making and selling cheese. John’s partnership with Max came to an end,
but John and Fey settled down to farm their half of 4,500 acres that he and Max had
bought some time back off a man called Story. They called their farm Ndiara
John and Fey lived happily at Ndiara in a simple wattle and daub home with an earth
floor, nestled against the bamboo forest, although hard years lay ahead when the
sawmill business dried up and prices for cattle, potatoes and dairy products dropped.
They tried planting pyrethrum. In 1936 their new kitchen caught fire and the house
burned down. John and Fey only managed to save the silver and some furniture. But
they rebuilt, this time a stone house with a tin roof. By now they also had three children.
The Second World War took John away to the North Reconnaissance Regiment to fight
the Italians in Abyssinia, before being sent further afield. Fey ran the farm until John
finally came home in late 1942. By now there were resident Italian Prisoners of War
providing highly skilled labour. And so a Nairobi architect designed the Etheringtons’
dream home; steep roofed and with arched doorways, five-bedrooms and glass doors
into a long wood-floored living room with a wide fireplace, its mantelpiece made from a
single piece of stone. ‘In hindsight the house was too large,’ writes Etherington. Although
the house wasn’t finished until three years after the Italians departed, they’d already
done some attractive masonry work. And one had experimented with local red clay and
made roof tiles for the new house, a new local church and several other neighbouring
By the late 1940’s the Etheringtons had a flourishing farm including a dairy, pigs,
700-acres under food crops, a pyrethrum plantation and 11-acres of apples. By 1950
they were sending 200-gallons of milk a day to Nairobi. Fey was President of the East
African Women’s League and Jim was on the District Council, the Pyrethrum Board
and the Horticultural Co-operative Union. They could even afford a manager.
But this life wasn’t to last; Mau Mau started in 1952, its threat to white farmers initially
played down by Governor Sir Philip Mitchell when he visited John and Fey for lunch.
John then voiced his concerns to local MP, Humphrey Slade, who lived on North
Kinangop, visiting the Governor soon afterwards to persuade him to declare a State
of Emergency. He finally did and soon afterwards Ndiara began to suffer heavy stock
losses and nearby a settler family were murdered. John and Fey escaped the prevailing
fear and uncertainty to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
They’d invested so much on their farm and couldn’t believe it might all be over. In
1956 they went away again to look at Australia and New Zealand, although when they
returned Fey broke down - she couldn’t bear to leave her beloved Kenya. The following
year she was taken ill with polio and seven months later she dead. John, broken hearted
and uncertain what to do next, buried her at Njabini beside her grandparents and her
In mid-1960, in the Kenya Weekly News, Jack Lipscombe described Etherington’s farm
as “one of the most highly developed and successful farms in its locality” also praising its
“delightful double-story grey house set in one of the prettiest gardens in the Kinangop.
The Walled Garden
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