Home' Travel News : April 2013 Contents 38 travel news April 2013
April 2013 travel news 39
The Long Legacy of Lord Delamere
by Juliet Barnes
in days gone by
There aren’t many Kenyan houses that have survived almost a century in one family’s
ownership. One such home belongs to Lord Delamere and his wife, The Lady Delamere,
overlooking Lake Elmenteita: a sight described by Elspeth Huxley as “...almost blinding
in the intensity of its beauty.”
A Kenyan citizen, today’s 5th Baron Delamere owns a significantly down-sized version
of his grandfather’s ranch. Largely encompassing dry, rocky and waterless land
adjacent to the alkaline lake, it’s unsuitable for agriculture and lacks minerals required
by livestock. But the lake is visited by vast numbers of waterfowl including flamingoes
and breeding pelicans and its surrounding forest and bush supports many wild animals,
some endangered. While continuing to produce prize-winning Boran cattle, it’s now a
wildlife conservancy, proudly part of a World Heritage Site. It’s name - Soysambu - is
Maa for layered rock, as well as a brindled cow colour.
Lord Delamere’s grandfather, 3rd Baron Delamere, born Hugh Cholmondeley, spent his
childhood in Cheshire at Vale Royal. A monastery built by Edward I in 1277 in the royal
forest of Delamere, favoured by kings for hunting, it became the Cholmondeley home in
1615. Young Hugh became 3rd Baron at the age of 17, after which he began travelling
the world. After developing an interest in sheep farming – and a simple life – in Australia,
many adventures later, he walked from Berbera in Somalia for 1,000 kms into what is
now Kenya, arriving in 1897. Two years later, he returned with his new wife, Florence
Cole, although he spared her the desert walk.
The Uganda Railway now reached the Nairobi swamp - although it took three days from
Mombasa as the train never ran after dark. After that they continued on foot. In 1900 a
bad bout of malaria drove them back to England, where their son Thomas was born. Two
years later they returned, leaving their young son behind. Delamere applied for farming
land, undeterred by a spinal injury incurred when his horse put its foot in a warthog hole.
His first application for land in Laikipia was refused on the grounds it was too far from
the railway. Next, Delamere tried to secure 100,000 acres running from the base of the
Aberdare Mountains down to Lake Naivasha. This was also turned down on the basis
that the Maasai might be affected.
However a 99-year lease was granted on unoccupied land near Njoro.
Delamere arrived at his new home, Equator Farm, on a stretcher. He lived in a grass hut,
later building a wooden one for Lady Delamere, doggedly experimenting with different
farming methods in the face of drought, disease and pests: trying sheep and cows, pigs,
various crops, wattle trees and oranges, even ostrich breeding, with many failures.
Eventually he did breed a rust-free strain of wheat, still called Equator wheat. Nakuru
was still merely a station and a few huts for railway employees, so in 1908 Delamere
built a hotel there. The same year he founded a mill, Unga Limited.
Soysambu began with Delamere’s purchase of 10,000 acres of entirely waterless land
as a refuge for his dying sheep. His Scottish shepherd crossed Merino sheep from New
Zealand with local breeds, while Delamere bought adjoining farms on the banks of a river.
By 1910, Delamere had moved into another doorless, windowless hut near Soysambu’s
sheep-shearing shed. He continued losing money and constantly borrowing. The soil
lacked cobalt and zinc, affecting cattle; meanwhile predators, especially lion, were a
threat. Diseases included the mineral deficiency called Nakuru-itis.
In 1911, Lady Delamere returned to England where she collapsed with a nervous
breakdown. Delamere continued his austere lifestyle, seldom varying his diet, sleeping
in a camp bed in his hut. Days began before dawn and evenings were spent talking to
local Maasai in his hut.
Finally Delamere built the first pipeline in East Africa, bringing water from the hills across
the driest reaches of the farm. Now they could build stores, dips and an office. Boy
Long, Delamere’s manager between 1912 and 1927, built the Manager’s house in 1913,
which he then occupied. Delamere, who didn’t believe in nice houses because 'you’d
waste time sitting in them', seemed to prefer his hut.
Lady Delamere returned to run Soysambu in 1914 when her husband became so ill
he had to go to England. Two days after his return she died, aged 36 - many said of
exhaustion. Delamere only married again much later in life, a much younger woman,
Gladys, who later became the Mayor of Nairobi.
Links Archive March 2013 May 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page