The shy governor who had no mercy on Mau Mau fighters

By Kenneth Kwama

Kenya: In June 1957, Kenya’s colonial governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, passed on a secret memorandum that had been written by Eric Griffiths Jones, who was the country’s Attorney General.

The memorandum described the abuse of Mau Mau detainees.

Although the contents of the dossier remained the subject of speculation for a long time, nobody came out to say exactly what it was about. It later emerged that the thrust was a cover letter by Baring asserting that inflicting “violent shock” was the only way to deal with Mau Mau insurgents.

It was handed to Alan Lennox Boyd, then British Secretary of State for the colonies together with the memorandum. Baring, who was more known for his love for imperial pomposities, later distinguished himself as a brutal fighter against the Mau Mau.

But it is a picture that greatly contrasts with the way Sir Baring was regarded by his peers. They largely saw him as shy and remote. Their views were reinforced by an obituary of his wife, Mary, Dowager Lady Howick of Glendale, which was published by The Telegraph in August 2002.

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“Notwithstanding Baring’s good looks and patrician ways, he was a shy man, who often seemed remote and distant to those who did not know him well, Molly Baring, whose own cleverness was seasoned with greater vivacity and dash, proved to be the perfect foil and helpmate,” wrote The Telegraph.

Baring’s wife, who died aged 95, was said to have turned down 28 marriage offers before accepting the proposal of Evelyn Baring – a match that would set her beside the man who helped the British to suppress Mau Mau. The service in Kenya was Baring’s last appointment in the empire and lasted from 1952 to 1959. His task was to confront what the colonialists referred to as “Mau-Mau terrorism”.

But even as they trusted him with the fight against the Mau Mau, the white settlers thought he was too liberal, while Africans found him too harsh, especially in the measures he took to repress the outrages.

Within Government House in Nairobi – the colonialist’s seat of power where Baring governed from – all remained calm.

“Sir Evelyn Baring is one of the most aristocratic aristocrats I have ever encountered,” wrote John Gunter in Inside Africa, “and the atmosphere is almost that of 18th-century England. People emerged down corridors as if they had just stepped out of antique frames.”

So rooted was Baring to his imperial ways that a man called Trevor Huddleston was invited from England to come and set up a private chapel so that the governor and his wife could receive Holy Communion every morning.

“There were sneers about ‘the last of the Viceroys’. Yet those who knew the Barings testify to the yells of delight, which Molly inspired in Government House. Sir Evelyn, too, showed his essential humanity when he almost died saving an Indian girl from drowning,” wrote The Telegraph.

The Barings left Kenya in 1959. He died in 1973 while his wife died in August 2002.

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Sir Evelyn Baring Mau Mau fighters