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How Nairobi suburb was named after a Malawi village

 The famous Chiromo house. [File, Standard]

While most Kenyan towns and city suburbs carry local names, there are several exceptions. Among them is Chiromo, whose fame has to do with Ewart Grogan, one of the most gregarious British settlers in Kenya.

Grogan had come to Africa for no serious earthly reason other than seek adventure. He had been egged on by the works of exotic adventure writers such as Rider Haggard including the 1882 classic, King Solomon's Mines.

He had also heard of the military exploits of Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company in Matabeleland and wanted to be part of the action. Grogan was just too happy to serve as a personal assistant to his war hero.

But as a man in his mid-20s, the love bug started to bite. Grogan embarked on a sea voyage to New Zealand where he fell in love with Gertrude Watt, a girl from a rich family. But Gertrude's stepfather was a bit cautious of the young thrill seeker, dismissing him as a 'useless fortune hunter' while telling the young man to prove his worth.

Grogan would not let Gertrude slip away and took up his future in-laws' challenge. He will be the first man to trek the whole of Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo. His unique adventure in the name of love is well documented in his book, From the Cape to Cairo: The First Traverse of Africa from South to North.

Grogan's story does not end with the trek and later marriage to Gertrude. On his way to Cairo in 1899, Grogan had described Nairobi as nothing more than a "tin-shack town." However, he would be back in Nairobi five years later where he bought over 100 acres of land near the Kirichwa and Nairobi rivers. With the help of an architect, H O Creswell, Grogan constructed Chiromo House. So famous was the house that it even had its own train station where guests would disembark.

Why Chiromo? Apparently, Chiromo is the name of a small village in Malawi where, reports have it that Grogan was attacked by village men on his way to Cairo, losing all his goods. Chiromo sat at the spot where two rivers, Ruo and Shire met. Interestingly, Grogan rarely used this house as he was always on the move.

He would later sell the house to Sir William Northrup McMillan in 1910 before it was donated to the government in 1958. McMillan elevated the status of the house even further by inviting notable personalities including former US President Theodore Roosevelt who was on a hunting trip with his son. Today, the house is a national monument and sits on land that belongs to the University of Nairobi's Chiromo campus.

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