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Palace holds on to secret horrors, thrills a century later

NATIONAL
By Amos Kareithi | August 13th 2021
McMillan House [Courtesy]

A prison in a palace. Life is full of contradictions. And sometimes some of the world’s best secrets are hidden in plain sight. Nothing would give away the uninspiring bungalow with faded walls and unkempt compound in a country which is gaining notoriety for its opulence.

But this structure constructed in 1918 at the foothills of Ol Donyo Sabuk in Kilimambogo,  simply known as McMillan house is not an ordinary dwelling place. It is a contradiction of life for it has king-size bedrooms where real kings and princes once spent luxurious evenings devouring fine wine and soft music in good company. Moral decadence was in vogue and party animals had their days.

Underneath these lavishly furnished bedrooms, lounges and dining rooms, terrified prisoners fretted about their last days. These enemies of the British Empire were made to pay for their sins in the dungeons.

It is here that the Italian commander of the East Africa force; Duke Amadeo Overosta was made to cool his heels in underground cells after his capture when the British defeated the Italians during World War 2. He was imprisoned here and ultimately died in a cell in 1942.

Other novelties who visited the house in its heydays included the 26th US president, Theodore Roosevelt, former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and Colonial Governor Evelyn Baring. The cantankerous colonial settler, Ewart Grogan was known for superintending wild parties.

And on the grounds surrounding the house, naïve Africans whose military expertise was wielding their spears while their quivers full of poisoned arrows hanging from their backs prowled waiting to be conscripted into conventional armies.

It is on parts of the 40,000-acre estate that terrified natives were conscripted to the Kings Africa Rifles and were later dispatched to face the monstrous canons of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in far a war counties as the Second World War ranged in the 1940s. Many of those recruited here never returned home. Many were mowed by Hitler’s guns.

There has been speculation that other than establishing his headquarters here under the unassuming Ol Donyo Sambuk, William Northtrup McMillan, the philanthropic American millionaire who migrated to Kenya was more interested in the minerals underneath the ground.

Tests conducted on samples of ashes collected for tests by the Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology of the University of Nairobi in 2012 confirmed the presence of titanium, yttrium, zirconium, rubidium gallium and Niobium among other rare earth minerals.

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