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How an Irish couple lost their fortunes in Naivasha

The Original Fort House in Naivasha in the 1900s [File]

Naivasha, has, for some reason, been a playground for bad boys as well as millionaires and empire builders. This, too, was the border between Kenya and Uganda. One of the witnesses of this pioneering, John Boyes, offers some fantastic insights into that period.

When Boyes first arrived in Naivasha, 124 years ago, he was not riding on a train. Neither was he going to clear goods from the inland container depot. He was leading a caravan of emaciated donkeys and barefoot villagers to deliver supplies to the builders of the railway.

There was no love lost between the caravan leader and his porters as the latter had the tendency of disappearing into the bush, whenever there was an opportunity, abandoning their cargo. 

At the time Boyes arrived in 1898, some troops in Uganda had mutinied and this gave him the idea to start delivering supplies to government employees.

This was at a time all goods had to be carried by porters and each man was expected to carry a load weighing 27 kilogrammes on his head. This was quite costly because it was about 100 rupees for a load to be delivered to its destination.

The mutiny plunged the entire country into a state of disorder, making it difficult to access essential supplies.

Once Boyes had delivered his cargo, which mostly consisted of food supplies, and made profit, he lingered on in Naivasha. He was amazed that there were actually white traders running a store in such a dusty place.

He later wrote in his diaries and memoirs, King of the Wakikuyu that these traders, Mr and Mrs Walsh had started their trade in Zimbabwe among the Shona before migrating to Kenya.

“This couple had come to East Africa from Mashonaland, where Mrs Walsh had been the first white woman to enter the country, and had started by taking up the transport business, in which they had considerable experience, and Mrs Walsh took a man‟s share of the work, being the only white woman who ever ran transport in British East Africa,” Boyes wrote.

Their exploits however never made them wealthy because in spite of their many ventures their generosity, which Boyes described as open-handed hospitality and careless, happy-go-lucky Irish temperament, worked against them.

Boyes on the other hand was a profiteer. His thirst for profit and adventure made him defy an overzealous administrator who forbade him from venturing out of Naivasha, because doing so would be too risky and the government would not be held responsible if he were attacked or killed.