Many of us forget that the British Empire was built, not so much by imperious and voracious conquerors but by administrators, planters, lawyers, policemen, doctors, clerics, businessmen, engineers, artisans and even, like Anthea Ramsay’s grandfather, accountants. How many of our forebears in pursuit, not of riches but of adventure, left the comfort of late Victorian middle-class drawing rooms to travel to faraway places, in search of a better and more interesting life? The answer: many. There is hardly a family in the land which did not have ancestors that sought to better themselves through service in Britain’s overseas dependencies. Through sheer hard work and perseverance these people and their descendants, examples of whom are sympathetically described in this work about life in Kenya during first half of the twentieth century, made an important contribution, often under trying and dangerous conditions, to the development of their adopted countries. Their names may be forgotten today but their legacies, eloquently described by the author in this book, in one form or another, live on.
by Hugh Tweed
I decided to go outside my normal genre this week and tackle something real. I traveled into the world of non-fiction. And wow, I’m so pleased I did!
The Forgotten Pioneer, A family Story set in East Africa by Anthea Ramsay had me frantically opening google maps and entering obscure places in the world’s second largest continent. It was so exciting to be suddenly living in East Africa. Well, I didn’t exactly go there personally, but you know what I mean.
The year is 1898 and the Authors grandfather, George Ernest Ramsay has just arrived in East Africa at the age of 22 to begin working as an accountant on the new railway line being built from Nairobi to Kenya. But I want to rewind a little here.
I found it fascinating how George ended up in this foreign place so far away from his home. I imagine him sitting in his living room in England, in front of a roaring open fire, reading the paper, and seeing the Government ad for the job in Africa. In my imagination he jumps up excitedly, runs to his bedroom, packs his board shorts, grabs his surf board and races to the docks. I could be wrong, but that’s how I see it. A courageous man who went head first into what his family called ‘Darkest Africa’. Back then there was no Netflix or google to show you what the world looked like.
George’s contract was for two years however, he would fall under Africa’s spell and spend the rest of his life there.
The early days of George’s life in East Africa were so incredibly difficult, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how he survived it. Battling illness’s like black fever, typhoid and malaria, as well as living in a tent fending off the abundance of dangerous wildlife. The odds were stacked against him, but he was a true survivor, a true pioneer.
His fiancé Alice Muriel Norman joined him four years later, and they were married within days of her arrival. if you ask me, she’s even braver than her husband. Imagine being a woman in those times and setting off alone on a journey across the world. What an amazing thing to do.
From this point on in the story I felt like I was no longer holding my breath. Life seemed to get a little easier. While it was still primitive in many ways, the Author manages to keep the romance alive, and you really feel a part of the exciting journey this newly married couple are undertaking. And with more new settlers arriving from the United Kingdom, a sense of community is building, a home away from home is being created by East Africa’s newest residents.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the quirkiness of some of the stories. The meshing together of the English upper-class aristocracy against the harsh African climate and landscape. To give you an idea of what I mean, the following are quotes of how packing crates were used with England's finest tableware and antiques:
‘Antique furniture and silver framed photographs...interspersed with upturned packing crates.’
‘meals were served in style using my grandmothers fine bone china and Georgian silver as they ate off their upturned packing crate.’
As I was reading I could literally see them sitting on their crates delicately balancing the expensive silverware and china. Honestly, brilliant, the English are fantastic. I just love them. No matter what, they will never compromise on proper etiquette and grooming. Good on them. Oh, if only more of us were like this.
But amidst the humor there were elements of sadness, and I thought the author balanced the light and shade well. The part on the Mau Mau rebellion was detailed enough to explain the extent of the horror. and I admit I did cringe through this part. I am not too familiar with the history of the Mau Mau Rebellion, however this story definitely left me wanting to learn more.
I also found aspects of the Authors childhood quite sad. I shed a tear when she described the treatment of her cruel nannies. And her parent’s high society life sometimes took time away from them spending it with her. I guess it's difficult to find the balance, and I’m sure in those times her parents must have felt the pressure of being such a prominent family in the area. Being part of a pioneering family wasn’t easy, and everyone had to make sacrifices. But wow, they certainly made up for it with their African adventure family holidays, they were sensational! I would have loved to have been on one of their bi-annual holidays.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it everyone. especially those who want a first-hand account of what it was like to grow up in Africa at this time. You cannot put a price on a real life experience told by someone who was actually there. These types of stories are so important, and should be documented more often, before they are lost forever.
I would like to thank the author Anthea Ramsay for taking the time to share her life with us. It’s not easy to write a book, and even more difficult to publish one. And when you read a book like this it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with what’s been written, it’s about realizing this is one person’s account, one person’s experiences, and one person’s views, so take what you want from it, and leave what you don’t.
Great job. I loved it. Five stars.
by Rhodes & Fox Manhattan
From considerable research to include treasured photographs and personal diaries, the author pieced together this heartwarming story that first took root with her grandparents'. Supporting the narrative along the way, a generous amount of photographs was sprinkled throughout. Faces emerged behind the prose adding luster to the storyline.
Leaving England in his wake, twenty-two-year-old George Ramsey made his debut into British East Africa. The year was 1898. He responded to an ad in a British newspaper placed by the government for an accountant to work a two-year stint in Africa. The opportunity sounded exciting and with no further ado he was on his way. This did not fare well with his fiancée, Alice. Tearfully, she told him she'd wait till his two-year contract was up. Time moved ever so slowly.
George had no idea what he was getting himself into. At first, he was not prepared for the hidden dangers that lurked around every bush and stream. Many unsuspecting lives were lost. Countless man-eating lions roamed freely. Extra caution would be necessary in order to survive the fearsome elements. To ensure his safety, learning the language and ways of the local tribes such as the Kikuyu and Maasai were top on the list. Lawlessness ruled the land.
Two years turned into four and Alice was finally able to reunite with her future husband, George. Back in the day as protocol would dictate, shortly after her arrival they were married. A romantic honeymoon had waited them in Nairobi.
At the time, the motorcar has not yet made its entrance into the ever-growing village, soon to be a bustling city. The only form of transportation available was by ox-wagons or zebra, when in Rome...
Working tirelessly, George watched his empire build as he first invested in real estate. Soon he attracted many hungry investors. Eventually his business prospered and split off into many subsidiaries. He was instrumental in seeing the Muthaiga Country Club built to the highest of specifications. It drew all the aristocrats and well-to-do from near and far.
The Ramsay's had two sons. The youngest was destined to become the author's father- Derek. Like his father before him, he fell in love with East Africa. Following in the family's footsteps, author Anthea Ramsay drew her first breath in East Africa and has fond memories of her childhood there as shown from beginning to end of this well-written biography.
by Paul Falk