Friday, May 22, 2009

The children of the Happy Valley

In 1956 Leo Hoyle, of the royal Irish Fusiliers, become the first European in Kenya to be sentenced to death for raping and murdering an African woman to ostensibly “ end her agony” of being kicked out of her house.
The decision was, however, reversed by the court of appeal which declared him “legally insane” and reduced the sentence to a few months in jail.
Lots of Kenyans are wondering why there is seething outrage over the light sentence recently passed on Tom Cholmondeley. It is because the history of justice in Kenya appears to have been tilted in pre-post independent Kenya. The recent case of Tom Gilbert Cholmondeley and the eight months he got should not come as a shock. It joins a long list of such cases that have escaped the attention of Kenyans.
August 18, 1960 remains an important date because that was the date when a small crowd of about 300 people gathered outside Nairobi Prison to witness the hanging of Peter Harold Poole—the first and only white to be hanged in both colonial and independent Kenya — for killing an African, Kamame Musunga for throwing stones at his dogs. The case had actually torn the nation down the middle and had to be decided by the Governor who actually refused to intervene and Mr Poole was hanged at 8am in Nairobi prison. Today, his papers signed by Prison Superintendent J. A Mkinney and Nairobi medical officer, Dr D.H Mackay lie in our archives as part of our history.
White settlers had tried to push Tom Mboya, then Kanu secretary for Nairobi, to organise Africans to petition the governor to exercise the prerogative of mercy on Mr Poole, but Mr Mboya knew the political dangers of such an attempt.
Hanging those days was supposed to be a statement and dramatic too. That is why two hours after Mr Poole was hanged a notice was posted at the prison gates reading: “The sentence to death passed on Peter Poole by the Supreme Court has been carried out at 8 O’clock.” That was history. Mr Poole had entered the annals of Kenya history by becoming the first white to be hanged for killing a black man.
Nothing indicates the level of different thoughts going through the white and black communities than two comments made that morning and captured by the newspaper journalists who covered the drama: “May courage be rewarded in Heaven!, shouted one white man. “Justice has been done!” shouted a black man who was promptly arrested by the prison wardens. But Poole was just unlucky! Others who had committed macabre murders had gotten away with light sentences. “Happy Valley” has always had its tales. It was in the Soysambu Farm that Third Baron Delamere threatened to shoot any trespasser— including government surveyors —who set foot on the property. In 1908, he had also led a protest to Government House to demand the resignation of Governor James Hayes Sander for “being pro-native”.
Look at the case of Col Ewart Grogan. He was charged with murder of two African rickshaw riders whom he flogged to death in front of a magistrate. He even chased Police Superintendent, a major Smith, as he tried to intervene. Despite this, the murder charge was reduced to “assault” and he got two months of hard labour which he spent sitting in a “prison” opposite the Norfolk Hotel. There was also the case of a settler named Harris who flogged a farm labourer to death in 1943 poured kerosene on him and torched him. Smith was released on a bail by a High Court judge and later fined Sh600.
There was also the case of Walter Wilkin was on February 13, 1964 charged with murdering 33-year-old butcher Mwangi Kamau by locking him in a box and suffocating him to death. Wilkin got away with a light sentence of six years passed by the Chief Justice Sir John Ainsley. Wilkin had in 1955 also shot dead a Mr Wallace Gitagia, but the state entered a nolle prosequi.In 1980, Kenyans watched as an US sailor Frank Sandstrom walked away to freedom after paying a bond of Sh500 to keep peace after he admitted killing Monica Njeri, a Mombasa prostitute.
The case caused an outrage in parliament as the Attorney General, James Karugu, said he was not satisfied with the verdict. By that time Sandstrom had bolted to freedom.
And now Kenyans have watched yet another man get a light sentence. The White Highlands may be no more, but the Happy Valley is for real.


Njoroge Matathia said...

Bwana Kamau... you do not have a contact so I will post this here:

This is an excellent piece that speaks to my research on 'Kenyanness' and such things. Would like to republish it on my site: The Black Campaign

Kindly contact me on:

blackcampaign AT theblackcampaign DoT org

Anonymous said...

very interesting...

i once read a book on the "happy valley" lifestyle,the kind of life they lived,they were like social outcasts banned from their own homes to a valley somewhere in kenya.absolute chaos!

David Cresswell said...

Ref Happy Valley comment by anonymous:

The Happy Valley set were not outcasts nor were they as a group banned from anywhere.

They were a loose social group of mainly upper class Britons who could afford a life of indolence and debauchery.

Some of them were, indeed,the errant and miscreant younger children of great families & were sent to the colonies to save embarrassment to their families and / or avoid prosecution at home in Britain.

But they represented no chaos as such. They were far too few in number to be any measure of a real problem to the governance and reputation of the Colony - except
#] in the imaginations of writers.
The HV set were racy, louche, indulgent & promiscuous with (occasionally)a bit of violence & the odd murder. And mainly all done on their own private property.

Despite their blue blood, wealth & connections, they were held in very low esteem by the bulk of European Society in Kenya and as an embarrassment to Britain.

The rich & the powerful did more or less as they pleased. As they still do today in modern society

David Cresswell said...

Ref: The murder of Kamawe Musunge & the hanging of Peter Poole -

Even after 50+ years, some attitudes will simply not change with some individuals.

Yesterday, on a FB page relating in the main to Kenya in the 'good old days', there was a thread started with a copy of a news report about the hanging of Peter Pool.

Considerable interest was shown. The discussion soon centered upon the executioners who seemed to have been well known and well liked characters.

General opinion was that the judgement and execution were correct and just. And this from a group of posters comprised entirely of white Kenyans & ex-Kenyans.
I must confess to being pleasantly surprised by that.

A little later, the topic was taken down by the poster with an explanation that it was because some of the Poole family were members of the site & might be upset by the discussion.

The 2nd response to that posting was (approximately) "Peter Poole was liked by everybody. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him".

And that is my example of attitude(s) that simply will not change.
The writer clearly does not regard the family & friends of Kamawe Musunge as pertinent to the affair. I am sure that at least a few of them would have had more than just a bad word to say about the murderer of their relative & friend.

Or, perhaps, for that writer, Africans simply do not exist. In much the same manner as I can well recall from my own observations of my own society in the Kenya of 1950s & 1960s.

But it is cheering to note that, the Cholmodeley's and their ilk aside, most ordinary white people connected with Kenya do seem have left the worst of the prejudice baggage behind them and are now mainly reasonable people in accord with contemporary mores and morals.