Martin Seth-Smith Diary 1912

Part of a diary written in 1912 by Martin Seth-Smith (Tony Seth-Smith's grandfather) on a visit to British East Africa to see his two sons Donald and Martin (referred to as M.P.) Seth-Smith, Tony's father and uncle.

interest. Sewells have no water except rain water and Njoro river - place only half a mile from railway line. Ventured to suggest that Sewell cultivate for wheat (say 10 acres) a little differently. No game on this farm - 500 working oxen kept - no sheep. On ride home (Sewell and wife also riding with us) an Airedale terrier chased and caught a young steinbuck.. Saw misguided youth seated on path, reading, 2 miles from Nakuru and surrounded by high grass. M.P. and Donald suggested a perfect bait for lion or leopard.

Saturday, March 2nd.
Stock sale in Nakuru. As much interested in buyers as in the stock. Stock was all breeds: pure natives - half- and quarter-bred Hereford and Shorthorn. Ankole cattle from Uganda - one very good male made 260 Rs. Young working oxen 45-65 Rs (local beef price ---). Met Goldfinch, an assistant game ranger, Naivasha Province (Headquarters to be moved from Naivasha to Nakuru as more central). Rode out with him to his house five miles distant to lunch. Saw his hounds and had a little hunt at 4 oclock - rode M.P.s pony, a very good one - took a toss - fumbled a swamp and generally enjoyed myself - first hunt was a hare which soon went to ground, then found a couple of reid buck, hunted one - hounds ran well, had to leave them running to get back to Nakuru before dark. Nakuru hotel bar a wild orgy after the sale - one 'Garland' the leader of the riot said not to be drunk only excited. Would have been called very drunk in England - somewhat amusing to see stout, elderly Dutchman (excited only) dancing to the music of gramophone playing some popular song. Left Nakuru 9 pm for Port Florence (Kisumu) and Entebbe and sent ponies and syces back to Nairobi. As to Goldfinch should think him unique in B.E.A. or anywhere else.

Sunday morning, March 3rd.
Arrived Port Florence 6.50 am - found good steamer - nice cabins - good breakfast. Left Port Florence 10.30 am. Hot, fine, still so far. Saw some good rubber plantations near Port Florence - good passage till 9.30 pm when we stopped for the night. Ho! a few found the motion a little too much to face dinner - self and M.P. feel alright. M.P. - 3 elephants Kavirondo Gulf about 20 mile swim - one turned back - two landed - one killed by natives at once - one turned so savage, now always attacks on sight. Species of buck here (bushbuck sort) Spekes Tragelephus lives on islands and eats water lilies, swims well (M.P.'s friend, Woodhouse, sent me to Ruaraka Hall a stick from Yala Swamp in the Kavirondo Gulf). Thunderstorms Sunday night, some mosquitos - mosquito nets on beds - steamboat comfortable.

Monday morning, March 4th.
Rainy morning. All islands here now uninhabited by reason sleeping sickness - 300,000 natives said to have died since 3 years ago of sleeping sickness- mosquito Glossina Palpalis or morsitans. Kavirondo natives were the victims - Government wanted to haul 3,000 Kavirondos down to Magadi Railway Syndicate but persuaded by Woodhouse not to as probably all district Nairobi to coast would get infected sleeping sickness. Costella, Station Master Nakuru, died from Bubonic plague originally brought by Indians and spread by fleas on rats - rats were in Station stores - stores all taken away, then rats spread everywhere (rats should have been killed in stores and stores left).
Climate of Lake today and scenery very similar Scotch Loch - floating islands - all islands very beautiful. A 2 mile radius on mainland from water edge cleared of human beings, a practically lost land to the world. The doctor (Carpenter) now on an island studying sleeping sickness. Arrived Entebbe about 12 o'clock. Leslie met us on pier and took us to lunch at Club - good building, well placed - excellent lunch - introduced us to one Martini, a Maltese. Entebbe (- - chair) hilly views glorious - rickshawed to hotel (late Government House) - Botanical gardens - coffee - cocoa - rubber (Para) Papau (tall - fruit top like melon). Called on Bertie Smith, a curio dealer, brother to Mrs Hooley of Cobham. Saw interesting collection and bought native drum - 2 flag baskets for home, gave M.P. and Donald baskets. M.P. gave me a stick. Rickshawed round Entebbe - saw sugar mill - process from growing sugar cane to the fnished sugar - good flavour - walked through gardens - luxuriance of everything past imagination - natives everywhere seemed most cheerful - do not pity the black brother in the least. Drove to cotton mills - manager a smart little fellow from Oldham. Cotton collected 80 miles radius. Tea at club with Leslie, walked to hotel and down to the shore till dinner. Saw native fisherman, living in cliff, no police to disturb him - weaver birds, bright yellow and very beautiful nests hanging from trees in cliff. Heard in Lake Ibis (glossy variety - laughs). Sacred Ibis - rare. In botanical gardens 'Citronella' or lemon grass - scented. Saw gourd bananas growing, also saw flower pots made from banana husks Papyrus edge of Lake makes Egyptian parchment. Leslie dined (full dress) at hotel with us. Lake view full moon in evening, exquisite. Found boat and slept.

Tuesday 5th.
Started daybreak for Kampala - arrived at pier 8 am. Rickshawed to Kampala town 7 miles uphill in 35 mins. 4 boys double rickshaw and 2 boys single. Boys' chants monotonous - endurance wonderful. Wonderful tree by pier full of weaver birds. Called on and lunched with F.A. Knowles, Provincial Commissioner - most hospitable - excellent lunch. Suggested for self safari shoot and trip down Nile via Gondokoro. Leslie joined us and rickshawed to museum, late the Lugard Fort. Specimens interesting: fish spears, robber's wooden mask, charms, 6-string harp, bracelets, shields, pipes. Old fort wall & ditch. (Kampala very hilly.) Visited site late cathedral on Namviembi Hill (Hill of Peace) burned down 18 months ago by lightning. Site now cleared for new cathedral to cost £20,000!! £10,000 from Europeans, £10,000 from natives (natives described by Missionaries as "willing workers", in reality under much pressure put by missionaries on native chiefs and looked on by them and their people as "a new tax" and want to know why!!!) Outlay very doubtful wisdom. Saw Bishop Hannington's tomb - killed by Buganda 1885 - also a Blencowe. Schools around and many Mission places, R.C. (Roman Catholic), C.M.S. (Church Missionary Society), and others - much confusion to poor native as to which is the right one. Saw European hospital built by Theo Walker in memory of his wife who visited here and died on return voyage after leaving Cape Town - beautiful building, well situated, and very well appointed (this, to me, money well spent and better than £20,000 cathedral). Saw Archdeacon Walker - many years in country. Walker Hospital to be opened Saturday next 9th March. Leslie most excellent guide and good fellow - said to be most popular man in Uganda. Went back to Knowles to tea. F.A. Knowles sent messages Colwood saw his trophies, parrot, monkeys, dogs and photographs. Could not, for want of time, go out to Leslie's place, Naganga, 3O miles from Kampala - only 2 miles from Lake and will presently use a local port (now disused) for his produce. Leslie has 2 estates of 640 acres 5 miles apart and will connect with telephone - said to be 2 best pieces land for coffee in Uganda. Said goodbye to Leslie and Knowles at his house 5.30 p.m. and rickshawed back to Kampala pier arriving back by 6.30 with same boys as in the morning. Endurance wonderful. Saw much beautiful luxurious growth - cotton - picked some, also elephant grass, 20 ft high, being cleared for building. Capt. Riddick of Nairobi and a Viscount Hornyold (H's father bought this and other titles) have bought land here. We saw house being built on clearing. Land uncleared, and with elephant grass still on, is best for purchase and planting.
At Kampala was to have met King Daudi, a minor King of Uganda, and have tea with him and his tutor Strudwick but poor Daudi was ill so to my disappointment did not meet and shake hands with Uganda Royalty. The Chief Regent, during the minority, is one Sir Apolo Kagwa K.C.M.G. Saw a dead hippo, just been shot and cut open, being dragged on shore by natives by Kampala pier - should say smelled and saw a hippo for I certainly smelled him long before I saw him. Fortunately it was after dinner. Saw at Kampala a blue-headed wagtail (very rare in England). Tangy is a Swahili, Ndolo Mukamba (plural Wakamba).
Books "Stigan-- Africa & Twilight - Tales Mrs Fisher - publisher Marshall".
Good coffee land can now only be bought from natives at 10 Rupees per acre - to clear (Leslie's figures) costs 10 Rs per acre. Rubber's cultivated. Para, the best, needs sunshine and moisture. Ceara good. James Martini, Manager "Mabira Forest Rubber Co" - "Landolphia elastica" also vine rubber in forest, not so valuable. Saw at Port Florence district Euphorbia candelabra used by Railway for boundary marks - much loved by elephants - sap very bad for eyes and cuts or bruises.

Wednesday morning, March 6th.
Left Kampala Pier at 5.30 am. Lake quite smooth, sky dull - cool - thunderstorm in the night - no animal life to be seen on islands or mainland. Prefer B.E.A. to Uganda to live in. Arrived Jinja 8.30 am. Excellent port - scenery not so fine as Entebbe or Kampala. Went ashore 4 pm, walked to Ripon Falls. Saw many large fish, 2 crocodiles (very big) - cormorants - Kavirondo cranes (the crests used to be used to decorate French Regiment helmets and cost up to £5 each). Saw man fishing and one trying to shoot crocodiles - no luck. Thought not much skill. Falls very fine and interesting and worth going all the way to see. Bought for M.P. a curio, a 6-stringed native-made banjo. Jinja is red soil similar to Makuyu. Saw native dhow - very few boats on lake - all canoes confiscated in sleeping sickness time. Saw fine glossy Ibis on the shore. The crickets and frogs on edge of lake very noisy at night - crickets sound like many small bells. Very little development round Jinja at present. The trade of Uganda increasing enormously. New cargo boats required. Jinja quay blocked with unmoved stock. Coffee, of course, booming and worth nearly £80 per ton. Everybody talking of planting coffee. Would do so myself if 30 years younger. Dined and slept on steamer in Jinja Harbour.

Thursday March 7th.
Left Jinja at 3.30 am. Thunderstorm as usual in the night - cool morning - lake glorious - passing many beautiful islands absolutely without human life - much rock and bold granite outline of hills. The present 2 boats are Winifred and Clement Hill. The first boat on this lake was the Sir William Mackinnon, founder of the B.E.A. Company about 16 years ago. It was carried up by porters from Mombasa and said to have cost £250 per ton for transport. Parts of this boat lay for 2 years about 40 miles out from Mombasa having been thrown down by porters.


  1. With Rifle & Hound in Ceylon
  2. Wild Beasts and their Ways by Samuel Baker
  3. Under the African Sun by Ausorge
  4. The Baganda by Hattersley
  5. The Great Rift Valley by Gregory.

4 pm having delightful passage across lake - very cool and sun bright. District south of Kavirondo Gulf thickly populated with many villages - very good grazing - many cattle - saw divers (birds) A sportsman? came aboard Kampala who had been poaching elephants in Uganda and been caught at it twice. First time a fine and a caution, second time fined 1500 RS = £100 or 3 months. Chose to do 3 months. Also had his guns confiscated. Deck cargo today cotton and chillies in bags. M.P. and self had comfortable sleep this afternoon on cotton bags. I, this morning, sat on chillies bag for half an hour by which time it proved a warm and stimulating seat. Due at Port Florence in an hour. Shall be sorry to leave the lake but delighted to have seen it and part of Uganda.
Arrived Port Florence 4 pm. Went ashore. Wired Con. at San Remo: "Returning Nairobi flourishing" Met Vereker of Lake Steamer Department. Very heavy thunderstorm 7 pm and very much rain in the night - dined and slept on board - Kisumu (Port Florence) not inviting - flat - very fertile - unhealthy. Kavirondo Gulf and port very shallow a tide of 18" daily caused by strong wind blowing into gulf from lake. Boats (1100-1000-900 tons) only allowed to draw 8'6".

Friday morning, March 8th.
Left Port Florence 7.30 am. Saw sausage trees, sacred to the Kavirondo, fruit used to ferment drink - Mimosa thorn, about 20 varieties. Yellow-bark one - fever wherever it grows - native superstition to pick a flower on starting on safari to prevent fever. If native meets a tortoise, he always spits on his back, places a little short grass there, and blesses him. Kibos Valley - best for rubber - many natives here. On Nandi Escarpment natives cultivate for food small millet called "Wimbi". Nandi and Kisi Escarpments to the south of Kibos Valley. Muhoroni Station scene of M.P's safari for diamonds (Clark) also Donald's purchase of 10,000 acres of land sold again for £250 unseen by him. Lake Victoria Nyanza has gone down 3 feet in 3-5 years. Natives say it will recover the whole of this next year. The first boat put on this lake, the Sir William Mackinnon, called after founder B.E.A., was 100 ft long and is now in dry dock at Port Florence being cut through the f-die and having 30 foot put on to lengthen it. This 30 foot, it is said, will be the only sound part in her.
Book: Tippu Tib, by Brode - Publisher Edward Arnold.
Mau Escarpment - grand highland scenery 8000 ft - forests for miles in Kedong Valley.

Helena Seth-Smith
Cambridge, England
Last updated: February 2006
Return to Seth-Smith Family Tree Homepage