Just where did Maurice have land?

13 Nov

I’ve just spent two days at the Museum Association Conference in Liverpool and was proud to be there representing Tatton Park. There were 800 attendees from various museums in the UK and it was nice to meet some new people, as well as catch up with some old friends from my Masters course. The highlight for me was the keynote speech by Lucy Worsley, the curator of the Historic Royal Palaces. I admit I can’t watch her TV shows (a bit cringe-worthy- I prefer substance to style when learning about history!) but in person she was so charming and charismatic that I came out of her talk feeling like her No1 fan! I want to BE this lady! I went to training sessions on managing volunteers, museum theft, the therapeutic museum and natural history collections. I’m very grateful to Museum Development North West for funding my place!

Lucy Worsley at the MA conference

I think I’ve had enough conferences in the past two months to last me for the year! So back to my research.

One thing I have been looking out for is reference to Maurice’s land and businesses abroad so I can understand the extent of his property ownership, the state of his finances and figure out just where he is in the world! So alongside my glossary of foreign language terms, animal types and a who’s who of people he met I’m also keeping a list of land purchases. This has turned out to be really interesting and has shown me just how consumed he was with extending his land holdings to rival the key players in the Empire.

We all know that Maurice’s main land holding in Kenya was at Njoro. Although he also had plots of land elsewhere, he made Njoro his main focus, perhaps because he saw the potential of the land, or perhaps because of it’s close proximity to Delamere’s land holdings and he wanted to benefit from his knowledge, and ultimately rival him as a landowner. He consistently lobbied other neighbours to sell him their land so he could extend his plot as one large area. In 1925 he spent two months convincing Hubert Buxton to swap 1000 acres of his land so that he could expand. in 1926 he bought Billy Sewell’s large estate nearby called Natai Emuin (Black Rhino) and added it to his Njoro land. This made it one formidable block of land! Disliking the name Natai Emuin, Maurice renamed the estate N’gata, meaning ‘plain’ in Swahili. He boasted that he paid his manager £2000 a year, the same as Delamere paid his agent, the infamous ‘Boy’ Long. This suggests to me that his estate was probably equal in size and importance to Delamere’s to justify such a high wage for a manager.

Maurice also had a plot of land at Nanyuki, near Kalalu, noted as farm 889. I believe that this must have been allocated to him in the 1919 soldier settlement scheme. After WW1, ex servicemen could apply for 2 million acres of land in Kenya divided into plots under a lottery system. They listed their preferences in order, and if their name was selected then they were allocated the highest plot still available on their list. One job I must get round to is tracking down a copy of who was allocated plots, which I think will have to come from the records office at Kew.

In 1923 Maurice bought Butterfield’s coffee shamba at Jamji for £10,000. As usual he had his greedy eye on his neighbour’s plots so he could extend. In 1925 he added another 140 acres from a syndicate-owned plot next door, paying £500. He also added 1000 acres from Commander Coke’s shamba which made Jamji “a very fine and compact shamba” where he grew and processed tea.

But of course this still wasn’t enough land for Maurice. In 1925 he commissioned men to buy him 3000 acres for tobacco and 9000 acres for coffee in Tanganyika. He called his new farm Ndembera. In 1926 he acquired more land in Tanzania, purchasing Billinge’s Ifunda farm at Iringa.

My glossary currently ends with the 1926 purchase of Trevor Sheen’s land at Ngongogeri for £20,000, which must have been another sizeable chunk of land. Although I don’t expect this to be the end of my glossary by a mile, it’s obvious that Maurice worked very hard to establish himself as a large and powerful land owner in Kenya in the early 1920s. It’s almost with the glee of a child that he jumps into acquiring more and more land, but it is also slightly sinister that he was able to use his wealth and position to almost bully others into doing business with him. Like with his collecting, Maurice seems to be easily led and persuaded that land is worthy of acquisition and a good price, and is a bit naive about trusting the advice of others in such important matters. I haven’t even mentioned the elephant in the room in this story- the fact that British men were able to carve up Africa for purchase has always sat uneasily with me.

I wonder if Maurice’s land buying momentum will continue into the 1930s or if his bank manager ‘got wise’ and decided to close his purse. I will have to keep reading the diaries to find out!

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