Putting faces to names

6 Jan

I’ve mentioned before that I’m keeping a glossary of every name mentioned by Maurice in his diary. It’s proving pretty exhausting recording them and looking them up, and most of them draw a blank and have probably disappeared into history. Before Christmas I didn’t have the internet in my new house for a good few weeks so I recorded my names as usual but have only just started researching the backlog. I’ve found a few interesting people to share with you.

Cara Buxton lived close to Maurice in Kenya, and he visited her frequently for tea. I’m still working through her family tree, it’s very complicated, but there are some fascinating characters. If I’m understanding correctly, Cara was probably Carolyn Gurney Buxton, born sometime before 1865 and died unmarried and childless in 1936. She was a cousin of Geoffrey Buxton who Maurice first traveled to Kenya with in 1920 and 1921, as well as Geoffrey’s sister Joan Buxton who married Maurice’s friend ‘Chops’ Ramsden. Interestingly, Cara, Geoffrey and Joan Buxton’s grandfather was a famous anti-slavery campaigner and is featured on our 5 pound note as the brother in law of the Quaker Elizabeth Fry. Maurice was close to the Buxton family, and they had similar aristocratic backgrounds. Having guided him and set him up in Kenya, Geoffrey died just two months after Maurice in 1958. Cara was quite an amazing lady, so I can see why she held Maurice’s attention. Even though she was a bit older, I like to think she might have made Maurice a nice wife as they had so much in common! In 1910 she walked from North Africa to Nairobi. In a time when most farms were owned and managed by men, Cara bought a coffee plantation in 1913 and managed it quite successfully. Her letters to her nephew (Desmond Buxton, who sold off the family seat of Catton in Norwich in the 1940s) documenting her time in Kenya are now at the Bodleian library and will be a very useful source for me. Phew, that was a bit complicated, I hope you’re still with me!

Catton Hall, now luxury flats!

Another story of an epic walker is that of Ewart Grogan, born the same year as Maurice in 1874 and died in 1967. He was the 14th of 21 children born to William Grogan, the Irish surveyor-general to the Duchy of Lancaster. His godfather was the Prime Minister Gladstone. He was expelled from school and university, and so when he met his sweetheart Gertrude Watt, her stepfather was not keen on the match. To prove himself, Grogan was the first man to walk the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo. He was 24 when he began, and reached Cairo in 1900, talking 2 1/2 years. He became a popular sensation and wrote a book about his travels, which I imagine would have been known to Maurice when he met him on board the SS Matiana from Mombasa to Marseilles in December 1930. Grogan was later known as the ‘Churchill of Kenya’, and was also a skilled big game hunter. I wonder if Maurice saw him as an equal or a rival?

Ewart Grogan

Another lady, because I like to prove that there were strong and interesting ladies among Maurice’s friends, was Lady McMillan, who Maurice sailed with several times between 1929-1930. Her husband, Lord William Northrop McMillan, was an American soldier that achieved the unlikely honour of being knighted in England. They settled in Kenya as early as 1901 and hosted president Roosevelt on his famous and very bloody safari on 1911. When Lord McMillan died in 1925, Lady McMillan established a library in Nairobi in his name, and continued her philanthropic work. She was a great friend of Karen Blixen, and bought much of her furniture when Blixen was forced to leave Kenya.

Lady McMillan

Now this is a bit of an unusual one! On November 4th 1927 Maurice was on the ship SS Moldova to Port Sudan, and in his usual practice he lists the passengers he interacts with on board. Maurice is notorious for striking up friendships with boys on his travels, and makes a point of listing all the ‘kiddies’ he meets. He mentions a Mr and Mrs Sharland, both actors, and their two boys David and Peter who are en route to Sydney. Annie Sharland was a celebrated stage actress, and Reginald Sharland had a successful career as a radio actor in Hollywood. However, more interesting to me at that time was their five year old son, David, who would later change his name to David Croft and produce many of my favourite TV sitcoms such as “‘Allo ‘Allo”, “Dads Army” and “Are you being served?”! 

David Croft, May 2011.jpg

David Croft, 1922-2011

Finding a few interesting people in my huge list of names always makes my research seem worthwhile!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: