The history of Soysambu spanning the last century is inseparable from the name Delamere: today’s successful farming methods were originally pioneered by the first Delamere to settle in Kenya, the third Baron: born Hugh Cholmondeley. An important character in Kenya’s past, Lord Delamere dedicated his foresight and British fortune to develop Kenya’s farm potential into one of the most efficient and prosperous in Africa.
A great adventurer, Delamere arrived in Kenya on foot after a 1000 mile walk from Somalia – and fell for the country. He returned to settle permanently in 1903 with his first wife Lady Florence, daughter of the Earl of Enniskillen, and their son Thomas, who was born in 1900. Their initial home was at Njoro, but in 1906- after suffering heavy losses of livestock and money – they moved much of the livestock to recently acquired land at Soysambu.
Soysambu means “the place of striated rock” in Maasai. Sambu is also the Maasai name for a cattle colour. The ranch was thus named because it seldom saw rain and cattle died by the hundreds in the frequent droughts. Delamere continued to sink vast sums of money into crop ventures at Njoro and livestock experiments at Soysambu, while also forging friendly relations with local Maasai and thus acquiring valuable knowledge and insights. Known to friends as “D”, Delamere was a controversial voice in settler politics, and reputedly an entertaining guest at parties. His bronze statue, once on the formerly named Delamere Avenue in Nairobi, is now on back on Soysambu beside the Delamere home where it looks pensively across the lake to the hill known as Delamere’s nose or The Sleeping Warrior.
Gwladys, former wife of Sir Charles Markham, first arrived in Kenya in 1928 to become the second wife to the third Baron Delamere. Thirty years younger than him she looked after him until his death in 1931. She later became Nairobi’s first lady Mayor and was highly respected for her work during the war.
Thomas, fourth Baron Delamere, was married first to Phyllis Montagu-Douglas-Scott, with whom he had two daughters and a son, and then to Mary Cunningham-Reid (sister of Edwina Mountbatten), before he married the colourful Diana (of “White Mischief” fame) in 1955: he was her fourth husband! The fourth Baron died in 1979, while Diana continued to live on Soysambu, pursuing her passion for horse-racing in Nairobi, and deep sea fishing in Kilifi – until she died in 1987. She is buried near Naivasha’s Crater Lake –between two of her husbands and two of Kenya’s former great landowners: Gilbert Colville and the fourth Baron Delamere. The other members of the Delamere family are buried on Soysambu in a peaceful Acacia glade, frequented by wild creatures.
Soysambu remains a working cattle ranch with some of the best Boran cattle in Kenya. The fifth Baron, today’s Lord Delamere, still farms on Soysambu with his grandsons. The son died last year.