Lord Delamere: The pioneer dairy farmer

When Lord Delamere first set foot in Kenya in 1887 the Uganda Railways was just starting to be laid down and when he came back to acquire land for farming Nairobi –or what colonialists baptised “Tinville” because it was simply a tin shack- was beginning to take shape- at least by 1901.

It would seem that unlike many of his descendents, the Third Baron Delamere got along very well with his Maasai neighbours. So well, indeed, that fears were expressed among the contemporary white community that he might ‘go native’.

That Lord Delamere pioneered the dairy industry in 1905 has been one of the most repeated stories. He was also credited with experimenting with cross breeding, after importing a herd of exotic breeds for mating with local Boran cattle.

But from the word go the experiments at his Soysambu Farm went awfully wrong. For 29 years he struggled to build a farming enterprise along the shores of Elmenteita, rising at 4am and compromising his health as his health and wealth went. He started off by experimenting with sheep and poultry and by the time he realised he had made a mistake, a fortune estimated at 40,000 pounds had been squandered.

Many of the sheep perished as a result of the foot and mouth while Red water disease annihilated the cattle he had shipped from Australia.

Frustrated by bad luck Delamere mortgaged his property in Britain and decided to grow wheat in Njoro. But before he could harvest it was hit by rust! He had to spend the rest of his final years looking for a variety that could withstand rust.

But it was a meeting at his house in Kileleshwa that turned the Dairy industry into what it is today. In that house he met other farmers and they decided to form the Kenya Cooperative Creameries, which made sure that they locked Africans from selling milk to hotels and other households without passing through KCC.

It was this policy that persisted for many years until Independence when that policy was done away with.

For more than 30 years Delamere was the undisputed unofficial leader of both politics and agriculture and when he died in 1931 at the age of 61 he told the whites on his deathbed h: “Kenya cannot afford to give such a large proportion of her time to politics. Let us all (meaning whites) concentrate on getting on with our work and consolidate our economic position and leave political arguments (among ourselves) “.

By this time he had left unpaid bank loans that stood at 500,000 pounds.

As a member of the House of Lords he had got a loan that enabled him to buy and establish the Soysambu farm which then covered more than 200,000 acres. He also had farms in Laikipia, Naivasha, Nairobi where he displaced many locals who formed part of his labour force.

As a big spender he left his family almost bankrupt for he had sold the 15,000 acre estate at Chesire, Britain.

When his son, Thomas Pit Delamere inherited the title, as forth baron, in 1931 the National bank of India came asking for its 20 million pounds or else…

Thomas revived his father’s colonial dream –it was just that – and borrowed more cash to plough into farming and dairy projects. With beef exports to United Arab Emirates money started flowing back and the dairy industry was back on its foot.

Forth baron Delamere who still lives in the Soysambu farm, later became president of the Kenya national farmers Union, a colonial outfit of white settlers.

It was through this that he had stormed governors residence demanding an end to Mau mau terror.

It was not surprising during the Lancaster talks he became the chief adviser to the three European delegates and argued on retention of British citizenship even after independence. But Kenyatta would not hear of that. But he had the trust of two people: Jomo Kenyatta and his neighbour Bruce Mackenzie who owned a neighbouring Gongongeri Farm.

It was Delamere who organised white farmers to attend the Nakuru meeting in 1962 where Kenyatta made his famous “forgive and forget” speech. With that in August 1964 he took a Kenyan citizenship ending speculation he was about to leave. London had assured him that he would retain the title as long as Kenya remained within the commonwealth.

Today, the name Delamere is associated with the success of his farm in Naivasha. The Delamere Milk is one of the brands that came from that farm although it is today packaged by Brookside Dairies.

 

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