Odhiambo Levin Opiyo·


The photo of Kisumu Post Office in 1909.

Before Retired US president Theodore Roosevelt visited the town in Dec 1909, he was requested to visit Kisumu native market during his tour,since he would find it interesting to watch" hundreds of naked men and women engaged in barter trade."

"The foodstuffs at the market are not always of the best and at times the odors are almost unbearable," he was advised .

He was ,however, warned of Kisumu's two curses "the sleeping sickness and the bubonic plague."





By W. ROBERT FORAN “A little one-eyed, blinking sort o' place."
Thos. Hardy : Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

KISUMU, then known as Port Florence, was born at the turn of this century. Like Nairobi, it was a child of the Uganda Railway. The railhead reached it on the shore of Usoga Bay in the Kavirondo Gulf of Lake Victoria on December 20, 1901. But even before then there had been est­ablished shipbuilding yards and the launch Mackinnon, after its various component parts had been carried by porters from the coast, was rebuilt and launched from those shipbuilding yards. This was a Homeric performance, indeed!


The Clement Hill, Winifred, Sybil and Nyanza—their parts conveyed on the new railway from Mombasa to Kisumu—were re-constructed and launched there not long afterwards.

Vastly different


The place was destined to become the headquarters of the Kisumu (now Nyanza) Province. Until April 1, 1902, what are now the Nyanza and Rift Valley Provinces were part of the Uganda Protectorate, and had been so from 1893 when the Foreign Office proclaimed a Protectorate over Uganda and British East Africa. The headquarters of the Assistant Commissioner were at Eldama Ravine. The headquarters of the Nyanza Province were sited at Kisumu and that of the Naivasha Province at Naivasha on April 1, 1902, each being under its own Provincial Commissioner.


The Uganda Railway Police became am­algamated with the newly formed B.E.A. Police in the middle of 1904, and for some years to follow there ceased to be an in­dividual Railway Police Force. Having joined the new B.E.A. Police on May 15, 1904, and posted in charge of the Nairobi police station, I was transferred to Kisumu on October 15 of that year. Thus, my memories of the early stages of Kisumu go back for nearly 55 years.


The Town is a vastly different place to what it appeared between 1904 and 1929; and when there last in 1953 it was almost impo­ssible to credit the evidence of my eyes. From a small, crude and pioneer town “out in the blue” it had been immensely develo­ped,

improved and enlarged until its citizens can proudly echo the words of Rudyard Kipling’s The Seven Seas: “Of no mean city am I”! Indeed, the passage of the years has made Kisumu a large, important and prosperous centre in Kenya Colony.


In October, 1904, when I first arrived there it was no more than a shanty village of mushroom growth; and Hardy’s lines aptly describe how it struck me at first sight. The years that followed did little enough to cause a revision of my first impressions. No hotel existed: only the Railway’s Dak bungalow on the shore of the lake behind the railway station.


The railway station was of corrugated iron with a single platform, unroofed and open to the powerful sun’s glare, and sited close to the shore of the lake not far from the Indian bazaar and pier for the lake steamers to berth alongside. It has since been replaced by a much better building and roofed platform. The Dak bangalow still existed in 1929, but later was demolished as it had become redundant after the Kisumu Hotel was built to accommodate casual visitors or those arriving and departing by the lake steamers.

Single street


The Indian bazaar had a single street lined by iron shanties on either side, where the Indian traders carried on business. I doubt if there were more than 20 dukas then; but in 1956 the Asian population totalled between 10,000 and 10,500. Trade was mostly with the Kavirondo (now Luo) people. They—men, women and children— were nudists and still so when I passed through in 1929.


Close to the Indian bazaar, but beyond the police station and beside the open-air market-place, was the wood-and-iron home and trading-store of P. H. Clarke, the only European business at Kisumu. His partner was A. K. Milliken. This partnership was dissolved shortly afterwards; and then Clarke was joined by a nephew, F. H. Clarke, who was later with the Game De­partment and is now farming near Nakuru- Still later P. H. Clarke acquired the flouri.


shing business of Boustead Brothers, owners of the Mombasa Club, at Mombasa and changed the name of the firm to Boustead and Clarke.

Clarke and Milliken were energetic, popular with everyone, and richly deserved the degree of success in business attained by them. From about 1902 to 1907 Clarke officiated as the Town Clerk of Kisumu, when succeeded by H. Hartley (later the famous author Talbot Munday in America) but he remained for a few months before going off to India. Hartley was succeeded in 1907 by Francis Hayes-Corbet, who had served under me at Nairobi as a sergeant of the newly-formed European Mounted Police. P. H. Clarke died at Mombasa in 1935. His name will always be remem­bered at Kisumu, for he did much to foster its early development.


In 1908, when all were present in Kisumu, the total European population never exceeded 20; and until 1905 all were bachelors, so no white woman was to be found there. The first was Mrs. Bruce, the bride of Chief Officer Bruce of the Winifred; and she was followed in 1907 by Mrs. Dolly Stedman, wife of J. H. H. Stedman, the Public Works Executive Engineer.


The then (1905) Provincial Commissioner, Stephen Salisbury Bagge, had decreed that Kisumu was far too unhealthy for married officers, and women would only upset the small community’s peaceful life. The arrival of Mrs. Bruce aroused his ire. He stormily threatened to have them both transferred elsewhere, but I pointed out that a sailor serving on a lake steamer must remain with his ship and could not be moved to a land job. He then accepted the situation with good grace.


The only sources of social gaiety and recreation available were the tennis courts and Nyanza Club—the latter built by the Uganda Railway for use of its officers. The Railway Institute, on the lake shore near the shipbuilding yards, had a sports ground where cricket was sometimes played, but the surface being like iron was not con­ducive to high scores. On such hard ground games of rugby, soccer or hockey were ruled out. Concerts and dances were always staged at the more spacious Railway In­stitute, but they were few and far between.


Cheerful spot


The Nyanza Club was a small, ungainly, corrugated-iron building containing but three rooms—a small library and reading-room, the central portion a billiard room, and the other a card room. No other facilities existed. It was always a cheerful spot after sundown, the more so when one of the lake steamers happened to be in port. The ships’ officers brought new life to the jaded nerves of residents and considerably en­livened things.


The Club had no bar. Each member kept his own supply of drinks in a locker, the keys being held by the Goanese steward. Soda water could be obtained on chits from the steward and accounts settled monthly by cheque, there being a great difficulty in procuring currency as no bank existed in Kisumu.


The engineer in charge of the shipbuilding yards was Richard Grant. He was a nephew of Captain J. A. Grant, the com­panion of John Hanning Speke on his journeys to discover the source of the Nile in 1862. For a number of years he lived at Kisumu, built and launched ships, and carried out all repair or renovation work for the Marine Service. The Resident Engineer of the Railway at Kisumu was Mr. Sydney Couper when I arrived in 1904; and he was still there when I was transferred to Mombasa a year later.


Bubonic plague periodically occurred at Kisumu, and there was a severe outbreak of this disease in 1905 which caused many deaths among the Asian and African commu­nities. Only by the most strenuous efforts was the outbreak conquered. The Medical Officer, Dr. J. A. Haran, imposed the strictest possible quarantine and the Police enforced this without fear or favour.


To inspect works


The daily average of deaths amounted to 30 Asians or Africans. All the dead were cremated or buried in rear of the prison on the Hill, and this site is now occupied by a large Asian residential estate. It was six weeks before the quarantine restrictions were eased.


The Manager of the Railway, Mr. H. A.

  1. Currie, arrived by train from Nairobi to inspect some new works at the port and the African constable on duty at the pier gates refused to let him pass through them in accordance with the quarantine regulations. Currie insisted. I was called and refused to permit it, warning him that if he went on the pier it would not be possible to come out again until the quarantine period ended. In spite of this, he insisted on going through the gates to carry out his inspections.
  2.  I refused to let him pass through the gates to rejoin his train to Nairobi, and threatened to arrest him if he infringed the quarantine rules. Dr. Haran kept him there for five days, while he was forced to live on a steamer alongside the pier until a blood test showed him to be free of infection.

Although there is now a flourishing Yacht Club, in my time the only yacht was owned and sailed by Captain J. A. Gray, the commander of the Sybil. If in 1908 the total European population was no more than 20, in 1956 it was estimated that it consisted of from 600 to 650; and it has steadily increased since then.


Another scare at Kisumu in 1907 was an outbreak of smallpox on a lake steamer. Only one man of the crew had been stricken with the disease, but it was decided to quarantine Commander C. B. Blencowe, Chief Officer A. R. Vereker, and all members of the crew on an uninhabited island in the Kavirondo Gulf some miles from Kisumu.

Up to his neck


They were landed on the island with camp­ing outfits, stores and ample provisions; also a stock of cattle, sheep, goats, fowls, and a few cows in milk. They were supplied with a helio to communicate from this barren island with Kisumu. Crocodiles played havoc with the livestock. Then a careless African sailor ignited the grass and all the grazing was destroyed.


Blencowe, wandering over the island, discovered a bees nest and fired his rifle into it to drive away the bees so that he could harvest the honey. The angry bees pursued him to the water’s edge. He had to stand in the water up to his neck to escape their enraged attacks and risk being devoured by a crocodile. He was kept there until sunset.


Next day he heliographed to Kisumu a report of their predicament, but the reply was a curt order to remain on the island until the quarantine period ended. For some months afterwards it was rash to mention bees or smallpox in the hearing of Blencowe or Vereker.


In mid-July, 1908, I went on long leave and did not return to East Africa until early April, 1909. I was then no longer an officer of the B.E.A. Police but special correspondent of The Associated Press of America with ex-President Theodore Roosevelt’s African safari (1909-10). Three times in that year I passed through Kisumu on my way to or from Uganda, and found the place but little changed for the better.


Of all the many stations in Kenya at which I was posted for duty from 1904 to 1908, I liked best the two years spent at Kisumu 1904-05 and 1907-08).


Kisumu City, Kenya
Click below



Photos below courtesy of Rajni Shah and others


ROYAL AIR FORCE KISUMU WITH ITS SERIES OF CRASHES .....By Odhiambo Levin Opiyo Odhiambo Levin Opiyo



Royal Air force Kisumu was formed in Nov 1942 and was operationally and administratively controlled by Air Headquaters East Africa which was a command of the British Royal Airforce.


The first officer to assume the command of the new station was S/Ldr(squadron Leader) W.A Daust who was posted at the station on the 8th Dec 1942.


The station played a critical role during world war ll ,acting as a staging camp where British soldiers and equipments were prepared before military activities ,as a flying boat Repair station where flying boats of No 206 Royal Airforce carrying out maritime patrol in the Indian ocean were repaired and also as a military personnel transit centre.


However weeks after its formation the station was faced with a series of crashes partly because of the Royal Air Force pilots infamiliarity with flying in the area and also the strong winds from the Lake,


Although the locals also believed the crashes were being caused by the gods of the Lake who were not happy with the new facility.


The first crash was on the 23rd Nov 1942 just two weeks after the station had been formed ,when a Blenheim Z7679 from the fleet of No 70 C.T.C crashed 5 miles from Kisumu Killing a crew of four,.


They were: Sergeant Sinclair R.A pilot,Pilot officer D.E Button Observer,Sergeant Everet.H.J ,Fligh Sergeant Thomas L.Senior Observer..All the crew were buried in Kisumu Cemetry with service honours.


Three weeks later on the 19th of Dec 1942 a Lockheed .K248 took off from the station at 05.05 hours and crashed in Lake Victoria approximately 05.10hrs , killing a total of 12 which included the crew and senior Military officers among them Major General D. Pienaar a South African World war ll commander.


Despite the crash site being Just metres from the station it took Royal Air Force six hours to locate it .


The first Aircraft to carry out the search was a Baltimore AB 18c which took off at 06.45 hours but returned three hours later without a trace of the wreckage ,A Leopard Moth took off at 10.00hrs to conduct another search this it managed to locate the wreckage on bearing 215 degrees south from the hanger.


It is interesting how the British were so concerned with Salvaging the secret documents which were in possession of the dead officers from the Lake than the recovery of bodies.


While the documents were salvaged on the same day it took another two days to recover the bodies.The first 10 bodies were recovered on the 21st of Dec 1942 and the last two bodies on the 22nd Dec 1942.


All the bodies were flown in two lockheed aircrafts to South Africa from Kisumu on the 23rd of Dec 1942 ,with the third Aircraft carrying the salvaged documents also departing on the same day in the evening .A memorial service for the victims of the Lockheed was held in Kisumu church at 17:00 after the bodies had departed.


The last recorded crash was on 4th January 1943 when a Baltimore crashes South West of Kisumu ,although this wasn’t as fatal as the other two ,all the screw escaped uninjured except for Sgt Hoyle .M who broke his leg.


Royal Air Force Kisumu was closed after world war ll and the facility opened to civilian use.

Oginga Odinga Road, Nyanza Cinema was along that street, belonged to an Ismaili family called the Bhanji's, Gullu and Hassanali Bhanji two brothers who were so friendly and so warm. Kenview Cinema also belonged to the Bhanji family and was also situated in this white building in earlier periods (Bookshop/Chapel), this row of shops is opposite the Main Post Office.

Odhiambo Levin Opiyo...

Kisumu Market (Jubilee Market) 
It was established around the time King George V celebrated his silver Jubilee. How Kisumu Municipal Market has evolved over the years.


Most Luos still call it with its original name "chiro mbero".

"Chiro" is Market and "Mbero" a small stool.

Kisumu- Kisuma - Okhusuma (luhya for to trade) Its close to Luhya, also luo for 'why don't you trade me this and that'. 


By Odhiambo Levin Opiyo


Victoria Nyanza Sugar Company later, Miwani  sugar company, was the largest sugar mill in East Africa in terms of production and also the oldest in Kenya.

It was established by the Hindochas in 1922.

In 1942 the company had over 9000 acres of land under cane on its two estates at Miwani and Chemelil.

The trucks carrying the cut cane to the factory were drawn by oxen over temporary railway lines in the fields, before they were loaded onto diesel trains operating on permanent railway lines.

Its milling plant had four sets of 4 by 6 mills preceded by a pre-crusher and had a capacity of 35 tons per hour.

The sugarcane juice was passed through different processes of purification and crystallization before it reached the drying machine and then to the bagging station.

The finished product which was ready for export contained 99.5% pure sugar .

By 1960 the total number of Africans working at the factory stood at 4000 ,many of them were Luos from the surrounding Central Nyanza reserve ,and about 1500 other Africans from further afield who were employed on contracts .

To cater for educational needs of children of its Asian staff, it set up Miwani Estate Asian primary school which had around 200 Asian children.

After independence the company was acquired by the government as part of the Africanization programme. It collapsed and closed down its operations in late 1990s. 


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