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Francis Hall: Born in India, Built a Fort at Mbiri, Now Murang'a Town in Kenya

Emmanuel is from Nairobi, Kenya and loves researching its history. He is also an artist and likes to share what he knows with others.

British East Africa Proctecorate


Early Life of Francis Hall

Francis Hall was born at Sangor, India in October 1860. Around this time, traders, missionaries and slave trade abolitionists were beginning to pay attention to East Africa. About 20 years earlier, Ludwig Krapf had made contacts with the Kamba and ventured in the interior as far as present day Kitui. Having sighted the snow covered Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro, Krapf proceeded to establish the first Christian Mission at Rabai on the Kenyan coast. Other Christian missionaries were not to be left behind, paving the way for Europe’s colonists in the ‘Scramble for Africa.

Francis Hall was the third son of Colonel Edward Hall of the 52 Bengal Native infantry. Upon completion of his education, Hall tried his hand as a clerk in the Bank of England, which he found to be “unrewarding and irksome.” Perhaps his father’s tales of life in the Bengal Native infantry had made an impression on the young man. Hall resigned and went to South Africa with the intention of making a fortune. In the course of his stay there he tried the following occupations:

· Shipping Clerk

· Assistant School master

· Shop keeper

· Farmer

· Assistant to an attorney

· Cab driver

· Prospector of minerals

In between the above occupations, he joined campaigns against Africans, then called Kaffirs, in Basutoland (today's Lesotho) and Bechuanaland, the areas occupied by the Tswana of South Africa. In spite of all the above occupations, Hall did not make a fortune and returned home for a short stint. In the eyes of many of his countrymen, he had gained a lot of experience in dealing with Africans.

The Imperial British East Africa Company

Francis Hall decided to give Africa another chance and probably make a fortune this time round. In 1892, at the age of 32, Hall sailed to Mombasa as a Junior officer in the Imperial British East African Company. In those days, one walked all the way from Mombasa on the Uganda road to Forth Smith, or Machakos, the only areas in control of the IBEA.

The IBEA Company had identified a place at the border between the Kikuyu and Maasai tribes that was ideal for supplying the Uganda road with farm produce from Kikuyu farmers. The place that was first selected by Captain Lugard was abandoned for Dagoretti or Kiawariua but the entire area was generally referred to as simply Kikuyu. Following constant friction between the administrators of the Fort with the Kikuyu, the Fort was razed to the ground by the Kikuyu. Eventually the Fort was rebuilt and renamed Fort Smith, after the officer of IBEA in whose watch it was strengthened.

Snobbish Hall

Hall is described as a snob who did not think much of his superiors at IBEA. He looked at the missionaries with even more disdain. About the women of the Church Missionary Society, hall thought their sole purpose was to ensnare hard working administrators. Hall referred to another missionary as “the raving Lunatic in the missionary trade.”

Hall was no doubt a brave man. He carried out punitive expeditions without regard to personal safety, following zigzagging tracks, In the constant danger of poisoned arrows and pits with sharpened stakes.

Hall claimed that in one punitive raid, after a shower of poisoned arrows, one narrowly missed his head, and another one came to rest between his legs. These narrow escapes earned him much respect among his own men and even his antagonists the Kikuyu.

Hall at Fort Smith

Hall arrived at Fort Smith in October of 1892 when a punitive raid had been organized against the Ruguru Kikuyu. This is the section of the Kikuyu that had been warned of the raid by Waiyaki, and subsequently caused his exile to the coast, after Waiyaki had confronted Purkiss. For more on this episode, read the hub onChief Waiyaki wa Hinga of the Kikuyu and another one on Chief Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu of the Kikuyu. The major reason for Kikuyu disaffection with the fort was that the porters, servants and soldiers had been looting Kikuyu farms and harassing Kikuyu women. The death of Waiyaki was no doubt a turning point and Forth Smith was besieged by the Kikuyu for 6 days.

For a man that had been campaigning against Africans in South Africa, Fort Smith was a befitting introduction to the politics that were just emerging in Kikuyu. After the deportation of Waiyaki and his death under mysterious circumstances at Kibwezi, Purkiss was transferred to Uganda, leaving the running of Fort Smith to Francis Hall. Hall was to carry out many punitive expeditions of his own, some at the behest of his friendly, Chief Kinyanjui, against Kikuyu sections that had crossed his path.

Hall’s Distaste for Slavery

Francis Hall is the only writer on the Kikuyu who has claimed that “some form of slavery were endemic throughout Kikuyu country.” L. S. B Leakey explains that the Kikuyu and Maasai had a tradition where some members of one group, mostly the Maasai during famines, could hand over their children to foster parents in exchange for food. The parents of the children would be certain that their children would be well treated and would not die of hunger. According to Leakey, such children were treated like the other children of the home that had adopted them. Furthermore, should fortunes turn for the real parents, they could come with some payment, which Leakey has called a ransom, and claim their children. This must have seemed like slavery to Hall. During the famine of the 1890’s, Hall ordered the lashing in public of some Maasai who had sold children in that manner to the Kikuyu.

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The Kikuyu also recognised squatters, then called ‘Ahoi,’ who were landless Kikuyu. This Ahoi would be given land on which to build by a rich Kikuyu family in exchange for labour. However when the son of such a squatter family needed to marry, the rich landlord would give him the necessary bride price as though he were his real son. It is remarkable that Hall, in spite of the years he spent among the Kikuyu, did not understand their culture as well as he should have.

In every society there are elements who go against the grain and the Kikuyu are no exception. It would appear that some enterprising among them did take advantage of the Kamba trade in slaves. In 1894, Hall led a patrol to intercept Kamba slavers who had bought slaves from some Kikuyu. The Kamba managed to cross the Athi before it flooded but Hall and his party were not so lucky. They however managed to intercept the Kikuyu party, who speared their ill gotten goats when they realized that they had been cornered. They probably also realized that the Government party was really after the goats and not the punishment of the crime.

Peace is Always Better Than War

Fighting must have been tiring at times, even with superior weaponry, and it was only natural that Hall should desire some peace as a break. Hall attempted Blood Brotherhood oaths with the Kikuyu in which the two parties partook sheep’s liver, kidneys and other parts to no avail. Leakey, in his treatise on The Southern Kikuyu Vol. 1, details why the oath would not have resulted in lasting peace. It was simply not in the manner that the Kikuyu and the Maasai had devised to

make peace. It was a foreign ingenuity, probably connived by the Swahili and Arabs and could not have been binding to the Kikuyu who had their own custom. Hall was, needless to say, perplexed that peace did not prevail, in spite of the oaths being carried out a record 25 times. Hall, in a moment of despair was to later say that “the only way to improve the Kikuyu is to wipe them out.”

Halls Misfortunes with Wild Animals

Around the time after Hall’s pursuit of Akamba slavers, he was tossed in the air by a rhino, badly injuring his thigh. The attack was so vicious that his laced boot was completely torn away from his foot. The victorious beast then rested its foot on his chest and broke two ribs. Hall was carried for 13 miles on a camp bed to Fort Smith. Having left him in the safety of the Fort where he could self-medicate, his servants covered 71 miles in 38 hours in a rush to Machakos for a doctor.

In March of 1895, Hall was out to exercise his foot and do some hunting. Luck was not on his side again when he shot and wounded a leopard. The wounded beast leaped at him with full force, giving him no time to reload. He tried to stop the force with his gun but the cat got to him anyway. Man and beast struggled for a while, but the beast lost when Hall’s party managed to finishi off the animal. Hall’s knee had been badly damaged and he had to be carried back to the fort where he remained for two months teetering between life and death. When he had recovered sufficiently to travel to the coast for further medication, he was carried on a bamboo stretcher by twenty men for the 350 miles that were covered in 19 days. On arrival, a Dr. Macdonald treated him for bedsores beside the swollen knee after which Hall proceeded to England to recuperate.

In Hall’s absence from the Fort Smith, the Maasai wiped out a party of Kikuyu and Swahili porters at a place called Kedong The dead included a trader by the name Andrew Derrick who had attempted to carry out a punitive raid in revenge. However, Ainsworth, Chief Lenana of the Maasai and Chief Kinyanjui of the Kikuyu are said to have prevailed against their own people from engaging in a full scale war.

The Enterprise of Punitive Expeditions

In the seven years that Hall was in charge of Fort Smith, twelve punitive expeditions were carried out with friendly chiefs contributing warriors to Hall’s company. The friendly chiefs were motivated by the ‘war booty’ which was shared out at the end of the excursion. Ten of these punitive expeditions were carried out in the first two years with a casualty of 150 dead Kikuyu and the impounding of 500 cattle and 18,000 sheep and goats. The low casualties were not due to Hall’s magnanimity. It should be remembered that since the times of Waiyaki, these expeditions were always anticipated through messages by Kikuyu runners and most animals hidden.

As can be seen by the staggering number of sheep and goats that were confiscated, not all of Hall’s Punitive expeditions were driven by a desire for peace. The following extracts from his diaries suggest that fun and adventure were not too far off.

In one expedition in 1894 Hall carried out an expedition with a 100 Swahili with snider rifles, 120 Maasai, and 65 friendly Kikuyu. After losing four men to the cold, Hall was undeterred

“We soon set to work, lit up a kraal and got the men warm again... we made a mess of all their villages and, as the other column was working about two miles off, the natives had a warm time, but they wouldn’t stand, so I had no chance of trying my war-rockets...I had no fun for a long time...we brought in 1, 100 goats and loads of grain...but we didn’t manage to do much execution as the brutes wouldn’t stand.”

Matson, writing in the Kenya Historical Biographies, claims that Hall’s raids did not leave the Fort until the offenders were warned to either return stolen property or hand over suspects. The excerpt above would appear to disprove that opinion. Why then was Hall surprised that the ‘brutes would not stand,” a tact that denied him a chance to test his artillery.

Later in June 1894, Hall ejected the Maasai from the vicinity of the Fort to Ngong to reduce tension between the Kikuyu and the Fort. Kikuyu emotions had been stirred by the Maasai willingness to join punitive expeditions against the Kikuyu while many of their kin had camped in the vicinity of the Fort to escape the ravages of starvation.

It is no wonder that in 1894, Seventy Kikuyu Chiefs asked for a meeting with the District Commissioner to express their willingness to be under the British Crown.

Give Credits Where They Are Due

Despite the sour relations between Fort Smith and the Kikuyu, Hall is credited with constructing a cart that was capable of carrying twenty porter loads to Machakos with Oxen power.

In 1896, Hall was already advising new settlers on the plants to grow. He already kept a small herd of dairy cattle with flocks of sheep and goats, poultry and horses. It is any one’s guess what the source of his sheep and goats was.

During the 1896 Rinderpest (pleural-pneumonia), Hall experimented with inoculations to save Maasai Cattle. He introduced quarantines to prevent the spread of the pestilence and organised vaccinations against smallpox.

Hall also persuaded Kikuyu warriors, likely by threat of punitive action, to enlist as porters between Machakos and Ravine. Most of Hall’s successes with the Kikuyu must however be credited to Chief Kinyanjui in Southern Kikuyu and Chief Karuri in Murang’a who were eager to please. Kinyanjui in particular, owed his position as Paramount Chief to the IBEA which had dethroned the legitimate Waiyaki and installed him instead.

Hall’s Desire to Start a Station

In 1899, Hall returned from England from Leave with a bride and in August of the same year, the railway reached Kikuyu. Hall was soon transferred to Machakos Fort and it seems his stay with the Kamba gave his nostalgia for his Kikuyu. Hall was beginning to consider the invitation extended to him earlier by Muranga Chiefs to set up a station in their area. Chief Karuri who was harboring a trader by the name Boyes is known to have contacted Hall at Fort Smith with a similar invitation. Probably as a reconnaissance mission, Hall carried out a punitive raid in the area that was to become Fort Hall district in 1899. In this raid that took fourteen days to accomplish, Hall and his party destroyed hundreds of huts but the villagers had long decamped and hidden their stock in the forests. Hall had had enough time to scour the surroundings and though no human casualties are recorded, 10,000 goats and some cattle were confiscated. Hall went on to say that “it must have been a pretty severe blow to them.” Five years later, Meinertzhagen would repeat the exercise a little further north and leave a tally of 796 Kikuyu gone to their maker.

Hall was eager to expand the frontiers but the protectorate was unwilling to move so far from the railway and the Uganda road, citing lack of resources to run new stations. Eventually Hall prevailed and in 1900, he arrived at Mbiri in a caravan of Swahili and 300 Kikuyu porters. A Captain Longfield led a contingent of Kenya African Rifles (KAR) soldiers. It was in this year that Nairobi, which Hall had described as “a tin-pot mushroom township....the most lawless dangerous spot in Africa” became the capital of the East African Protectorate.

The Mbiri Station

Labour to build the Fort was paid at ‘half a yard of calico’ per day with the labourer sourcing his own food. Apparently more men were willing to work at the Fort than were required. A certain R. R. Skeene was posted to what was to be called the Mbiri Station as an Assistant District Officer.

Once settled at Mbiri, Hall embarked on a mission to arrest John Boyes who had been carrying punitive expeditions of his own while unlawfully carrying the British Flag. This notwithstanding the fact that Boyes had a licence to supply the administration with grain and ivory from the interior of Kikuyu country where many white men were loathe to venture. Boyes whom the Kikuyu called Karianjahi – eater of lablab beans - was a Yorkshire-man who had also tried his fortunes in South Africa as a trooper in the Matabele wars, three years before his adventures among the Kikuyu. Some of the raids in Kikuyu that were carried out by Boyes were against Karuri’s enemies, while others were definitely designed to increase his own fortunes. Fluent in the Kikuyu language with three Kikuyu wives, Boyes had done well for himself by Kikuyu standards. It would be interesting to know who his Kikuyu descendants are today. Having thus misrepresented Government, Many Kikuyu sections had great antipathy for the British and Hall found it incumbent upon him to correct the situation. To the chagrin of Hall, Boyes was let off rather easily by a Nairobi magistrate when the case was dismissed and suspect acquitted.

Sunset at Mbiri Station

In 1901, about a year since the establishment of the Mbiri Station, Hall was out on an expedition against the Muruka clan of the Kikuyu who had apparently carried out some heinous crimes. On the second day of the expedition, Hall contracted dysentery but soldiered on. The bitter cold, dump climate and the numerous streams and rivers to cross took their toll on Hall. The terrain was less hospitable than what he had been used to in Southern Kikuyu. On march 18th 1901, Hall died at Mbiri where he was buried. Fortunately for his widow, she married Dr. Radford who had tried to save Hall’s life. Soon after, Mbiri station was renamed Fort Hall in memory of the Man who had established it. In June 1904, Fort Hall ceased to be a military station. When Kenya became independent in 1963, the town’s name was changed to Murang’a and the word Fort Hall was later expunged from the Kenyan map forever. If Hall had made a great impression on the Kikuyu, they no doubt would have campaigned to retain his memory.

It is claimed by some writers that Hall was known fondly by the Kikuyu as Bwana Hora – the man of peace or “the man who does not like trouble”. Hall’s major achievement is supposedly the peace that he brought to warring Kikuyu sections. Ironically, hora means beat in Kikuyu and not peace. It is more likely that they meant to say – the man who beat us to submission.

the Mau Mau Were a Thorn in the Flesh for the British


5. King, K. and Salim A., 1971, Kenya Historical Biographies, East African Publishing House, Nairobi.

6. Leakey, L.S.B., 1977, The Southern Kikuyu before 1903, Vol I,II & III, Academic Press, London.

7. Miller C. 1971, The Lunatic Express, the Macmillan Company

8. Muriuki G. 1974, A history of the Kikuyu 1500 – 1900, Oxford University Press

9. Roseberg, C. G. and Norttingham J., 1966, The Myth of the Mau Mau, Nationalism in Colonial Kenya, Transafrica press, Nairobi.

© 2012 Emmanuel Kariuki

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