The story of rail. Colonel Patterson in the 1890s

Colonel John Henry Patterson tried to induce the natives to work on the East African railway but, despite the great famine in 1897–99, found that they were indifferent to money and impervious to the advantages of work. Patterson left a hurricane lamp burning at night outside his camp. The native, he said, would approach, work for a few days until his curiosity was satisfied and then disappear. The British brought 35,000 ‘coolies’ from Asia to build the Lunatic Line from the Indian Ocean to Uganda. Frederick Jackson, the British Governor of Uganda, regretted the need to bring in outsiders and described the Indian work camps as squalid enclaves of ‘prostitutes and small boys and other accessories to the bestial vices so commonly practised by Orientals’.

Cecil John Rhodes thought the colonialists should teach the native to want. He dreamed of a Cape to Cairo railway.

‘Everyone supposes that this railway will be built with the only object that a human being may be able to get in at Cairo and get out at Cape Town. This is ridiculous … the railway will pick up trade all along the route … everyone will benefit,’ Rhodes said.

The explorers Richard Burton and John Hannon Speke recounted their dangerous encounters with the whirling dervishes of Somaliland and the Sudan.

Searching for the biblical source of the Nile, Speke travelled inland from Zanzibar, seeing naked warriors all the way, until he reached the Kingdom of Buganda. Its people wore garments of hemp and woven bark. Orderly grids of widened paths surrounded the thatched dome and enclosures of the palace of the king, the Kabaka. There was civic order here, Speke wrote. Arab traders brought the Kabaka muskets. The Kabaka shot dead loyal courtiers in his retinue to see if the musket did what the traders said it would.

Winston Churchill described the Kabaka’s fertile land of Uganda as a jewel in the crown of the Empire, reached by the Jack and Jill beanstalk of the East African railway climbing up from the Indian Ocean. So fertile was Uganda, you could put a walking stick into the ground and it would grow.

Along the railway to Uganda, the lions of Tsavo developed a taste for those building and maintaining it. Once a lion eats a human, it becomes a rogue lion that always goes back for more, having found a delicacy of more flavour and one much easier to catch than its usual prey of impala, wildebeest and zebra.

We loved Roshan’s account.

I, Roshan, came to this country of Africa,

and did find it indeed a strange land;

many rocks, mountains and dense forests

abounding in lions and leopards;

also buffaloes, wolves, rhinoceroses,

elephants, deer, camels and all enemies of man …

Now from the town of Mombasa,

a railway line extends into Uganda.

In the forests bordering this line there are

Found those lions called “man eaters.”

Day and night, and hundreds of  men fell victims

to these savage creatures whose very jaws were

steeped in blood.

Bones, flesh, skin and blood, they

devoured all and left no a trace behind them …

The lions’ roar was such that the very

earth would tremble at the sound…and where was the

man who did not feel afraid?

On all sides arose weeping and wailing and the

people would sit and cry like cranes…

And now I will relate the story of the engineer

in charge of the line:

And after seeing what the animals had done,

the Englishman spoke, and said,

“For this damage the lion shall pay with his life.”

Patterson Sahib is indeed a brave and valiant man

Like unto those Persian heroes of old – Rustem,

Zal, Sohrab and Berzoor.

— from The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures by Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson:

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