Tony and Rosemary Seys (nee Rothschild) left England in 1949, which still suffered from the ravages of the Second World War, to build a new life in Kenya. They bought a farm in the highlands east of Lake Victoria which they called Rhodora and where they planned to settle and help the local population. They wrote a weekly newsletter back to their families in the UK, which many years later Rosemary Seys edited into a fascinating account of little known aspects of African colonial life at that time. This was not the world of "Happy Valley" or "Out of Africa", but an account of good people doing their best for the many Africans they befriended working on the farm, and of a life lived in the shadow of the Mau Mau uprising. Rosemary's recollections weave humorous anecdotes with serious observations before recalling the sadness the Seys felt when they had to leave their self-made African paradise. The Rhodora Letters is narrated by Rosemary's son, David, who grew up on the farm and includes excerpts of Rosemary recalling her remarkable life story in her own words.
©2016 David Seys (P)2016 Bob Maddams
I am an avid eclectic reader.
After World War II, Rosemary Rothschild Seys and family moved to Kenya to take up the offer of the British government for the British to colonize the country. The British colony was struggling for independence from Britain. The family bought land, a farm, in the White highlands east of Lake Victoria. Rosemary was brought up in a wealthy family and was not use to farm work until they started a Guernsey dairy farm in England. They had a large farm in the White highlands they called Rhodora. They had prize winning Guernsey dairy cattle, local cattle for meat, sheep, pigs, and grew coffee beans, oats etc. for cattle feed and various vegetables for the use by their employees, themselves and to sell. Rosemary was well known in England for breeding and training Sheltie dogs; she continued this is Kenya and competed in various kennel club shows. The farm also competed with their Guernsey cattle and won many awards.
Seys provide beautiful descriptions of various birds, flowers, snakes, insects and wild and domesticated animals. I wished there had been a bit more information about the day to day mundane life on a farm. Because this was taken from the letters home, Seys had more information about people visiting or their going someplace. I did enjoy the comments on the movies they saw; I could remember most of them. Seys also provided some information on the various diseases they routinely had to deal with in both animals and people. They seemed to be always vaccinating the animals either just before or after and outbreak. I found the information about the Rift Valley Fever interesting as it was new to Kenya at the time but a big problem in Southern Africa.
The Seys family built a life during the tumultuous time of the Mau Mau uprising. Rosemary had written letters home to family in England telling all about their colonial farm life. The author used these letters to write this memoir about life in 1950’s colonialism turmoil. Seys tells of her husband, Tony, belonging to the local police reserve and taking his turn patrolling the local farm area for Mau Mau. From what Seys describes it seem the Mau Mau war was a guerrilla action with night attacks on isolated farms and infiltrating into the local work crews and intimidating their workers.
The book was well written. Sometimes the letters were written by Tony and some by Rosemary so the book goes back and forth between the two viewpoints. This was a most interesting book. I learned lots from reading it, beside it was just a fun read. Rosemary’s son David did a good job narrating the book.
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