Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sophie's African Trips - How Many?

One of the great mysteries of Lady Heath's life is quite how much time she spent in Africa in the 1920s; she claims she made eight visits, but it seems more like four. Or perhaps she meant that she made eight trips in total to and from Africa. The final one of these would have been her 1928 flight.

Thanks to information supplied by C.J.D. Duder, whose article "'Men of the Officer Class',
the participants in the 1919 Soldier Settlement Scheme in Kenya" was published
by African Affairs in 1992, we can shed some light on her movements at the time.

Both the Eliott-Lynns had served with the armed forces during the First World War and were both allocated farms under the Soldier Settlement Scheme - she as Mrs. S.C. Eliot-Lynn and he as Major W.D.E. Lynn. They used the National Bank of South Africa in London as their postal address. She secured Farm 438B of some 995 acres and Farm 431B of 1025 acres. The farms were close together and in the Muhoroni district of Kenya - rather lower in altitude and closer to the fevers of Lake Victoria than most settlers liked.

The Major's file begins in 1922, by which time the original applicants for the scheme were supposed to have taken up and occupied their farms for six months in order to secure possession. The letter announcing this was sent to the Major at Tanga in Tanganyika.

He appeared in person at the Land Office in Nairobi in November 1922 to present proof that he hadn't been retired until August 1921, which became the date of allotment, giving them until August 1924 to take up their farms. It also meant that he owed rent on both farms (they were held on 999 year leases). 

Around this time, Sophie made what appears to have been her first trip to East Africa, arriving back in Southampton on March 12. Judging from her book of poetry "East African Nights", she appears to have spent time in Kacharoba, near Kiumbi, which is north of Nairobi on the way to Thika, and at Nakaru.
In November 1923, the Major paid rent on both of the farms and wrote to the Land Office to tell them that he would be leaving Tanganyika to occupy his farm at the end of the year. Sophie had arrived for her second trip to East Africa; she later claimed that she had been forced to track down her husband “in the bush”.

On January 3, 1924, writing from "Bushari Estate, Pangani, Tanganyika" Eliott-Lynn noted: "As I shall not be able to take up occupation of this farm in order to comply with the conditions laid down, I have given it to my wife Sophia Catherine Eliott-Lynn as from this date." (this was also the only time in his file that he referred to himself as Eliott-Lynn).
The Land Office, in response to a request from her, provided details of both farms in
January.  During this visit , Sophie was based mainly in Pangani,  but also visited Mtundera, Hali, and Kacharoba, Kiambu as before.

By this stage the marriage was in serious difficulty; Sophie later claimed that her husband had threatened her and she was forced to march through the jungle to escape him. He “threw her out on 1 January 1924” according to a report on her divorce in the East African Standard.

In February, she announced to the Land Office that she could not take up the farm as she
had an unavoidable eight-months absence in England (this was the only letter
from her in the file). In fact, she was heading back to England to start divorce proceedings against her husband.

She left R.O. Ney (a land agent) to fulfill the conditions. He occupied and developed the farm, building a brick house and ploughing fifty acres of land to secure the farm. The farm was officially transferred to her in August 1925, around the time the divorce was made final and she was back in a London court filing a maintenance petition. Ney paid the rent on the farm until it was sold to Norman Butler in 1928.

As C.J.D. Duder points out, it seems like neither Eliott-Lynn nor his wife ever occupied the farms. “The usual formula for soldier settlers who did not take up their farms was to sell the rights to a local settler or land agent who would carry out the necessary occupation and development. In return the soldier settler would receive a "premium" for surrendering the
farm. Premiums tended to be small since you were selling the right to the farm. Premiums I've come across range from £50 to £200.

Not until 1927 did Sophie return to Africa; an article by her on flying to Kenya by air was published in the East African Standard in March 1927. During this African sojourn, she stayed at “Seremi” the Kisumu estate of John Carberry, originally from Castle Freke in Co Cork, who lived there with his second wife Maia. While there, she met Sir Sefton Brancker, then director of civil aviation at the Air Ministry, who was in East Africa for the inauguration of the East Africa air mail service from Kisumu to Khartoum. In the same month, she's reported to have made a shooting trip to Lake Hannington (Bogoria) north of Nakuru with Auriol Lee, the a popular British stage actress who became a successful West End and Broadway theatrical producer and director. 

In her middle years, Lee had taken up flying and became the first woman to cross the Equator while flying over Africa with her lover Sir Sefton Brancker. She was also once awarded a prize for flying 1,000 miles across the Mediterranean Sea.

By May, Sophie was back in London when the news came through that her ex-husband Eliott-Lynn had been found dead in the river Thames off the Chelsea Embankment.
Almost exactly a year later, Sophie, now Lady Heath, would return to London from Africa in much different circumstances after the flight across Africa that would become her most celebrated achievement. 

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