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Customer Review

on 10 April 2001
Many of the best selling authors whose books stare out from airport shops predicate their stories by enlarging real life characters and exaggerating events to create their plots. But the life story of Ewart Grogan, African explorer, pioneer, entrepreneur and politician extraordinary, needs no enlarging, no exaggeration; and in this fascinating biography Edward Paice tells the unembellished tale of one of the most remarkable characters in the recent history of the British Empire. Queen Victoria's premier Ewart Gladstone was his godfather; Jesus College, Cambridge sent him down for an excess of youthful pranks; the exclusive London Alpine Club voted him their youngest ever member, and Cecil Rhodes made him one of his escorts in the Matebele War; but Grogan is best remembered for his pioneer walk through Africa from South to North, the first explorer to so do. But not for the lust to explore, not for fame or wealth, but for the love of a girl, to win the hand of a New Zealand maiden from her sceptical stepfather! This expedition through all the dangers of the unknown, fevers, wild animals, encounters with cannibals, deserting porters, leading to the final struggle through the marshy, impenetrable wastes of the Sudd in the Upper Nile and his fortuitous meeting with an officer of the Sudan garrison on a hunting expedition is as thrilling as any adventure tale of Africa. His subsequent fêting by the press, the honour of being the youngest man ever to address the Royal Geographical Society, the presenting of one of the Union Jacks he had carried through Africa to the Queen at Balmoral, and another to Cecil Rhodes, who penned the introduction to his book "From the Cape to Cairo - all this was achieved by the time he was but twenty-five years of age. Grogan's later career in East Africa, starting a huge timber concession, his attempts to build a railway, and his construction of Kenya's first deep water harbour, is cleverly woven into the history of the emerging colony of which he, with Lord Delamere, became the settler's leader. The constant battles with the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, the help and the hindrance from successive Governors and officials, his correspondence with his great ally the Times newspaper, are well described and indicate how much scholarly research have gone into composing this book; not surprising, perhaps, as the author was a history scholar at Cambridge. In the first World War, Grogan was sent by Col. Meinertzhagen, in charge of intelligence in the East African theatre, as a one-man military mission to the Belgian Congo, a feat he repeated twenty-five years later in the second World War. When the then Governor announced that "this colony has no interest in the present war" Grogan made a rousing speech rallying the settlers to join the military, and was renowned in later years as ' the Churchill of Kenya'. When the Currency Crisis of 1920 hit Kenya, Grogan fought strongly to resist the revaluation of the currency; but the decision of the Colonial Office to revalue the rupee upwards almost bankrupted the colony, and all the settlers in it. In later years, the government admitted their mistake; in the long run, as in many other instances, Grogan was proved correct. The taming of 87,000 acres of dry bush land was his next achievement, drawing water from a river and springs to irrigate large tracts of barren Africa, to plant sisal and other crops; he built Nairobi's smartest hotel, where later he was the first to break through the prejudices of the colonial era entertaining young African politicians, and when he retired from the Legislative Council in 1956, aged 82, politicians of all races paid tribute to "the elephant with a big hoof, leaving an impression always to the benefit of his country". This book is the story of the making of a land in Africa, and of one of its great pioneers intricately woven into that story.
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