Monday, January 26, 2009

Return to Kenya, the Journey on SS Malda

It is such a long time since I posted here and many people have written to me in the intervening months with information or just appreciation of this record of Kenya in the 1920's. I even have a possible name for the young man sitting on the seed drill. I will try to combine all of them in a separate post but now it is time to resume the journey. Alan has been home...but not for long and there is no correspondence from the return journey to England. I would imagine he was in Leeds for only 4 or 5 months before retuning to Kenya to resume the work for Fowlers . This time aboard the SS Malda.

The SS Malda
Below are details and photos from the Shipping Times here

The Malda was built by Barclay Curle & Company Glasgow. Yard No 588.
Some details: Propulsion: steam, two 3 stage Brown Curtis turbines, 4320 bhp, 13 knots, twin screw.
Launched1921Built: 1922; Ship Type: Passenger Cargo Vessel;
Tonnage: 9066 grt: Length: 465 feet: Breadth: 58.3 feet: Draught: 33.5 feet:
Owner History:British India Steam Navigation Company Glasgow & London
Status: Bombed & Sunk - 06/04/1942

Ship the SS MALDA image contributes by John Ward~McQuaid,


The Letters

There are 4 letters from various ports on the journey aboard the SS Malda. They are interesting for the details of the animals on board and the hot and sweaty weather despite which, fancy dress parties were held in the evenings. Patrick, the dog at home, is still mentioned and my mother is constantly asked to " be helpful". The letters were written on headed notepaper. Below is an example from Letter 3.

Letter 1, Off Port Said , Stromboli, Dogs and the Safety of Ships.

SS Malda Off Port Said 15 /9/27
British India Steam Navigation Company Limited

My Darling Joyce

I am sorry I was not able to write to you from Marseilles but there is only one little writing desk on this ship for 2nd class passengers and so many people wanted to use it several days before we reached Marseilles that I was crowded out.
We had good weather and a calm sea across the Bay of Biscay with the exception of one day when the waves dashed over the prow of the ship and she rolled about a little. And one night there was a fog in the sea and the steam – whistle was being blown all night long.
On Tuesday we passed the Volcano Stromboli which was sending a plume of steam and smoke straight up into the sky at the base of this mountain there are a lot of little whitewashed cottages inhabited by fisher folk and their little boats go dancing over the waves surrounding the mountain.

Always try to make Mummy’s household life as easy as you can and when you grow up to be a young lady it will be a pleasure to you to remember that you did your best and are a blessing to both of us.
I expect Patrick is wondering where I have disappeared to. On this ship we have a Horse and a great many dogs, a Dalmatian, a Bullterrier and a Pekingese with long silky brown hair, this little dog does not like being cooped up aboard a ship and barks a great deal when the butcher comes to feed him.

Twice during this voyage we have had what is called Lifeboat drill, that is a practice at putting on the lifebelts which are provided in the passenger cabin, this is done just as a precaution in case of accident but really there is very little risk about ocean travel nowadays. It will be nightfall before we reach Port Said.
I hope you are getting on nicely at school Have you learned to swim yet swimming is such a healthy and useful thing to know, if the Malda stops at Suez I will write to you again from there.

Heaps of love to my darling Daughter

Letter 2, from Port Sudan, the Heat, Cranes and School.

Alan drew a sketch Map for Mum.

SS Malda 20/9/27
British India Steam Navigation Company limited
Port Sudan

My Darling Joyce,

If you look at a map of the Red Sea which is shaped something like this rough you will see a place about three quarters of the way down the western shore named Suakim or Port Sudan and this is where the “Malda” arrived at about five this mooring.
There are some excellent cranes of great lifting power here and it is an important railway centre for goods traffic but as for the town itself there is nothing attractive about it. It is encircled by naked mountains of dull red rock which make you perspire even to look at them. Nothing at all like the fresh green foliage of the highlands of Kenya.

We have had very hot weather day and night in our passage through the red Sea so hot that sleep was impossible and I think that most of the passengers are feeling worn out but soon we shall be round Guadalupe and in the Indian Ocean where there are usually cool breezes.

I am proud and glad to hear you have been moved up into the big school at Cockburn you will feel yourself quite a grown up girl now. When you next write to me please tell me something about your lessons and your sports. I wish you and Mummy were here with me in this clear air and sunshine but sometimes we cannot get just what we want in the world and have to make the best of what we can get, have we not?

I will write again either from Aden or Mombasa… remember me to Grandpa and Uncle Alec and Aunt Edith and Mr. and Mrs. Harrison and Mr. and Mrs. Barraclough.. I hope you are trying to help Mummy all you can.

Your loving Daddy.

Letter 3 off Aden. Heat, Dogs and Sharks.

British India Steam Navigation co Ltd
SS Malda
Off Aden

Darling Joyce.

Well my little girl here we are at last getting towards Aden and out of this hot Red Sea.
I am sure we shall all be very glad to leave it, the poor dogs on board pant all day long and hang their tongues out and the butcher comes every now and then and sluices cold water them.
It has been hotter this time in the Red Sea that I have known it before. When the train leaves Mombasa and begins to climb up into the Highlands then the air in the evening is cool and fresh and we all thankfully breathe it in and feel healthier.
Yesterday three sharks swam for a long tome behind the vessel. They have a triangular fin on their backs which juts out above the surface of the water.

You will be wearing your winter coat now I suppose and I have just an open necked white shirt on and khaki trousers and the perspiration is trickling down my whole body as I am writing. We had dancers on the deck in the evening when in the Mediterranean but it is too hot for them now.
I will write you again if possible from Mombasa,

Your loving Daddy


Letter 4 Off Mombasa, Fancy dress, Journey end

SS Malda, Off Mombasa
British India Steam Navigation Company Limited

My Darling Joyce

Well my dear little Girl we have at last got to the end of this long voyage and I am sure we shall all be glad to step ashore and walk about a greater distance than is permitted by the size of the ship.
Last night the passengers held a fancy dress ball some were dressed as Pierrot, one as a chef, one lady in an early Victorian crinoline and poke bonnet, one man went as a skeleton in a close fitting black dress with the white bones painted on it.
This morning the ship is heaving and rolling rather a lot which is a queer sensation to anyone trying to write a letter. I shall be so pleased to receive letters from you, write to me as often as you can and tell me all the news and how you are getting on at school you will have made friends with some nice playmates now I feel sure.

Soon Dad will be on the train climbing up through the Coconut groves and then the Cedar forests then out in to the open Plains of Kitale.
Help Mummy in every way you can my dearest Joyce, and say your prayers every day. I will write to you again very soon.

Heaps of love and kisses from Daddy


I will never now know how much my mother was a help to her mother.. probably about as much as I was to her!