The collection contains 12 boxes of photographs, including prints, negatives, contact prints and slides covering the whole of Elspeth Huxley's career. The largest proportion of them feature Kenya, particularly landscapes, agricultural development, wildlife, safari trips and local people, especially the Kikuyu. Many were taken in the 1930s, although almost all decades of her life are represented.
The photographs taken by EH herself fall into several categories: series which cover particular themes or excursions, such as safari trips, more miscellaneous series such as "Views in the Kenya Highlands" and series connected to research for a particular book or project. The most significant examples of this latter are the series of images prepared for the publications "Red Strangers", "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", "A New Earth", "Four Guineas" and "Last Days in Eden" and for her research into the Mau Mau emergency. There are also images documenting her work for the Monckton Commission.
There are also a number of more thematic series containing images taken by EH and others. These cover a diverse range of themes connected to her interests - including white settlers, wildlife and transport - and may have been connected to articles or small-scale research projects. Some of the images included alongside her own were obtained from friends or acquaintances and some from other sources including the Kenya Information Office and newspapers. There is a significant collection of Mau Mau images, some particularly graphic, which fall into this last category. There are also several items which found their way into EH's possession, including an album of the Duke of Connaught's 1910 tour to South Africa and an album detailing some of the safari exploits of Bror von Blixen.
Many of the prints in the collection have partner images amongst the negatives and/ or contact prints, which in many cases has enabled images which have become separated from each other to be reunited and original order to be restored.
Many of the series featuring Kenya prints also contain images from neighbouring East African countries including Tanganyika (Tanzania), Uganda and Zanzibar. Apart from the West African material created during research for "Four Guineas", the only other countries to feature from EH's world travels are her images from Fiji and Sri Lanka.
It is clear from the arrangement of the collection at the time of donation that these images were used again and again throughout EH's long career, with many images being moved from one series to another several times, presumably to illustrate different articles or books. Taken as a whole, they form a unique depiction of East Africa in the twentieth century, its public and private faces: the deserted streets of Edwardian Mombasa, the Happy Valley set's ostentatious homes and safari trips, the harsh realities of life for settler farmers, close-up shots of endangered animals, the tensions between traditional tribal ways of life and the influences of the British, the terror and bloodshed of the Mau Mau years and the post-colonial Kenya which EH visited late in her life to gather settlers' stories. Her "emotional bonds to Kenya", as described in the conclusion to her biography, are evident throughout.
EH also recorded an oral history interview with the Museum (no. 114) for which we hold a transcript.
This catalogue was produced with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives
Towards the end of her long life, when Elspeth Huxley appeared as a guest on Desert Island Discs, she chose as her luxury item a camera and film-developing equipment. By that point she had pursued many different avenues and interests, both for her career and for pleasure, but her real passion and talent for capturing subjects on film is evident throughout the various parts of this collection.
She was born Elspeth Grant on 23 July 1907, to parents Josceline (Jos) and Eleanor (Nellie), immortalised as Robin and Tilly in her semi-autobiographical novels "The Flame Trees of Thika" and "The Mottled Lizard." Despite coming from privileged backgrounds, by the time of Elspeth's birth they were facing challenging financial circumstances, and decided to seek a new life as farmers in British East Africa. They arrived in Nairobi in 1912, with Elspeth joining them a year later. They purchased 500 acres of land at Thika, near the Kikuyu reserve, and named their farm Kitimuru.
Farm life was hard, and the family faced constant struggles with the climate, lack of finances and cultural differences with their Kikuyu employees. On the outbreak of World War 1 Jos Grant, like many other men, joined the army, and Nellie was left running the farm. Elspeth was sent first to live with another British family, and then to boarding schools in Nairobi and England, returning to Kitimuru in late 1919. From then on Elspeth was home-educated; frequently left to her own devices she had an unconventional lifestyle. The amount of time she spent with the local Kikuyu people and her beloved animals rather than children her own age comes across strongly in her autobiographies. Her parents financial situation deteriorated further in the years after the war, and by 1922 they had a huge overdraft. Nellie had been drifting apart from Jos for some time, and decided to purchase her own farm, Gikammeh, at Njoro in the Rift Valley. Although the couple never formally separated they lived increasingly independent lives.
Elspeth took the first steps towards her future journalistic career by writing reports on polo matches for the East African Standard. In 1924 she entered Nairobi High School as a boarder, returning in the holidays to Gikammeh. She had hoped to study at Cambridge, but her lack of Latin proved a stumbling block and instead she commenced a diploma in agriculture at Reading University. She went from there to Cornell University in New York where she combined her studies with contributing articles to the campus newspaper. On her return, Elspeth was reluctant to settle back in Kenya. Instead, she obtained a job as a press officer with the Empire Marketing Board, following an interview with its Head of Publicity, Gervas Huxley. They married in 1931.
Gervas, a first world war veteran and grandson of Thomas Huxley, had gone into business having abandoned his degree on conscription. Elspeth's work for the EMB proved successful, and enabled her to publish work in a variety of British and overseas newspapers, mostly on themes connected to agriculture and industry. However when the EMB closed down she made her first return to Kenya in eight years to write the biography of Lord Delamere. For the next few decades Elspeth split her time between the UK and Africa, also travelling widely around the rest of the globe on a hectic schedule taking into account Gervas's work commitments. The Delamere biography "White Man's Country" was a critical success, and by the time of its publication in 1935 Elspeth was picking up frequent commissions for broadsheet newspapers and journals, often on the themes of agriculture and politics. She began to take an increasing interest in the subject of colonialism and African attitudes towards Kenya's future, and decided to undertake an in-depth study into Kikuyu ways of life with the aim of writing a book. The novel "Red Strangers" was published in 1939 and by this point Elspeth had also published several crime novels.
By the outbreak of WW2 Elspeth had added radio broadcasting to her career portfolio, recording programmes for the BBC and Joint Broadcasting Committee, and in 1943 was appointed liaison officer between the BBC and the Colonial Office. Elspeth and Gervas's son Charles was born in 1944, and although she never again lived in Kenya she continued to visit frequently, combining African engagements and commissions with her broadcasting and writing career in the UK and running the family farm in Wiltshire. Following a trip to West Africa to research the book "Four Guineas" in 1951, she returned to Kenya in 1953 at the height of the Mau Mau rebellion. Alongside helping her mother, who was in a very vulnerable position, she gathered photographs and information to support her writing on the Mau Mau. In the run up to Kenyan independence in 1963 Elspeth worked on some contrasting projects, including "The Flame Trees of Thika", published in 1957, and "A New Earth", her account of the inexorable progress in African agriculture and industrial development. She spent 1960 as the only woman serving on the Monckton Commission, an experience which crystallised her view that the only realistic course of events moving forward was African self-rule. It also led to her being awarded the CBE.
After independence, Nellie made her farm over to her former employees and retired to Portugal. On her last visit to her childhood home in 1963 Elspeth travelled around East Africa to research "Forks and Hope", a combination of travel writing with analysis of the political situation for which she interviewed Jomo Kenyatta and the presidents of the newly independent Uganda and Tanzania. Settled once more in the UK, she spent the 1960s writing and broadcasting on subjects including ecology, factory farming and immigration to Britain. Gervas and Nellie both died in the 1970s after suffering prolonged periods of ill health, but Elspeth never retired, spending her later years continuing to write and visiting Africa several more times, for the filming of "Flame Trees" and to research the books "Last Days in Eden", "Out in the Midday Sun", an account of life for early Kenyan settlers, and "Nine Faces of Kenya". Her final trip to Kenya was with her son and grandson in 1995, when she visited Kitimuru. She died two years later, just 6 months short of her 90th birthday.