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Name: PATTERSON, John Henry du B. DSO (Lieut.-Col.)

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Birth Date: 10 Nov 1867 Forgney, Ballymahon

Death Date: 18 June 1947 Bel-Air, California

Nationality: British

First Date: 1898

Profession: Lieut.-Col in the Indian Army, an experienced engineer with considerable knowledge of both railways and coolies. His first task was to supervise the building of the permanent bridge over the Tsavo river

Area: HBEA 1912 - Nairobi, Hut - 1922 Col. J. Patterson Gilgil

Married: In London 28 Oct 1895 Frances 'Francie' Helena Gray b. 1867 UK, d. 1947 Sab Diego, California

Children: Bryan (10 Mar 1909 London-1979)

Author: 'Man-Eaters of Tsavo' 1907, 'In the Grip of the Nyika' 1909, 'With the Zionists in Gallipoli' 1916, Diaries, copy in Matson Papers RH

Book Reference: Gillett, HBEA, Cuckoo, Best, Permanent Way, Joelson, Red 25, Hut, North, Drumkey, Red 22, Lust, DSO, Nicholls, Leader14, Chandler

War Service: Essex Yeomanry; Col. RE, Retd. formerly Indian Army

General Information:

Best - He was typical of all that was best and worst in the British Imperial officer of that time. A brave man, and also a harsh one, who treated the coolies as if they were subject to Queen's Regulations instead of being an indentured work force. A martinet as hard on himself as on his men, who brooked no nonsense from anyone. A man who was later to burn down the plague-ridden Indian quarter of Nairobi on his own initiative because, as he afterwards explained, he did not like the look of it. (more)   
Permanent Way - 'became  a hero to Indians and Africans alike, but in Sept. 1898 he had experienced mutinous trouble. The Indians, mostly Pathans, who were sent from Mombasa to build the stone-work of the Tsavo bridge were supposed to be skilled masons, but many of them were unskilled coolies who had posed as masons in order to draw 45 rupees, instead of 12 rupees, a month. Patterson dealt with this problem by instituting piece work and by making it clear that he expected a fair days work from each man. That began the trouble, which simmered for some time. Matters were not improved by the frequent quarrels between the Hindus and the Mohammedans, and they came to a head when Patterson discovered a plot to murder him. Fortunately, some of the coolies remained loyal. The rest he was able to quell by force of character, and the ringleaders were arrested, tried by the Consul at Mombasa, and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. Patterson was not again troubled by mutinous workmen.
Red 25 - Col. J.H. de B. Patterson, DSO, Game Ranger 1907-09
North - Appt. Asst. Engineer; arr. Mombasa 1/3/1898; Bridge building Tsavo section 1898-9; arr Nairobi 5/6/1899; resigned from Railway 18/9/1899, dep. Mombasa for England via Zanzibar 24/9/1899
Drumkey 1909 - Game Dept. - Chief Game Warden
Red 22 - Col. J. Patterson, Gilgil
Web Article - Lust in the Dust - John Henry Patterson (1867-1947), an eccentric and reckless colonel was born in Dublin, went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, before joining the Essex Yeomanry and becoming an engineer with long experience in railway construction and bridge building for the British Army in India and later in what is now Kenya. When plague broke out in Nairobi in 1899, Patterson outraged the Indian traders by burning down the bazaar without consulting anybody …….. In March 1908 Patterson left Nairobi with Audley James Blyth, the son of the first Baron Blyth and late lieutenant of the Essex Yeomanry, and his wife Ethel Jane (nee Brunner). The first official despatch on the tragedy was sent on May 7, 1908, from Lieutenant Colonel Sir James Hayes-Sadler, Governor of the East Africa Protectorate who wrote: "Patterson informs me that Blyth died on the morning of the 21st March at Laisamis (225 miles north of Nairobi), 35 miles south from Marsabit, where he accidentally shot himself in the head with a revolver. Death immediate. He had been ill for two days. Patterson had been with him all night. Accident occurred early in the morning whilst temporarily alone. Patterson returned very ill …. Mrs Blyth comes today. Leaves for England on Herzog. In a long letter to the governor a day later, Patterson stated that Blyth accidentally shot himself while suffering from fever and sunstroke, that Mrs Blyth did not see the body, that he returned to Nairobi as quickly as possible and that Mrs Blyth was devoted to her husband and heart broken by the tragedy. Patterson was much later to write of the incident in his 1909 book 'In The Grip of the Nyika' how Mr Blyth shot himself and was buried; how Patterson, after burning Blyth's tent ("I did not wish painful memories to be recalled") quelled a mutiny by the African porters and continued northwards with his government survey: how Mrs Blyth moved into his discreetly partitioned tent and nursed him through his illness and referred to her small son in England. The zealous local Provincial Commissioner, in a letter to the Governor, began to pick holes in Patterson's earlier testimony; "The fact that his being able to go after buffalo appeared to me to contradict his statement that he was suffering acutely from diarrhoea". The Governor later received some further startling revelations from his suspicious Provincial Commissioner. Nearly a year after Blyth's death, the Provincial Commissioner managed to track down some of the African staff on the ill-fated safari. They revealed that Patterson and Blyth had quarrelled about an elephant they both had killed; that Mrs Blyth was in the tent with her husband when the shot was fired; that Patterson told them to bury Blyth deep in the ground; that he had burned all of Blyth's clothes and papers; that after the suicide Patterson and Mrs Blyth had continued north on to Marsabit instead of immediately turning south and heading for Nairobi. The Africans contradicted Patterson's account by revealing that the white hunter had sexual relations with the disaffected Mrs Blyth. "We saw the lady leave the sick man's tent and go to Bwana Patterson's tent and stayed there all night. In the morning she went back to her husband's tent and directly she entered we heard a shot and the lady came running out and we found the European had shot himself in the mouth and the bullet had come out near his ear ….. After the death of the European, Bwana Patterson and the lady occupied one tent". The African camp staff's testimony was sent by the Governor to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Crewe. Though it proved that Patterson was deeply implicated in Blyth's death, Crewe decided to exonerate rather than condemn him, in return for his resignation. Evidently Crewe wanted to protect the family name of a member of the House of Lords and prevent a scandal in Kenya. He was unable to bring legal charges against Patterson as he was only morally responsible for Blyth's death and was also unwilling to use the testimony of illiterate African porters to expose Mrs Blyth's adultery. Patterson wisely resigned two days before Crewe's address in the House of Lords which was full of sexual hypocrisy and class interest. In his speech Crewe stated that "Mr Blyth died in the course of his expedition, died by a revolver-shot wound, undoubtedly inflicted by himself, either by accident or in a fit of delirium consequent upon a severe attack of fever from which he suffered throughout the journey". He continued: "Colonel Patterson throughout treated Mr Blyth with nothing but kindness and humanity during the journey …… The best proof I can give to the House that we did not consider Colonel Patterson unworthy of continuing in His Majesty's service is that I sanctioned his return to East Africa. But his health is broken down to a very great extent and this has prevented his return". Of the event Governor Hayes-Sadler noted; "Would it not be better to conclude the whole matter by telling Colonel Patterson that his services are no longer required. His return to East Africa would, I am assured, result in an outburst in the Press and elsewhere causing a scandal of the most acute description. On his own show his conduct was unbecoming an official in our service." DSO - He served in South Africa from 1900-1902. He was twice mentioned in Despatches and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order …….. in recognition of services during the operations in South Africa. The Insignia were presented by the King 29 Oct 1901. From Jan to 31 May 1902 he was in command of the 33rd Imperial Battn. and had the Queen's Medal with 4 clasps. He retired from the Essex Yeomanry 11 Feb 1903. He served in the European War in Egypt, and in command of the Zion Mule Corps in Gallipoli in 1915, receiving mention in Despatches for this campaign. He was afterwards in command from July 1916 to Jan 1917 of the 4th Battn. Royal Irish Fusiliers; Jan - Aug 1917 and from 1917 in command of the 38th Battn. Royal Fusiliers, a Jewish Battalion.
Nicholls - In 1898 J.H. Patterson, engaged in constructing the railway, entered in his diary: 'Sleep in same hut as Whitehead [Richard] [the District Officer at Ndi] and his temporary Swahili wife.'
Chandler - Long three page entry
Old Africa - 1-10-14 - Christine Nicholls - Many of you will have heard of John Henry Patterson, the man who shot the man-eating lions threatening the workers on the Mombasa-Lake Victoria railway line. He was in charge of building the railway bridge across the Tsavo River when the lions went on their murderous spree, and he succeeded in eliminating them. The book that he wrote describing the episode was a bestseller in its time and is still readily available, more than a hundred years later. But what became of Patterson? Did he fade into obscurity?
In reality, Patterson’s subsequent life was full of incident. He achieved notoriety following a marital scandal and, later, fame in Israel. He himself was not Jewish, but rather of northern Irish Protestant stock. His parentage is unknown, though it has been suggested that he was born in 1867, the illegitimate son of a landed Irish family. He joined the army and served in India and South Africa. Meanwhile, in 1895 he married an unusual woman, Frances Helena Gray, a headmistress who had been one of the first to gain a BA in Pure Science and a Doctorate of Law. He then left for Kenya to build bridges for the railway, leaving his wife in England. In 1907 he was appointed a game warden in Kenya, and it was while he was conducting a married couple on safari, Ethel and Audley Blyth, that disaster struck. Audley shot himself in his tent under suspicious circumstances. Patterson buried him on the spot and continued with the safari, accompanied by Ethel. It was said that they shared a tent. It was some time before they returned to Nairobi, and they travelled back to England together on the ship.
There was a scandal, not helped by Winston Churchill weighing in with accusations. But Patterson’s wife welcomed him back. She had had two babies in previous years, but both had died. However, nine months after Patterson’s return a baby boy, Bryan, appeared in the Patterson household. He cannot have been Frances’s son, or there would have been a birth certificate to say so. In fact, many years later, when Bryan had grown up and was trying to get US citizenship, he was astounded to find that his birth certificate said he was born in Hampstead as Lionel Brown, son of James Brown, civil engineer, and his wife Elinor, née Miller. No such people exist in the official records. Patrick Streeter, Patterson’s biographer, thinks that the boy was the child of Patterson and Ethel. Possibly Patterson’s wife Frances did not know this or she may have connived in the deception, happy to acquire a baby at last.
The family then spent a busy few years, travelling widely – they were friends of Theodore Roosevelt in America. Patterson wrote further books and rejoined the army, fighting in the First World War, as leader of the Zionist Mule Corps and Jewish Legion. He became an ardent Zionist, and for the rest of his life worked to further the Zionist cause. He became close to the pioneer Zionists Zeev Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu (father of the current Israeli Prime Minister). In 1940 he moved to La Jolla, California, where he lived out his days with his wife in a small bungalow, until he died in 1947. His exploits in Kenya were dramatised in films and in the tale written by Ernest Hemingway – The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. As for his son Bryan, he became Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at Harvard University and was well known in his field. Recently Patterson’s claim that the Tsavo lions killed 135 railway workers has been challenged as an exaggeration, but this does not detract from his bravery in putting an end to the animal scourge. There is much about Patterson’s life that is speculative, but it is incontrovertible that he helped to create the state of Israel.
If you want to know more about Patterson, there are two interesting books: Patrick Streeter, Mad for Zion, a Biography of Colonel J.H. Patterson, 2004, and Denis Brian, The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson, 2008.
Gazette 1 Nov 1907 John Henry Patterson Principal Game Ranger arr. 8 Oct 1907
Gazette 1 Feb 1908 Lt,-Col J.H. Patterson gun licence
Gerald Gilbey: He enlisted as a Trooper at Dublin aged 17 and sent to Canterbury Barracks. He spent 12 years in India rising to Sergeant before he was seconded to supervise bridge construction over the Tsavo River in 1898. He was promoted to Lt. Col. during the Boer War serving with the Imperial Yeomanry. Only after the war did he command a section of the Essex Yeomanry.

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