Name: RINGER, Charles Harding Newman (Major)
Nee: son of Charles and Julia Harding (née Newman) Ringer of Brighton Lodge, Lower Harley Place, Clifton
Birth Date: 1860 Clifton, Bristol
Death Date: 18.9.1912 Falmouth, fell off his yacht into Falmouth harbour
First Date: 1904
Profession: Built the Norfolk Hotel
Area: Nairobi, Kamiti, Donyo Sabuk
Book Reference: Land, North, EAHB 1907, Gazette, Gillett, Cuckoo, KFA, Jessen, Adventurers, EAHB 1905, Hut, Playne, Macmillan, Drumkey, EAHB 1906, Law Reports, Nicholls, Chandler, Mills Norfolk
War Service: 3/East Lancashire Regt. Anglo Boer War
This comfortable life was brought to an end when his father, who had
been to the Azores for his health, died of apoplexy on 25th March, 1868
on his return aboard the 'Margam Abbey' leaving a widow and three children, Charles aged only 8. This event, whilst he was so young, seems to have broken any expectation that Charles would follow his father into the family business. His mother was remarried eight months later, on 21st November, in St Andrews Church, Clifton, by the Rev Bishop Anderson to John George Sarsfield MacNamara Moore, a retired Naval Commander. The family moved to his property, Woodside, in the village of Godstone, Surrey. He is described as a Justice of the Peace and Landowner and the household included two servants. However, he was to die in the autumn of 1872, when Charles was 12, and by 1881 the family are recorded as lodging at 7, Southsea Terrace, Portsea, described as 'naval annuitants' receiving an annual payment from the Navy.
From these apparently reduced circumstances on 21st September,1878 Charles, aged 18, enlisted as a sub-lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and was promoted to Lieutenant on 16th February,1881. As a militia battalion, it trained annually but only 'embodied' during periods of war whilst the regular army was abroad. In May 1882, his military service ended and, perhaps influenced by his 50 year old uncle Theobald, a recently retired Deputy Surgeon-General with the Bengal Medical Establishment, he travelled abroad for nine years. In 1883/84, he went to South Africa and then to the West Indies, South America and Cuba, an area where his mother's family, the Harding-Newmans of Nelmes in Essex, had interests.
By 1891, he had returned to England and re-entered military service,
spending the next nine years in West Africa. He joined the private Royal
Niger Company, which had been granted a Royal charter in 1886 to administer trading on the Niger River. Its military resources consisted of river steamers with light guns and an armed constabulary of a few hundred Hausas and Yorubas commanded by British officers, such as Lieutenant Ringer. He spoke both local languages together with German.
He re-entered the regular army in 1893 through the Provisional
Battalion at Shorncliffe Barracks in Kent, before joining another militia regiment,-the 3rd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment. He was promoted to Captain on 28th May, 1893 when seconded to the Niger Coast Protectorate, a Crown Protectorate responsible for the lower reaches of the river and coastline. In April 1896, Captain Ringer provided the military escort fora British expedition into the Niger hinterland where they heard that 'every year the King of Benin made human and other sacrifices for juju (black magic) purposes' and caused his neighbours 'a lot of trouble. The Consulate General in Old Calabar mentioned in his letter of 18th July,1896 to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the Foreign Office that 'Captain Ringer carried out the duty... with tact". The success of British interests in the area depended upon trade, and treaties had been signed with numerous local chiefs to further these interests. However the King of Benin resisted such approaches and efforts were made to convince him otherwise.
On 27th December, 1896, thing Consul-General Phillips left Old
Calabar aboard the Niger Coast Protectorate boat 'Ivy' accompanied
by 100 troops under the command of Captains Searle and Ringer. The
troops and officers were left at New Calabar whilst Phillips together
with six Protectorate officers and two traders sailed around the coast to
Sapele. On 2nd January, 1897 they set out cross country, accompanied
by about 250 carriers but no armed escort, to visit the King of Benin,
The King sent word that he didn't wish them to come, but they
continued. Within a few days, all bar two of the British contingent and
many of the bearers were massacred, the two escaping through the
bush to the coast. This was termed the 'Benin Massacre' and the Royal Navy, the principal military force along the coast, assembled local Coast Protectorate forces together with others from the Atlantic, India and Mediterranean. They proceeded through the bush and by 17th February had destroyed large parts of the kingdom and city of Benin and killed many of its people, although the King escaped for six months.
Captain Ringer was reported as leading a half company of Coast
Protectorate men supported by a Maxim gun unit and proceeded
through continual resistance to the city. The widespread scenes of
horrific human sacrifices perpetrated by the King that the punitive
expedition discovered in Benin created great revulsion in England.
At that time Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary, combined the
various British military forces in West Africa into the West African Frontier force (WAFF). A contemporary book gives an insight into the position of the WAFF's British officers, among who was Captain Ringer, "In the first years of the WAFF, many of the junior officers were not up to their task. The force initially contained a high proportion of men who had been commissioned in the militia and had advanced through local West African constabularies, with the result that they were inadequately trained for the military profession. However, the officer corps was not short of volunteers.
In 1898, we have a contemporary description of Captain Ringer as the
medical report accompanying his home leave refers to him 'after the
Benin Expedition suffering from acute rheumatism that incapacitated
him for upwards of three months... his appearance was anaemic, slightly yellow, general languor... a good deal of swelling over the knee joint with inability to go up or down stairs without the aid of a stick'. He was engaged in further action to control the Kingdom of Benin during 1899.
In 1900, the 3rd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment was 'embodied'
on 24th January for service in the Boer War and on 2nd July Captain
Ringer accompanied a draft of the regiment sailing on the 'Ulstermore'
from Liverpool to the Cape arriving on 24th July. He rejoined the Regiment from the seconded list on 25th August. Captain Ringer was attached to the Army Service Corps as railway staff officer and commandant Smaldeel in the Orange River Colony. The Regiment was 'disembodied' after 26 months on 25th March, 1902 but Captain Ringer remained in the Transvaal and departed for England on 25th April, 1903. During this period, on 30th August, 1902, he was gazetted as Major it is probable that it was on this journey back to England that Major Ringer, unmarried and aged 43 and without any immediate military commitments, first entered British East Africa when the vessel called at Mombasa. Certainly by the end of April he was on the North German Lloyd Line vessel 'Bremen, sailing from Aden to Southampton.
Whilst still in the militia, he returned to East Africa and in 1904 met
fellow settler Robert Winearls, 5 years his senior and a similar lifelong
traveller with a common service in the recent war and, with no evident
experience, proceeded to create the Norfolk Hotel, the subject of this
book. At that time, he also acquired a fine estate for hunting game east of Nairobi in the vicinity of Donyo Sabuk that by 1906 had been acquired by William Northrup McMillan. On 28th April. 1906, aged 46, he resigned his commission in the Army 'with permission to retain his rank and wear the prescribed uniform'. On 12th June, 1906, his Uncle Theobald Ringer, died in retirement in Cheltenham. In this period Major Ringer acquired Winearls' interest and became the sole proprietor of the Norfolk. In January 1910, he travelled from Liverpool to the United States to visit Pasadena, California and by May that year had entered into discussions to sell the Norfolk Hotel. His mother had died in 1892 and his unmarried sisters were now settled in Northam, North Devon. Perhaps attracted by memories of his youth he also returned to a harbour in the South West, acquiring 8, Greenbank, Falmouth, a prestigious waterside address. He and his two sisters moved in and he, a keen sailor, became a member of the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club.
The sale of the Norfolk Hotel was completed on 21st April, 1911
although as part of the transaction he received a large shareholding in the Company that acquired it. In June, he travelled to theVnited States, first class on the 'SS Olympic' and holidayed at the Metropole Hotel on Catalina island, California quoting on the manifest fellow settler
and celebrity, William Northrup McMillan of 19, Hill Street, London
as his 'nearest relative or fi-iend. As a keen yachtsman and fisherman, he presumably enjoyed the sporting opportunities the hotel offered. He returned to England in September 1911.
On Wednesday, 12th September, 1912. he took his yacht 'Glitter' out
from Falmouth and was knocked overboard and drowned whilst his boatman was below deck. Aged 52, he died at sea, as his father had 44 years earlier. His estate was valued at £5,824.171d (today's equivalent £430,000) was ieft to his sisters. What if his father hadn't died prematurely? The firm was soon joined by W. D Bigg & Co to become EdvitiO, Ringer & Bigg Ltd and in 1901 was one of 13 firms acquired by the newly incorporated Imperial Tobacco Company and the name Edwards, Ringer and Bigg survived on, certain brands and cigarette cards well into the 20th century. Indeed the premises in Redcliff Street, Bristol continued to be known locally as 'Ringers' until their closure in 1974 and their facade is still retained as part of a subsequent residential development. So Charles Ringer, although born into comfort, before maturity had to find his own way in the world. He spent most of his adult life abroad, initially presumably in commerce, but then principally in military service, not marrying and rarely settling for more than a few years. Then, when he arrives in East Africa, lie makes his only known commercial investment, in a hotel in a developing town at the heart of a growing country. His ambitions were probably quite modest; a quintessential wanderer he established a prospect of England in foreign parts, and it would no doubt surprise and delight him to see what it has become in the century since its founding.