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Name: WALSH, Mary 'Pioneer Mary', Mrs
Birth Date: 1848
Death Date: 20.6.1922 Nairobi, cirrhosis of liver
First Date: 1897
Last Date: 1922
Profession: Together with her husband, John, she farmed first at Naivasha and later at Kiambu and was known throughout EA as 'Pioneer Mary'. In early days often passed through Nakuru together for they established a rather primitive transport business
Area: Naivasha, Kikuyu
Married: 1. ? 2. John 'Jack' (c.1863-1922)
Children: 7 children but each one died soon after birth from malaria
Book Reference: Gillett, SE, KFA, Elephant Stone, Boyes, Austin, Adventurers, Drumkey, Land, Advertiser, Pioneers, Globe, Barnes, Nicholls, Naivasha, Chandler
A hamali cart and 6 donkeys did the work! As the railway reached further up country it took away one of their means of earning a living. All her children died from malaria so she had this sadness to endure as well as a very rough life. She was known to the African natives as 'Bibi Kiboko' through her habit of always carrying a rhino hide shamback. One of the pluckiest women that ever entered Africa. Memorial stone in Nairobi, Forest Rd. says - Erected by Pioneer admirers.
SE - Mrs M. Walsh - Mar 1909
KFA - She was often seen at Shows and other gatherings - a small, wiry, weather-beaten figure who, with her husband John Walsh, had trekked up overland from Rhodesia, where they had dug for gold and adventured with Cecil Rhodes' army, while the Uganda Railway was still under construction. Transport with donkeys and trading in cattle became the livelihood of this dauntless Irishwoman who had started her career on a sheep station in Australia's backblocks and lost there her first husband and two small children, one from snakebite and the other from drowning. Her ominous native name, Bibi Kiboko, suggests interests far removed from veils, boudoirs and Bishop sleeves.
Mr Milton of Milton's Siding recalls that in 1905 he came upon her sitting beside a fire on the veld, alone save for a bullock cart and its native drivers, with a rifle across her knees and lions grunting round about, guarding a batch of cattle she was bringing down from Kisii. When she reached the Railway she would halt at some remote station and trade in sugar, soap, paraffin, anything people of any race might need, and then invest the proceeds in more cattle. Coming temporarily to rest in Nakuru, she started the first bakery near the station (on the site of the present Electric Cinema) to cater for the needs of travellers and railway staff. This she sold to Mr M.R. de Souza, and he in turn to Mrs Harriet Speke. "When I met the Walsh's in Nairobi", Mr T.J. O'Shea has written, "in March, 1909, Mary was running a small bakery/restaurant/dairy produce store in Government Road (about where Simpson Whitelaws is now) and John was cattle-farming on a large farm about 8 miles out on the plains. She owned various bits of property in and around the town, but every time she went on the bust, which was pretty frequently, she sold off a piece to finance it, and in the end she had very little left.
Mary's propensity for these terrific binges was almost certainly a consequence of the triple tragedy in her early life. "She was a little woman in height, not much over 5 feet if that, and stoutish, but a bundle of energy, determination and grit. I should say she had been a very good-looking lass in her day, with her Irish blue eyes and fair hair and skin, and an attractive personality." The Walsh's retired in their old age to a brick house outside Nairobi and died before the multi-racial welfare state, which they would neither have adorned nor welcomed, caught up with them.
Elephant Stone - 'Jack & Mary Walsh were both Irish and both workers. They freighted goods with a donkey transport while the Uganda Railway was building. They had sought little of life, making a pleasant living from their business, but flame-haired Mary was a mighty woman, and when she took to drinking it was not wise to argue with her, both for the weight of her rough tongue, and the power of her tough fists. To the natives of EA she became 'Kiboko Mary' because she always carried a stout whip of hippo skin, and would lay about them if they came too near her. So it was not entirely through courtesy to the weaker sex that she was given a wide passage when she walked in the streets of Nairobi.' Boyes - 'took flour to Naivasha, people there were almost starving. Met Mr & Mrs Walsh, who, at the time I first met them, were engaged, like myself in taking up food in donkey-waggons for the troops. They had, I found, established the first store in Naivasha. This was what I had wished to do some time previously, but had been forbidden by the officer in charge. This couple had come to EA from Mashonaland, where Mrs Walsh had been the first white woman to enter the country and had started by taking up the transport business, in which they had both had considerable experience, and in which Mrs Walsh took a man's share of the work, being the only white woman who ever ran transport in BEA.
In spite of their many successful ventures, they are not numbered among the wealthy, their open-handed hospitality and careless, happy-go-lucky Irish temperament being against them in the race to accumulate riches; but there is hardly any one who has been in BEA who does not know them, and few who have not, at one time or another, shared their generous hospitality, which was as freely extended to the trader or settler temporarily down on his luck as to the Govt. official or missionary travelling in luxury.
Austin - Mentions Mr & Mrs Walsh as agents of Boustead Ridley & Co. at Kikuyu in 1897.
Adventurers - 1902 - Simba Station - met Mr Walsh, whom I had not seen for two years. He was one of the oldest pioneers in the country, and was doing transport work to Uganda with his wife at the time of the Sudanese Mutiny long before the railway was built. Mrs Walsh was the first and only white woman running transport in EA. She was accustomed to long journeys with her husband from Mombasa to Uganda, carrying supplies in donkey waggons for the Government ...... When they were not travelling they kept roadside stores along the caravan route, and I can testify, with many others, to their open-hearted hospitality.
Land - 1909 - Mrs M. Walsh - Agricultural and building, 11.7 acres, near Nairobi, 14-12-05, Registered 27-5-09
Land - 1906 - Mary Walsh - Grazing & agricultural, 10 acres - Near Nairobi - 10 years' lease from 1/7/1905 - Registered 7/2/1906
Advertiser - 27/11/08 - Nairobi will have a new bakery and tea room shortly to be opened under the name of Mrs Walsh and Coy., the Pioneer Bakery. Mrs Walsh is really the pioneer baker of East Africa. In the old days of railway building she supplied the bread at Kikuyu and Nakuru while Nairobi was still a wild …..
Advertiser - 18/12/08 - Advert - The Model Bakery & Restaurant, Govt. Rd., Nbi. - Mrs Walsh, Sole Proprietress. She arrived in EA over 13 years ago.
Pioneers - Nakuru - Pioneer Mary: an Irishwoman who came from Australia via South Africa, and with her husband, John Walsh, trekked with the railway as it wound its way up-country. None of her children lived. A sturdy, fiery and determined character, she kept order amongst the railway labour force with her rhino-hide whip. She also made good pies and bread, at first in a tent, then in a bakery on the site of the present Eros cinema. On one occasion Archibald Buchan-Sydserff, a railway engineer known as Bwana Simba, had been out all day in the bush at the height of the hot dry season, surveying towards Rongai. Weary and hungry, he was making his way back to his camp at Nakuru, looking forward to one of Mary's fresh hot loaves, a roast guinea-fowl, and a good long rest on his camp-bed. Suddenly an agitated African jumped out of the bush and barred his path. 'Return at once, Bwana Simba,' he cried. 'Memsahib Kiboko is calling for you! Quickly, come!' Pioneer Mary was on the rampage, all ready to thrash him with her rhino-hide whip. His labourers, she claimed, had stolen sheets of corrugated iron from her ovens. Bwana Simba had to sleep out in the bush that night, supperless and weary. Nobody dared face Pioneer Mary when she was in a really good old-fashioned Irish temper.
She lies buried in Nairobi Cemetery with her husband John at her side.
The Globe Trotter - 6th March 1907 - Advertisement - For Sale - 10 acre plot, adjoining Racecourse fronting the Fort Hall road. Apply, Mrs Mary Walsh
Nairobi Forest Road Cemetery - Mrs Mary Walshe [sic], Irish, age 74, died 20/6/22
Nicholls - On 11 March 1896 Walter Trefusis, Smith Mackenzie's agent, arrived at Fort Smith and fixed on a piece of land off the road below Kinanjui's village, as a place to erect a store. It was to be run by Mr & Mrs John Walshe [sic] who were building it in July. They invested in some goats - Mary Walshe was seen on the road from Machakos, unconcernedly driving a herd of goats alone to Fort Smith. Her husband was far behind, struggling with his donkey cart's detached wheel. As a teenager Mary Walshe had left Ireland for Australia with her first husband. Within 12 years he and their 2 small children were dead.
Mary then went to Rhodesia where she met and married John Walshe with whom she trekked up to East Africa. Small, fierce and red-headed, with a weather-beaten face, Mary Walshe was as tough as they come and not of the same social class as Frank Hall, to whom such things mattered ……… Mary was called 'Bibi Kiboko' (whip woman) by the Africans because she was unsparing with her kiboko, or rhino-hide whip.
Naivasha - Another colourful identity [sic] was Mary Walsh who was said to have walked up from the Coast. She lived in a small cottage on the main road and had a blacksmith's shop attached where she mended wagons and made skeys etc.
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