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Name: WATT, Rachel Eva Stuart, Mrs
Birth Date: 1862 Newry, Co. Down, Ireland
Death Date: 25 June 1932 Rathdrum. Buried in Greystones, Co. Wicklow
First Date: 1893
Profession: Arrived with her husband and 5 children. Travelled on foot, at great risk, from Coast to Fort Smith, with the intention of starting independent missionary work among the WaKikuyu.
Area: Machakos. Mrs Watt stayed in Africa for 43 years & then returned to Ireland
Married: 1884 J. Stuart Watt (1861-1914)
Children: Stuart (d. Jan. 1886); Stuart Brown 'Tooty' (1889 New South Wales-20.7.1914 Kenya}; Rachel Eva (1891-1959); Martha; George William Harris (1893-1983); Frederick (1894); James Alfred (23 Aug 1895-1975); Clara (1898); Stanley (1903)
Author: 'In the Heart of Savagedom'
Book Reference: Gillett, Watt
Christine Nicholls in Old Africa 20 Apr 2014 and 19 May 2014 In 1893 a strange procession arrived at Fort Smith, the Imperial British East Africa Company’s outpost eight miles from present-day Nairobi. Accompanied by African porters, there appeared a white man, his wife, and four children ranging from six months to six years in age. They had marched from Mombasa. Who was this intrepid interloper and what brought him to such a wild place? He was Stuart Watt, an Irishman, a former Church Missionary Society missionary who had decided to travel inland to establish his own independent mission. The CMS denied any responsibility for Watt. ‘You know my opinion of the venture you are making,’ wrote its Secretary to Watt, ‘so I will not write more than to say I pray God to avert you from the catastrophe which your scheme appears to court. I am sure of your zeal. I feel equally sure that it is “not according to knowledge”.’ (J.A. Stuart-Watt’s Recollections, Rhodes House). Watt’s plan was foolhardy in the extreme and John Ainsworth at Machakos fort, where the travellers stopped on the way, had tried to dissuade him from proceeding. Frank Hall, in charge at Fort Smith, also told Watt that his plan was foolish and dangerous. ‘I … decline to be in any way responsible for the safety of the lives and property of your party once out of rifle range of this fort’, wrote Hall to Watt on 13 December 1893 (Hall’s Diary, Rhodes House).
Watt had already been to Africa as a CMS missionary at Mamboia in Tanganyika, in 1885, but his infant son died there in January 1886 and he and his wife became ill with fever, probably malaria. They had had a daughter, Martha, in East Africa, and she lived. In May 1888 they had abandoned the CMS and Africa and went to Australia, where Watt’s wife, Rachel, thrived and had two more children, Stuart B. in 1889 and (Rachel) Eva in 1891. They bought a suburban residence in New South Wales, with a garden of fruit trees. But, said Rachel, ‘We determined that … we would return to East Equatorial Africa, unconnected with any Society, and open up missionary work in some of those great tracts of country along the Equator.’ (In the Heart of Savagedom) She was doubtful about the plan and ‘the thought of our young children dying of fever or dysentery’. Yet they sold their house and ‘several properties’ (it seems that Stuart Watt was a bit of a speculator) and decided to finance the mission with the proceeds. They returned to England and Ireland to make plans and settled in Rostrevor, where Rachel had another son, George, in 1893.
Quite why Watt fell out with the CMS is unclear, but he was to fall out with a great many people in his life. He was not partial to authority. He had been born in the village of Gilford, County Down, Ireland, in 1855/6 but we know nothing about his parentage because the Irish records were burnt in the Civil War in 1922. After school he had been a commercial traveller in the tea trade until he felt the pull of missionary work and applied to the CMS. He also became a captain in the Salvation Army, or so he told Ainsworth. He had met Rachel Harris in Dublin (her ancestry is also unknown, but she was born in Newry, Co. Down, in c.1862) and they married in Carlisle Memorial church, Belfast, a Methodist church, in the July/Aug/Sept quarter of 1884.
Hall described Watt as ‘a raving lunatic’ and what Eric Smith (after whom the fort was named) thought about him was ‘anything but scripturally expressed’ (Hall’s Diary, 14 January 1994, Rhodes House). The family spent Christmas 1893 with Hall at Fort Smith. Watt abandoned his plan of proselytising in Kikuyuland and retreated to Machakos. Ainsworth did not know quite what to do with the band, but allowed them to go eight miles north into Wakamba country to establish a mission at Ngelani. Needless to say, three more children arrived swiftly – Frederick in 1894, James Alfred on 23 August 1895 and Clara in 1898. Watt had no means of financial support, so was obliged to establish a farm. In fact, farming seems to have predominated – Ainsworth reported that there was little sign of missionary activity.
Watt sent to Australia for wattle, previously unknown in East Africa, and to him must go the credit for its proliferation in Kenya. He also sent to Shepherds, a seed merchant in Pitt St., Sydney, for seeds, and ordered from Australia, Tasmania and Japan different kinds of fruit trees. He introduced maize from Virginia. He grew potatoes, passion fruit, tomatoes, and Cape gooseberries. Rachel made boots for the children from wildebeeste hide. ‘Sometimes a feeling of great insecurity would come over me’, she admitted (p.284). In fact, Watt’s farming was so successful that he swept the board for prizes in Nairobi’s second Agricultural Show in 1902, gaining firsts for apples, apricots, grapes and mangoes, and second for a native bull. (Kenya Gazette, 1 January 1903).
The children were growing up and the eldest needed schooling. Watt was fortunate that a benefactor in the CMS offered to pay their school fees, so Watt set out with the oldest four (Martha, Stuart, Eva, and Frederick) in 1901. The girls were put into a school for the daughters of missionaries at Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks, and the two boys were placed in the Methodist College, Belfast. Stuart Watt returned to Ngelani and his wife and other two children. Locusts, jiggers, famine and fires did not deter him from his labours. We don’t know where the children went in the school holidays, but they must have felt a wrench after their free African childhood.
In March 1903 the family decided to visit their children in England and Ireland. In Rochdale Watt attempted to sell his Ngelani farm to the United Methodist Free Church (20 October 1903), but failed. While they were in Dover, another son, Stanley, was born to Rachel, but his birth appears not to have been registered. Soon they were off to Africa again, in November 1904. Martha, the eldest child, returned to Ngelani to help out in 1906, when she had completed her schooling. What happened later to this intrepid family must wait for next month’s blog. Their charmed life was soon to come to an end. In 1908 ‘owing to failing health and the necessity of providing a home for their family, most of whom are at school, Mr and Mrs Watt have been obliged to give up their work in Africa,’ reported the Advertiser of East Africa on 24 April. Watt sold 1,000 acres to Northrup Macmillan for £1,300, even though no improvements had been made to the land, and Lord Delamere bought the fruit farm, which was now very successful. The Ngelani mission was sold to the American Africa Inland Mission at the same time. Not long after Macmillan had finalised the purchase he was visited by a representative of the Church Missionary Society who had come out from England to take possession of Watt’s land but it was discovered that Watt had put the title in his own name rather than the mission’s, so nothing could be done. Might this indicate that the CMS provided some initial capital for the land? It has been alleged that, after the sale, Watt returned to England, joined another mission, and acquired other land by this means. In any case, and however nefarious his dealings, Watt’s activities prompted the opening up of the Mua hills district to white farming.
The Watts set up home in Branksome Park, Bournemouth. They were there during the 1911 census, when their household consisted of Stuart, Rachel, George (now 17 and a bank clerk), James Alfred (15), Clara (13) and Stanley (6). Their daughters Martha and Eva worked as a domestic nurse and nursery governess at The Vicarage, Cullompton, Devon, in the family of Mary Harris and her children. Could Mary Harris have been a relative of their mother, whose maiden name was Harris? Martha and Eva also appear as evangelical Christians encouraging the Republican Hunger Strike in Ireland. Eva became a missionary, mainly in West Africa, and wrote several books about her missionary endeavours. The wanderlust again visited Stuart Watt in 1913 and he returned to the Mua hills to visit the mission. The family bought land and settled down at Donyo Sabuk, but a fire in February 1914 burnt their house and property. With them were sons Stuart B. (known as Tooty), now 25, and daughter Eva, now 23. On 20 July Stuart senior and junior went riding twenty-five miles away, but the young man developed fever, and died. He was buried nearby. Stuart also developed fever and died on 25 April 2014. He was buried under some forest trees. On hearing of his father’s death, James Alfred left Europe for Kenya in June, to find his mother living in a grass hut. He settled into a tent with his brother George, described by Macmillan as ‘as conscienceless as his father’, for eight months while a stone house was built.
George and James Alfred are in the first voting list for the district of Ukamba, in 1919. They lived at Kyatta estate, Chania Bridge (the early name for Thika). By now George had married – Edna Crystelle. Their farm was hit by rinderpest in 1923-4 (Kenya Gazette, 24 October 1923). By 1927 George is in trouble as a debtor (KG, 2 March 1927). Edna Crystelle emigrated to Australia, where she married again – to Hamilton McMaster Allison, probably in 1956. She died aged 67 on 5 March 1964 and is buried at Oakey Creek cemetery, Coolah, NSW. As for James Alfred, he became a clerk on the Kenya Uganda Railway (KG, 10 January 1920). By 1935 he had been promoted to Stock Verifier and by 1938 Accounting Inspector. On 5 September 1922 he married, in Dublin, Amy Feodora Trench (born in Dublin 1896), and they had three sons, two of whom died young. He left Kenya in 1945 and returned to Ireland, where he died in Dublin in 1975.
At some stage his wife Rachel also returned to Ireland. She died on 25 June 1932 in Rathdrum and was buried at Greystones, County Wicklow. Her life had been hard, but she must have concurred with her husband’s wild plans to have suffered, as she did, the loss of some of her children and finally her husband.
An official letter from IBEA Co. headed Kikuyu Fort Dec 13th 1893 signed by Francis G. Hall warned them against the danger of entering Kikuyu, so they retraced their steps to Machakos. On arrival John Ainsworth had his Sudanese soldiers drawn up in line to honour the 1st European lady to set foot there. Eventually settled down within 8 miles of Fort among Akamba, and supported work by fruit growing. Watt - Her father belonged to an English family who had settled in Ireland and her mother was a descendant of the ancient Macgynnises, who, with the O'Neills, reigned and ruled for a lengthened period in the northern part of Ireland. Some of their descendants afterwards changed the name to Guiness.
In 1885 accompanied her husband to E. Africa for the first time. Their first son Stuart Brown Watt died of dysentery soon after they left the coast. CMS sent them to the 'Mamboia' station. ............. When Rachel and Stuart Watt were both very ill with fever they were brought back to Mpwapwa and Dr Baxter and his wife nursed them 1885/6 .......... After their first period in Africa in Tanganyika they went to Australia to recover their health where a son and daughter were born. ........ Returned to Africa as independent missionaries in 1893 with the two children, much against the advice of the IBEA Company. .....…..
Rev. Harry K. Binns sent a letter to the Watts when they were going to set up their independent mission, saying that he thought it would be a great mistake to take Mrs Watt and the children into such a place. ......... Baby born just 3 months before they set off from the coast. ........... At Machakos they were met by John Ainsworth, 'who was in command of the fortified position, and had a large number of native Coast soldiers drawn up with fixed bayonets in honour of the first European lady to enter that region of Africa. Mr Ainsworth very kindly entertained us while there, and did all in his power to make us comfortable. ........ Our genial host had a log fire made in the middle of the grass-thatched quarters in which we dined ....... Such was the state of the country when we arrived that it took a force of 20 to 30 rifles to carry a letter from Machakos fort to the second stronghold about 50 miles further inland [Dagoretti], and even then the journey was not always accomplished in safety.' ............. Joined forces with Mr Scott Elliott's party for the journey to Fort Smith where Mr F.G. Hall was in charge. .............
After Stuart Hall had explored the country towards Mt. Kenya they eventually settled at a place called 'N'gelani' and set up their mission in early 1896. ............ 'In the biography of Martin J. Hall's life entitled "In Full and Glad Surrender," by his sister, his diary is published, and in it he makes reference to his journey up country and his camping in our district in the following terms: "The Bishop and Doctor Baxter started at 8 a.m. to visit Mr Stuart Watt, formerly a CMS Missionary at Mpwapwa, but now living here with his wife and children as an independent Missionary. It was so refreshing to see these sweet, healthy little English faces in this far-off land. These little people came up here with their parents about 2 years ago, in the rainy season, and though wet through day after day, seemed none the worse for it ......... Mr Watt lives with his wife and children in a remote place in the hills called N'gelani. We left Machakos after quite a touching good-bye to the dear little Watt children. In spite of their wild surroundings they have been beautifully brought up, and have most charming manners and look the picture of health." ........................ Children sent home to school - Two girls to Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks, a school for the daughters of missionaries - Two boys to Methodist College, Belfast - leaving Rachel Watt with a little boy and girl aged 5 and 3.
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