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Name: POWYS, Theodore Charles 'Dicky'

image of individual

Nee: nephew of Will Powys. Son of Will's brother Theodore Francis

Birth Date: 1906 Chaldon, Dorset

Death Date: 19 Dec 1931 Laikipia, murdered by Samburu

First Date: 1925

Last Date: 1931

Profession: Went to work at 'El Pingwan' in Laikipia for Galbraith Cole in 1925. The ranch was later bought by Will Powys

Area: Laikipia, 1930 Naro Moru, Rumuruti

Book Reference: Random, Midday Sun, Foster, Red 25, Red 31, Hut, Curtis, Thurston

General Information:

Midday Sun - 'It was on the Powys' Laikipia ranch, Il Pinguan, that Theodore, son of Will's brother of the same name, met a tragic end. At the age of 25 he had gone out to join his uncle at Kisima. Il Pinguan was not then Powys property, but was Crown land rented from the Government by Nell Cole, Galbraith's widow. It lay in a lonely, sparsely occupied, remote region, then part of the Northern Frontier District, between a settled area to the south and, to the north, the territory of the Samburu. .....…..
Nell Cole engaged young Theodore, called Dicky by his family, to look after her sheep at Il Pinguan. One morning in October 1931 he rode out as usual on his white pony to inspect the flocks. In mid morning the pony returned riderless to camp. It was not until two days later that searchers found his scattered bones, fragments of clothing, and a pool of dried blood. There was no skull. A young policeman from Rumuruti concluded that the pony had shied at a lion and thrown its rider, who had probably broken his neck, and that the lion, together with hyenas and vultures, had done the rest. A thorough search failed to discover the skull. Accidental death was the official conclusion.
Rumours soon began to circulate that Samburu warriors, not a lion, had killed young Powys. It was reported to the authorities that the warriors were openly boasting of having killed a European and were singing a 'song of the vultures' to celebrate their feat. Spear-blooding was common enough, but a European victim would constitute a feather in the killer's caps. Two months after Powys' death, a man called Kiberenge reported to the police at Rumuruti that he had witnessed the arrival at the local headman's dwelling of 6 Samburu warriors carrying the head and testicles of a European. The headman had sworn the warriors to secrecy 'over spears', and offered Kiberenge 5 cows to keep his mouth shut. Finding no proof of this story - not surprisingly, since the headman naturally denied it - the police charged Kiberenge with giving false information to a public servant, and the DC sentenced him to 5 months' hard labour.  
This bizarre procedure angered the scattered ranchers of the region, whose African employees were as convinced as they were that if the Samburu got away with Powys' murder no ones life, white or black, would be safe. After Kiberenge's release from jail he disappeared and, despite exhaustive searches, was never seen or heard of again. Murder was presumed. The windswept steppes of northern Laikipia might seem, and be, far from Westminster, but it was not long before the death of Theodore Powys, Samburu laibons and 'the song of the vultures' were cropping up at question time in the House of Commons, and forming the subject of despatches between the Secretary of State and Governor Sir Joseph Byrne. The outcome was a much more thorough enquiry which brought to light the implication of the local laibon in the spearing not only of Powys but of 12 Kikuyu men, living on lonely farms, as well. Authority then came up against a brick wall. No one could be found prepared to give evidence against the laibon; so as to remove his influence, he was sent into temporary exile at the Coast.
By 1934, the total of spear-blooding murders by Samburu warriors had risen to 32. It was not until the end of that year that several Dorobo living near Il Pinguan told police that they had encountered on the plain, at the relevant time, a party of Samburu warriors carrying Powys' head and testicles and boasting of their feat. After the Dorobo had picked them out in an identification parade, 7 Samburu warriors were charged with murder. Two turned King's evidence, and in November 1934 the remaining 5 were brought to trial before a High Court judge in Nakuru. According to press reports the trial developed into something of a shambles .............. and they were not found guilty - they were set free. .......….
The sequel to the Powys trial was predictable. The 'song of the vultures' was openly sung throughout Samburuland, and spear-blooding murders went from strength to strength. Kikuyu people, male and female furnished most of the victims. The Government's remedy was 'closer administration', ie. more district officers and more policemen, combined with heavier collective fines in the shape of livestock. ...'  
Foster - Theodore Powys was later speared to death by Samburu moran on Pingwan, Rumuruti. The local District Commissioner at that time was known as 'Bwana Kakwa' (rocks). Ridgeway was the policeman who found the murderers and Willy Alan was the defence lawyer, who secured their acquittal.
Curtis - p. 69 - 'Some Timau Farmers' - 'Will Powys at one time entrusted the running of his Kisima Farm to his nephew Theodore. Mr D.H.M. Dempster recalled visiting Kisima with Will in 1924. There was heavy mist, and they fired off a round to let Theodore know they were there. Theodore's answering shot guided them to the grass hut where he was living. Theodore was later speared to death by Samburu Moran at Rumuruti.
Thurston - Official Records - CO533 - 439/26 - 1933-34 - Samburu tribe: allegations of murder of Theodore Powys Bartlett - pp 5/6 - story of Theodore Powys murder - much as above.
Red 25 has T.C. Powys, Gilgil.
Nation But on the 19th of December, 1931, T. L. Powys disappeared while riding his pony to inspect a borehole and a search party only found remnants of Powys’s clothing and parts of his body. The horse had returned home alone. It was initially thought that he had been killed by a lion but authorities thought that he was a victim of the struggle between settlers and the Samburu over the land.So complicated was this investigation — there was an inquest and an inquiry — that it is today regarded as part of the struggle for Leroghi Plateau although some scholars say that it was part of a Samburu ritual where young men wanted to use Powys death “to appear brave in the eyes of young women”. An attempt by the government to get to the bottom of the case was hampered by a witch doctor, Ole Odomo, who was deported to Kwale after the Supreme Court was satisfied that his influence was hampering the investigation.

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