Skip to content ↓

View entry

Back to search results

Name: WILSON, Florence Kerr 'Florrie' OBE, Mrs

image of individualimage of individual

Nee: Fernie

Birth Date: 1879 Blundell Sands, Lancs.

Death Date: 20 Sep 1966 Karen, Nairobi

Last Date: 1966

Profession: Founder of Wilson Airways; pilot. Founder of Wilson Airport

Area: Nanyuki, Nairobi

Married: 1902 Major William Herbert Wilson (1866-1928)

Book Reference: Markham, Karen 50, Hut, Pioneers, Aero, Nicholls, Campling

General Information:

Markham -  In 1929 Tom Campbell Black was hired by Florrie Wilson, widow, of Wilson Airways, to fly her in J.C. Carbery's Focker Universal to London and brought back for her a new aircraft in which Wilson Airways was to carry the mail.
Pioneers - In 1929 Mrs Florence Kerr Wilson, 50 years old and recently widowed, flew to England from an airstrip at Langata in a Fokker Universal with Mr Tom Campbell Black as pilot and Mr Archie Watkins as engineer. In those days there were few airstrips, let alone airfields, and no sophisticated instruments. Refuelling arrangements were extremely sketchy. Pilots relied on simple navigation by compass and map and often came down on roads or in the bush. The African services of Imperial Airways had not yet begun.
Tom Campbell Black's ambition was to start a local air transport business, and in Mrs Wilson he found an enthusiastic backer. Wilson Airways was launched on 31 July 1929 with a capital of £50,000 and one Gipsy Moth aircraft. Campbell Black made history by flying a 17½-stone passenger with his baggage to Croydon, England, in this tiny machine, within one week. He flew back in an Avro Five which, with the Gipsy Moth, founded Wilson Airways' fleet. In the first full year's operation the company flew more than 150,000 miles at a cost to passengers of 1/3d. A mile.
By 1931 the company had three pilots and a fleet of 2 Avro Fives, 2 DH Puss Moths and 3 Gipsy Moths. Campbell Black made the first non-stop flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi, and was the first to fly from Nairobi to Mombasa and back in a day. Mrs Wilson piloted herself on occasions, and with Captain C.P. Mostert flew 8531 miles from Zanzibar to Croydon, via the Congo, Kano and Dakar, in a Puss Moth, in 80 hours and 40 minutes flying time, averaging 106 miles an hour.
At the outbreak of the Second World War pilots and engineers joined the Kenya Auxiliary Air Unit, and later the RAF, and the company ceased to function as an independent airline. It was later merged into East African Airways. Mrs Wilson died in 1966, but the airport at Langata survives. A plaque at Wilson Airport, formerly Nairobi West, commemorates its founder's outstanding services to aviation in Africa.
Aero - See That Propeller at the Aero Club and Think of ….. - by Edward Rodwell - ……….. Mrs Florence Wilson had two loves and I don't know in which order they should be shown. She was an inveterate snooker player and her house at Karen was built about a full-sized table. She started Wilson Airways with a Moth bi-plane christened "Knight of the Mist". Florrie Wilson gave a great boost to aviation. The advent of the airline brought airfields into being, the first air ambulance service and the first flying training school.
Aero - The 'mother' of Wilson Airways was Mrs Florence Kerr Wilson, a Timau farmer's widow, who was 50 years old at the time. "Florrie" Wilson, as she was always affectionately known, came to Kenya with her husband Major W.H. Wilson, DSO, after the First World War to start farming at Timau, near Nanyuki. Before the War she had made several flights as a passenger under conditions which would not be attractive to travellers of today. She came from a family of shipowners, and had been interested in flying ever since she was a child, when from the family home at Blundell Sands in Lancashire she used to strap herself to an umbrella and leap from a wall in the face of a high wind. A flight which was the decisive factor in the forming of the new company took place when, following her husband's death in 1928, Florrie Wilson had to return to England on business. She flew with Tom Campbell Black in John Carberry's 3-engine Fokker Universal "Miss Africa" with motor mechanic Archie Watkins as flight engineer. The flight took 4 days and the inescapable conclusion can be drawn that at the end of it, three minds had but a single thought. When personal business matters were concluded in England, the trio visited aircraft manufacturers to select suitable aircraft for Wilson Airways. …………..
Florrie Wilson was awarded the OBE in 1935, and was made a Life Governor of the Royal Agricultural Society of Kenya in 1958. Her home in Karen was built round a full sized billiard table, and according to Kenya historian Edward Rodwell, she was a formidable billiard and snooker player. ……… Although she retired to Jersey late in life it was at her Kenya home at Karen that Florrie Wilson died on 29th September 1966. She was 88 years old.
Nicholls - Florence Kerr Fernie was born in Liverpool in 1879. She married Herbert Wilson in 1902 and emigrated to Kenya after WW1
Campling - "In a roundabout way it was John Carberry who was responsible for Mrs Florence Wilson's opening of Wilson Airways. Mrs Wilson and her husband, Major W.H. Wilson, had farmed in the Timau area and, when the 50-year old Mrs Wilson was widowed in 1928, she needed to return to England, whereupon Carberry offered to fly her in his Fokker Universal, intending to leave Nairobi on Feb 29th. Then 2 days before, Mr Heuffl, Carberry's German engineer was killed in a motor accident; ……As a result the proposed flight to England with Mrs Wilson had to be cancelled. Instead, Carberry suggested that Tom Campbell-Black flew the Fokker with Archie Watkins as engineer. ……….. The flight was carried out in a matter of days, so very much more quickly than the sea voyage which was the usual method of travel to Europe.
Mrs Wilson was so impressed with the potential for flying that she decided to start her own air service. Whilst in England Archie Watkins obtained an aircraft engineering licence, so they returned to Kenya and Wilson Airways Ltd. was formed with a capital of £50,000. They had one Gypsy Moth, Tom Campbell-Black as pilot and Archie Watkins as engineer. Operations were commenced at the airfield at Dagoretti Corner, but later moved to Nairobi Aerodrome, later to be known as Nairobi West and todays Wilson Airport. Mrs Wilson took her pilots licence and in 1930, flying with Capt. M.C. Mostert, she made a survey of the route  from Johannesburg via the Rhodesias and Tanganyika to Nairobi. In 1931 she and Capt. Mostert made the first flight across Africa flying a Puss Moth, VP-KAH, from Zanzibar via Nairobi, Entebbe, Stanleyville, Bangui, Fort Lamy, Kano to Bathurst and then on to Croydon. ………….. Florence Wilson was awarded the OBE in 1935. Wilson Airways ceased operations some months after the outbreak of war and went into liquidation in September 1940 when the RAF took over the company's assets. In 1962 Nairobi West Airport was renamed Wilson Airport in honour of Mrs Wilson, and by the time she died in Nairobi in 1966 she was in her late eighties.
Mills - Florence Kerr Fernie was born in Liverpool in 1879. Her family were ship-owners, and she had been interested in flying from an early age.
Karen 50 - a First Member and later Lady Captain of Karen Club and supplied the second snooker table at Karen.
Gazette 18 Oct 1966 probate says she died on 29 Sep.

Back to search results