Saturday, 21 June 2014

Tony's story - a life spent in East Africa

Makorongo had an unusual friend in the form a Policeman of Scottish decent called Tony Maxtone-Mailer.

Tony's parents married in Malaya in 1911. His grandfather John Gibson, a civil engineer from Ayr, famous for building the Kandy Railway, had become a rubber planter owning plantations in Keang.

Tony's father, Maxtone Lockhart Mailer, arrived from Dumfries in Scotland to manage the rubber plantation and soon married Nellie, one of John Gibson's five daughters.

After WWI ended, Maxtone Mailer took the opportunity to move to East Africa to run coffee and timber plantations that had been acquired by the British Government after the German surrender. The youngest of four children, Tony was born in Kenya in 1991 and instantly went down with blackwater fever.

While his elder brother and sisters were sent back to Dumfries to be brought up by their grandparents, Tony was the little one who stayed with his mother and grew up in northern Tanzania. Since he had survived blackwater fever it was assumed that he would be resistant to malaria.

Although he had to be under a mosquito net before 6.00pm every night, Tony grew up speaking Swahili and learning about the bush from the Warusha people working on the farm. His Ayah, who was a man, told me that he was such an active child he had to attach a dog lead to him.

His father taught him how to ride and shoot well - and little else apart from vehicle maintenance. Tony became a crack shot, able to shoot a sixpence from between his sister's fingers with his air rifle.

At the outbreak of the second world war Tony's brother Marcus joined the RAF, but was tragically killed in an accident whilst training in Norway.

Tony joined the Kenyan Police Force as a reservist, but soon became an officer, winning the East Africa show-jumping championships on his horse Captain Blood.

Travel and the safari life always called Tony back to the wilderness, especially when it involved hunting , which he loved.

Much against his father's wishes he married a divorced English lady called Vera Winter, nee Yates, the daughter of Yates Shipping. She was an accomplished pianist but loved life in the bush with her dogs and horses.

Although Tony was stationed at Narok and able to tour the Masai Mara, he left the Police, giving up the security of a decent pension to join the Game Department and became a professional hunter.

Tony and Vera farmed cattle, working with the Masai, whose language Tony had picked up whilst working in the Mara. Tragically Vera was struck by lightening. By the time I knew her she was wheelchair bound but had time to show me photographs of a life that has all but disappeared.

Makarongo joined Tony to work on his safaris. He was bright, very amusing and soon travelled everywhere with the Mailers, organising the vehicles and setting up camp. In old age, Tony and Makarongo were inseparable.

There was always laughter and long stories. They shared memories spanning the decades and experiences that outsiders might find difficult to fully grasp.