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.


  1. fascinating -- almost a lost world? I can imagine many people of a slightly older generation than ours finding much to awaken memories here.

  2. Hello Sophie, my father in law was George Gibson 'Peter' Bevan until he died a few years ago. I am married to his daughter Thelma and i have been researching her family history which is linked to the Gibson family. Peter was a 'love child' of Georgina Gibson, John and Emilys fourth daughter, and was brought up in Wales. As I said I have been researching the family and in particular Maxtone Eric Gibson 'Marcus' Mailer, the pilot. I have reason to believe that he was killed in a training accident in Sussex near RAF Tangmere in December 1939. He had been posted to 92 Squadron and had he survived, would have been in the thick of The Battle of Britain just a few months later. I hope you don't mind me respectfully 'putting the record right'. Your history of this side of the family is truly interesting. Best wishes, MIchael J Hall

  3. How very good to hear from you, Michael. Thank you so much for writing in. I don't remember how I heard that Marcus died while training in Norway. I am sure you are right. I am Joy Mailer's grand-daughter and know she adored him, deeply mourning his loss. He was called Mac in Tony's photo albumn. I remember Helen, my great grandmother, quite well and knew Roma and Tony.