Did I ever tell you about Great-Uncle Ronan? He was my paternal grandfather’s elder brother and he was the District Commissioner for Nairobi about 100 years ago. He’s our family hero and we have the leopard to prove it.
Like many people in the Colonial service, he became devoted to the country he was sent to. He lived as one of the ruling classes of course, as was normal at that time. I’m not making any judgment, comment or anything else on British or any other colonialism – that was then, this is now, it would not be appropriate now for an Englishman to rule an area with a load of African servants and I’m not justifying it. But he did care about the people under his care and felt them to be his responsibility, personally as well as professionally.
One evening, he was going out to dinner so had given all his staff the evening off. He was putting on his evening clothes when he heard screams coming from the kitchen. He ran down and found a leopard attacking his house boy, the only other person in the house. Ronan had a revolver in his room, but if he fetched it, the man would be dead by the time he returned. He grabbed the leopard by the throat.
It was a fight to the death.
Once he was better, he carried on with the programme of getting wells dug, to bring fresh and clean water to outlying areas. Unfortunately, he had to drink the local water in the meantime, he caught cholera and he died. In the attic, we’ve got the series of telegrams telling his mother of his illness, finishing with the black-bordered envelope. There is also a scrapbook of press cuttings, including the ones of his funeral. A colleague of my stepfather went to the cemetery in Nairobi and found his memorial some years ago, don’t know if it still exists.
I don’t know a lot else about him. His name is Gaelic, chosen by his Scottish mother. He was married, but divorced his wife on the grounds of her adultery. It was a bit startling, browsing through the Times archives, to find the court case of their divorce. He had no children and died in 1913. We named our second son after him – sorry, Ro, it’s never been easy, having a name everyone gets wrong.
Bobby, the leopard, is in the rafters in one of the garages. I’ve been meaning for a long time to get him hauled down. If he’s rotted away, he’ll be burnt. If not, he’ll be fumigated and brought indoors. I’ve known him all my life, he lived on the landing in my family home and I used to say goodnight to him when I went to bed.