So long as the world exists, there will always be found some to issue protest against the just punishment of the Native, and the application of stern discipline, without which the White man in his trifling minority cannot hope to control those whom he has taken upon himself to lift up out of the mire of superstition and instinctive criminality.” East African Standard, 1907.
It will be recalled that Ewart Grogan, during his stay in South Africa, before coming to Kenya, met and made the acquittance of Cecil Rhodes who schooled him well on the policy of apartheid practiced in that country.
One night in an inebriated state, Mr Grogan got into a brawl with a Portuguese officer in the town of Beira, Mozambique. The altercation ended in the death of the Portuguese man and Mr Grogan was quietly shipped out to Zanzibar to avert any further diplomatic embarrassment, making his way inland into Kenya. Mr Grogan was certainly no stranger to controversy.
The settler community wanted a freehand in the Protectorate while the British government wanted to instill law and order. Mr Grogan won the hearts of many settlers for his militant style and he was soon elected President of the Colonists’ Association.
On March 14, 1907, Mrs. Hunter (Grogan’s sister) and her friend Ms McDonnell were riding to Nairobi Club on a rickshaw pulled by three Kikuyu “boys”. It is thought that, likely due to a failure to communicate, the “boys” gave their passengers a rather bumpy ride.
Mrs Hunter, considering that their dignity as White ladies had been threatened, promptly reported the incident to her brother, perhaps being economical with the truth as to what actually happened.
Mr Grogan was incensed and ranted to his friend S.C. Fichat that night. He saw the incident as a great opportunity to show the colonial government and the Africans who was boss.
The next morning Mr Grogan rounded up the three, tied their hands behind their backs with rope and locked them up in a shed. With the help of other African servants,
Mr Grogan led the trio down Government Road. In the meantime, Mr Fichat had been walking around town spreading the word that Mr Grogan was about to flog three Africans for disrespecting White women.
Soon scores of White men took to the streets to witness the spectacle. Mr Grogan claimed he had planned to head to the Police Station, the Nairobi Collectors’ Office, or the Sub-Commissioner’s Office, but the stream of Europeans led him towards the town magistrate’s courtyard at the site of today’s Imenti House.
Nevertheless, Mr Grogan did not make any attempt to direct the mob elsewhere. Many in the White mob believed, falsely, that the women had been sexually assaulted or that the Africans had attempted such an act.
Mr Grogan knew this, but he did not make any effort to disabuse them of such a notion, leaving the crowd to work themselves into a frenzy.
Mr Grogan then threw the “boys” to the ground and flogged one of them with a “kiboko”. Twenty-five lashes later, two of Grogan’s colleagues, Russell Bowker and Captain Thord Gray (both immigrants from South Africa) took the whip and used it liberally on the other two men. The European mob cheered them on.
Upon hearing the commotion in the courtyard, the Town Magistrate, E.R. Logan came out and called out to Mr Bowker but was ignored and then he turned to Mr Grogan and asked him what he intended to do. Mr Grogan replied, “I am going to beat these boys”.
Asked “Why?”, Mr Grogan said “Because I want to.” Mr Logan informed him that they must be formally charged by government to which Mr Grogan replied “…I am sick of being made a fool of and this was a matter I dare not leave to the authorities.”
Seeing that his advices were not being heeded, Mr Logan returned to his office and called for white police. The sole police officer at the scene George Smith, was easily elbowed out to the outside of the crowd when he attempted to intervene. Mr Grogan, Bowker and Gray, and two others were subsequently arrested and convicted of illegal assembly but not assault.
Mr Grogan was jailed for one month and fined Rs.500, Mr Bowker and Mr Gray 14 days and Rs. 250 each, while Mr Fichat was jailed for 14 days only. The colonial government negotiated with the settlers for the White convicts to serve their jail sentences in a building on Nairobi Hill, presumably Grogan’s Chiromo House. Ironically, they were all released on a technicality before they completed their sentences, making a mockery of the whole case.
Desperate to entrench European settlement in Kenya, the colonial government was held hostage by the small number of pioneer settlers as was clearly demonstrated in this case where Mr Grogan and his colleagues showed open defiance of law and order.
Norman Leys, a British doctor serving in Kenya (1904-1920) and critic of imperialism sums it up very well:
“The broad fact is that every European uses the powers of a magistrate over his native employees. The ordinary European has indeed more power than a magistrate. His judgements never revised and never appealed from.
Though illegal, the power to fine and flog is supported by public opinion. Natives of course are rarely aware that such practices are illegal and practically never take a European to court. While the punishments are always presumably regarded as just by the employers, they are frequently regarded otherwise by the native.”