The Pioneers

Powys Cobb And Stan Polhill

Live like you might die tomorrow, farm like you’re going to live forever.

Having survived the Boer War in South Africa, a young adventurer called Powys Cobb wandered north to spy out the land and look for a place to settle down. He found his dream spot on the edge of the Mau mountain range near Keringet, at an altitude too high for the Maasai to use. He invited his wife to join him and in 1908 he collected her off the train with his ox wagon. Their entourage consisted of their two small daughters, a nanny, four bulls each of a different breed, six thoroughbred mares and a stallion, two bloodhounds, two kittens, an assortment of ducks, geese, turkeys and hens, and trunk loads of clothes, furniture, saddlery, tools and general possessions. Arriving on the farm, Mrs. Cobb realized that the substantial home she was expecting to furnish had not left her husband’s imagination and was yet to become a reality. She had even bought soft furnishings from Heales in London.

Powys employed labor from the different tribes and set each tribe up in their own village under their own head-man. Maasai were employed to tend sheep and cattle; Kipsigis as grooms; Kikuyu for cultivations; and men from the Victoria basin to be trained in ironwork and carpentry.

He had a passion for machines and the bigger the better. At great expense he imported a pair of traction engines, which required so much labor to cut wood for them that they were abandoned.

In 1916 the Great War came and Powys enthusiastically went back to England to rejoin his old regiment where he was declared unfit for duty, and sent back to Molo. His wife then abandoned him and stayed in England with the children. Powys badly needed help and an assistant called Ethel Dicksee was sent out. They fell in love and she became the second Mrs Cobb.

In 1922, the failing markets forced the bank to foreclose on the Cobb’s overdraft and they lost the farm and everything on it. Riding on horseback and having spirited away with thirty-seven cows – they moved to the other side of the Mau above Njoro.

Water quenches no true love, and bankruptcy could not quench Powys Cobb’s love of machines and farming.

To help maintain his new bigger and better tractors, he enlisted the help of Stan Polhill who knew a lot about machines. Stan, his wife Mumpsy and two daughters debarked from the train and spent their first night at the foot of the Mau escarpment with the postmaster of Elementaita, a Mr. Moolraj. They were collected the following day and trekked up the mountain to their new home.

Stan was put in charge of the tractors, threshers and combines and rapidly got them up to speed. When working the far ends of the farm, he lived out of an old wooden caravan that belonged to Powys. (Now parked up in Kembu Cottages)

However the enjoyment of his newfound job was cut short when his sleeve got caught in the mechanism and was slowly eaten by the thresher. It slowly ate his arm, his shoulder, crushed his ribs, and eventually jammed on his spine. The machine was stripped down and his native assistants, who carried him on a stretcher back to the main house, extracted him. Fortunately for him, there was a houseguest – Dr. ‘kill or cure’ Burkett, who set to work immediately. He stitched up and pinched off the bits that were bleeding most, and created an artificial lung using a pigskin football bladder and a bicycle pump; and with a team of fascinated locals helping got Stan back to Nakuru where he completed the operation. Although Stan had lost a lung, Kill or Cure Burkett bought him another 40 years, with which he retired to the Kinnangop plateau where his older daughter married into the Nightingale family.

Depression in 30’s bankrupted Powys a second time so he sold up and bought Ethel 5,000 acres of land before sailing away from his African dreams on his yacht.

Powys eventually retired to live on a houseboat in Holland, & died in 1956.

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