The information on this page comes from the book “Kenya: A Country in the Making 1880-1940″ by Nigel Pavitt. It explains the history of the railway sleepers of Tsavo East that were used to make many of our products.
The above photograph shows work starting at Makupa, where a temporary causeway was built with imported timber in ninety-two working days in 1896. As soon as it was ready, the laying of rails commenced on the mainland. Meanwhile, steel for a permanent bridge was ordered from England and arrived a year later. The name Uganda Railway was appropriate because the ambitious project was destined to secure Uganda’s headwaters of the Nile for Britain. Besides, almost half the land through which the railway was to pass, belonged to the Uganda Protectorate until the boundaries between the Uganda and the East Africa Protectorates were change in 1902.
Railway officials and government dignitaries attend a ceremony to commemorate the laying of the first rail of the Uganda Railway at Mombasa on 30th May 1896. Indian bagpipers provided the entertainment. This function was decidedly low key compared to the opening ceremony of the Central African Railway.
The old dhow harbour in Mombasa was unsuitable for vessels with a deep draft, so all the stores, equipment and rolling stock for the Permanent Way, the Uganda Railway, had to be off-loaded from lighters at Kilindini beach until a proper harbour was built. The lighters were brought onto the beach at high tide and grounded as the tide went out. They lay alongside a temporary jetty which was partly embanked and partly made of timber piling. The cargo was then off-loaded by steam cranes directly into wagons. The lighters floated off on the next high tide, when the process began all over again.
In 1898 Sultan Seyid Hamoud ibn Mohammed, the Sultan of Zanzibar from 1896 to 1902, was invited to inspect work on the railway. To commemorate the occasion, the temporary railhead camp he reached by train was named Sultan Hamud. Today’s bustling wayside town still retains his mis-spelt name.
The image above shows J.H.Patterson, a divisional Scottish engineer, sitting on a Permanent Way inspection trolley at a temporary bridge over the Tsavo River. Man-eating lions held up construction work on the permanent bridge for several month. Many Africans and twenty-eight coolies were devoured in gruesome circumstances, while the rest of the workforce was left in a state of abject fear. After months of evasion, Patterson killed one the lions on 9th December 1898. It was huge, taking eight man to carry it back to camp. He bagged a second lion three weeks later, bringing the rein of terror to an end.