Cholmondeley, Hugh, third Baron Delamere 1870-1931, pioneer settler in Kenya, was born in London, 28 April 1870, the only son of Hugh Cholmondeley, second Baron Delamere, by his second wife, Augusta Emily, eldest daughter of Sir George Hamilton Seymour [qv.]. Educated at Eton, he inherited the title with the estate of Vale Royal, Cheshire, at the age of seventeen. He served for a time in the 3rd battalion, The Cheshire Regiment, and in the Cheshire Yeomanry. As a young man he organized five expeditions to Somaliland in pursuit of big game; the fifth took him from Berbera into the unsettled desert region through which the Kenya-Abyssinia border now runs. He reached the highlands of what is now Kenya Colony in 1897, the first Englishman to traverse this route.
Delamere could not settle down to the life of a country gentleman at Vale Royal, and in January 1903 he returned to the East Africa Protectorate and decided to take up land. The highlands were still wild and partly uninhabited, but the newly built Uganda railway connected Lake Victoria with the coast.
The commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot [qv.], was then embarking on a policy of attracting white settlers. Delamere received a ninety-nine-years' lease on 100,000 acres in the Njoro district, and immediately set about importing rams from England and New Zealand in order to improve the native sheep. At this time he was suffering from severe injuries to the spine as a result of several bad falls and arrived at his new estate on a stretcher. When the land proved unsuitable for sheep he turned to cattle and finally, after these too had died, to wheat, on which he inaugurated East African research into the breeding of rust-resistant varieties. Although not the first settler in East Africa, he was the first to experiment on a large scale and to sink considerable capital (mostly borrowed, for he was never well off) in these untried farming lands.
Delamere's fiery and autocratic temper, his quickness in debate, his generosity, and his passionate belief in the civilizing mission of white settlement in Africa fitted him for leadership of the settlers in their frequent tussles with colonial officials and their attacks on bureaucratic restrictions and delays. He was elected the first president of the Farmers' and Planters' Association in 1903 (which became the Colonists' Association in 1904), and was one of two unofficial members nominated to the first legislative council in 1907. During the war of 1914-1918 he was at first employed on intelligence work among the Masai along the German border. The strenuous life and severe malaria did his heart an injury which was ultimately to cause his death, and he was forced to give up active service. After six months in England he returned to his ranch, Soysambu, on which he had been able to realize his ambition of breeding, on a large scale, high-grade merino sheep.
After the war the European community was enfranchised and Delamere was elected member for the Rift Valley in 1920. He held this position until his death and became, in addition, leader of the elected members, and one of two unofficial members of the governor's executive council. In 1923 he headed a deputation to the Colonial Office to resist proposals to enfranchise Indians on a common roll with Europeans and to allow their unrestricted immigration.
Delamere's guiding faith was his belief in the need for strong and permanent settlements of British families in the highlands of Africa. After the conquest of German East he hoped to see this policy extended to Tanganyika Territory, and a chain of European settlements forged from Kenya to the Cape. He envisaged the eventual creation of an East African Dominion, working towards the goal of self-government already reached by the white communities of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, and he persistently pressed for the grant of an unofficial majority in the Kenya legislative council. In 1925 he organized, at his own expense, an unofficial conference of delegates from Kenya, Tanganyika, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland, held at Tukuyu (southern Tanganyika), to promote the solidification of the white ideal. Two other conferences followed, in Livingstone and Nairobi, in 1926 and 1927. The economic crisis, however, put an end to these and other projects for the strengthening of white settlement in Tanganyika and the Central African territories. In 1929 Delamere was appointed K.C.M.G. for his public services.
By now the British government had veered from a belief that the main object of our policy and legislation should be to found a white colony (1920), to a declaration that primarily, Kenya is an African territory, and — the interests of the African natives must be paramount (1923). With this latter statement Delamere could never agree, and in 1930 he headed his last deputation to London to put forward the colonists' point of view to the labour government. By this time he was a sick man, and on his return to Kenya the strain of reorganizing his heavily indebted farms to meet the catastrophic fall in prices, superimposed on exacting political duties, proved too much for a system which he had never spared. He died of angina at Loresho, near Nairobi, 13 November 1931, and was buried on his estate at Soysambu, near Lake Elmenteita.
Delamere was twice married: first, in 1899 to Florence Ame (died 1914), fourth daughter of Lowry Egerton Cole, fourth Earl of Enniskillen, and had one son; secondly, in 1928 to Gwladys Helen (died 1943), daughter of Rupert Evelyn Beckett, formerly wife of Sir Charles Markham, second baronet. He was succeeded as fourth baron by his son, Thomas Pitt Hamilton (born 1900).
A portrait of Delamere by F. R. Copnall, hangs in the chamber of the Legislative Council, Nairobi. A statue, by Lady Kennet, stands at the junction of Delamere Avenue and Government Road, Nairobi.
The Times, 14 November 1931
Elspeth Huxley, White Man's Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya, 2 vols., 1935
Contributor: Elspeth Huxley.