The Man Eaters of Tsavo

The Tsavo story is one that has been much discussed in our family since the event occurred 110 years ago – some of our family oral stories were quite embellished, so it’s good to have Lt Colonel Patterson’s version in print. One such story is that my great grandmother’s hair instantly turned white as she heard the lion roar before it leapt upon her husband in a vicious and savage attack! – Celeste Australia

The relatively recent history of Kenya from German protectorate in 1885, followed by the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888, to the Mau Mau rebellion and finally independence, is rich in stories of heroes, freedom, resistance, myths, legend and fact, the stuff movies are made of.

From March 1898 for nine months during construction of the Kenya Uganda Railway Line, two mane-less Tsavo male Lions stalked the railway workers campsites, ignoring fires and thorn bomas, dragging men from their tents at night and devouring them. Legend says there were 135 victims.

With movies like Bwana Devil and the more recent The Ghost and The Darkness, it’s easy to forget the human side of this story.

Celeste – artist, piano teacher and children’s book illustrator, living in Australia kindly allows us to tell her family story.

“My great grandfather was killed by one of the Tsavo lions in 1899. In The Man Eaters of Tsavo by Col Patterson, there is a chapter entitled A Widow’s Story which details the death of my great grandfather Mr O’Hara (Bwana O’Hara) who was an engineer building a road. The story of the attack and the aftermath is told by his wife Cecilia O’Hara, who was my great grandmother.

The Tsavo story is one that has been much discussed in our family since the event occurred 110 years ago – some of our family oral stories were quite embellished, so it’s good to have Lt Colonel Patterson’s version in print. One such story is that my great grandmother’s hair instantly turned white as she heard the lion roar before it leapt upon her husband in a vicious and savage attack!

The reality was far more tragic and poignant, how Cecilia trudged for miles to safety with two children in tow, and how she then had to make her way back to India. Her life did eventually turn around though and she married an Inspector of Police some 10 years later.