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Coryndon Museum: Love of nature that created great house of history

18. November 2016

The Natural History Museum was established in 1911 by a group of individuals who had an interest in nature in British East Africa

The group included two canons of the Church Missionary Society; Rev Harry Leakey (father of Louis Leakey) and Rev Kenneth St Aubyn Rogers; some government officials notably, John Ainsworth and C W Hobley, doctors, big-game hunters and plantation owners. They built a one-storey, two roomed building at the site of the present Nyayo House, with money donated by Allidina Visram, the Indian merchant reputed for his kindness and generosity. The museum and library were initially managed by an honorary curator, T J Anderson.In March 1914, Arthur Loveridge, a herpetologist, was employed as curator. As Loveridge concentrated on collections, members volunteered to contribute specimens, labour and funds.The museum moved to a new building in the early 1920s, at the corner of Government Road and Kirk Road (current Nyerere Road) near the site of today’s Serena Hotel, under A.F.J. Gedye as curator. One of the new volunteers for the museum was Sir Robert Coryndon who had been appointed Governor of Kenya Colony in 1922, to replace Edward Northey.Robert Thorne Coryndon was born in Cape Colony, South Africa on April 2, 1870.Educated at St. Andrew’s Colledge, Grahamstown and Cheltenham, England, he would return to South Africa in 1889 to serve in the Bechuanaland Border Police run by the British South Africa Company formed by Cecil Rhodes. Coryndon was one of Cecil Rhodes’ “twelve apostles” and owed much of his philosophy on Africa to Rhodes’ teachings. Later his private secretary would describe him as “a man with simple ideas”. He professed to like and understand Africans but in practice he did little to improve their lives and held “shamelessly racial” views. He rolled back the progress previously campaigned by John Ainsworth when he was Native Affairs Commissioner , under pressure from European coffee planters, and held back the development of milling and weaving industries due to his distrust of Indians. The building on Kirk Road rapidly became a vast store of accumulated material with inadequate space for displays, workrooms and laboratories for systematic work and preservation of specimens. On a more positive note, Coryndon appreciated the great educational value of the museum in a developing country and pushed through a proper museum scheme with a yearly government grant towards maintenance.When Sir Robert died suddenly in February 1925, it was felt that no more befitting honour could be found than to build a museum and research institution bearing his name. However, this could not been done on Kirk Road as the government decided to realign the road and the museum had to be demolished. The museum was compensated for the land and buildings and it agreed to move its collections to a new site.Lady Coryndon established the Coryndon Memorial Fund to build a better museum in memory of her husband. The government offered matching funds for public donations. In 1928, the government set aside 15 acres of land on Ainsworth Hill (today’s Museum Hill) for the construction of a museum and construction began. The Coryndon Memorial Museum was completed in September, 1930. Built to a neo-classical design, today the Coryndon Memorial building forms the centrepiece of Nairobi Museum. The towering walls are built in dressed stone beautifully finished in a cream coloured lime plaster featuring a colonnaded entranceway. Doors are made of polished timber panels supported in embellished timber frames.The floor is finished largely in gleaming parquet while windows are glazed in archaded timber frames. There is an upper floor beneath a high panelled ceiling with a balustraded balcony overlooking the main hall. After the completion of the museum, Dr Van Someren, who for several years had served in an honorary capacity, became the curator. A full-time librarian was also engaged to take care of the rapidly growing collection of books and journals. Ernest Carr donated funds to employ a botanist for three years.

Business Daily: Author: Douglas Kiereini