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The British Hedonistic Life in the “Happy Valley” Essay


Although the history of European involvement, colonialism, and role in Africa is well established, several events have remained hidden from modern history. Specifically, the small but historically important events that took place in during the Second World War remain unknown, especially because much of the history in this era revolved around the war itself.

Among the most hidden events that involved western Europeans in foreign lands is the Happy Valley set, a clique of hedonist Anglo-Irish and British aristocrats who lived in the central highlands of the East African protectorate of Kenya (Barnes 33). In particular, the group was associated with immoral, unethical and illegal activities and decadent lifestyles, especially drug use, murders, and sexual promiscuity.

Noteworthy, the members of the group were wealthy European settlers that easily evaded colonial law because of their positions in the society and local politics (Colin 23). Moreover, some of them, like Lord Delamere and Lord Enroll, were sons of prominent figures in Britain, making it impossible to investigate their crimes or arrest them. Arguably, the events of the Happy Valley set are an important part of western European history, yet they remain largely unstudied and ignored by scholars.

The Happy Valley set was founded around 1920 when a British colonial settler Geoffrey Buxton settled in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and acquired large tracts of land, which had an open wilderness, mountains, valleys, and meager rivers. He named it ‘Happy Valley’ after finding its uniqueness and aesthetic value. He invited several colonial settlers to find land and settle with him.

Since the land was almost free, a good number of other aristocrats settled there, occupying African land. By 1930s, the Happy Valley had expanded significantly to include the entire regions around the town of Naivasha, Thomsons Falls, Nyeri, Wanjohi Valley, Nairobi, and Eldoret (Hughes 41). The Happy Valley clique expanded as more settlers arrived.

Nevertheless, the term Happy Valley set refers to the group of hedonistic aristocrats who participated in numerous parties that were characterized by drugs and alcohol use, sexual affairs, hunting, and other immoral activities. Besides Buxton, Hugh Cholmondeley, the 3rd Baron Dalamere, is credited for his role in the foundation of the Happy Valley set.

He arrived in the region from Britain in 1891 on a hunting mission but later fell in love with the country, finally settling near Lake Naivasha around 1920. He initially acquired more than 200,000 acres of land but later expanded it using his position as a respected Briton in the country (Farrant 67).

Other Europeans involved in the Happy Valley set, which affected the image of the British settlers in the region, include Jossyl Hay, the 22nd Earl of Eroll. He was born in Britain in 1901 but abandoned his diplomatic career after eloping with Lady Idina Sackville, a married woman, and settled in this part of Africa (Thurman 38). They were the unofficial queen and king of the Happy Valley set. Their home in the Wanjohi Valley, which was named Slains, was the center of activities for the entire clique.

It was particularly notorious for orgies. History indicates that Ramsey-Hill once horsewhipped Lord Eroll for his illegitimate sexual activities with Ramsey-Hill’s wife (Barton 23). Other members included Countess Alice de Janze from Chicago, Count Frederic de Janze from France, Kiki Preston and Raymond de Trafford among others.

It is worth noting that the group aligned itself with other British settlers, but they were considered an important and special group for their promiscuous life. Excerpts from historical record indicate that the group held numerous parties in hotels around Nyeri, a town in the central highlands of Kenya whose cool climate represented that of London.

Also, they held parties in their homes across the Wanjohi Valley, where most of their drug-taking and sexual activities took place (Carberry and Tyrer 54). Also, they had a strong connection with other expatriates in the region as well as London and Paris. Since they were Britons and wealthy settlers, it was almost impossible to arrest any one of them, giving them an almost noble status in the region (Norman 198).

It is also important to note that the Happy Valley set progressed and enjoyed life when other Europeans were experiencing hardships during the Second World War. The white community in the region was almost entirely protected from any adversaries.

They owned guns and participated in game hunting. It is recorded in some books that they abused morphine while walking in public. Also, it is recorded that Lady Idina used to welcome guests in her house while seated naked in her bathtub (Herne 231). She was also notorious for holding parties that included spouse swapping and morphine abuse.

According to historical excerpts, the group experienced hatred amongst members towards the end of the set. For instance, Eroll’s murder in Nairobi and serial shootings and suicides among the members interfered with the Happy Valley set (Grice A21). Some historical accounts argue that the end of the set took place around the 1950s after they found it impossible to continue with life due to the increased insurgence of the Mau Mau rebels.

In conclusion, the story of European life in Africa is quite impressing and interesting. However, information regarding most of the events and individual Europeans in Africa and their activities remains hidden. The Happy Valley set is an important part of European history, which should be studied in depth to reveal more information.

Works Cited

Barnes, Juliet. The Ghosts of Happy Valley: The Biography. London: Aurum Press, 2013. Print.

Barton, Fiona. “The Curse of White Mischief.” The Daily Mail, 2006. Web.

Carberry, Juanita and Nicola Tyrer. Child of the Happy Valley: A Memoir. London: OUP, 2008. Print.

Colin, Tasha. “The White Mischief Murderess: 70-year-long mystery over murder in debauched Happy Valley set finally solved.” The Mail, 23 Sept. 2010: 13. Print.

Farrant, Leda. Diana, Lady Delamere and the Murder of Lord Erroll. London, OUP, 2003. Print.

Grice, Elizabeth. “Is this the Happy Valley murderer?” The Telegraph, 2010: A21. Print.

Herne, Brian. White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris. London: MacMillan, 2004. Print.

Hughes, Anthony John. East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda. London: Penguin, 2009. Print

Norman, Jeremy. No Make-Up. London: Elliott & Thompson, 2005. Print.

Thurman, Judith. Isak Dinesen: Life of a Storyteller. London: MacMillan, 2009. Print

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