BY JINGO - Colonial History & Wargames Page


by Dennis Bishop

These harrassing tactics were aided in demoralizing the column by a driving sleet, mist, cold that enveloped the column when it camped eight miles from Ravine. At this point Cunningham decided to withdraw from Nandi. Lieutenant C. Vandeleur, with fifty men, continued to survey the road, take dispatches for Berkley, and carry two sick askari into Ravine. Miraculously Vandeleur's small column bumped into the Kamasia who offered some food and protection from the Nandi. After reaching Ravine, resting and resupplying, Vandeleur returned to the column camp at Mitete reaching it on November 26, 1895.

Cunningham's porters were beginning to collapse as he began retreating from Nandi. The path to safety required that the column make an arduous march over the steep Tindiret Hills. Two hundred Nandi warriors were seen on the 25th watching from the south as the column looted more villages. However, the Nandi appear to have been waiting an opportunity for revenge as three looters were speared and the Nandi escaped after a detachment of askari were sent into the area. The column camped at Kibbitalet on the 27th, and after a small skirmish in which four Nandi warriors were killed, the column continued on to a site near Mount Endubo on the 29th.

By December 2nd, the collapsing column had climbed the 2,000 feet high escarpment and camped among the granite rocks at Chibonyai. When the column slipped along a muddy path west through the Chesumei Forest, it came under more Nandi arrows. The column reached Kakimno in the middle of the forest on the 3rd. By the 4th the column continued northwest, then turned west. The column reached the safety of the Kavirondo and camped at Ruyi in Tiriki. The Nandi offered one last insult losing two warriors for one wounded askari in a last ambush.

However, what had happened to the Sitwell column? After leaving Guasa Masa, the column had marched south from November 10th through the 11th. On the 11th four Nandi warriors were seen and one was fatally wounded. The column continued marching south and sent search parties for the Cunningham Column on the 13th and 16th. Then Sitwell began a "burned earth" destruction of abandoned Nandi huts and crops. The column turned southwest on the 22nd. At Kitoto's village, the column rested on the 24th through the 26th. On the 27th, the Sitwell Column encountered a strong Nandi bomba and demanded a prize of twenty cattle. The Nandi responded by three attacks on the "fire- raisers" that threw them back.

About 3:00AM, on 28th, the Nandi attacked Sitwell's camp. There was a brief five minute battle which resulted in four Nandi warriors killed for 1,957 rounds fired. The askari lost three killed and five wounded after the Nandi found the entrance to the thorn zariba surrounding the camp. The camp was then strengthened while Sitwell continued to loot and burn until the 30th.

Sitwell decided to retreat on December 1st, and travelling through friendly Mumias territory, through a hail of Nandi arrows and ambushes. Sitwell rested his demoralized column at Kitoto's village for six days. Then he continued to Mumias where he arrived on the 7th. Sitwell reported to Cunningham on December 12th officially ending the First Invasion of Nandi.

The First Invasion had failed "to bring the Nandi to their bearings." The Nandi had lost only 145 warriors (100 in the Battle of Kimondi) and this was not enough to restrain the Nandi warriors from attacking the columns at every opportunity. Cunningham's main column had only captured herds consisting of only 91 head of cattle and 657 sheep and goats. If the main column had failed, Sitwell's flying column had accomplished less. Although it burned a great number of huts and grain fields, it accounted for only nine Nandi warriors killed, one bullock and two goats captured.

Having retrieved both columns, Cunningham reorganized a second phase to the 1st Invasion. Sitwell was dispatched to Kampala and Foaker was ordered to Guasa Masa. This was unique because Cunningham did not request reinforcements. With 410 Sudanese askari, a few Masai guides and a crowd of porters and followers, Cunningham left Mumias on December 14, 1895.

This time the column first moved in a more northernly direction to Sakwa's village, then to Kubras and then easterly to a camp north of Kipsomoitei. It arrived at Kipture on December 19th. A Nandi delegation appeared outside of the camp expressing that they wished to make peace. However, Cunningham became suspicious when the delegation refused to enter the fortified camp and offered to entertain Cunningham at Ravine to discuss terms with the elders. Cunningham refused and probably was a good decision as a follower was ambushed and killed as the "peace" negotiations were being conducted.

As the column marched south-west a new Nandi tactic was encountered at Mogong bridge. The Nandi left a fetish of a live disemboweled goat, a dead chicken, and a hand cut out of leather on the bridge. This could have been an attempt at using magic to defeat the British invaders because another appeared on Christmas morning. However, magic did not deter Cunningham from crossing the bridge and dispatching a company of askari to the south and killing a "few" Nandi and captured some sheep before it came under attack by ambushing Nandi bowmen at the Chomin Ford. The 21st brought a brief skirmish as the main column made a short march to the west. Two companies swept the area west of the camp supported by the Maxim. This resulted in 18 Nandi killed, 94 cattle, and 1200 sheep and goats captured. By the 22nd the column marched into the thickly populated area southwest of Chibonyai having not received any peace emissaries from the Nandi. Indeed, the Nandi were in no mood to conduct negotiations as they attacked a patrol in a running fight that resulted in the loss of three Nandi killed and one Sudanese askari wounded. A large herd of cattle was also captured by the askari in this engagement.

The Nandi surrounded the new camp at Maran in force, but refused to attack. Cunningham sent out two companies with a Maxim that succeeded in killing 22 Nandi, and capturing 94 cattle and 1200 sheep and goats. Cunningham lost one follower killed, one askari wounded and one porter missing. On the 24th, Cunningham marched in a westerly direction and camped at Maraba near the place that Sitwell was attacked earlier. Obviously, Cunningham was attempting to provoke a battle as he razed the numerous huts, losing two askaris who were wounded. Cunningham built a thorn zariba around the camp and waited for the Nandi to take the bait. The Nandi atacked about midnight, but were disbursed by rifle and Maxim fire before they could enter the zariba.

December 26th Cunningham marched the column through some very difficult country with narrow passes that spread the column out. The foremost element of irregulars (Baganda, or Kivirondo, or Uasin Gishu Masai) were attacked by the last Nandi frontal assault. The irregulars fled back upon the column, and for a moment it might have appeared as if the Nandi might succeed in overwhelming the disbursed column. Firing wildly the askaris were able to break the impetus of the charge killing four Nandi.

The column reached Chebilat Hill on the following day and then turned to enter friendly Tiriki country across the Kibos and Sanga rivers. From there Cunningham sent a small force to reopen the road from Mumias to Kitoto's on the 28th against the Maragoli who he considered allies of the Nandi. He fined the chief 50 head of cattle and took two sons hostage as the column passed through friendly Kisa country and returned to Mumias on December 31, 1895.


Colonel T. Ternan, Acting Commissioner of the Protectorate of Uganda, decided to turn his attention once more upon the independent Nandi two years after the ineffectual 1895 invasion. This is interesting as on May 16th, 1897 the Nandi chief Teres had arrived at the Ravine Fort wishing peace. Teres was known as one of most hostile chiefs, and Ternan must have contemplated Teres' intentions as a large number of Nandi warriors were gathered near Kipture. At this time, the garrison strengths were fifty askaris (I Company) at Kipture, fifty askaris (VI Company) at Ravine, and twenty-five askaris (VI Company) at Naivasha. Also, the Nandi Laibon was thought to have fled either to Lumbwa or to the Mitete Valley after the 1895 invasion.

Ternan planned a night march that would bring his combined force of over 500 rifles within striking distance of where he thought the Laibon to be located. The Grant column consisted of five Europeans, 220 askaris, 150 porters, 200 Masai irregulars, and a Maxim, and the Ternan column consisted of roughly the same numbers. All the askaris were from the II, IV, and IX Companies.

Surprise was key to Ternan's plan as he hoped that the Teres surrender was evidence that the Nandi coalition was breaking apart. All that might be needed to destroy the confederation of Nandi tribes was the capture of the Laibon. Ternan had some advantages as some of the askaris had been rearmed with Martini-Henry rifles, while others received Sniders providing the Masai irregulars with quantities of the Remingtons, the disadvantage was that all the ammunition was supplied by the Smith, Mackenzie and Company mainly from Buganda and Busoga to Ravine. However, this advantage was off set because the chances of resupply of ammunition in the field were probably unlikely. The large numbers of irregulars was also an advantage, but the Uasin Gishu Masai only knew one path into Nandi. And it was possible to launch a second column from Kipture, but to do this would have negated the element of surprise.

The night of May 17th the column entered Nandi evidently headed for the Kamelilo Valley and then to Ravine where Ternan reorganized his forces. He left forty-eight askaris with Foaker to guard Ravine and assigned twenty askaris to take mail from Nandi to the coast. He issued all the Sudanese and Swahili askaris five days rations, 100 rounds of ammunition, a rifle and bayonet, and a great coat. The askaris who were not in the advance or rear guards were also required to carry their own loads. Then, Ternan organized a porter train to carry fifty-four loads of reserve supplies.

The column left Ravine on the night of June 11th, 1897 along a track that the Masai claimed to be in good shape. However, this proved to be faulty information as the column became reduced to a single file in the dense Mau Forest. As the track disappeared, the advance guard was forced to hack its way forward with bayonets. To make matters worse, the night was cold and this was worsened because the men became wet crossing multiple small swamps along the path. The miserable advance guard was allowed to rest about 2:00AM, June 12th to allow the straggling rest of the column to catch up. Ternan used this time to organize his attack. However, having climbed up hill through the forest, the column faced an equally daunting task hacking its way down through the forest. By the time that the column reached the edge of the forest, the sun had risen and the element of surprise was lost.

As the askaris under Grant and Mackinnon began to move upon the pastoral scene of the surprise attack, they were detected by Nandi scouts who shouted to warn the villagers. All Ternan could do was watch as the villagers and cattle disappeared over the hills. The column captured a few sheep and goats as it entered the valley and established a camp among the abandoned huts to allow the exhausted men to rest. However, the valley wasn't as abandoned as it seemed. A few Nandi warriors lay hidden in the tall grass and killed two foragers looking for wood.

After resting for a day, Ternan burned the huts and moved five miles down the valley to a place near the Laibon's village. The Laibon had fled to Lumbwa and disbursed his herds before the column arrived. All Ternan captured he burned or looted, and then established a camp in hopes that he might lure the Nandi into battle. He sent Grant out with a large patrol into the hills to the east of the camp in search of cattle. Grant was gone for three days and returned with two Nandi prisoners, a "mob" of sheep and goats, but only a few cattle. However, the herds were located in a dense forest.

Jackson led another large patrol into the hills on the south side of the camp. He returned a week later with 49 cattle and 800 sheep and goats. So, deciding that the Nandi were not going to be provoked into attacking the camp, and with a disappointing number of cattle captured, Ternan moved the camp on the 17th to a site a few mile further west. To make matters more disconcerting, the Nandi were present in the valley and were quick to take advantage of any opportunity. Every foraging party suffered casualties, the largest number of five being killed when an armed foraging party of Swahilis was ambushed. Ternan also received letters from Tomkins at Kipture that his scouts had reported that large numbers of Nandi warriors were gathering round Ternan's camp making ready to attack. However, Ternan evidently dismissed these letters, as an attack was what he was hoping for.

By the 20th, when no attack materialized, Ternan decided to withdrawal to return to Entebbe due to an attack by Congolese mutineers on the Salt Lake post, the possibility of the Sudanese mutinying, and the rumors of plans by Baganda chiefs for an uprising. The camp was moved to Kamwentowe. This time Ternan did not burn or loot the village. Grant left with II Company on June 21st for Kipture to "show the flag" on the Kano Plains. The main column followed the Cunningham route to Kipture, arriving there on June 22nd. Upon arriving, Ternan assessed his losses as one Sudanese and five Swahilis killed, two Sudanese and one Masai wounded. He thought that the Nandi had suffered slightly more casualties. The expedition had capture only 137 head of cattle and 1500 sheep and goats.

However, Ternan had not made much of an impression on the Nandi, although the Nandi were made aware that their herds and villages were vulnerable to attacks from stations. Ternan had not been able to defeat the Nandi warriors in battle and the Nandi continued raiding as before. Before Ternan left Kipture on June 28th, he ordered the disbandment of the field force and the return of the askaris to their former posts. He must have realized that the Nandi could not be defeated until a substantially larger military force could be fielded. That would never materialize, and peace terms with the Nandi would finally be negotiated in 1906.


Abbott, Peter. British East Africa, Raider Books, Leeds, UK, c1988. Matson, A. T. Nandi Resistance to British Rule 1890 - 1906, East African Publishing House, Nairobi, Kenya, c1972.

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