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: British Empire & Commonwealth
: Elspeth Huxley collection
: Towards the end of her long life, when Elspeth Huxley (EH) appeared as a guest on Desert Island Discs, she chose as her luxury item a camera and film-developing equipment. By that point she had pursued many different avenues and interests, both for her career and for pleasure, but her real passion and talent for capturing subjects on film is evident throughout the various parts of this collection. The collection contains 12 boxes of photographs, including prints, negatives, contact prints and slides covering the whole of EH's career. The largest proportion of them feature Kenya, particularly landscapes, agricultural development, wildlife, safari trips and local people, especially the Kikuyu. Many were taken in the 1930s, although almost all decades of her life are represented. The photographs taken by EH herself fall into several categories: series which cover particular themes or excursions, such as safari trips, more miscellaneous series such as "Views in the Kenya Highlands" and series connected to research for a particular book or project. The most significant examples of this latter are the series of images prepared for "Red Strangers", "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", "A New Earth", "Four Guineas", "Last Days in Eden" and her research into the Mau Mau rebellion. There are also images documenting her work for the Monckton Commission. There are also a number of more thematic series including images taken by EH and others. These cover a diverse range of themes connected to her interests - including white settlers, wildlife and transport - and may have been connected to articles or small-scale research projects. Some of the images included alongside her own were obtained from friends or acquaintances and some from other sources including the Kenya Information Office and newspapers. There is a significant collection of Mau Mau images, some particularly graphic, which fall into this last category. There are also several items which found their way into EH's possession, including an album of the Duke of Connaught's 1910 tour to South Africa and an album detailing some of the safari exploits of Bror von Blixen. Many of the prints in the collection have partner images amongst the negatives and/ or contact prints, which in many cases has enabled images which have become separated from each other to be reunited and original order to be restored. Many of the series featuring Kenya prints also contain images from neighbouring East African countries including Tanzania, Uganda and Zanzibar. Apart from the West African material created during research for "Four Guineas", the only other countries to feature from EH's world travels are her images from Fiji and Sri Lanka. Other photographs from trips to countries including the USA and former Yugoslav states were not accepted by BECM as not featuring Commonwealth countries. It is clear from the arrangement of the collection at the time of donation that these images were used again and again throughout EH's long career, with many images being moved from one series to another several times, presumably to illustrate different articles or books. Taken as a whole, they form a unique depiction of East Africa in the twentieth century, its public and private faces: the deserted streets of Edwardian Mombasa, the Happy Valley set's ostentatious homes and safari trips, the harsh realities of life for settler farmers, close-up shots of endangered animals, the tensions between traditional tribal ways of life and the influences of the British, the terror and bloodshed of the Mau Mau years and the post-colonial Kenya which EH visited late in her life to gather settlers' stories. Her "emotional bonds to Kenya", as described in the conclusion to her biography, are evident throughout. EH also recorded an oral history interview with the Museum (no. 114) for which we hold a transcript. This catalogue was produced with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives