Colonial Kenya: The Moulin Rouge of Africa

Tales of the Happy Valley Set

Second left, Jossln Hay. Centre, Lady Idina Sackville with Friends at their Wanjohi Valley home

“…..Beyond such gentrified leisure, these privileged men and women lived an absolutely hedonistic lifestyle, filled with sex, drugs, drink and dance, followed by more of the same. In Nairobi, where some settlers lived a full time urban, professional life, they congregated in the Muthaiga Gold Club also known as the Moulin Rouge of Africa. They drank champagne and pink gin for breakfast, played cards, danced through the night and generally woke up with someone else’s spouse in the morning.

At the Norfolk Hotel, better known as the House of Lords, settlers rode their horses into the bar, drank heavily, and enjoyed Japanese prostitutes from the local brothel.

Outside of Nairobi part of the highlands became the notorious Happy Valley, where weekend houseguests were often required to exchange partners, cocaine and morphine were distributed at the door, and men and women compared their sexual notes when the debauchery was over. The colony’s settlers were notorious worldwide for their sexual high jinks, and the running joke in Britain became, “Are you married or do you live in Kenya?”

(Excerpt from Caroline Elkin’s Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya)

I read this paragraph in Caroline Elkin’s Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya and it got me extremely curious. The justification for colonization was to bring Christianity and civilization to the ‘heathens’ and so this felt very contradictory to the mission and purpose of colonial settlement. I sought to find out about the lifestyle of the colonial settlers and in particular the notorious Happy Valley Set, what I found out was nothing short of shocking.

The Happy Valley set was a group of hedonistic, largely British and Anglo-Irish aristocrats and adventurers who settled in the “Happy Valley” region of the Wanjohi Valley, near the Aberdare mountain range, in colonial Kenya between the 1920s and the 1940s. The group became infamous for its decadent lifestyles and exploits amid reports of drug use and sexual promiscuity.

The notable members of the Happy Valley Set included:

Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere (1870–1931)

Yes, he, Lord Delamere of your favourite Delamere pitstop in Naivasha on your way anywhere in the Rift valley or Western Kenya. He, of your favourite DelMonte fruit juices and he with a name that gave Kenyans sleepless nights trying to pronounce when his grandson, Tom, killed not one, but two Kenyans on two separate occasions for ‘trespassing’.

Hugh was one of the first and most influential settlers in Kenya. He was instrumental in forming the Happy Valley set as his eccentricities, as well as his extravagant parties and hunts, set the tone for the lavish lifestyles that subsequent settlers would lead, and spawning the term ‘Happy Valley’.

He moved to Kenya in 1906 and acquired the Soysambu ranch which currently stands at 200 000 acres! In 1894, before his permanent move to Kenya, he was severely mauled by an attacking lion on a hunting expedition and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Lord Delamere was known for his childish antics and was famous for riding his horse into the dining room of Nairobi’s Norfolk Hotel and jumping over the tables. He was also known to knock golf balls onto the roof of the Muthaiga Country Club and then climb up to retrieve them.

Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll (1901–1941)

Lord Erroll, the upmarket Hotel in Runda estate is names after him. Lord Erroll was a notorious philanderer and considered the official playboy of the Kenya colony. He abandoned his diplomatic career in Britain much to the dismay of the British society and eloped with a married woman, Lady Idina Sackville to Kenya in 1924. Lady Idina was 8yrs older than Erroll.

The couple was known for their shenanigans in Kenya and nicknamed the King and Queen of Happy Valley. Their family home on the slopes of the Aberdares known as The Slain was notorious for the orgies they hosted.

In 1929, Lady Idina divorced Lord Erroll accusing him of cheating her financially. At the time, he was already having an affair with another married woman, Molly Ramsay-Hill. The couple eloped and married in 1930. When Ramsay-Hill’s husband found out, he hunted them down and famously horsewhipped Lord Erroll in public at Nairobi Railway Station. Molly who had been introduced to the Happy Valley lifestyle by Erroll, died in 1939 of an overdose of alcohol, morphine and heroine.

In late 1940, Lord Erroll met Diana, Lady Delves Broughton, the wife of Sir Jock Delves Broughton. Lord Erroll and Lady Delves Broughton soon became lovers. Their romance was very public and they intended to elope. It is said that Delves Broughton reportedly gave his blessings. However, in January 1941, Erroll was found shot dead in his car in an intersection outside Nairobi. Although Delves Broughton was charged and tried, he was acquitted of the murder. His murder remains unsolved.

Lady Idina Sackville (1893–1955)

Lady Idina was the daughter of Aristocrats. She divorced her first husband in 1919 and lost custody of her two children. She then married her second husband and abandoned him 4 years later for her lover, Lord Erroll who was 8years her junior. They moved to Kenya in 1924 and pioneered the decadent lifestyle of the Happy Valley Set at their Aberdares home.

Idina became notorious for hosting wild parties, which included spouse-swapping and drug use. Stories were also told of how she often welcomed her guests in a bathtub made of green onyx and then proceeded to dress before them. Lady Idina was married a total of five times in her lifetime. She died in 1955.


Euan Wallace, (m. 1913; div. 1919)

Charles Gordon, (m. 1919; div. 1923)

Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, (m. 1923; div. 1929)

Donald Carmichael Haldeman, (m. 1930; div. 1938)

William Vincent Soltau, (m. 1939; div. 1946)

Lady Idina Sackville and Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll on their wedding day

Countess Alice de Janzé (1899–1941)

Countess Alice was a wealthy heiress from the US. She lived in Paris since the early 1920s with her husband Count Frederic de Janze which is where they met Lord Erroll and Lady Idina. When Erroll and Idina moved to Kenya in 1924, they invited Alice and her husband who moved to the Waniohi Valley/Happy Valley.

Alice had an affair with Lord Erroll and later with Raymond de Trafford. When her husband returned to Paris, Alice abandoned him for her lover, Raymond. In 1927, he shot Raymond at a Paris railway station and then turned the gun on herself because he allegedly refused to marry her. Luckily, they both survived and she got away with a $4 fine. She returned to Kenya in 1928 but was declared persona non-grata and moved back to Paris.

In 1932, she and Raymond married in France, but split almost immediately and later divorced. Alice later returned to the Happy Valley in Kenya – depressive, an alcoholic and addicted to morphine. She committed suicide by shooting herself in 1941. Prior to her death, Alice had been considered as a suspect for the murder of her former lover, Lord Erroll.

Count Frédéric de Janzé

Counte Frédéric was a French nobleman and was famous for his career as a race driver. He moved with his wife Countess Alice in 1925 and spent three months hunting. He was at the time having an affair with Lady Idina, as his wife Alice was having an affair with Idina’s husband, Lord Erroll.

He divorced Alice in 1927 after Alice’s shooting scandal (Alice shot her lover and turned the gun on herself when he refused to marry her). Count Frederic died in 1933.

Raymond de Trafford (1900–1971)

Raymond was the son of an Irish aristocratic family. He was a serial gambler, womaniser and alcoholic; and was a notable presence in the Happy Valley during the 1920s. He had numerous lovers including Countess Alice de Janze and Kiki Preston. He once attempted to seduce Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, but was repelled.

De Trafford was threatened by his family with disinheritance if he were to marry Alice de Janze. In 1927, after discovering the truth, Alice shot him and then shot herself, while in a railway station in Paris. Raymond survived and later tried to defend Alice in her trial. In 1932, he married Alice, but almost immediately deserted her (allegedly, because he feared her) and moved to Australia. In 1939, he hit and killed a man with his car while under the influence, and spent three years in prison for manslaughter. A year later, he filed for bankruptcy.

From Left: Raymond de Trafford, Count Frédéric De Janze, Countess Alice de Janze and Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere

Kiki Preston (1898–1946)

Kiki was an American socialite from the prominent Whitney and Vanderbilt families. She moved to Kenya in 1926 with her second husband, Jeromy Preston, after being offered land on the shores of Lake Naivasha by a friend.

Kiki was also notorious for her drug use, especially her addiction to cocaine and heroin, and was one of the best clients of Frank Greswolde Williams, the chief drug dealer of the colony. She was nicknamed “the girl with the silver syringe”, due to her habit of always carrying her syringe in her bag and publicly shooting drugs without regard for onlookers. Whenever she was out of supplies, she would send a plane to pick up new ones.

Kiki also had numerous affairs with men, including Prince George, Duke of Kent, whom she introduced to drugs, much to the dismay of the British royal family. She is often alleged to have borne a child out of wedlock from her affair with Prince George.

Following her husband’s death, Kiki gradually abandoned the farm and returned to United States. She committed suicide in 1946, jumping out of the window of her apartment at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City.

Sir John “Jock” Delves Broughton (1883–1942)

A British aristocrat, Sir Henry John “Jock” Delves Broughton moved to Kenya, together with his new, much younger wife, Diana Caldwell (Lady Diana) who was thirty years his junior. Diana immediately began a very public affair with Joss Hay, Earl of Erroll (Lord Erroll). Broughton eventually conceded to the idea of Diana deserting him and marrying Erroll, due to a prenuptial agreement they had made.

However, Erroll was murdered in January 1941. Broughton was considered a major suspect. He was arrested by the police and tried for the murder of Erroll. Due to lack of evidence, he was acquitted. It is rumoured that he secretly confessed to the murder shortly after his acquittal. He was never accepted back into the Happy Valley Set and Lady Diana quickly divorced Broughton after the trial. He returned to England, where he committed suicide by morphine overdose in 1942.

Diana, Lady Delamere (1913-1987)

Born Diana Caldwell, she moved to the Happy Valley in late 1940, together with her new husband, Sir John “Jock” Delves Broughton and almost immediately began a very public affair with the Lord Erroll. She planned to divorce Broughton and marry Erroll.

Erroll was however discovered murdered in his car in January 1941. Her husband, Broughton was charged with his murder but was acquitted. Diana stood up for her husband, but after the trial accused him of being the murderer and abandoned him.

Following her divorce from Broughton, she married Gilbert Colvile in 1943, one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in Kenya and inherited much of his fortune. They adopted a daughter.

Years later, Diana married Thomas Cholmondeley, 4th Baron Delamere (son of Hugh Cholmondley, 3rd Baron Delamere), and increased her land fortune.

For many years and until the death of her lesbian lover, Diana lived in a three-way relationship with her husband Thomas and Lady Patricia Fairweather. By the time of her death, she was possibly the most powerful white woman in Africa, dubbed the “White Queen of Africa.”

If this has gotten you as curious as it did me, make sure you watch the 1987 movie White Mischief, that revolves around the murder of Lord Erroll and subsequent prosecution and acquittal of Sir John “Jock” Delves Broughton.

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