History of the Grogan MacMillan Manor House

Ewart Scott Grogan

Known as “Kenya’s Churchill” and nicknamed “Bwana Chui”, the leopard by the Kikuyu, Grogan distinguished himself in both world wars, fighting behind enemy lines in German East Africa, winning the DSO and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. (From, Muthaiga by Stephen Mills)

He and Gertrude were married after he impressed his father in law by his African journey. They were married and had four children. In 1904 Grogan returned to Kenya. His first home was a tent on site which is now the Chiromo complex where he built the Grogan palace and Grogan Lodge (now moved from Riverside Drive to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden as the Grogan/MacMillan Manor House). Photo from the book “Muthaiga” by Stephen Mills


Ewart Scott Grogan was born in London in 1874. He was the 14th of 21 children (the first born of his father’s second wife). He was Cambridge educated and after falling ill was sent to Switzerland to recover after which he ended up climbing the Matterhorn. In 1886 he came to Africa to fight with Rhodes in South Africa where he was wounded. He went to New Zealand to recover at which time he met his wife to be, Gertrude. (The Namesake of the Gertrude Garden Children’s Hospital in Nairobi) In order to impress her father he made the challenge and “walked” from Cape Town to Cairo.”

In 1904 Grogan hired the London architect, H. O. Cresswell and a firm of local Indian contractors to build his home in Kenya. “Chiromo” (meaning the joining of two rivers)named after the Nyasaland settlement at the junction of the Ruo and Shire rivers ) was built on the site that Grogan bought from Bennet. In addition to the palace, a small hunting lodge was also built. The guest house of this lodge was used by Commissioner Sir James Hayes Sadler to entertain. This complex was commonly referred to as the shamba ya bwana simba—the Lions Den. (From Lost Lion of Empire, E. Paice).


The Grogan Lodge was sold to Sir Northrup MacMillan in 1910. He was an American (Canadian parents) and married to the American Bostonian, Lady MacMillan who founded the first national library in Nairobi. Sir MacMillan moved to Kenya in 1905 and was one of the founders of the Swedo Africa Coffee Company which was housed in the Historic Swedo House.

He was knighted in 1918 as tribute to his services to the Empire and East Africa during WWI.
“Sir Northrup was not only an energetic public-spirited worker in the interests of white settlement and the welfare of all races in the colony….He was a man of noted generosity, a generosity of mind and outlook as well as of pocket. …His well known figure radiated gentleness, tolerance and a wide humanity. ..He was particularly identified with the progress of the mining industry and it is largely owing to his efforts and knowledge that a new mining law was framed.”
(Quotes and Photo from “Muthaiga” by S. Mills )


When Sir Northrup MacMillan died, he was buried on the slopes of Oldonya Sabuk. Lady MacMillan built the National Library in his honor. She lived on the Chiromo Complex until she died. The main house was donated to the Government and now houses the African Heritage Institute at the Chiromo Science Complex. The Grogan/Manor House was inherited by Lady MacMillan’s lady servant and companion of many years whom she had brought with her from Boston.


During her last year in Kenya, Karen was faced with heavy economic problems, failing crops, loneliness and ruined health. As if that were not enough to leave her in complete despair, Finch Hatton was killed in a plane accident in May of that year. He had flown to Voi to scout a herd of elephants rumored to be there. While he was away, she drove into Nairobi to run errands. There was a marked strangeness in the air, she recalled. At every stop along the way, she received blank stares and no one seemed willing to talk to her. Feeling lonely, Blixen went to the Muthaiga Club and joined a group of friends for lunch. But they too seemed very distant. Only later did it become shockingly clear when Lady MacMillan took her aside to tell her, what she had not yet heard, that Finch Hatton’s plane had gone down in a fiery crash while taking off at Voi. Neither he, nor his servant who accompanied him survived.