British expat who was first woman to climb Mount Kenya dies aged 102

Geraldine M. Macoun
Geraldine M. Macoun was the first woman to climb Mount Kenya.

British expat Geraldine M. Macoun, who made history by being the first woman to climb Mount Kenya, died aged 102 on September 10 in Langata.

During her very long and active life, she had been a mountaineer, rider, intrepid explorer, artist, photographer, wife and mother.

She was born in England on August 23, 1916, in the middle of the First World War while her father, Gerald Carew Sladen, was fighting in the trenches having also been at the Battle of the Somme and served in the Boer War, Somaliland Camel Corps and KAR. Her mother was Mabel Orr-Ewing from Cardross House, Stirling, Scotland.

The Sladens arrived at Mombasa in late 1919 when Geraldine was only three and bought 4,000 acres of bush at Rongai from Lord Delamere and called it Fintry. Geraldine was brought up at Fintry Farm with her brother Edward and sister Ruth. The girls went to school at Limuru until it burnt down, after which then educated by governesses on the farm.

While her father farmed and hunted while Geraldine’s grandmother ran things, early days at Fintry were spent riding horses with Airedale dogs and on safari. The family were quite isolated and driving to Nairobi for stays at the Muthaiga Club and trips to the races taking two days.

Every few years, Geraldine travelled to England and Scotland with her parents and while her brother went to Stowe, she studied Art at Slade University. She skied and climbed, including the Matterhorn.

In 1930, Gerald died of pneumonia after breaking down in the rain at 9,000 ft. He died four days later and is buried at Nakuru. Five years later, Fintry Farm was sold and Geraldine’s mother moved to Elburgon and Molo.

Geraldine’s spirit of adventure led her to drive from England to Kenya across the Sahara with her brother and an old family friend in under six weeks in 1938. During the trip, she wrote a thorough diary of the adventure featuring great photos and drawings.

It was also in 1938, that Geraldine became the first woman to climb Mount Kenya with her brother Eddie.

Like most farm girls, Geraldine joined the women’s section of the British Army, FANYs, and when war broke out in 1939, she was posted to Dar-es-Salaam, where she met and married Michael Macoun. Their son Brian was also born there.

Raised in China and Ireland, Michael was a fluent German speaker who studied at Oxford before continuing his education at Munich University. He was sent out to Tanganyika by the British government to round up the Germans in 1939 and was later posted to Combined Services Intelligence at Nairobi at Shell House. While in Nairobi, their son Tony was born.

Geraldine’s brother Eddie was in the Kings African Rifles in Abyssinia, and then with the East African Scouts in the Arakan in Burma, where he was killed in 1944.

After the war, she returned to Tanganyika, where Michael served in the Colonial Police at Mbeya, Iringa, Arusha and Dar.

Brian went to school at Pembroke House in Kenya and Geraldine used to drive him there over awful roads during the Mau Mau Emergency, with a pistol in her hand bag for protection.

After a promotion, Michael became Commissioner of Police to Uganda for six years where Geraldine ran the blood transfusion service.

After Independence, Michael stayed on for two years and then joined the Foreign Office in London as Inspector General of Colonial/Dependent Territories Police Forces which took him and Geraldine all over the world.

Michael died in 1999 and Geraldine moved to a small house and continued driving until she was over 92.

After a fall, she moved to a care home. But this was not a pleasant experience for her and in 2011, she moved to Nairobi to stay with her son Brian in Langata. Five years later, the Queen sent her a card on her 100th Birthday.

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