Getting to this museum is a little convoluted—the approach to it is down a curving dirt road, past the outdoor sections of the museum (which are separated from the road by heavy wire mesh). To get on to the dirt road itself, you have to first go through a gate manned by a security guard, who will get you sign in, in a register. The actual tickets to the museum have to be bought at the museum building, at the end of the dirt road. The entry fee is $10 per adult (or KSH 600) and $2 per child (or KSH 100)—which doesn’t work out the same if you know the exchange rate, which the staff here don’t seem to. Since we didn’t have shillings , only dollars, we ended up paying $22 for my husband, me, and our daughter; if we’d paid in shillings, it would have been much cheaper. Make sure you bring along sufficient shillings.
The museum spreads out across four rooms and the large yard outside. The first room is the largest, and the most interesting. Before we started, a museum staffer conducted us to a relief map of Kenya and gave us an introduction to the history of the Kenyan railways: how the system was designed by the British primarily to allow them access to the Nile in Uganda; how Indians were brought in to work as supervisors while local Kenyans provided most of the labour; the progress made; and important landmarks and incidents related to the railways, such as the infamous Tsavo maneaters.
After this interesting little talk, we were free to go about the museum , looking at the exhibits for ourselves. The first room has a vast range of exhibits, ranging from photographs, survey maps, station masters’ chairs, a track inspector’s bicycle (and a similarly used trolley), plus other memorabilia from the late 1800s and early 1900s, all relating to the laying down of the railways in Kenya. There are also other interesting objects here, including the porcelain set used on board train by Princess Elizabeth when she visited Kenya in 1960 along with her husband Prince Phillip (as many would know, by the time she left Kenya, she was Queen Elizabeth II)—sofas on which she sat while in Kenya are also in the museum.
Another highlight of this room are three claws of one of the Tsavo man-eaters that disrupted work on the ‘Lunatic Line’, as the Mombasa-Nairobi line was known. The claws are kept safely in a little plastic box, at the staff’s office: we asked to see these, and were shown them readily enough.
The second room is much smaller, and contains signalling equipment and other communications equipment used by the railways, from bells and lamps and early typewriters, to telephones of various vintages. In the third room are items related to ships and water transport: models of ships associated with Kenya, and a good bit about a German cruiser named Konigsberg, which was sunk off the coast during World War I. This room contains a fine sideboard and the captain’s table salvaged from the Konigsberg.
The last room is about modern railways in Kenya, most of which are being developed with Chinese collaboration.
After these four rooms, we went off to the large, gravelled yard outside, where are stationed several engines, coaches and related railway equipment. Several of these are open, and you are allowed to climb in to look around. For me, the most interesting piece of history here was stationed inside the pale blue shed near the gate: here stands Coach #12, a first class coach inside which a British police officer, Superintendent Charles Henry George Ryall, had decided to sit up, armed with a gun, to try and kill one of the Tsavo man-eaters. Unfortunately for Ryall, he fell asleep—and was killed by the lion, which entered the coach.
A little outside the shed and close to the gate of the yard is a locomotive which was used in the filming of the movie ‘Out of Africa’.
A fascinating museum.