The Tamsen Chronicles

For the love of a women

Darkest Africa in the middle years of the last century saw many wars and insurrections but, fortunately, it was not all politics, violence and doom and gloom. In those far off days, this vast and mysterious continent attracted some of the world’s most interesting and adventurous characters I would ever want to meet as a foreign correspondent and journalist.

To my mind, one of the most notable of these was Colonel Ewart “Grogs” Grogan. Born in 1874, this hardy and party loving gentleman once walked from Cape Town, on the Southern point of Africa, to Cairo 9,000 heavy foot kilometres away — all for the love of a young woman, Gertrude Watt.

This rugged footsore journey through the world’s toughest countryside was “Grogs” answer to Gertrude’s father who refused to offer her hand in marriage until his aspiring son-in-law could prove himself as a man. The journey took “Grogs” just over two years to accomplish at the relatively tender age of 25 years. During his long walk, “Grogs” was often pursued by startled wild game and, on one reported occasion, African tribal head-hunters.

After finally arriving on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, “Grogs” was feted in Alexandria for this almost unbelievable feat, won the lady’s heart and later became a successful businessman in Nairobi, Kenya. When his wife died 46 years later, he built the still well-known and influential Gertrude’s Garden Children’s Hospital in her everlasting memory.

  In his late teenage years, “Grogs” had fought in the Second Matabele War in Rhodesia and then went to Cambridge University where he became a prominent member of the 140-year-old Adventurers and Native’s Dining Club. The fame of his inspiring walk for love and matrimony was such that, even in the 21st Century, he is still toasted each year by the current dining club members. His pan-African adventure is also still the only one of its type recorded in history.

In Kenya, he was often referred to as “Kenya’s Churchill” for his adventurous African spirit, for his way with words and his commanding stature of well over six feet in height. He was also a one-time confidant of Africa’s first state builder, Cecil John Rhodes, after whom Rhodesia was named prior to becoming Zimbabwe.

“Grogs” also visited Australia prior to WWll and tried to interest the Australian Government of the day into turning the Clarence and Tweed Rivers back into the sometimes-parched centre of our country.

Gertrude also had some fame around her as she was the granddaughter of the Scottish engineer James Watt, who made the first steam engine that brought about the Industrial Revolution and which, in turn, gave impetus to the exploration of Africa by the Colonial Powers in the pre-20th Century grab for foreign territories.

While stationed in Nairobi during Kenya’s Mau Mau terrorist campaign, I used to be a regular at Torr’s Hotel in that city, owned and run by no one other than Ewart “Grogs” Grogan. This drinking and dining spot soon became world famous for its cowboy-style bar with two-way swing doors and sawdust on the floor. During the post-WWll years, Torrs Hotel also became the meeting place for hairy-chested adventurers and big game hunters together with a liberal sprinkling of international film stars and their camp followers.

This was, in fact, where I first met up with a young unknown American actress who desperately needed a well-paid job and was stoically determined to make her name in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Her name was Grace Kelly, and she was in Kenya about to play a part in a film called “Mogambo” which sensationally made her name and fame. Our extended friendship later caused me to be invited to her wedding in Monaco as a crowned princess and wife to Prince Rainier.

As for “Grogs,” he eventually died in Cape Town in 1967 at the good age of 92 years. During his funeral, a descendant and member of Gertrude’s family quietly placed on his coffin the well-worn boots he had worn during his trip of a lifetime for love. They had apparently always been cherished by Gertrude and kept close to her heart.


Yamba resident and former foreign correspondent Oscar Tamsen whose work around the world from the early 1950s saw him in Colonial Africa for nearly two decades as a working journalist. Oscar’s years in the ‘Dark Continent,’ as it was then known, had him travelling from Cairo to Cape Town, meeting some of the world’s top newsmakers of the time as well as participating in a number of wars and rebellions.