Mombasa

Kenya

One of the Intermediates entering Kilindini

A very familiar sight for anyone who has had a run ashore here

Mombasa Island has an area of 5½ sq miles, and is linked with the nearby mainland by a causeway carrying road and rail traffic. Additional access is provided by a pontoon bridge to the north and ferries to the south. Mombasa is distant from Tanga 83 miles, from Durban 1,987 miles, Aden 1,633 miles and London (via Marseilles and Genoa) 6,754 miles. The rail distance to Nairobi is 330 miles.

Vessels lie alongside a quay at Kilindini, a modern harbour on the south-west side of the Island, with an extensive landlocked anchorage. There is a bus or taxi service to Mombasa Town three miles away.

Mombasa is the starting point of the railway to Uganda, 882 miles long.

Mombasa Old Port, on the other side of the Island which was used by Arabs, Persians and others for many centuries before the appearance of Europeans in East African waters, Is now used only by small coasters and by the Arab dhows from the Persian Gulf which visit Mombasa in considerable numbers, up to 500 each season. The dhows are picturesque vessels, often with high carved sterns and have altered little in design during the passage of time. They usually arrive in Mombasa between December and April.

The Old Port is guarded by Fort Jesus, an historic Portuguese castle dating from 1593, over which flies the red flag of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Mombasa was an important centre of Arab power in the eighth century and was first visited by Europeans when Vasco da Gama anchored off the town in 1498. The Portuguese captured the Island in 1505 and since then until 1784, when the Arabs captured Mombasa and Zanzibar, it was frequently attacked by Arabs or Portuguese and several times changed hands.

The great siege of Fort Jesus was commenced by the Arabs in March 1696 and terminated with its storming 33 months later and the massacre of its thirteen survivors. A Portuguese relief fleet from Goa arrived two days too late and sailed away learning that the fort had fallen.

For more than a hundred years after the expulsion of the Portuguese in 1784, the East Coast from the Rovuma River to Somaliland was controlled by the Imam of Muscat, whose Viceroy ruled in Zanzibar. During this period, until, under pressure from Great Britain, Seyyid Bargash closed the slave markets in 1873, extensive slave trading was carried on.

The imperial British East India Company received its charter in 1888, and the conflicting interests of Great Britain, Germany and Italy in Eastern Africa were settled by treaty in 1890–1.

The Island has Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals, several Mosques and a Hindu Temple and Burning Ghat. Of interest are the two Phallic Towers and several ruined fortifications. On the mainland, near English Point, is the grave of the wife and child of Krapf, the missionary and explorer.

Mombasa’s principal exports are cotton, coffee, tobacco, sisal, pyrethrum, hides and skins, wattle bark and extract, tea, sodium bicarbonate, kyanite, cottonseed, maize, beans and timber.

“I remember the seaman's missions very well the padres of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam where ever so friendly and ever so happy in fact you could say they were very gay but they use to organise football matches and nights out.”

Robert Page

From B&C Review  June 1965

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