Charles Kasaja – From Uganda to Dundee.

One of our main projects at the moment is cataloguing, appraising and indexing our school records.  Thanks to our volunteers, the latter of these is in a draft stage. We have indexes of all of the school admissions we hold, up to 1918. But of course we have to make sure everything is present and correct. So we have entered stage 2 of that part of the project – checking. As part of this process I look through the indexes and identify any definite or possible mistakes. This involves looking through lists of many names. I have to decide whether this is just an unusual name or it has been typed wrong. Some are obvious mistakes: Nillar is most likely meant to be Millar. Others are less clear – should Fergusson only have just one ‘s’? There are also unusual names like Charles Kasaja. Is that correct?

index entry
The index database entries for Charles Kasaja and John McQueen

As with many unusual names, the first thing we do to check it out is look at Scotland’s People. There was nothing under the name Charles Kasaja but there was for the surname Kasaga – a hit in the 1911 census. So I decided to take a look. The boy was 14, which fits. Charles and John McQueen – another boy in the Morgan Admission Register, are living at 16 Wortley Place with Mrs Jessie Cumming and her daughter, also called Jessie. There are no Watsons present. What first piqued my interest was that the census states that Charles was born in Uganda and John was born in British East Africa (Kenya). Unlike in America, UK census records did not record the ethnicity of a person until 1991. As they just recorded where someone was born, it is difficult to separate whether they were a White European who just happened to be born there or if they were a native. But this census gives us a clue. A note in the nationality column beside Charles’ name states that he was ‘African’. There is no such note beside John, so from this its difficult to tell whether he was a native African. How had these two African boys come to be in Dundee?

After a bit of a search I found a newspaper article from 1936 about the Boys Brigade and their involvement in missionary work, particularly in Uganda. The article mentioned Charles Kasaja, who had been a member of the 15th Brigade whilst in Dundee, had been brought to Dundee by Mrs Watson, a ‘Dundee Lady Missionary’. Something nagged at me, this all seemed a bit familiar. Then it clicked. A couple of years ago one of the members of the FDCA had given a talk about her great aunt who was a missionary in Africa – Minnie Watson. This was the same lady.

Morgan Admission crop
A scan of the original entries in the admission records. You can see the guardian should be Mrs Watson and their previous school was not in Kirk Wynd, but in Kikuyu.

According to articles online, Minnie adopted both Charles – full name Charles Kasaja Stokes, although he never uses that surname whilst in Scotland – and John McQueen. Although this was likely to have been an informal adoption. She brought them back to Dundee in 1907, where they both went to Morgan Academy. According to the records Charles left school in November 1910, and in the census he is listed as a shop boy in a Grocers. The boys were only in Dundee for a few years, and probably left some time late in 1911 or possibly 1912 – sadly the school records do not give a leaving date for John, so there are no clues there.

I can’t find out much about John, but it seems that Charles had an eventful background. He was the son of Charles Henry Stokes, an Irish missionary turned salesman in East Africa. Charles Henry originally married an Englishwoman and had one daughter. However his wife died soon after their daughter Ellen (or Nellie) was born. According to one source (‘Charles Stokes 1852-1895, An Irishman in 19th Century Africa’ by Raymond Moloney S. J., in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review Vol. 87, No. 346) Charles Henry helped Chief Mwanga to evade capture by giving him the use of his boat. In reward the Chief gave Stokes a maid servant called ‘Nyanjala’ as a wife. Another article, on the other hand, claims that he married another woman and ‘Nanjala’ was one of his two mistresses or concubines. It does seem that he fathered another daughter with different African woman, as this daughter is mentioned in his will, according to Moloney. Moloney also states that Stokes got on well with the indigenous African people and saw them as equals. Although he traded ivory and weapons, he refused to trade in slaves. Alas Charles Kasaja never knew his father. Charles Henry was arrested in January 1895 by the Belgians, for trading arms with their colonial enemies – Britain and Germany. In a botched trial he was convicted and sentence to death by hanging – just a few months before Charles Kasaja was born. The whole incident caused an international incident and was known as the ‘Stokes Affair’.

I can’t find any mention of how the Ugandan born Charles Kasaja ended up in Kikuyu, near Nairobi in Kenya, where Minnie Watson was based. His mother survived until at least 1958, so he wasn’t an orphan. As the records suggest, he attended Minnie’s school in Kikuyu before coming to Dundee, this could have been how he met Minnie. Either way he came under Minnie’s wing, along with John. An 1927 article from the Evening Telegraph about Minnie, states that Charles was well known and popular in the Maryfield area. As we know from the 1936 article, Charles attended the 15th Battalion of the Boys Brigade, which was based at Ogilvie’s church on Albert Street. In July 1908 he came 2nd in the under 14s 100 yard Flat Race at a Boys Brigade meeting in Dairsie. In January 1911 he also competed in the 15th Brigade team at the Dundee and District Juvenile Gymnastics Championship, helping them to beat Panmure by just half a point.

Sadly no log books or records from Morgan Academy or the Boys Brigade survive from the period that could give us any clues about Charles’ (and John) life in Dundee. I can only imagine what he thought about Dundee. Especially as he seems to have arrived here in the winter!

After Charles returned to Kikuyu, he got a job working as a medical dresser (although some articles claim he trained in this profession in Scotland), and had a long career as a medical lab technician in both Uganda and Kenya. This blog post states that he was involved with setting up the blood transfusion service in Uganda. Charles was left land in Kampala, Uganda, by the Regents of Buganda, in recognition of his father. This is where he spent the latter years of his life. He married Sarah Nambalilwa and had 8 children, 6 of whom survived to adulthood. His eldest daughter was named Minnie after his adoptive mother. Two of his daughters moved to London. It was whilst visiting them in 1994 he died at the age of 99.

charles aged 90
Charles Kasaja Stokes in 1984 at the aged of 89. Taken from Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The photograph at the start of this post is taken from the collection of papers of Minnie Watson, held by the National Library of Scotland. The collection includes letters written by Charles to Minnie after she returned to Scotland in 1931. Further investigation of this archive may well reveal more information about Charles and his life in Uganda and Dundee. Minnie lived with her sister at 16 Wortley Place, a house which became known as Nairobi.

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