The Ruck family murder in Kinangop and its significance

by Rose Wangechi

On 27 January 1953, three months after the British government declared a state of emergency; Mau Mau killed three Britons in Kinangop, Rift Valley, in a carefully executed raid. 

It was a raid that sent the message to the white settlers that the struggle for land rights in Kenya had reached a military stage. The settlers were rattled.

The raid targeted members of the Ruck family, who included Roger Ruck, his wife Esme and their son Michael who epitomized British settlers’ affluence.  Rodger, the son of a clergyman had come to Kenya after the Second World War while Esme was a niece of a British Lord. She was a physician who provided medical treatment a Kinangop dispensary hoping to endear her to the locals. The Ruck family represented white settlers who had opted to live in the rural areas – as a constant reminder of the dark side of the Colony.

The attack on Ruck family became a turning point in government counter Mau Mau strategies and was used by the British press as a propaganda item against the Mau Mau who were labeled as ruthless murderers. The fight against the Mau Mau was propagated as necessary to restore law and order.

On the day the family died, Roger had changed into his pajamas ready for bed. As it was his routine, he stepped out of the house for an evening stroll. The wife, then pregnant, accompanied him for the night walk.

But the 30, or so, Mau Mau soldiers were lurking in the dark and they attacked the settlers with pangas and left their bodies on the house veranda. In addition, an African working at the home as a servant was also killed. Further, the Mau Mau entered the house searching for weapons.

The following day, the police arrived and took photos of the bodies. Sections of the media published the photos abroad.

The Illustrated London News carried two pages of photos showing the bodies. The newspaper photos included blood stains on the walls and a house with empty book shelves with toys scattered on the floor.  

According to Caroline Elkins, a historian and scholar, the government used these images to portray Mau Mau as savagely. 

However, back home, the colonial administration had to deal with a bigger problem. The settler community did not feel protected by the government. It is therefore little surprise that the settlers were dissatisfied with the government response.

A majority of them felt that the government could not offer enough protection. They decided to form a militant group – the Kenya Police Reservists. The settlers were rattled. They could not even trust their employees.

During the funeral of the settlers, calls for more government response in containing the Mau Mau became the underlying theme of all who spoke. This theme did not escape the clergy present.

The preacher presiding over the service noted that there were vile and brutal wickedness of satanic powers in Kenya. The pressure on government to act came from all corners.

Under the weight of this pressure, the government opted for rushed decisions and knee-jerk reactions.  Within months, seven kikuyus had been convicted and hanged for belonging to Mau Mau. The seven were also accused of participating in the murder of the Ruck’s.

The Ruck’s family was arguably the most famous victims of the Mau Mau and it was the first signal that the push for freedom had entered a dangerous phase.

You may also like


David Matu October 26, 2021 - 3:37 pm

The enigma that is the Mau Mau struggle for freedom and land rights is a classic example of how successful a people can be in their quest to rid themselves of oppressive and sadistic dominance of one class of people by another.

Paul Kombo October 30, 2021 - 10:25 am

The divide and rule is a favorite methodology long used by British government in South Africa and elsewhere to ensure supremacy.


Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy