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   Alastair McCrae


Alastair McCrae

House: Rhodes
Years: 1943-1946

On 30th September 2009, Webmaster received an e-mail from Henry Dawson:

Dear Steve,

Given the Old Cambrian and Bernard Astley connection, I thought the sad news of Alastair's death warranted a bit more than a passing reference.

The McCrae family was quite significant in many ways, bringing furniture to Nairobi, and sisal to Naivasha. Quite apart from the personal and the family connection.

Best regards


Obituary for Alastair McCrae (1929-2009)

Henry Dawson writes:

With great sadness we report the death of Alastair McCrae (Rhodes 1943-46).
He died peacefully at home of lung cancer on September 1st 2009 aged 80.

Alastair was a magnificent character in so many respects and his passing leaves a big dent in many people’s lives and in several continents. However, it is Alastair’s Kenya context which is the subject of this note as a small but essential part of Kenya’s history.

Alastair’s father, Robin, was one of seven children of a furniture-making family business in Glasgow. The eldest son Jimmie, for reasons unexplained was inspired to go to Kenya in 1912. He persuaded his younger brother, Andrew, who had been training as a cabinet maker, to join him. They set up the firm of J & AR McCrae; they built premises in Government Road in Nairobi (later best remembered as the East African Music Stores)and produced high quality furniture, which even many years later would be prized as people’s ‘McCrae pieces’.

Shortly after WW1, Jimmie met Ewart Grogan who owned a sisal estate at Taveta, and 30,000 acres between Longonot and the shore of Lake Naivasha. Grogan was keen to sell the Naivasha land and persuaded Jimmie to try growing sisal there. In 1920/21, Jimmie persuaded Andrew to sell the business in Nairobi and set up a new venture, with investors including Howard de Walden, Dalgety’s and the National Bank of India. A few years later, Robin, Alastair’s father, was persuaded to join them. The 30,000 acre estate extended from the shores of the lake to the Njorawa gorge (better known as Hell’s Gate). They installed a small railway system to carry sisal from the fields to the factory, and then to Longonot Station. From there it went onto Mombasa for shipping to Britain.

During the ‘Depression’, the price of sisal fell and production was suspended. Robin went, with his wife Carol and their 3 children, Isobel, Alastair and twin brother Ewan – and their au pair, Louise Richards – to help Horace Dawson (my father) to build a posho and quartz crushing mill harnessing the power of the Soymet Falls on the Kipsonoi River in Sotik.

(My father fell in love with the au pair – and, as they say – the rest is history for Ralph, John, Teddy, Henry and Jim Dawson – Nicholson house at the Prince of Wales School continuously from 1949 to 1963).

Alastair (and Ewan) went to Kenton School and then to the Prince of Wales. He proceeded to Glasgow to train as an accountant, and began a life long enthusiasm for the music and countryside of Scotland.

On leave in Kenya in 1951, he met and fell in love with Cynthia Astley, daughter of Bernard Astley, second Headmaster of the Prince of Wales School from 1937 to 1944.

After qualifying, he returned to Kenya in 1953 and started an accountancy practice, Murdoch, McCrae and Smith. He and Cynthia were married on 4th June 1955. In 1960, they and their two children, with heavy heart decided to leave Kenya for the UK. They settled in Harpenden and have lived in that area of Hertfordshire ever since.

Alastair was a big man, with a big hearty voice, an all encompassing wit and a huge embrace that almost literally enveloped you. His interests and accomplishments were enormously wide: from playing the Northumbrian pipes, to the detailed history of Persian carpets; but above all he loved people: their conversation and their interests, and everyone who knew him is missing him greatly, but none more so than his close family.

He is survived by his wife, Cynthia, their two children, Donald and Fiona, and 3 grandchildren.

If readers of this are contempories, twin Ewan lives in Perth, their elder sister, Isobel and much younger brother, Robert (Rhodes 1958-61) both live in Edinburgh,

(Henry Dawson, Nicholson 1956-60)

The three McCrae brothers built houses between the ‘Lake’ road and the Lake itself (not far from the ‘Sopa’ Lodge). They are still there today, albeit much modified. The sisal estate is mostly now part of the Longonot ranch, run by Tony Church (Nicholson 1952-56).
The following was Alastair's entry in the Alumni section of this web site prior to his death:

Alastair McCrae

House: Rhodes
Year: 1943-1946

Twin brother of Ewan McCrae. Brother of Robert McCrae (Rhodes 1958-1961).

Note from Webmaster:
I am extremely grateful to Alastair and his wife Cynthia (née Astley) who have contributed to the web site many historic photos of the school and staff from the 1930s. These photos come from the albums of Cynthia's father, Bernard Astley (Headmaster of the Prince of Wales School from 1937 to 1945)

Registered - 26th November 2005