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The McMillan Castle

You have probably heard of or walked by Lord McMillan’s legacy – the McMillan Memorial Library in the CBD. Erected by his widow in his memory in 1931, the library is the landmark most commonly associated with the McMillans. McMillan was a steel heir born in 1872 in the United States. He came to East Africa in 1901 to hunt game. He served in the military and married Louise Fairbanks, a reverend’s daughter, in 1894.

In 1905, Macmillan decided to settle in the then British East Africa and become a rancher. His ranch and home, the Macmillan Castle is a tucked-away treasure waiting to be discovered. Located in Ol Donyo Sabuk, a mere 65km from Nairobi, it incorporates McMillan’s sisal estate and vast ranch. Even by today’s standards, the 32-roomed castle is majestic. Apart from the land where the castle stands, McMillan also acquired land in Ondiri near Kikuyu Railway Station, the Samar sisal estate which is in Sabasaba and more than 40,000 acres in Juja Sukari for ranching.

The castle is significant because of the role it played during the first and second World Wars. It was built in 1918, using local stone trachate with the doors and fanlights being imported from Scandinavian countries. The castle is complete with underground bunkers and an underground tunnel that is more than a kilometre long. The tunnel goes up to the horses’ stable so that the castle occupants could safely get away in case of intruders. Each cluster of rooms has its own gabled roof so that the entire roof of the house has a shape similar to Mt Kilimambogo. It has hosted famed historical figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Ewan Grogan, Evelyn Baring and Prince Amadeo of Aosta.

McMillan was knighted Sir William Northrup Macmillan in 1918 due to his service in the British forces. He died on Sunday March 22, 1925 in France. Having been too obese – over 180kgs – to sire children, he was succeeded by no heirs. Locals joke that because of his weight, he would have been unable to use the underground tunnels and if push had come to shove, would have been easily captured. He loved Mt Kilimambogo so much that he wanted to be buried at its peak. He, his wife, their nanny and dog are buried near the peak.

Feel free to visit his castle and grave for a chance to see history come alive.

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