Elspeth Huxley

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Elspeth Joscelin Huxley CBE (née Grant; 23 July 1907 – 10 January 1997) was an author, journalist, broadcaster, magistrate, environmentalist, farmer, and government adviser.[1] She wrote 30 books, including her best-known lyrical books, The Flame Trees of Thika and The Mottled Lizard, based on her youth in a coffee farm in British Kenya. Her husband, Gervas Huxley, was a grandson of Thomas Huxley and a cousin of Aldous Huxley.[2]

Early life[edit]

See also: Huxley family

Nellie and Major Josceline Grant, Elspeth Grant's parents, arrived in Thika in what was then British East Africa in 1912, to start a life as coffee farmers and colonial settlers. Huxley, aged six, arrived in December 1913, complete with governess and maid.[3] Her upbringing was unconventional; she was "almost treated as a parcel, being passed from hand to hand".[3] Huxley's 1959 book The Flame Trees of Thika explores how unprepared for rustic life the early British settlers really were. It was adapted as the 1981 television series The Flame Trees of Thika. Elspeth was educated at a whites-only school in Nairobi.

She left Africa in 1925, earning a degree in agriculture at Reading University in England and studying at Cornell University in upstate New York.[1] Elspeth returned to Africa periodically. She married Gervas Huxley, the son of the doctor Henry Huxley (1865–1946) in 1931. They had one son, Charles, who was born in February 1944.


Huxley started writing soon after her marriage; her first book was published in 1935. Her final tally of 42[3] books included the ten works of fiction and 29 non-fictional books listed below, as well as thousands of pamphlets and articles.

Huxley was appointed Assistant Press Officer to the Empire Marketing Board in 1929. She resigned her post in 1932 and travelled widely. During this period, she published her first works including Lord Delamere and the making of Kenya, a biography of the famous settler.

During the Second World War, Huxley was a broadcaster for the BBC.[3]

In 1960, Huxley was appointed an independent member of the Advisory Commission for the Review of the Constitution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (the Monckton Commission). Early in life an advocate of colonialism, she later called for independence for African countries.[2]

In the 1960s, she served as a correspondent for the National Review magazine.

Huxley's 1939 book Red Strangers describes life among the Kikuyu of Kenya around the time of the arrival of the first European settlers. The manuscript was sent first to the publisher MacMillan, but Harold Macmillan, then working for the family firm, agreed to publish it only with considerable cuts, including a graphic description of female circumcision. Huxley refused, and the book was published by Chatto and Windus. Huxley remembered: "It was indeed a happy day for me when our future Prime Minister couldn't take clitoridectomy."[3] The book was republished by Penguin Books in 1999 and again by Penguin Classics in 2000; Richard Dawkins played an important role in getting the book republished, and wrote a preface to the new edition.

Christine S. Nicholls wrote Elspeth Huxley: A Biography (Harper Collins, 2002). Huxley was a friend of Joy Adamson,[2] the author of Born Free, and is mentioned in the biography of Joy and George Adamson entitled The Great Safari. Elspeth Huxley wrote the foreword to Joy's autobiography The Searching Spirit.


Huxley died on 10 January 1997 aged 89, in a nursing home at Tetbury in Gloucestershire, England.[1]




  • Murder at Government House (1937)
  • Murder on Safari (1938)
  • Death of an Aryan (U.S.:The African Poison Murders) (1939)
  • Red Strangers (1939) ISBN 0141188502
  • The Walled City (1948)
  • A Thing to Love (1954)
  • The Red Rock Wilderness (1957)
  • The Merry Hippo (U.S.: The Incident at the Merry Hippo) (1963)
  • A Man from Nowhere (1964)
  • The Prince Buys the Manor (1982)


  • White Man's Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya (1935)
  • Atlantic Ordeal: The Story of Mary Cornish (1941)
  • African Dilemmas (1948)
  • Settlers of Kenya (1948)
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice: A Journey Through Africa (1948)
  • I Don't Mind If I Do (1950)
  • Four Guineas: A Journey Through West Africa (1954)
  • No Easy Way: A History of the Kenyan Farmers' Association and UNGA Limited (1957)
  • The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood (1959)
  • A New Earth: An Experiment in Colonialism (1960)
  • The Mottled Lizard (U.S.: On the Edge of the Rift: Memories of Kenya) (1962)
  • Back Street New Worlds: A Look at Immigrants in Britain (1964)
  • With Forks and Hope: An African Notebook (1964)
  • Brave New Victuals: An Inquiry into Modern Food Production (1965)
  • Their Shining Eldorado: A Journey Through Australia (1967)
  • Love among the Daughters (1968)
  • The Challenge of Africa (1971)
  • The Kingsleys: A Biographical Anthology (1973)
  • Livingstone and His African Journeys (1974)
  • Florence Nightingale (1975)
  • Gallipot Eyes: A Wiltshire Diary (1976)
  • Scott of the Antarctic (1978)
  • Nellie: Letters from Africa (1980)
  • Whipsnade: Captive Breeding for Survival (1981)
  • Last Days in Eden aka De Laatsten in de Hof van Eden (1984) with Hugo van Lawick
  • Out in the Midday Sun: My Kenya (1985)
  • Nine Faces of Kenya" Portrait Of A Nation (1990)
  • Peter Scott: Painter and Naturalist (1993)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Lyall, Sarah. "Elspeth Huxley, 89, Chronicler of Colonial Kenya, Dies", New York Times, 18 January 1997.
  2. ^ a b c C. S. Nicholls. Elspeth Huxley: A Biography. London: HarperCollins, 2002.
  3. ^ a b c d e https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/cruel-cuts-for-excising-pm/170373.article



  • Giffuni, Cathe. "A Bibliography of the Mystery Writings of Elspeth Huxley," Clues: Volume 12 No. 2 Fall/Winter 1991, pp. 45–49.