One of the reasons that I love collecting stamps so much is that I learn quite a lot about people, places and events I previously had no knowledge of. The hobby has stimulated my love for history and has enabled me to become quite an expert at geography. It all starts with curiosity: what is on my stamp? Where is it? The quest for those answers often leads down unexpected paths.
One of my favorite areas to collect is Africa, particularly the colonial period from late in the nineteenth century up until the five or ten years following the end of World War II. I still have so much to learn and most my research leaves me with a desire to be able to travel back in time so that I can visit the Africa of the 1920s or 1930s. As for the region of East Africa comprising the entities of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (“KUT”), I’ve long been aware of the Great Rift Valley and Victoria Lake among other locations but I’d never heard of Lake Naivasha, pictured on several stamps using the same design but with changing monarchs.
Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake outside the town of Naivasha in Nakuru County north west of Nairobi, the capitol city of Kenya. The name derives from the local Maasai name Nai’posha, meaning “rough water” because of the sudden storms which can arise. It is at the highest elevation of the Kenyan Rift valley at 6,181 feet (1,884 meters) in a complex geological combination of volcanic rocks and sedimentary deposits from a larger Pleistocene era lake. Apart from transient streams, the lake is fed by the perennial Malewa and Gilgil rivers. There is no visible outlet, but since the lake water is relatively fresh it is assumed to have an underground outflow.
Lake Naivasha has a surface area of 53.6 square miles (139 km²) and is surrounded by a swamp which covers an area of 24.7 square miles (64 km²), but this can vary largely depending on rainfall. The lake has an average depth of 20 feet (6 m), with the deepest area being at Crescent Island, at a maximum depth of 100 feet (30 m). Njorowa Gorge used to form the lake’s outlet, but it is now high above the lake and forms the entrance to Hell’s Gate National Park. The town of Naivasha (formerly East Nakuru) lies on the north-east edge of the lake.
The lake is home to a variety of types of wildlife including over 400 different species of birds and a sizeable population of hippos. The fish community in the lake has been highly variable over time, influenced by changes in climate, fishing effort and the introduction of invasive species. The most recent shift in the fish population followed the accidental introduction of common carp in 2001. Nine years later, in 2010, common carp accounted for over 90% of the mass of fish caught in the lake.
There are two smaller lakes in the vicinity of Lake Naivasaha: Lake Oloiden and Lake Sonachi (a green crater lake). The Crater Lake Game Sanctuary lies nearby, while the lake shore is known for its population of European immigrants and settlers.
Floriculture forms the main industry around Lake Naivasha. However, the largely unregulated use of lake water for irrigation is reducing the level of the lake and is the subject of concern in Kenya. Fishing in the lake is also another source of employment and income for the local population. The lake varies in level greatly and almost dried up entirely in the 1890s. Lake levels in general follow the rainfall pattern in the catchment area.
The water level for Lake Naivasha reached a low level of just under two feet (0.6 m) depth in 1945, but the water level rose again, with minor drops, to reach a maximum depth of more than 19 feet (6 m) in 1968. There was another major decline of the water level in 1987, when the depth reached eight feet (2.25 m) above the lake bottom. The decline of the lake water level in 1987 increased concern in the future of geothermal industry, and it was speculated that Lake Naivasha underground water might be feeding the geothermal reservoir at Olkaria. Hence, the decline in the lake water would affect the future of the geothermal industry.
Between 1937 and 1950, Lake Naiyasha was used as a landing place for flying boats on the Imperial Airways passenger and mail route from Southampton in Britain to South Africa. It linked Kisumu and Nairobi. The Short Empire flying boats were initially used on the route, enabling Imperial Airways to offer a through-service from Southampton to the Empire. The journey to the Cape was via Marseille, Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Alexandria, Khartoum, Port Bell, Kisumu and onwards by land-based craft to Nairobi, Mbeya and eventually Cape Town.
The Short Empire was designed to operate along the Imperial Airways routes to South Africa and Australia, where no leg was much over 500 miles (800 km). After the design of the Empire had been finalized and production had commenced, it was recognized that, with some pressure from the United States, it would be desirable to offer a similar service across the Atlantic. The range of the S.23 was less than that of the equivalent American-built counterpart in the form of the Sikorsky S-42, and as such they could not provide a true trans-Atlantic service. Two boats (Caledonia and Cambria) were lightened and furnished with long-range tanks; both aircraft were used in experimental in-flight refueling trials in order for them to conduct the journey; these modifications came at the cost of being able to carry fewer passengers and less cargo. Starting in 1938, Short Empire flying boats also flew between Britain and Australia via India and the Middle East.
Joy Adamson, the author of Born Free, lived on the shores of Lake Naivasha in the mid-1960s. On the shores of the lake is Oserian (“Djinn Palace”), which gained notoriety in the Happy Valley days between the two world wars. It now forms part of the Oserian flower farm. In 1981, the first geothermal plant for Lake Naivasha was commissioned and by 1985, a total of 45 MW of electricity was being generated in the area. In 1999, the Lake Naivasha Riparian Association received the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for its conservation efforts regarding the Lake Naivasha Ramsar site.
Lake Naivasha first appeared on a KUT stamp released on May 1, 1935, a one shilling value printed with a green border and black vignette (Scott #54). The Stanley Gibbons catalogue unusually doesn’t name the designer of this stamp although it mentions those for the other 13 stamps in the set (Scott #46-59). This first set of Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika pictorial definitives bore the portrait of King George V and were recess printed by Thomas de la Rue Ltd. of London with a multi-script CA watermark. Scott #54 featuring Lake Naivasha was perforated 14. The design was also used for a 3-shilling value printed in black and ultramarine (Scott #56).
A change in monarch brought about a second set of definitive stamps released between 1938 and 1952 (Scott #66-85), utilizing many of the 1935 designs and adding the portrait of King George VI. The Lake Naivasha stamp was switched to a 10-cent denomination printed in orange and brown in a version released on May 2, 1938, perforated 13 x 11½ (Scott #69). A version perforated 14 appeared in 1941 (Scott #69a). On June 1 1949, the color was changed back to green and black, perforated 13 x 11½ (Scott #70) with additional varieties created when retouching was done to the sky and then to the mountains. There was a change in gauge to 13 x 12½ (Scott #70a) made the following year and released on June 14, 1950. Yet another color change occurred on April 1, 1952, this time to gray and red brown, again perforated 13 x 12½ (Scott #71). These were all versions of just the 10-cent stamp.
Other denominations featured the Lake Naivasha design as well: 1-shilling in yellow brown and gray black (Scott #80) released in 1938 and a 3-shilling black and ultramarine issued in 1950 (Scott #82). Both had additional perforation and other varieties, but not to the extent as the 10-cent values. The inscription ROYAL VISIT 1952 was added the 10-cent and 1-shilling varieties of the Lake Naivasha stamp re-issued in 1949 perforated 13 x 12½, released on February 1, 1952 (Scott #98-99) to commemorate the visit of Princess Elizabeth, the Duchess of Edinburgh, and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh.