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Archive of Sir Michael McWilliam relating to the Tea Industry in East Africa


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Sir Michael McWilliam's research material on the development of the tea industry in East Africa including interview transcripts, correspondence, reports, notes and publications, 1908-2014.

In 2020 Sir Michael described the accumulation of the material from three periods of research:

'In 1956 and 1957 I was able to carry out research in East Africa with funding support from a Rockefeller Foundation grant to Nuffield College and from the Tea Board of Kenya. I had access to three main archive sources –

• File registries in the government departments of Agriculture and Labour in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. National archives were later established in these countries after independence in the 1960s, but not all departmental records were transferred to them. • Company records kept by the Kenya subsidiaries of James Finlay – especially relating to the early years, and of Brooke Bond, especially regarding the history of the Pool. • The files of the Kenya Tea Growers Association, especially relating to labour conditions, the International Tea Agreement, and price control.

Manuscript copies were made of relevant documents from these sources.

As a member of the Board of the Commonwealth Development Corporation in the 1990s I was given access to its archive in order to write a history of the corporation to coincide with its 50th anniversary in 2000. This was published as The Development Business – a history of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, Palgrave, 2001. Most of the corporation’s historic records had been transferred onto microfilm, from which I was able to make copies of key documents. The reading equipment broke down and was not replaced and so I hired a machine to complete my work. CDC was subsequently broken up and moved offices and the microfilm records have been lost.

In 2003 and 2004 I made two research visits to Kenya and was given generous interview access, especially by James Finlay and Unilever, as well as with a wide range of industry executives and retired managers. This was supplemented by further interviews back in the UK. The outcome is a collection of individual interview notes and a consolidated research diary recording the remaining interviews.

During the 1970s a number of retired Brooke Bond managers recorded brief recollections of their time in Kericho, and I was given a set of these memoirs. Separately, two brothers had recorded their recollections of the 1920s and I was given a copy when interviewing the widow of one of them. She had subsequently married another early planter who had set down his account of the first settlers in Kericho, and I was given a copy.

Hugh Thomas, one of the first planters in Kericho, wrote a history of the African Highlands Produce Company up to the 1950s for private publication by James Finlay. He gathered recollections from some of the early tea planters and compiled a note on the origins of the industry. He also recorded a memoir and I have copies of these documents. Thomas rose to be Superintendent and he eventually became my step-father.

The common feature of the above sources is that many of the original documents may no longer exist, or are not readily accessible to a modern enquirer.'


  • Creation: 1946-2018, n.d.


1.0 Linear metres (14 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 20574/1, file 1].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 20574/1-14

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 20574


Archive of Sir Michael McWilliam relating to the tea industry in East Africa, 1908-2004.

Biographical / Historical

Sir Michael McWilliam (b. 1933) graduated from Oriel and Nuffield Colleges, Oxford, and began work at the Mufulira Copper Mines in Zambia. He moved to the Kenya Treasury in 1958, which led to a career in international banking. He joined Standard Bank (now Standard Chartered) in 1966, culminating in his appointment as Group Managing Director from 1983-1988.

Sir Michael was Director of SOAS, 1989-1996, Chairman of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, 1998-2012, and Chairman of Cheltenham Festivals, 2007-2011. He is the author of the history of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, where he was member of the board for many years.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Bodleian by Sir Michael McWilliam on 14 December 2020.


  • The Development Business - A History of the Commonwealth Development Corporation by Michael McWilliam (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
  • Simba Chai: the Kenya tea industry by Michael McWilliam (Charlbury: Prepare to Publish Ltd, 2020)
Catalogue of the Archive of Sir Michael McWilliam relating to the Tea Industry in East Africa
Finding aid prepared by Jen Patterson and Lucy McCann
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom