National Museums of Kenya( NMK) is the state corporation that is mandated to manage the Museums, sites and monuments in Kenya. The museum  carries out the heritage research and has expertise in subjects ranging from palaeontology, archeology, ethnography and biodiversity research and conservation with its headquarters being Nairobi National Museums. It is located in Museum hill near Uhuru highway between Central Business District and Westlands in Nairobi. The National museum of Kenya was founded by the East Africa Natural  History Society in 1910. It main goal has always been to conduct an ongoing critical scientific examination of the natural  attributes of the East African Habitat.  The Museum houses collections and temporary and permanent exhibits. Today the National museum of Kenya manages over 22 regional museums, many sites and monuments across the country.

How the Museums of Kenya were Established

The Museums of Kenya were established by  East Africa and Uganda Natural History society which founded in 1910 and 1911 by persons with an interest in nature in  British East Africa.  Within the group were two canons of the church Missionary society. They were the father of Louis Leakey Reverend Harry Leakey and Reverend Kenneth St. Aubyn Rodgers others were government officials C. W. Hobley and John Ainsworth, doctors, dentists, big-game  Hunters and plantation owners. By around 1911 they had established the Natural History Museum and Library with an Honorary curator. Aladina Visram put up the money to construct a one storey building of two rooms.

In March 1914 they managed to paid a curator, they brought in Arthur Loveridge a herpetologist. Loveridge worked hard and concentrated on collections with the members volunteering to contribute specimens, labour and funds. Loveridge  help in war to fight German East Africa, he returned after the war and stayed briefly before going to America where he became a Harvard University professor.

Corydon Museum

The museum secured a new building at the corner of the Government Road and kirk Road, where the new volunteers for the society were Sir Robert Coryndon who was the Governor of Kenya. After his unexpected death in 1925 ,Lady Coryndon established the Coryndon Memorial Fund to build a better museum in memory of her husband.

Nairobi National Museum
Nairobi National Museum

The construction of a new building was began in 1928 and was completed in 1929 with government offering matching funds for public donations. In the new building ,there were no workrooms or storage space had been provided and therefore the Natural History Society declined to move in. The government bought the old museum building and the society used the money to add three rooms, they gave their collections to the museum trustees and retained the library. Lady Coryndon donated Sir Robert’s books to the museum.

The Museum was opened officially on 22nd September 1930, it was named Coryndon Museum with Victor Gurney Logan Van Someren a member as curator. He was assigned a house on the ground. In 1930 Evelyn Molony was appointed the museum’s first botanist after a grant was given to the museum by Ernest Carr to fund her employment and during her tenure she established a museum a herbarium on East African plants as well as publishing a series of scientific papers on East African flora.

The issues raised and the relationship between the museum trustees and the society became problematic and the two organisations appointed a committee sir Charles Belcher a Kenyan jurist to stabilise it. The committee findings turned everything over to the museum except for the library in exchange for annual payments 15 years to the society.

In 1941 Mary Leakey became  a staff and Louis Leakey as unpaid curator. Louis Leakey was hired in 1945  as a paid curator with the new house as the old one had become run down. He built up the exhibitions and opened them to Africans and Asians by lowering the admission fee because until then the museum had been for whites only.

The museum  acted as a base for Leakey operations until 1961 when Louis founded the centre for prehistory and paleontology on the grounds nearby and moved himself and his collections to it.

National Museum

After the Kenya independence in 1963, the Coryndon Museum was renamed National Museum in 1964 and was included in a new system the National Museums of Kenya. Richard Leakey had irreconcilable difference with Louis Leakey  who was his employer in 1967. Richard Leakey decided to improve the National Museum and he formed the Kenya Museums Associates, he occupied observer’s  sear for Richard Leakey on the board from Carcasson in exchange for a 5000 pound contribution. Richard didn’t do much observing as he departed for the first Omo expedition.

The Kenya Museum Associates the museum overseer in the government Joel Ojal. Richard Leakey returned from Omo and directly gave his ideas for improvement to Joel who then asked the chairman sir Ferdinand Cavendish-Bentinck to  place Richard in a senior position and begin replacing the board members with Kenyans of Kenyan extraction as initially there were only two out of 16 in the board. He set the penalty for inaction would be removal of government funding.

Richard Leakey turned down a part-time  executive position which he was offered. In the next few months the board was replaced and in 1968the new board offered Richard a permanent postas administrative director with Carcasson to be retained as scientific director after sometime Carcasson resigned and Richard Leakey became director.

The Gallery of Kenyan Ethnic communities

This is a Gallery which contains various Kenyan communities in their traditional attire and the artwork by Joy Adamson.

Modernisation of the facility

The Nairobi Museum galleries was closed from 15th October 2005 to December 2007 for extensive rebuilding program. This becoming the first major renovation of Nairobi Museum since its establishment in 1930. This gave rise to the new administration block and commercial centre were built and Nairobi Museums of Kenya’s physical planning was improved. It was not until June 2008 when the Museum was re-opened in June 2008. It houses both temporary and permanent exhibitions.

On the grounds there are also the Nairobi snake park, the nature trail and the Botanic Garden. The commercial wing of the Museum has restaurants and shops.

Other Museums sites and monuments operated by the National Museums of Kenya including eco-tourist attractions are:

  • Nairobi Gallery, Nairobi
  • Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi
  • Institute of Primate Research ,Nairobi
  • Fort Jesus, Mombasa
  • Gedi ruins, Gedi which is near Malindi
  • Hyrax Hill prehistoric site and Museum near Nakuru
  • Jumbo la Mtwana, Mtwapa near Mombasa
  • Kabarnet Museum, Kabarnet
  • Karen Blixen Museum, Nairobi
  • Kapenguria Museum, Kapenguria
  • Kariandusi Museum, near Gilgil
  • Kisumu Museum, kisumu
  • Kitale Museum, Kitale
  • Koobi Fora, at Sibiloi National Park
  • Lamu Museum, Lamu
  • Meru Museum, Meru
  • Nyeri Museum, Nyeri
  • Malindi Museum, Malindi
  • Mnarani ruins, Kilifi
  • Narok Museum, Narok
  • Olorgesailie, near Magadi
  • Siyu Fort, pate Island
  • Takwa ruins, Manda Island
  • Thimlich Ohinga, 45 kilometres west of Migori
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