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John Shamsudin Karmali

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John Shamsudin Karmali


Place of birth Nairobi
Country of birth Kenya




Place of longest stay Nairobi
Profession or occupation carried out for the longest period in life: Pharmacist/Philantropist
Where Nairobi
Family tree click here

Literature and the Arts

"In photography and painting, however, East Africa did produce at least two outstanding artists. John Shamsudin Karmali, the Nairobi Ismaili whose unique multiracial school is discussed in Chapter 9, became one of East Africa’s foremost photographers and compiled two extraordinary photographic studies of East African birds. He was honored with a fellowship in Britain’s Royal Photographic Society."

The Rise And Fall of Philanthropy in East Africa - The Asian Connection by Robert G. Gregory (pg. 177)


The first truly Multiracial Institution in East Africa

Hospital Hills School, Nairobi


"John Shamsudin Karmali, the Ismaili pharmacist who was introduced in Chapter 8, made a unique contribution to multiracial education. While developing their pharmaceutical and phographic businesses, Karmali and his wife Joan became distraught over the prospect of educating their children in Kenya’s segregated schools, and they decided to form their own multiracial school. They encountered an enthusiastic response from Apa Pant's (Indian High Commisioner) wife Nalini, and also encouragement from three Kenya administrators—Mitchell, the governor; Sir Charles Mortimer, member for lands and settlement; and Sir Ernest Vasey, member for education-with whom they associated socially.

The Karmalis’ school, the first truly multiracial institution in East Africa, opened as a nursery school in Pant’s home in 1949 with six Asian and four European children. An annual grant was obtained from the government consisting of £97 for each European student, £34 for each Asian, and £4 for each African, and additional funds and assistance with teachers were provided from the International School at Geneva. After six months the school moved into the Karmalis’ home, and a year later into an army hut that was purchased by the Asian parents and placed on lands in Parklands donated by Mortimer. Subsequently Africans were added to the growing number of Asian and European pupils and it was obvious that larger facilities were necessary

The government came to the Karmalis’ aid. Mitchell promised to assist with buildings and approached the Colonial Office grant. Getting any support for a multiracial school, however was difficult in colonial Kenya.

Though Mitchell left office before the issue was resolved, his successor, Sir Evelyn Baring, provided a group of spacious buildings, former dormitories adjacent to Government House. He also continued negotiations with the Colonial Office, which awarded an initial grant of £7,000, another £3,000 for refurbishing the buildings, and £4,000 for recurrent expenditure.

With its new official support the Karmalis’ school, renamed at its new site the Hospital Hill School and directed by an Asian head-mistress, acquired a novel reputation. Beginning with twenty students, it quickly developed into a full-fledged primary school and filled its new buildings to capacity with an enrollment of three hundred. Within five years it was the top primary school in the colony-wide examinations, and Europeans, who earlier had faced social ostracism in supporting the school, were eagerly seeking admission for their children. On the eve of independence, when Kenya’s nine European primary schools suffered a drastic decline in enrollment, the Karmalis applied to take them over. In the end they were accorded one, the Parklands School, which became the new Hospital Hill School. In the larger facility the school expanded to include 670 students and 21 teachers. In 1974, when most of its students were Africans, twenty-five years after its humble beginning, the school was taken over by the Kenya government."

The Rise And Fall of Philanthropy in East Africa - The Asian Connection by Robert G. Gregory (pg. 194)