Ryves, Vivian William (1887 IND - 1965 KEN)


Ryves, Vivian William


Father: William Theodore Ryves
Mother: Elizabeth Athames Young

Birth: 17 Nov 1887, Bahari, Madhya Pradesh, India
Birth Source: Entry in family bible

Death: 11 Apr 1965, Subukia, Nakuru, Kenya
Death Source: Entry in family bible

Spouse1: Edith 'Molly' Hamnett
Spouse2:Ruth Aileen Stork (Russell-Leonard)


Child of Vivian William Ryves & Edith 'Molly Hamnett:
  1. Harvey Theodore Blackburne Ryves, b.19th March 1916

Viv was one of 4 children born to William Theodore Ryves (1 Oct 1853-7 Jan 1914) and his wife Elizabeth Athames Young (15 May 1864-1 Sep 1928). He was educated firstly at West Cliff School, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex and subsequently at Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate, Kent where he appears to have been something of an accomplished gymnast, winning the 1903 gymnastics competition. His prize was, somewhat ironically, a silver plated cigarette box. He also played in goal for the Chatham House football first XI.

Like his brother Cyril, Viv was a rubber planter, owning the Tankau Estate, Rantau in the Seremban District, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.

He married 'Molly' Edith Hamnett (28 Sep 1878-6 Oct 1951) on 26 Aug 1914 in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. He and Molly had one son, Harvey Theodore Blackburne Ryves who was born on 19th March 1916.

Viv was an outstanding marksman, winning numerous shooting prizes and was a member of the 4 man Malay team competing at Bisley in 1931. The team looked to be on track to win the Junior Kolapore cup. However, in the final round, although Viv and the team captain, J Grieve "did remarkably well" (Viv scoring 8 bulls-eyes, 1 'magpie' and 1 'inner') the other two members of the team did not have "such good fortune" and the Malay team finished fourth. At the same event he also shot for the Kings Prize, getting through to the second stage of the competition but failing to qualify for the third round.

Viv was also a keen yachtsman and was Vice-Commodore of the Port Dickson Yacht Club, participating as a competitor in many of the Club's races against other clubs.

His other interests included stamp collecting and he amassed a huge and valuable collection which was destroyed when a 'vindictive' ex-servant burnt down his 'lower' bungalow in Kenya in 1960. He also had a great interest in birds' eggs and nests. In this latter hobby he became well acquainted with his son Harvey's Police colleague and friend Guy Madoc, who mentions him in his piece 'The nidification of some Malayan birds'. In 1934 and 1936 Viv had accompanied Madoc on an expedition to examine tern and heron nests around the Pulau Burong islets and Sembilang and Sri Buat islands off the East coast of Jahore, Malaysia. Viv also undertook at least one expedition to Borneo to study bird's nests and eggs.

Viv had a passion for wildlife which may explain his adoption of Blang, a male tiger cub. He and Blang obtained a degree of celebrity status. On one occasion Viv caused 'a sensation' by taking him with his to the lounge of the Royal Salangor Club in Kuala Lumpur, much to the amusement of other patrons who stroked and petted him - a Miss Diana Shelley went so far as to put her hand in his mouth. It was Viv's intention to donate Blang to Whipsnade Zoo, it being one of the very few 'open' zoos operating at the time. In the event, the keepers at Whipsnade felt that having been raised as a house pet, Blang was too tame to be introduced into their tiger enclosure with the three male tigers they had of a similar age, believing that he would be 'bullied' by them. Blang therefore ended his days at Regents Park zoo in London. A journalist writing soon after his arrival at Regents Park commented "it makes friends with privileged visitors by rubbing against the bars of its cage and making gentle noises of contentment when its head is scratched".

Viv was a keen supporter of the tiger population in Malaysia, as evidenced by his letter to the Straits Times of 18th February 1935 applauding 'the removal of the payment of rewards for the slaughter of any tiger'. In his letter, he lambasts the writer of a piece that said that the removal of this 'bounty' would 'pose a threat to human life' for 'expressing his blatant opinions upon a subject about which he displays such poor and lamentable ignorance'. Viv goes on to say in his letter that 'the ordinary tiger is an entirely inoffensive beast if left alone, and most of those who write about and criticise the beast in the local press do not know sufficient about the fundamental laws of nature to appreciate the fact that even such maligned beasts as tigers and leopards serve a definite purpose in the communal life of the forest, and have a definite place in the scheme of nature'. Unsurprisingly, Viv was a Fellow of the Zoological Society (now the Royal Zoological Society).

As an honorary game warden he put his shooting skills to good use in 1935, despatching a rogue cow elephant that had terrorised a village and killed a coolie in Seremban. Viv speculated that as the elephant had no signs of injury or disease it had turned man-killer because of the loss of a calf - either to poachers or perhaps by falling down a deep mining hole or drain.

Despite his affection for tigers he did shoot a tigress in 1914. This was however something of a mercy killing as he had received a report that a tigress had been shot and wounded by a hunter; he tracked the wounded animal and put her out of her misery. On another occasion, in 1923, he attempted to trap and shoot a man-eater. The tiger had killed three coolies and when the third was killed, Viv instructed that his body, which had been taken away, should be returned to the site of the kill, theorising that the tiger would return to finish its meal. Viv sat over the body until midnight but the tiger, perhaps sensing danger, did not return.

In 1933, with the permission of the agent for some Chinese owned land in Seremban, Viv established a wild-life sanctuary consisting of 2,800 acres of lalang (Malay grass species), scrub jungle and primeval jungle in Negeri Sembilan.

His interests in wildlife and its conservation did not apparently extend to Seladang Buffalo, as he shot a particularly fine specimen which he presented to Raffles Museum in Singapore where it was on display for many years. In fact, Viv's attitude towards wild-life was somewhat inconsistent; he railed constantly against what he saw as the wanton destruction of wild-life and its habitat but at the same time he was not adverse to exercising his shooting prowess against it. One correspondent wrote "Here we have appeal after appeal on behalf of elephant and sambhur made by one who has himself probably destroyed more of these animals that anyone else now resident in the State of Negri Sembilan".

One of the distinctly less attractive aspects of Viv's personality was his undoubted racism - described by his wife Molly as 'old-fashioned prejudices'. These attitudes caused him to fall out with many of his friends and were a cause of some of the tensions between him and his brother Cyril and son Harvey. In 1928, Viv was fined $50 for assaulting an Indian labourer who had failed to stand up and salute him when he passed by when on a hunting expedition. The Tamil coolies who were with the victim of this 'kicking' came to his defence and 'a disturbance' ensued. The coolies involved were in comparison sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 9 months. On appeal, 3 of the coolies were discharged with the remainder having their prison terms commuted to fines. Viv's bad treatment of coolies was well known and his treatment of African workers in Kenya was equally disgraceful.

In 1939, Viv emigrated to Kenya, buying a farm near Subukia, Lake Nakuru. Whilst he was setting up his 'estate', his wife Molly stayed in England. Once the 'estate' was up and running, Viv and Molly made a modest income from producing milk, maize and pyrethrum. Their efforts were hampered as a result of the Mau Mau troubles, which in turn resulted in labour shortages - on one occasion every worker on the estate was arrested on suspicion of being members of the Mau Mau, with 22 men out of 32 being charged and sentenced to hard labour. He did entertain for a time, the idea of trying to supplement his farm income by becoming a free-lance 'photo-journalist' - he had enrolled for a course with Millinson's Free-Lancing Services in 1937 to this effect, but appears to have been unsuccessful in this endeavour.

Viv's intention was that his only son Harvey would take over the running of the 'farm' and that he and Molly would live out their lives as residents on the estate.

In 1948, his son Harvey and Eileen Ryves went on leave to Kenya with their one year old son Peter. The trip appears to have been a disaster and included a crash in a Land Rover driven by Viv leaving Eileen with a badly gashed leg (having gone feet first through the windscreen). Viv subsequently accused his son of 'purloining' Molly's jewels and giving them to Eileen.

Viv's wife Molly died of congestive heart failure on 6 Oct 1951 and was buried on the Ranston Estate, Subukia, Kenya. Viv married his second wife, Ruth Aileen Stork, on 8 May 1952.

In September 1953 Viv wrote to his son Harvey asking for a definite answer as to whether he would re-locate to Kenya and take over the day to day running of the estate. On the basis that he knew that Harvey had little (or no) intention of settling in Kenya in the longer term, he explained that in his will he had arranged that Peter (Harvey's eldest son) should inherit 3 fifths of the estate with the remainder being inherited jointly by Ruth's, his second wife's, children. At the time he thought the estate to be worth around £20,000 and seemed keen for it to remain within the family. Harvey wrote back saying that he had no intention of settling in Kenya because he believed that the security situation there was too risky and that his long term objective would be to re-settle in England.

In December 1953, Viv sold the estate to his neighbour, a Mr Haynes, for £15,000 on the proviso that he could live there for the rest of his life and that he could be buried on the estate next to Molly. From a letter sent by his sister in-law, Violet Hamnett it would appear that this had been a massive disappointment for Viv as he desperately wanted the estate to have passed through the family. He decided that he would live on the capital realised by its sale and would "drown his sorrows in alcohol". He appears to have been quite depressed at the time - Ruth was in England recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis and he was distancing himself from his friends, turning down invitations to Christmas celebrations and the like.

With money now to spend, Viv embarked on something of a generous spending spree - sending £500 to his brother Cyril (who he apparently did not get on with), donating £150 to the Port Dickson Yatch Club in Malaya to fund the purchase of a motor boat (to be called The Molly Ryves) and sending money to his sister-in-law Violet Hamnett.

Viv continued with his interest in protecting wildlife until the end of his life and was still acting as an Honorary Game Warden in Kenya in 1962.

Research Notes

Much of the basic information given above is taken from personal papers and correspondence, together with entries in the family bible.


Narrative mainly gleaned from his son, Harvey Ryves's recollections, letters & other documents in the family's possession. Further sources as given below:

Thanet Advertiser: Saturday 25 August 1900
Kenya Gazette: 27 Feb 1962
Straits Times: numerous dates
The Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, Vol. 12: May 1936
Blang My Tiger, V.W. Ryves, Arrowsmith, 1935.