Thursday, 7 October 2010


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The early invaders of Manicaland, being of Zulu descent, used syllable 'UM' instead of the Manica 'MU, having no R's in their language, replacing the 'R' with an 'L'. Hence Mutare became Umtali.

When, after being disbanded, members of the Pioneer Column arrived in Manicaland, one and all were struck with its grandeur and beauty, and the vast possibilities and potential wealth of the country to which their wanderings had led them. They also realised the difficulties and hardships they would have to overcome.

It was evident during Cecil Rhodes' first visit into the Colony that a township in the lower part of the Umtali river valley was being built, the second site afterwards known as Old Umtali. The reason for shifting to Old Umtali was fairly obvious, as at the first site, Fort Hill, there was no room for expansion, and the mining claims were gradually encroaching on them. As a matter of fact one prospector had gone so far as to peg a claim right on the road in front of one of the settler's homes, and had started digging a shaft! The 1891 site was selected in a suitable area where there was ample undulating ground for expansion, situated only about half a mile from the Umtali river which was sufficient to supply all their water requirements. Another advantage was that the road track from Salisbury ran right through the site, which was most convenient. On either side of the road track was long grass obliterating views of the surroundings, and so it became the first scene of activity when wagons out spanned.

With ingenuity and perseverance these first inhabitants of Umtali started building, making use of any materials that came to hand. Their first objective was the police station, and next the Government building. The ground was cleared and the buildings of pole and mud were constructed by prisoners under the supervision of police guards. The police station was placed at the entrance to the proposed township along the Salisbury road, and the Government buildings were more central. A hospital was the next item on the agenda and that was placed near the police station in order to protect the women. For instance, soon after the nurses were settled in they gave a vivid picture of what took place: There had been a murder case at Maranke village, some forty miles away, and the Magistrate, Captain Heyman, went to investigate. At night, right before his eyes, a large lion bounded into the camp, seized a sleeping African and was off. For a moment there was dead silence, as the attack was stunning and unexpected. Then from the thicket around the camp came shattering screams as the victim was mauled. Immediately the Magistrate, followed by his men, rushed towards the screams, taking from the fire lighted logs and flaming torches of grass. They were suddenly confronted with the lion standing over its victim and savagely devouring him alive. Shots drove the lion away, but the man was badly damaged; he had been scalped and his arms torn apart. There was nothing they could do to save him.

As the town progressed and more building material was brought on their wagons from South Africa, the original primitive buildings disappeared and became modernised. Thus the new township gradually

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developed, three hundred stand were surveyed by either Mr. Pickett or Mr. Fairbridge, the first surveyors to arrive. A sale took place in July 1892 - forty four stands were sold for a total of one thousand three hundred and ninety six pounds, the highest price being fifty six pounds. By 1895 the town was beginning to thrive. The population had reached seventy five men, thirteen women and nine children. A Sanitary Board was formed, there were five hotels, a butchery, bakery, printing shop, banks, general stores, a church, school and a library containing five hundred books, in addition to the police station, hospital and Government buildings. This was no mean task for such a small community, considering there was no such thing as piped water in those, days. Water had to be transported from the Nygambo stream in a small home-made water cart on two wheels, drawn by either oxen or donkeys. It must have simplified life, not having to pay water rates The draught animals became so used to their trips, backwards and forwards each day, that in no time their journeys became automatic. Frequently you could see a cart loaded with empty paraffin tins, or an old rusty drum, making its way to the river without leader or driver, the latter sitting alongside the track with his pals, carrying on a long conversation.

Monday's washing was another busy scene and was the house servant's idea of heaven! They arrived at the river with baskets, paraffin tins and other receptacles filled with dirty washing. Then the fun began. Dawdling over their work, they laughed, gossiped and imitated their masters and mistresses. Floating downstream went the soap suds, whilst every rock was used for scrubbing clothes. Many women were nearly reduced to tears when their laundry was returned, their delicate lace and flimsy items battered to pieces. This was no concern to the servant - he was only there to wash the garments.

Here was a small community striving to the best of its ability to establish itself, and build new homes in what appeared to be a promising country which Rhodes himself had sponsored. These rough and ready pioneers, full of enthusiasm and determination, were the founders of Manicaland.

Rhodes had promised them that the railway from Beira would eventually pass through their town, and had gone so far as to select a piece of ground for a railway station. This was an encouraging prospect for the future. The land that the townspeople were occupying would be valuable; farming and mining were bound to prosper, and when that great day arrived, everything would improve.

The Sanitary Board hold its first meeting in the Civil Commissioner's office in 1893. Present were Captain Heyman (Magistrate and Civil Commissioner) in the chair and Messrs. Harris, Lasarus, Hudson and Crawford. The Minute Books shows "Permission granted to Umtali Cricket Club to play in Main Street. Mr. Pelly was granted ammunition so as to fire a gun at one o'clock which would be accepted as local time. Mr. Highland to be appointed as caretaker of the magazine, and Messrs. Snodgrass and Abbott to be granted permission to work a lime deposit on the Commonage." It was also proposed that the streets be lighted, but the proposal was conveniently forgotten as paraffin, the only medium, was much too costly.

As time went on the little pioneer town prospered and all new arrivals received a royal type of welcome. Umtali, at that time, was a happy little community, closely united. There were well-built houses

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mingled with the earlier dwellings of wattle and daub, also iron buildings and anything that could be constructed in a hurry, irrespective of shape and size. The structures ranged from a hut to a fine looking-house. Early records state that the first hospital, a pole and dagga Structure, was pitifully equipped with five iron spoons, a couple of pots of meat extract and a packet of Maizena! With this Sisters Welby, Blennerhasset and Sleeman started their nursing careers in Manicaland. Beds were made from poles and laced with riems to support the grass mattresses. The pioneer efforts in this direction were adequate, and it was not long afterwards that other nurses came to the assistance of the first three who were praised for their unfailing sense of duty. They behaved with courage and devotion from the time they entered the country.

The second detachment of nurses included Miss Hewitt, (afterwards Mrs. Blatch) who took over as Matron and Miss Mary Susan Sanders who became the wife of Randolph Nesbitt, V.C. However, as previously mentioned, the hospital was near the police station, and as women ' were scarce, members of the police force found the hospital an attractive spot. One Christmas day was no exception, when a few police came to greet the nurses. They mentioned when they arrived that, although they wore not good boys, the sisters must trust them as they were there to help and protect them. If by chance any civilian just looked at the sisters, the force would stand by them and guard their interests. After a short while the admiring members of the police company drifted away. Later they returned with a rather large Christmas present - a cowl They asked the nurses if they would do them the great favour of accepting this surprising gift. Strange to say, the nurses were more than delighted as the hospital had to depend on tinned milk, and fresh cow's milk would be a blessing. The police retired gracefully with smiles at the enthusiasm with which their gift had been received. But to the nurses' chagrin, the irate owner of the cow swept down on thorn and, without a 'by your leave', dragged the animal from its leather strap and took her away. So the nurses' great hopes of fresh milk never materialised, and the police were not welcomed after this incident. The cow, during her brief sojourn with the nurses, had devoured their precious garments hanging on the line.

The nurses deserve all praise as they worked night and day. Delirious malaria patients were brought in from miles around, and also blackwater and dysentery cases. Yet those overworked nurses, with little hospital equipment and sparse supplies, did all they could to prevent suffering. Many patients died, though not through lack of care. A new country in primitive surroundings takes its toll, and malaria claimed many victims.

Before proceeding further let us consider the first small town in Manicaland and see what took place there.

The first newspaper on December 13th, 1893 was given the name the Umtali Advertiser. The history of Manicaland is recorded in its pages, now yellow with age. The first issue, duplicated from handwritten sheets, was published after the annihilation of Major. Allen en Wilson's patrol by the Matabele. The first proprietor was Mr. Matthew Henry, who died in Cape Town in 1934. He also conducted an auctioneering and commission agency, and a stationer's business. Less than a year later the first typed issue was published. The first book to be reviewed was "Adventures in Mashonaland" by sisters Blennerhasset and Sleeman. It seems there were difficulties on

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account of non-arrival of paper from Capo Town, also printing ink. In 1894 Mr. Henry sold the newspaper to Mr. Charles Hancock, a mining engineer, who in turn, three months later, sold it to Messrs. G.B. Mitchell & Company but he continued to edit the newspaper. After five months the paper changed hands once more, being handed over to an Umtali concern, The Rhodesian Printing and Publishing Company. The new owners changed the name to the Rhodesia Advertiser, and introduced hand-set type, giving Umtali its first printed newspaper, which has served Manicaland ever since.

Naturally, living in the midst of a strange new land there were many difficulties to contend with, such as transportation and communications. In fact, as time went on, these problems became so serious that an article appeared in the Umtali Advertiser on May 6th, 1894 which reads: "We Umtalians must be of a gullible nature, and while remaining so will most undoubtedly be left out in the cold. 'Faith' has been our motto, and we have always been too ready to believe in the many pie-crust promises made to us at various times. The lesson is complete and we have now learnt the worthlessness of such pledges, and we hope that Mr. Rhodes and his friends understand the gross immorality of constantly suggesting actions they have neither the intention nor the inclination' to fulfil. As to the future of Manicaland, the outlook is most certainly breakers ahead for it is quite obvious that entire depopulation must come". In fairness to. Mr. Rhodes, this pessimistic writer was rather impetuous. As time advanced Rhodes did in fact fulfil all his obligations.

At the time the outbreak of the devastating disease of rinderpest among cattle greatly hindered all his plans. From the first days of the town, Mr. Rhodes had promised that when the railway was constructed from Beira, it would pass through Umtali. Naturally, however, such a project would take considerable time and the small population was becoming alarmed.

Another complaint was about the lack of water to the township, and even in those days the supply was inadequate. The Town Sanitary Superintendent's statement was that plans were underway tu supply water in such abundance that soon the streets would become bogged. A letter in reply states that it was quite believable that such water would become available during the time of the heavy rains. On February 17th, 1894 there is a prophetic proposal which appears as an editorials "The Nygambo stream, which now supplies Umtali with water, is only sufficient for a few hundred people. When the inhabitants rise into thousands they will have to get the town supply from the Odzani". This has now taken place.

It seems that all responsibilities lay in the hands of Mr. Rhodes - for instance, even the scarcity of vegetables - as the market gardens in and around Umtali appeared to be inadequate. A letter to the press states: "We shall shortly be in the middle of the wet season, the period of fever in this country, for the cure of which vegetables must be a great help as they tend to cool the blood and hence reduce the temperature. Now that the procuring of these in any quantity is a practical impossibility some other source will have to be found. Perhaps Mr. Rhodes on his arrival here shortly may remedy these grievances."

Mr. Palmer relates two interesting items, one regarding a raid by lions which kept the town in suspense for a week. It was not safe

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to walk about at night and the inhabitants were confined to their houses. The second story is of the time when Mr. Rhodes apologised to Mr. Palmer. The latter was in the police, and it was his duty to take a riding horse to Mr. Rhodes at six o'clock every morning if he was in residence in Umtali. One morning he arrived late, according to Mr. Rhodes' time, and Mr. Rhodes was very irritated. However, after his return from the ride he apologised, saying that he had not set his watch according to the Umtali time and was very sorry that he had not been more understanding!

Finally there is the story of a young nursing sister who came out from England to Umtali and soon became extremely popular, due perhaps to the great dearth of young women. She became engaged to a young man who promptly died of blackwater fever. A few months later her second engagement was announced. The poor young man died a month later. The third suitor to win her heart only lasted a few weeks when blackwater claimed him. Dust after the third venture the nurse attended a race meeting, and so delighted was she to see the horse she had backed come first that she kissed him. It died the following week. The fourth fiance was not go happy but consented to an early wedding. He immediately wrote to his friend, Somerville, seeking his support at the ceremony. As the young man expressed himself, "Being brought in contact with the fatal woman will surely be the death of me". Sure enough, he was in his grave before the wedding took place! The fifth attempt, however,-proved successful and the couple lived happily every after, producing six fine children.

Cecil Rhodes made frequent trips to Manicaland from Salisbury and studying past records one gets a glimpse of his behaviour. For instance on one occasion Jack Grimmer turned up in Salisbury with Dr. Craven from Umtali. (Dr. Craven was one of the first doctors in Manicaland, a well known character who afterwards practised in Umtali with Dr. Harper, Dr. Stewart and Dr. Jackson.) Evidently, on this occasion, Grimmer had taken a liberty and lent Dr. Craven one of Rhodes' horses. Rhodes was furious about this. Grimmer at the time was riding a large horse and Rhodes took an instant liking to it. "You gave away my horse I'll, take yours in return" was the great man's curt announcement as he prepared to mount. Grimmer begged him not to do so as the animal was hard in the mouth and took a great deal of handling. "I suppose you think I can't ride" was Rhodes' reply as he vaulted into the saddle. The horse immediately bolted off taking about six yards in each stride and Rhodes bounced about on his back. However, having gone some distance he managed to pull the horse up sufficiently to dismount. Letting go the reins he allowed the horse to go off at full gallop. Slowly he walked back to the others in a rage. On arrival he stood up to Grimmers "Confound your brute of a horse", he shouted. "I believe you tried to kill me" and he walked away. However, it seems that Grimmer was soon forgiven as Rhodes relied on his judgement in many matters.

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Miss Miles loved children. She was soon approached by parents and asked to open the school. She willingly accepted the task and summed up the situation by saying, "Everything was new and strange but everyone was filled with great hopes for the future", and so the original school in Manicaland came into being with six pupils.

Last, but not least, is the home of Bishop Knight Bruce. As already stated he was responsible for persuading the first nurses to come to Manicaland. He was given a farm by Chief Umtassa and this became known as St. Augustine's Mission. The Bishop was an ailing man when he arrived, and was very disillusioned when brought into contact with the Africans. The Mashonas had lost most of their inheritance, having failed to stand up against the Matabele and Shangaans. In such conditions there was no hope of progress, they wore losing their strength through being so much under the influence of the witch doctors. Many of them believed that the pioneers would leave as others had done, when they had dug sufficient gold and diseases had reduced their numbers.

End of Chapter

Click Here To Return to Index

Recompiled, by Eddy Norris, from a copy of the booklet made available by Neill Storey. Thanks Neill.

The recompilation was done for no or intended financial gain but rather to record the memories of Rhodesia.

The family of the author have given permission for ORAFs to load this booklet onto the Internet.
Thanks top the family and special thanks to Heather Curran.

Thanks to
Paul Norris for the ISP sponsorship.
Paul Mroz for the image hosting sponsorship.
Robb Ellis for his assistance.

Should you wish to contact Eddy Norris please mail him


At 3 November 2010 at 08:42 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

John Holland Writes:-

The first 5 chapters have me fully engrossed and engaged, great work!! I found the lion incidents very interesting.

I remember my Dad telling us so many times over family get-togethers or dinners about a "lion incident" when he and Tim Howman were down the Sabi, camping somewhere near Birchenough Bridge in the 1930's. They were shooting guinea fowl, and came across some lion. They had some of the family domestic "staff " there, who immediately shinned up the nearest ( thorn ) trees, followed by Tim and my Dad. Apparently that was hilarious in itself. But they could not stay up these trees as dark was approaching. So Tim or my dad would start slowly easing their way down the trees. As the got to the bottom, one of the satff would yell "ena buya, ena buya!!' at which these fearless hunters would shimmy up the bloody thorn trees! They did this a few times, and each time with the "ena buya " as they got to the ground. Eventually Tim and Dad realised that they may have had the mickey taken, and so picked up their shotguns, got the staff down, and returned to camp!! We never tired if this and used to cry with laughter.


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