Monday, 11 October 2010


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The Moodie trek began in 1892 and in the same year, on the 10th August, the Beira Railway contract was signed. This naturally caused a stir in Manicaland as at last there were definite signs that the railroad would one day reach Old Umtali. Hopes were raised and interest was revived in the empty site witch was being reserved for a station. All looked forward to that happy day when the first train would arrive at this station.

This would bring the settlers many of the amenities of life which they longed for. A year later things seemed to have developed more rapidly as seventy five miles of the first section of the line from Beira was completed and actually opened for traffic. This section was fairly simple, as the narrow-gauge from Fontesville to Chimoio was replaced by the standard width. Another advancement and a sign of the times was that telephone communications were now expanding and Old Umtali was connected up to Salisbury. On,the other side of the coin, trouble was brewing and there were very serious signs of unrest among the Africans which could not be overlooked, and would no doubt have considerable impact on succeeding events. Added to this, and further to complicate matters further the dreaded disease rinderpest had broken out in Manicaland. As the country depended entirely on ox transport, it was thrown into chaos and confusion as animals were drying rapidly and in many instances wagons., with all the belongings on board, were left stranded. Not only was this devastation as far as cattle were concerned, but rinderpest swept through Africa taking its full toll of wild life as well.

Buffaloes were especially herd hit. The large herds of game, on what is now known as the Gorongoza game reserve, and the surrounding country suffered greatly. A large herd of buffalo numbering several thousand was reduced to about a hundred! These animals kept to the thick bush during the day and only came out to graze at night. Large herds of other animals also suffered great losses.

Those seven eventful years from the time of the occupation were now over and the dust from the rebellion was beginning to settle. The population of Manicaland, after their upheaval and anxiety, had settled down and had resumed life from where it had been interrupted, determined to make a success in this new country.

The roads were open once more and although still being hampered by the lack of transport owing to the rinderpest, Zeederberg's coaches mare on the move again. A number of those stranded in the Salisbury laager, especially women and children, were able to return to Umtali.

Following Earl Grey, who took over the position of Administrator from Jameson (after his unsuccessful raid), was Sir W.H. Milton, This was in 1901.

Now people's minds returned once more to the railway and Rhodes had already given orders for the railway to be built from Beira to Manicaland, and promised that this would pass through Umtali where a station site had been selected.

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Naturally around this area stands were in great demand and quite a number taken up. The railway was gradually creeping up from Portuguese East Africa to Manicaland at a tremendous toll of human and animal life. Hundreds of European, Indians, Africans and animals had died from fever and tsetse fly, and from every conceivable disease. Umtalians were profoundly interested in the progress of the railway for it could solve many of their problems. It would bring civilization; they would no longer have to manage with barest necessities, making do with packing case furniture and living in primitive conditions. At the moment it was somewhat of a problem as far as Umtali was concerned, as an inadequate hospital had to deal with many urgent cases coming from the lowveld, whilst the railway was being built.

Rhodes periodically visited Umtali. As we know he was very fond of seclusion, and his attention was drawn to Inyanga. It was in 1892 that D. Mc Adam explored Inyanga district, and was so impressed that in 1892 he returned with a party of Umtali men. They all pegged farms. In 1895 George Pauling, then in charge of public works, made roads to give access to these farms. Lieutenant Cripps had already beaconed 'Cloudlands' in 1894 in his capacity of Manager of Manhattan Syndicate of Mashonaland. He was granted titles to nine farms in the Inyanga district.

The Dutch settlement in Inyanga began in 1897. Doornhoek was granted to C.V. Strydon, Floknek to R. Botha and Summerhoek to R. Bekker.

Rhodes visited Inyanga in 1896 and was very impressed with the country. He visited J.C. McDowell in order to purchase one hundred thousand acres, which became two most notable farms comprising Rhodes Inyanga Estate. Rhodes loved Inyanga. The area was a continuing favourite with him. He must have revelled in the horizon wide vistas of mountains, green forests and: plains, and the clear pure air. After reclining in his. armchair for long hours, planning the future of this country named after him, Rhodes would stroll along winding footpaths where the mountains gave birth to a thousand streamlets which combined to form rushing rivers cascading into deep valleys.

Men lived here long, long ago, and over many square miles are the ruins marking an occupation that commenced about two thousand years ago. The name, Inyanga is said to come from Nyanga, meaning 'horns' because the old witch doctor who once lived in the area was distinguished by his necklace which he used for fortune telling. This consisted of small horns and hakatas which he always wore.

Rhodes established two orchards himself. His house, stables and sheds to accommodate his carts, wagons and farm machinery were all built of stone, and remain to this day.

From 1896 Inyanga was the headquarters of E Troop, who were in charge of this district, guarding the construction of the Trans Continental Telegraph line which kept Rhodes informed when away from headquarters. This line linked up Salisbury to Inyanga, and was being continued to Tete. In the quiet of Inyanga, Rhodes planned one of his most ambitious projects - the possibility of a railway line to Rhodesia. He realised it was impractical to bring the railway nine miles out-of its way through mountainous country to the site of the Old Umtali Township.

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March 1896 was a milestone in the. history of Umtali, for on the 26th of that month Rhodes, whilst camping, in Umtali with J. Grimmer and with faithful Tony the cook, called a meeting, much to the surprise of the inhabitants, as usually he was loath to take part in such functions. It was a well represented meeting, and before the gathering he disclosed the pros-and cons regarding the cost of bringing the line to the Township. As already stated, the mountains were the great handicap. So it was essential to take the line through the valley over the Nemashira range in a north-westerly direction from what is known as the top of Leslies. This was the line to reach a point on the Odzi River where a bridge could be constructed. To divert the railway from the main line and bring it to the Old Umtali township would have entailed an extra distance of twenty four miles. The extra cost would have amounted to practically four thousand five hundred, pounds-per mile, i.e. one hundred and eighty thousand pounds as this twenty four miles necessitated going over Christmas Pass and would have included a tunnels too much for a struggling community.

Therefore, it was proposed to move the Old Umtali Township to a suitable site on the direct line to the Odzi River. This new township was to be a replica of the Old Umtali, so that all present owners of stands would have a corresponding position in the new township, and also that sufficient commonage and water would be available. Other considerations being that valuations had to be made of the existing buildings, and the owners of' the houses had to be approached about the proposed pay-out for their properties, otherwise the British South Africa Company would-have erected similar buildings in the new township.

The Government then promised to build Government buildings and hospitals in the new township, and provide a sum not exceeding three thousand pounds for a water supply. Even so, after purchasing farms from the farmers, land necessary for the town commonage and water rights, if any, assuming such amounts were fifty six thousand pounds, the sum was more than covered by the construction of the railway line direct to the Odzi.

Rhodes commented, after having visited the site selected for the new township by the Site Selection Committees "I .went over them and considered them unsuitable, it being in my opinion unhealthy, and as the health bf the public who would live in the area is most important, I propose the site on the Sable Valley farm which is, in my opinion, one of the healthiest spots that could be chosen in the neighbourhood. So the proposition was put to the residents, who had no alternative but to conform. A few of them who had recently built their houses were now compelled to pull them down again and transport them to the new town, and were not enthusiastic about the new site. Others realised that the proposals would benefit them and that the railway was the main factor.

Mr. Rhodes, having clarified most matters, interviewed everyone who had a problem. When the meeting was concluded the majority appeared to be satisfied, although the few dissidents were still vocal. After gathering' at their various meeting places, mainly the hotels, discussions continued into the early hours of the morning!

Not long after this the old town looked forsaken and derelict, with roofless buildings lacking doors and windows. Clouds of dust rose from wagons ladened with wood, iron and household goods making their way towards the steep gradients of the Christmas Pass.

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The settlers, had to contend with hazardous roads before reaching the new site, and on arriving, buildings of every conceivable size and shape were already being constructed, and irregularly spaced along each side of Main Street. Any old piece of iron, wood and timber went into the buildings. Wattle and daub with thatched roofs were most prominent, as these materials were easily obtainable. But there was no doubt that the population of some one hundred and fifty Europeans was getting down to it. Their stands having been allotted to them, they had no intention of sitting down and complaining, waiting for the completion of the railway to bring them materials. The inhabitants made the best of what was to hand. They were so occupied with their own interests that they scarcely noticed new arrivals, and they were greeted with only an occasional wave of the hand.

All amenities such as water, lights etc, had to be considered and the first Sanitary Board meeting was held in September 1897under the chairmanship of Major Scott-Turner, where it was noted that: "H.R. Fairbridge who owned twenty acres, Mr. Cripps ten acres, Messrs. Snodgrass and Mitchell one morgen, would be reimbursed".

No such grant should be located anywhere within one and a half miles of the township. And on June 15th 1897 it was resolved: "That Main Street retain its former name, 4th Street became Queen Street, 2nd Street became Victoria Street, 3rd Street became Rhodes Street, 5th Street became Park Street. That the streets laid out above the Railway reserve be named: Railway Street, main Street, Turner Street, Jameson Street, and that the residential plots in the south of the town be collectively named Darlington". The first suburb Darlington originally belonged to the Bulawayo Estates and Trust Company and the land was expropriated. As regards water supply, Mr. Tulloch reported that an expert was on his way from California. Minimum ten acre plots were granted for three years, provided they did not interfere with the flow of water.

Hastily constructed buildings necessary to the administration of the town were speedily erected. Those included the office of the Civil Commissioner and Magistrate.. A photograph shows a small thatched hut, beside it a building of wood and iron. This was the Civil Commissioner's office. Other buildings of wood and iron were Mrs. Hayne's tearoom, Corderoy & Reynolds Store, more elaborate, but also of wood and iron. The Cecil Hotel was a plain block building without a verandah, constructed of wood and iron, the front portion being a bar. The adjoining rooms behind consisted of two or three bedrooms with a small iron shelter for the manager. A year later a more elaborate hotel was built - a double storey of brick, with an iron roof. There was the King's Arms Hotel, which afterwards became the Academy School and the first boarding school in Manicaland.

Rhodes had promised that the railway station would be erected in what was known as Orange Grove, due east of Main Street adjacent to the Park, more conveniently a quarter of a mile from the Government buildings, thus being accessible, but owing to engineering difficulties this was not carried out. The station was erected a mile further down the Park Road.

A number of other important buildings were started in 1897. Foremost of these was Adams Hotel in which Rhodes took a great interest, and agreed that the Public Works Department should superintend the building of it, and eventually the hotel became the Umtali Club in 1900, which remains to this day.

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Other important buildings such as the Government Offices, the Residency, the Drill Hall with all its stables, and the Stock Exchange were in the process of being built at that time. The Goal seems to have had priority, and we find that owing to the importance of forging ahead with the building programme, workmen who were serving goal sentences were allowed out on parole during the day to carry on their work. In the evenings they were obliged to report back, and often could be seen knocking on the goal door seeking admittance.

The Kopje House Hospital was another building of great importance, and it was also started in that: year. In 1897 Old Umtali patients, who were able to be transported, were admitted, and a great many men from the construction of the railway from Beira. It is worth noting that the Odzi Railway Bridge was also being built at that time.

All were proud that such a beautiful site had been chosen for the new town, and the centre for Manicaland. Mountains surrounded a large valley where the little town was springing up. Down the mountain sides ran streams of refreshing water, through ferns and dense forests, streams that when harnessed would supply the town's immediate needs. It is scarcely believable today that the Park river known as Sakubva was once a clear, running stream, and those who had not already dug wells for themselves chose their supplies from either the Park river or the Blacksmith's Spruit, whichever was more convenient. The same old water carts brought from the old township were being used. Others regarded this as only a temporary measure and satisfied themselves with drums on sledges, the sledges being made out of forks from trees, all conveyances being drawn by oxen, mules or donkeys.

Blacksmith Spruit was named after a nearby blacksmith's firm, McIntosh & Falla, who were renowned for the making of wagons, carts etc, and also shoeing horses. The stream itself was known to contain gold for a nugget of immense size was found there,. However, there was no doubt that the area on which Umtali has been built is rich in gold, as quartz containing gold was picked up in its streets at one time. This may account for the finding of numerous stone mortars inthe vicinity. The largest one was found, near, the site of the Club and this one has been placed before the Pioneer Monument in Market' Square.

The aforesaid Park river afterwards became known as Black Water Spruit - a very undeserving name - just because at that time malaria cases developed into blackwater and it was thought that the water from the stream was responsible. To simplify the situation regarding drinking water, the Sanitary Board sank a borehole in the Market Square, and this became the old-time village pump, and was very much in demand.

During this period when the town was in the process of being built,, animals began to object to the seizure of their former habitat by man and seemed determined to oust the intruders. Lions and leopards became a serious menace, and went so far as to kill and eat a donkey in Main Street in front of the newly erected Post Office. Those animals frequently visited the town at night when all was quiet, taking dogs from verandahs, and fowls from the yards, pigs from their sties, and occasionally killing a cow and a calf near a homestead. An alarm aroused the inhabitants one moonlight night. Never before was there such a commotion. An Umtali resident had set a jaw spring

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trap which he tied by chain to a paraffin tin, A lion or leopard caught his foot in the contraption and went tearing down Main Street terrified, the paraffin tin following and making an unearthly din, and -waking all the inhabitants. They rushed out, uncertain of what was happening, armed to the teeth, only to see the enraged animal roaring and growling as it disappeared down the street.

Every night a toll bell was rung at nine o'clock in the evening, from the Police Station. The Africans without passes to remain out were prosecuted, this being a safeguard to prevent crime, as there were still some lawless characters about after the rebellion.

Before proceeding further, a word about the Stock Exchange and the Tramway Company, two impressive projects which took shape in the early days of Manicaland and are unique in its history.

The Stock Exchange was inaugurated in Old Umtali and in 1895 was encouraged by the optimism resulting from mining activities in the district, A meeting was held at the Royal Hotel with Mr. D.J. Mitchell as President and the assemblage numbering some forty persons. It was agreed that syndicate shares be twenty five pounds, of which five pounds would be called up forthwith. The Committee elected was as follows: .Messrs. Suter, D.J. Mitchell, A. Tulloch, G.B. Mitchell, A.L. Bluech, J.B. Graham and A.L. Lazarus. Again in 1897 we hear of another meeting held in New Umtali when it was stated that the imposing double storey building was nearing completion. This was situated next to Government buildings. It has often been remarked that the Stock Exchange must have been a white elephant. On the contrary, mining in those days was thriving, and some mines in Penhalonga were exceptionally good. Therefore, at this meeting held in the Cecil Hotel, when Mr. Alec Low presided, there were 5,195 shares out of issued capital,of 8,750. Present were Mr. Lazarus, Mr. A.J. Lawley, Dr. Howarth (Director Elect), A.L. Bloech, A. Tulloch and Mr. Alex Fox (Auditor). The Stock Exchange thrived right up to 1924, its final year, when Umtali area alone produced two hundred and ten pounds, twelve shillings. After that the Stock market gradually declined, when it was realised that Umtali was not going to be a second Johannesburg.

Umtali can boast of being the only town in the country that once possessed a Tramway Company and a tramway! When one hears of such ambitious projects taking place before the railway arrived, one is astounded, but cannot help admiring these early settlers for making the most of every opportunity presented to them. Although they may not have achieved great results, these early Rhodesians had resourcefulness and courage. The idea was to lay down a two foot gauge line and for draught purposes use oxen or mules. This would convey material and necessary goods up and down Main Street in trolleys, and a tramcar could be utilized for passengers. When the railway arrived the trolleys would be greatly in demand.

A capital of five thousand pounds was needed, which was immediately forthcoming and vouched for by Charles Goldring (store-keeper), Mr. S. Tulloch (auctioneer), C. Welssenburn (farmer), Alfred W. Suiter (merchant), J.A. Cope-Christie (architect), W.H. Lang (clerk), James Henty Jeffries (mining engineer) and the Lime Company Limited, each subscribing one hundred shares. It was greatly oversubscribed. Provision for a passenger service was made at sixpence a mile. The Sanitary Board did not mind where the line was laid, provided it was properly done, and did not interfere with

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traffic. The plant was actually landed at Beira in August 1897, but as the railway was not yet completed work on the tramway was not started until July 1901 by Mr. George Hall, the contractor. He carried out the work smoothly and with plenty of labourers, the line was practically completed in a month, from the Railway Station to the top end of the town. The following day after completion, Mr. Hall invited the residents to make the journey over the new track on trolleys, and thus the first passengers were carried on a street tramway in Rhodesia. Ballasting took a couple more weeks and then the line was ready for the official opening. The passenger cars were supplied by Jackson Sharp & Company, United States of America, each nineteen feet long and seating' eighteen passengers, and drawn by two mules. As these cars were too heavy for the track and too slow, passengers preferred to walk. However, on occasions it was put to use when the children found out where it was stationed collecting fares and pretending the tram was moving. Another amusing occasion was when a visiting football team fetched the tram car from where it was stationed and pushed it all the way up Main Street. When they arrived at the Club their thirst got the better of them and they entered for a drink. The tram car was forgotten and remained, stationary just outside the Club for a vary long time. The Sanitary Board considered it was the duty of the Club to return it to its quarters, and the Club put the onus on the Tramway Company. However after about a year of argumentation the tram car was somehow returned.

The line: was a great convenience when the railway arrived. It was a common sight to see a driver urging his oxen to and from the station with two or three heavily ladened trolleys linked together, and occasionally after the oxen had been unhitched the empty, unattended trolleys could be seen tearing down Main Street out of control, until they reached the railway, ,much tv the consternation of the public.

It is interesting to note that the first travelling theatre to visit Umtali in 1904 was the Sass & Nelson Company, using six trolleys to convoy their effects to and from the station and tho Royal Hotel. This was a tremendous thrill for Umtali. The Royal Hotel boasted a fairly large stage, and was made use of on many occasions, especially for childrens plays. However, when the Travelling Company arrived and their intention was to stay a week in Umtali, and put up a new play every night, there was an influx from far and wide, most people booking for the whole week. Such plays as "The Bell of Now York","Merry Widow", etc. with a change of scenes, were much appreciated by all. The town returned to normal after they had gone, and people were left feeling flat and weary after a week of intense excitement and enjoyment.

The tramway succeeded until 1914 when gradually more and more motor lorries appeared on the streets to cart goods, and so the tramway, which was in early years considered a great success, became a liability. Ultimately, in 1919, a prominent townsman, Mr. John Meikle, director and shareholder, remarked, "Great things were expected of the tramway as a dividend paying proposition.- This was true optimism".

And so under adverse conditions the little town of Umtali gradually progressed, from what looked like a cowboy village to a modern town. The hurriedly built temporary buildings were being replaced with more substantial structures. Mr. Engelbrecht was responsible for the first brick machine being imported, and thus he encouraged the building of brick buildings. He was also given

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permission by the Sanitary Board to lay out his brick-fields on the site which is now known as Riverside area. On one occasion a lion chased a donkey over some freshly made bricks spread on the ground to dry, before being killed. A great many were spoiled in the hunt, but some very good specimens of the lion's spoor remained. A few of these, after being baked, were displayed in the Club.

Engelbrecht's own house was unique, as the walls were built of bottles, which were easy to come by as hotels, etc. were only too pleased to get rid of them. The only drawback to living in a glass house was that stones might be thrown at it, but this did not prevent boys with catapults from shooting at it. Eventually Engelbrecht was obliged to plaster up the walls, which he did, except the gables. The building remains standing today and is still being lived in, which is amazing. Other buildings built at that time are too numerous to describe individually, except for one or two which may be of interest to the reader.

The house known as "Three Steps" in 14th Avenue, originally belonged to Mrs. Lily Fisher, who became well known as "Granny Fisher". She lived on her farm whilst Old Umtali was still in existence. Cecil Rhodes bought her farm which became part of the New Umtali commonage. Within reach of her old homestead she built "Three Steps", the first . modern dwelling house in. Umtali. She afterwards sold it to Mr. T.B. Hulley, the Assistant Magistrate and Native Commissioner in ., Umtali. When he retired, Mr. Johnnie Holland took it over. Like most properties in town, there were no restrictions, you could make as much use of adjoining ground as you wished, and keep horses, mules, donkeys or cattle and graze them on the commonage.

Before concluding,' mention must be made of the homestead known as "Utopia". From Old Umtali, where he lived in huts with his wife and family, Mr. Fairbridge, an experienced surveyor, having a free choice, selected a site for himself on a hill overlooking the town. As he had very little capital, or materials for building purposes he had to improvise with stones, poles and thatch, like his follow settlers. When the stone walls of the house were about three-or four feet-high Mr. Fairbridge realised that the rainy season was approaching so he planted poles all around the basement of the uncompleted walls, to support a thatched roof. Between the supporting poles he hung reed mats! For many years the building remained in this plight and was known as the house with doors but no walls. Mr. Fairbridge was the father of Kingsley Fairbridge. Kingsley had a very hard life as a child and few facilities for education, but he determined to pursue his studios, which he did with the help of the Rev. Roxburgh, the first Church of England clergyman in Umtali. Eventually Kingsley completed his education at Oxford.

In the early stages of his life he, like many others, decided on filling the empty, open spaces with young men who had received a course in agriculture. However, his ideas were too premature. The country was striving for existence and without capital or markets such a visionary venture was bound to fail. It was while Kingsley was at Oxford that a scheme to start his project in Australia took shape, and he was able to put it into practice. It proved to be very successful. A similar scheme was started in Bulawayo during the Second World War and was named Kingsley Fairbridge School, commemorating Kingsley's pioneer achievements.

End of Chapter 7

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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



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