Kilimanjaro and Moshi Town
We went straight away by train to Moshi, inland due west a 15 hour journey,
to the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,000 feet), Africa's highest mountain. From
there it was a long journey for eight miles, up and up a mountain road to Old
Moshi. This was our first home. There were German-built bungalows to house the
four European families that lived here. The Headmaster of the small native school, his
wife and child. The assistant master and his wife. A Scotsman, who taught all school
handicrafts, his wife and child. Ourselves. The houses were solid, well built of stone,
all rather rough, but washed over with pink. Good carpentry work from the School.
A large verandah right around, and windows with outside shutters to keep out the
heat. All gardens were lovely. Anything grew because there was unlimited water
everywhere, from the mountain, this combined with tropical heat made for lush
vegetation on a very large scale. Lobelia, and maidenhair ferns, grew like small
shrubs, with trunks as thick as one's wrists, and the weed groundsel stood four feet
high. It all looked a little uncanny. Hedges of scarlet geraniums, which we had to
keep cutting back, to prevent them taking over. Roses flourished everywhere, and
there was a fine type of grass which needed no kind of cutting. It looked lovely, and
grew rather on the principle of strawberry plants, running along and putting down
new roots. It was a tremendous asset, especially to English people who love a fine
lawn. As to the mountain itself everything here is on the vastest of vast scales. It is
an extinct volcano. It runs straight up from the plain to this height of over 19,000
feet, and is always snow covered. This peak is called Mt. Kibo, and is smooth and
dome like. Then there is a saddle running along to Mt. Macenzie which is 17,000
feet. This is crag-like and spikey, with a little snow sometimes. The whole range is
called Kilimanjaro, two Swahili words meaning Hill (Kilimo), of light (njaro). At
Old Moshi we lived 22 miles from the mountain, and the height was such that even
at that distance it was not possible to see the summit without leaning back so far
that one's neck began to ache. The range dominates everything around it. It can be
seen for over 200 miles. Every safari that is ever done in this region, is done with
the mountain always there. Many things about it all are always vividly in my mind.
The beauty of Mt. Kibo looking down on our verandah in the dazzling light and
heat of a 7:30 a.m. breakfast in February. Or at night, seeing it in a thin mauve
haze. Sometimes the brightness of the moon, or star-light gleaming on a chasm edge
of glacier, giving the brilliance and colour of some exquisite jewel. All this remote
cool brilliance in a tropical setting. No wonder I remember.
The Wachagga people, the tribe that lives here all round about the range, are
stocky, and well built, and they walk beautifully.
Their irrigation methods are marvellous. Hand-ploughed cuttings are made
everywhere in the hills, to hold the water. The plough is called a 'jembe' a kind of
huge hoe. They are slogging at the hoeing all the time. Their lives, customs, and
religion are dominated by, and centred around, the mountain.
We lived here from February 1932 till August '32, We made our own community
life, just meeting in each other's houses to dine, or have a sundowner, talking
about home, playing new gramophone records, comparing gardening notes. Greater
social contacts were made by going down the eight-mile mountain road, by safari
car to Moshi town. Quite a business, and an impossible one in the rainy season
when the road was like a river of thin cocoa. Moshi is quite a large town by Tanganyika
standards. Hundreds of white traders, because much coffee is grown on the
Shops in the town are run almost entirely by Indians and ordinary food stuffs
were quite easy to come by. Food and drink kept to much the same pattern wherever
We would send a boy every day to the market for meat. This was of fair
quality, and the whole arrangement was always in charge of a white vet wherever
Local tea was poor, but drinkable, and good enough for safari. Under a kind
of title 'How round about can you get' we always took out with us 50 lbs. of good
quality tea from our tropical suppliers in London. It was in 1/2 lb. packets, lined with
tin-foil, and stored in our own specially lined tea chest, on arrival. Houses were
always large enough for one room to be a store room with a key. It was like a small
Local sugar was fairly good, flour was passable and most of us taught our
cook-boys to make bread. It wasn't always an easy task, because kitchen fires were
made with wood, and there was a small iron stove, brought from England. Butter
and bacon could be bought from a factory at Mwanza, at the extreme south of
Lake Victoria. Everything else was ordered in huge supplies from an English store
in Dar-es-Salaam. This would include dried milk, dried yeast, dried fruit, and
decent quality sugar.
A very, very rare type of food which we had very, very rarely was called
'Millionaires Salad'. Called this because it needs a whole coconut tree to be cut
down to procure it. The very point of the tree is like a giant stick of celery, and
tastes very like it too. It is chopped up finely, and put in a salad. But when cutting
it up, the beauty of the grain is revealed, and it seems a shame to eat it. The pattern
is most wonderfully intricate, like fine lace work with little lines and veins running
through, and creases and strands all interwoven. The colour is like pale cream.
Of the tree itself not an atom is wasted. The long straight trunk is used to make
dug-out canoes. The wood is also used for making spears. Fronds are plaited to
make sides of huts, and thatching, and can be woven into baskets. The milk can be
drunk, the nut eaten, and the empty shells make drinking cups. Patronise home
Wherever we lived in the Territory there were always Indian dukas (stores).
Pleasant to look at, everything to sell, and horrible to smell. Around the dukas are
shelves, well made by Sikh carpenters, and stocked with all kinds of edibles. Lentils,
dhal, poor rice, kola nuts, poor quality tmneric, coriander, chillies, saffron, peppercorns.
Besides all this there will be stacked the inevitable blue mottled soap, a
product of the territory, coarse and horrible-looking, like chimks of Gorgonzola
cheese, and rivaling it in smell. Fatty pastries, saffron coloured little cakes, and dirty
looking salt completed the picture. This is why we sent to Dar-es-Salaam, to the
English store, for food stuffs. In contrast to this, the dukas which sold silks and
cottons were well patronised. Also on sale would be beautifully embroidered dressing
gowns and shawls from Kashmir (where else?).
Hung up near the doors would be various types of shirts and shorts, and a Goan
squatting on the floor nearby, quite often with a Singer sewing machine, and
usually turning out very good work for local boys. Also round about will be the most shoddy bright gim-cracks which Japan is able to export. CJieap beads, looking
glasses, handkerchiefs, bangles, ear-rings, and nose studs. A small looking-glass
would be used as a personal adornment, htmg around the neck, or from an ear
lobe, or around the ankle. It was literally dazzling in the glaring sun. Bananas are
grown in ^ ea t quantities, in this part of the Territory. One hundred and thirtynine
varieties, from tiny little sweet ones, which are very good to eat, right up to
others, which are red, and nearly three inches across, and are used as food for
cattle. Banana blossom is very like a large fuschia.
In August 1932, we left Moshi, by air, for Tabora, some 200 miles south west.
A tiny plane, with 14 passengers, and a bumpy trip of H hours. It was quite an
experience to be flying up beside the mountain, even for only a few minutes. The
flight was quite uneventful, and I don't even remember landing!
Tabora was at one time the centre of the slave trade. In the market place there
are the posts and rings where the slaves used to be chained. A horrible sight. It
was at Tabora that Livingstone and Stanley lived for a time after they had met at
Ujiji (Kigoma), some 300 miles west of Tabora. The place is marked by a fine
memorial stone with an inscription in English and Swahili. Tabora is a large Government
centre with hundreds of Arab, and Indian traders, as well as hundreds and
hundreds of white people. The climate is hot, but dry. A great impression of coolness
is given because of the masses and masses of mango trees which have been
planted all about. They are deep dark green in colour, and counteract entirely the
hot dried up look of the place. No fine Moshi grass here, but lovely avenues of
acacia, and Madagascar 'flame' trees, with their brilliantly scarlet blooms, very
little foliage, and light grey branches and trunks.
Frangipani, oleander, bourganvillae, and hibiscus, all these tropical shrubs
abound in beauty. Also, perhaps best of all, the tree 'Pride of Barbados'. It is rather
like a laburnum tree, except that the blossoms are pink, and from the blossoms there
hangs a rainbow-coloured fringe. The beauty is enhanced if/when it all sways about
in a small breeze.
First Foot Safari to the Wilds
From Tabora we moved in October 1932 to Sumbawanga. A day and a night
by train to Kigoma in the west, at a tedious pace. Not a very wonderful train but
wonderful to have one at all. The line just driven through the bush by German slave
labour. The front of the engine carries an enormous search light to scare the wild
animals, and to enable the Indian driver to see that the line is clear. Most of the
time there is the din of baboons screaming, and shrieking, and leaping about in
order to get out of the way of this strange huge monster. The train is steam driven,
and runs on wood. What a job.
Kigoma, on the Lake shore is the end of the line, and from there it is a six day
run by Lake steamer, the Liemba, to Kasanga, a small port at the extreme south
end of the Lake. Lake Tanganyika at 400 miles long is the longest fresh water lake
in the world. It is said to be 25--30 miles wide, and the depth unplumbed. It is part
of the Great Western Rift Valley. From Kasanga it was a safari on foot for six days
north east to Sumbawanga. The first days safari is straight up the escarpment to a
height of 6,000 feet. Wonderful country, thickly wooded, with out-croppings of red,
and pink rock, and a narrow path threading along, but heavy going. I had had some
good leather shoes made at the School in Old Moshi. They had 1/4 inch steel studs put
in, rather like football boots. Specially made for foot safari. At the end of this safari
the studs were worn right down, and the soles had gleaming, fiat pieces of steel, all
over them like old sixpenny pieces. After the climb, there is a plateau, and five days
walking. We had 75 porters with our loads. It had meant a great packing up at Tabora. Five houseboys, one cook-boy, one askari (native police) and two office
messengers, were also with us on safari. The word safari is derived from the Swahili
verb ku safiri - to travel. It is all very memorable to me, because as we went along
I knew that all this journey must be done in reverse in January '33 when I must
return to Tabora Hospital for the birth of our baby.
The climate here abouts was as near perfect as one could wish, on account of
the height. Vegetation was lush, but not overdone, and the atmosphere wonderfully
clear. Rolling down-land, kind of country. When once one managed to achieve a
kind of plodding mentality, this five days on the plateau was not really very
difficult. Porters went on ahead, the tent was already pitched in camp when we
arrived. The table and chairs at the ready, and us very ready to sit down.
So we arrived and settled into the new home. The Senior District Officer and
his wife and ourselves were the only European people. Our nearest European neighbours were a
German farming family 40 miles away by donkey path.
The two houses were again the solid German type, but no extras in the form
of doors that shut well, or good window frames. Between his office hours, - 8 a.m.
to mid-day, and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Thlrlo - my husband, worked with the village
carpenter, and mason, and before long we had a very smart looking home. Outside
shutters, painted bright green, and a lovely stone built fire place, and often a huge
log fire. At that height the evenings were comparatively cool, and a good fire gave
the extra warmth, and made it look "just like home". Here we spent Christmas
1932. We put up decorations much to the delight of our boys who were Christian,
and the mystification of those who were Mahommedans.
Second Foot Safari for Rex's Birth
January 9th, 1933 saw the start of our safari back to Tabora, for me to be
there for the great event. We left at 5 a.m. having had an early evening quiet
farewell supper party with our neighbours. Early starts are necessary on safari in
order to get in a good 5 hours' walking time, with one short break before the
sun gets too hot to be comfortable. I never knew, nor was I ever sufficiently
interested to find out whether there was an official safari gear for wives, especially
wives expecting babies, but my way of dressing was as follows
Bra, briefs, socks, heavy shoes, slacks, tunic, linen frock, thick khaki drill
skirt, the frock top now made a blouse, Shetland jumper, brown suede jerkin.
It was cold starting out, and no doubt I looked a bundle, but the system worked
well, gradually discarding a garment as the sun became stronger. Eventually there
was I arrayed neatly for the rest of the safari in slacks and tunic. I felt I had
achieved the ultimate in safari attire, and always kept to this routine in the years
ahead. It worked well.
Usually we would arrange a walking safari like this. Breakfast first. Walk
5 a.m. to 7-30 a.m., a rest, and then walk 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Boys and porters then
put up a small camp in order to make some shade, and other creature comforts
including a most elaborate bamboo-screened loo. Labour and bamboo were
unlimited commodities, and the end product was often palatial. We would have a
meal, rest in the shade, and set out again about 4-15 p.m. to walk 2 1/2 hours in order
for the main camp to be set up before the rapid tropical sundown. We were never
troubled with insomnia.
News of our arrival would have been sent on ahead by one of the messengers to
the village of our camping, so water and wood would be all ready. The water
would need careful filtering. We had to set up this apparatus ourselves. It was
like a huge double-saucepan, with a fine sandstone-like "candle" through the
middle. The water dripped through drop by drop, leaving a very questionable
deposit on the candle. Then the water had to be boiled, and cooled. We always
carried jars of acid drops for thirst quenching. Better still, we drank a can of
beer. Up till now, my own drinking habits had been limited to two tablespoons of
brandy poured over the Christmas pudding at home. But even this was too much
for a relative who often stayed at my home over Christmas. He insisted that if
"that stuff" was to be poured on, could he please have his slice of pudding cut
Porters would collect wood to make a good fire for the cook-boy and his
assistant to get a meal going. Also a large separate fire would be made to keep
any animals at bay, except in rhino country. A fire infuriated them, and they
would then come and try and stamp it out, and you too if you were unlucky.
The first five days were all along the plateau mentioned before, and then the
last day down, down, down, instead of up, up, up the 6,000 ft. to the lake
shore. Very tiring and trying, whether up or down. From Kasanga, the little port,
I went on without Thirlo. He had to walk back to Sumbawanga. I was taken
under the care of the wife of the Scottish engineer on the 'Liemba', the little lake
steamer. Five days sailing north to Kigoma again. A calm and lovely trip; spotless
little ship, of course, and pleasant company. The few passengers were white
Father Missionaries from Holland, spealdng perfect English. It was a peaceful
restful time, and I was glad of the rest. I was met at Kigoma on January 20th
by the District Officer and his wife, and they put me on the train for the 1 1/2 days to Tabora. This was the only time during the whole episode that I felt a little
timid, because this was the only time that I was actually alone. There were
several Europeans on the train, and there was one woman who was specially
friendly, and we always sat together for meals.
I had with me our own houseboy who saw to my wants. An excellent
fellow, and I, having started to learn Swahili properly by this time, was only too
glad to air my knowledge much to his amusement very often. His gleaming white
teeth in his jet black face was happiness to me.
At Tabora station there was quite a deputation to meet me. Friends whom we
had known when we lived there before, and, most important, the special friends
with whom I was to stay for the special event. By now it was January 22nd, the
safari was over and I was glad. I went along to the hospital for a quick check-up,
and none of the staff would believe my safari story at first.
Tabora was cooler now than when we had lived there before; the rainy season
had just begun. So I stayed there with these kind friends awaiting the happy event.
Here I spent my 27th birthday on February 1st. The hospital was a fine German
building, with lovely Arab doors, beautifully carved. There, on February 27th,
Rex was born. My thoughts were happy, people were kind, all had gone
(comparatively) smoothly and the baby, of course, was wonderful.
We came out of hospital early in March and stayed with friends till early
April. It was wise to make the stay this length, for there was no point in having
anyone approaching semi-invalidity on the return safari to Sumbawanga. As well
as my personal boy, I now had a good ayah. We got on famously.
Third Foot Safari - One Small Child
At midnight on April 1st we left Tabora by train. The baby, ayah and I, and
oh! the shock, my good houseboy dead drunk. The train steamed out very
slowly, and there was no platform as we know it. To the District Officer by the
carriage window I said, "What shall I do?" He said, "Find the Indian guard
immediately, he will help you." I bundled ayah and tiny Rex into our compartment,
found the guard, told him the trouble, and I never saw the boy again. It was a
shaky start to our long journey. We stayed in Kigoma until April 6th. The heat
and glare were uncomfortable. Or was I beginning to will? I was glad to get on
board the little 'Liemba' again, the engineer and his wife, and
the Skipper, and they were all keen to see the baby - the youngest European passenger
ever on their list. The six days down to the south of the lake, to Kasanga again
passed smoothly. Thirlo met us there, so it was a happy family again.
There was a mission station at Kawimbe, Northern Rhodesia, and a padre
from there Christened Rex; Reginald Thirlwall were the names we chose. We
walked a little way through the tall 6 feet high elephant grass to a small mud-built
mission Church. The staff from the 'Liemba', the padre, ourselves and R.T.
were the only European people. There were very many interested black people. The
padre told us that there had only ever been one white woman here, and never
before a white baby. So it was quite an occasion all round.
The setting was scanty in the extreme. No robes for the padre, and the
furniture in the little mud Church consisted of four wooden forms, and a small
wooden table. This wood is called mninga, and is very like mahogany. There was
no font. A native-made bowl of pink mud, called mtungi was held by an African
server. The Church, so dark, with only slits for windows, was in very great contrast
to the brilliance outside.
The palm trees, the banana trees, the hot sand, the safari path between the
elephant grass, the intensely blue fresh water lake breaking on to an intensely
yellow shore with the intensely hot sun beating down, made the old cliche
"typically tropical" exactly true in this case.
We said goodbye to Liemba friends, and were glad to turn into our camp
quarters and get some rest before starting off again early the next morning for the
six-day walk back to Sumbawanga. The same safari that we had done last
October, 1932 and January, 1933, but now plus one.
Sekenke Gold Mine
We went to Sekenke on another occasion, an easy safari over very open country, looking
right over the plains in three directions, and the Ndurumu River completely dried up,
so that it was just a wide wandering ribbon of pale yellow sand, a most extraordinary
sight. The atmosphere is so astonishingly clear that it is possible to see for 80-100 miles
or more. Then there is the climb up the escarpment of 4,000 feet. Not quite as
daunting as the Kasanga one from the Lake, but an awkward road for a car, and a
rough surface. Although the open spaces of the plain are great, they seem greater still
when seen from a height. It is all very much like looking at the country from the air.
The road over which we had travelled looking unbelievably smooth from this height
So across the plateau, rather dull and monotonous, a few huts, people, some
dressed, some not, dogs, cattle, dry burnt grass, trees, burnt white and grey with bush
fires, a kind of ghost forest, looking most weird in the bright sunshine. We agreed that
in all the travels so far in this Territory, which already is something like from John O' Groats to Sicily, we have never seen anything quite so strange.
We reached the edge of the plateau, and then started the descent on the other
side. There was a huge board just here, rather like the England-Scotland notice near
Berwick, but with different wording. It reads, "Hatari! ya matelemko" - "Danger!
here is a great going down". It certainly was that all right. This up and over approach
to Sekenke is necessary because this amazing plain is a trap. If it is possible to be
bogged down in sand, then travellers would be bogged down in sand. This road down
the escarpment has been properly engineered by the Gold Mine Coy: and cost a
fortune. The road cut into the mountainside, like the Swiss railways. It makes a great
impression to see a construction like this, after travelling on the usual safari road. Our
boys had never seen a road like it and chattered about it all the time.
From this wonderful road, the view seemed more wonderful still. It starts with
the scrub and bush at the road side, and becomes first brown burnt country, then a
band of burnt forest land, then sand, then hazy, then blue hazy, fading to a purple in
the distance, and then a deep black band against the far, far horizon. It seemed as if
this deep horizon would be the limit of one's vision, but no, on again, it would be
possible to see the side of a mountain, lit up in the sunshine. Quite astounding, made
possible no doubt, that first the space is there, and secondly the clear, clear
atmosphere, with the intense sunshine. It could also be due to good eyesight.
Then at Sekenke itself we saw not "God's open spaces" but great slag heaps, and
mine shafts, engine sheds, concrete buildings, and all the evidences of a north country
town at home, stuck out in the middle of Africa. Strange indeed. It is all this required
machinery that makes the all-weather road so necessary. It runs to a tiny rail station
called Kinyangiri. to join up with the main rail line from Singida, Central Province, to
We stayed in the Sekenke Rest House, and had our meals with the manager of
the Gold Mine. We spent the evening at a sundowner party, when Rex was safely
bedded down. The next morning we were on parade to go down the mine. Slacks and
overalls, a linen cap and a tin helmet. Four of us clambered into a large bucket. It was
a 4 foot high cylinder, made of strong heavy steel. We were lowered 400 feet into the mine. Curious sensation going down, down, down. I felt a bit nervous, but
recovered when remembering it had been worse on foot safari down the escarpment
to Kasanga, before Rex was born. So we reached the bottom, and clambered out.
Pitch dark, except for the small beam of light thrown by the small acetylene lamps
which we carried. We crept along tunnels ankle deep in water. All the rock solid
looking quartz, and most of it, to someone as ignorant as I, looking as unlike gold as it
is possible to imagine. There were the working boys, with pick axes and shovels, and
spades, digging, digging, and all the "mud" being hoisted into trolleys, and taken up
in the same way that we had been brought down. We walked miles it seemed, and we
were all pouring with sweat. The rock formation altered very much, varying from that
which looked like the most beautiful marble, and striped black, which the manager
told us was rich in gold, to what looked like grey sand-stone. Pneumatic drills in such a
confined space were far from pleasant. But even this became amusing when the
manager, who was stone deaf, having been in a mine explosion in Johannesburg,
turned to me and said, "Tm afraid there is a bit of a rattle" .
We had a short rest in a siding, and were then whisked to the surface again. This
wasn't quite right either, because, in contrast it was so very bright and chilly. After
this we went around the various engine rooms, and although these did not interest me
very much, it was wonderful to see all this machinery and hear the whirrings, and then
look about and see this illimitable space of Africa, with miles and miles and hundreds
of miles of bush - 'pori' is the Swahili word - and almost desolation. It was almost
more than one could take in. to try to imagine what it all meant in terms of transport in
order to get the goods from "there to here". Engines, dynamos, winding equipment,
pile-drivers, laboratory equipment for the assay shop, and so on.
After this we saw the mill which swallowed up mud and rock, and pounded and
pounded until all became slush in a great grey pond. Then it was all treated with
cyanide, and mercury then smelted, and eventually there is the nugget of gold. These
small half-inch square little pellets, so heavy, so precious I suppose. We were told that
the football field might yield 5 åcwt to the ton. Not every club can boast that their
ground is gold in that way.