British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by R. H. Fraser
An Outpost
Fort Jameson
Situated in what was then north-eastern Rhodesia, not far from the borders of Nyasaland and Mozambique, it was named Fort Jameson, after Cecil Rhodes's lieutenant. Dr. Starr Leander Jameson, and the district was first occupied by British forces in the early 1890s. It is said that the last slave caravan in the Empire was liberated there in 1896.

The place was administered by officials of the British South Africa Company who at that time controlled the territory.

It was a most peculiar arrangement, modelled on other companies of adventurers in India, Canada and elsewhere and only terminated in 1924 when the British Colonial Office took over.

The early rule must have been rough and ready, for in the cover of the District notebook were pasted faded instructions on "The care of the chikotte" or rhino hide whip used to maintain discipline. The instructions were firm that the whip must be scraped and washed in potassium permanganate after use in order to destroy injurious bacteria which might infect the next one to be flogged.

Ft. Jimmy was in the back of beyond. It was the end of the road, being 400 miles from Broken Hill and 350 miles west of Blantyre and Zomba in Nyasaland. There was only one way of getting there and that was on foot. Riding was out of the question as 'fly' killed all horses.

There was a peculiar atmosphere about Ft. Jameson. The 'Boma' was pleasantly situated among a group of hills running up to 5,000 ft and in springtime it had a beauty of its own. But it was unhealthy, not only physically but mentally. Malaria was prevalent, and there was the dreaded sleeping sickness in the nearby Luangwa valley. Many other tropical diseases were common. Not only that, but the heat and the isolation engendered a strange, inexplicable mental condition. Be that as it may, the place bred a malaise, somewhat reminiscent of 'le cafard' described in P. C. Wren's famous novel, 'Beau Geste'. Apparently sane and well balanced people did the most peculiar things. Out of the tiny community, totalling a little over two hundred whites in the entire Province, we averaged roughly a funeral a month and a suicide a year. Few Civil Servants stayed there more than a couple of years and the average was much less. There was always a large reserve pool in the north-west from which to draw replacements. Tales of the strange happenings in Ft. Jameson would fill a book but apart from the laws of libel, only a Somerset Maugham could do it justice.

An Outpost
Great East Road
Incoming mail arrived once a week - perhaps. In the very early days the mail bags were carried on foot by African runners, clad in post office scarlet. About 1928 a so-called Mail lorry came into operation, running from Lusaka across the euphemistically designated Great East Road. This route really merits a section to itself. May it suffice to say that the journey was scheduled to take 3 days and might actually occupy a week. The crude track was akin to the Burmah Road -- without any Japanese - and if one broke down it was common to have to wait two or three days before any other vehicle appeared.
An Outpost
De Haviland Rapide
Later on, an air strip was constructed near Ft. Jameson and the weekly mail was borne by a DH Rapide, wonderfully staunch aircraft, carrying about 5 passengers, depending on their weight.

From the beginning, the place became a focus for a certain type of individual who sought remoteness and seclusion for one good reason or another. They halted there because if they went on further it brought them closer once again to the civilisation they wished to avoid.

Land was made available by the Administration at 3d per acre, later increased to 6d. and a trickle of white settlers moved in, taking up blocks of around 5,000 acres each. Any Africans resident there beforehand were moved into Native Reserves. Most of the newcomers were elephant hunters and others who for their own good reasons had opted out of society. Some had peculiar records but almost without exception they were m-e-n.

Thumbnail sketches of some of them form the text of this narrative.

II
An Outpost
Quelimane
Of the many strange characters who appeared in the neighbourhood, one of the most striking was a self-styled 'Dr' Sidney Spencer Broomfield. He had originally been a medical student at Edinburgh University, where he may or may not have qualified. On leaving the University, he bought a sailing ship at Leith, loaded it with muskets, ammunition and trade goods and sailed off to Quelimane in East Africa. Here he raised, trained and equipped a small private army and moved into the interior, shooting elephants for their ivory and conducting a running feud with Arab slavers.

He claimed to have discovered the Great Lakes before Speke and also said that he had sailed up the Fly river in New Guinea. He may even have been 'black birding' in the Pacific with Bully Hayes. One thing for certain; he was a trick shot with revolvers and at one time performed with Barnum and Bailey's circus.

Dr. Broomfield could throw an empty can in the air, drill it with each gun and then keep it rolling along the ground until his revolvers were empty. He could also snuff a candle with a bullet or remove a cigarette held in the lips of any convenient bystander.

These feats certainly impressed the Africans.

A minor asset was his lengthy moustache, which could be tied in a bow at the back of his neck.

Kachalola
In the course of his wanderings he arrived in Bulawayo.

Here he was arrested on a capital charge, but he managed to get free, jumped on the police captain's horse and headed north. He eventually crossed the Zambesi and settled into a hide-out among the foothills of the Luangwa escarpment. The spot was blessed with perennial spring water and here he built a rough dwelling and contrived to live off the country, growing most of his own requirements, such as wheat, sugar, tobacco and even coffee. The place was called 'Katchololo' from which his native pseudonym was derived, meaning a bubbling stream. It is now a halfway stop between Lusaka and Ft. Jameson but few travellers will know of its romantic origin. Just how Broomfield contrived to achieve all this after his flight from Bulawayo can only be vaguely surmised.

He resided at this lonely spot for several years. In the dry season he would go off hunting, up the Luangwa valley and even further afield. Just when the rains were due, he would turn up at Broken Hill, sell his ivory, rhino horns, lion and leopard skins and other trophies; replenish his stock of victuals and other supplies and retire to Kachalola for the rainy season. Latterly, he gave up this roving existence and farmed near Ft. Jameson, where he grew tobacco for many years. When the tobacco boom burst in 1929, he pulled out, returned to Britain and wrote his autobiography, entitled 'Kachalola or The Mighty Hunter: The Early Life and Adventures of Sidney Spencer Broomfield', before he died.

III
Another Old Timer was David Morrison. He was a most powerful man but of no more than medium height. Two of the bluest eyes that ever came from the Black Isle of Ross were set in a brown face, adorned by a neat white beard, the whole bearing a close resemblance to General Smuts. Every visible portion of his arms and legs was tanned to the hue and texture of a saddle flap. The writer spent some long week-ends in his house, situated in a remote portion of the Luangwa valley. Dave reclined in a roorkee chair, smoking hand rolled cigarettes and yarned away some of the details of his adventurous life. It was too lurid to have been taken down verbatim by any lady secretary and unfortunately, it was long before the days of tape recorders. The tales were so vivid that they were firmly committed to memory and some notes made at the time have been preserved.

Dave came of a family of well-to-do farmers, living north-east of Inverness and he was one of six brothers. His parents wintered in their Edinburgh town house and the children were educated privately by tutors. Like so many Scots, they had an inborn desire to travel afar and the boys all went off to roam the world.

Dave went to sea and took his First Mate's ticket in sail; no sinecure in those days. His ship rounded the Horn and came to Australia. It was the time of the Kalgoorli gold rush and he 'jumped ship' and went off in search of gold. In this he was not successful and when he was really hard up he could always earn a few pounds as a programme filler at prize fights. As he neatly expressed it "I wasn't much of a boxer but at the age of twenty five, standing 5' 10" and weighing thirteen and a half stone, I was hard bacon and quite a scrapper . He drifted away from the gold fields and took up the occupation of brumby busting'. A tamer of wild horses in Australia where men in those days were like centaurs, must have been quite a horseman. In the course of this work, Dave smashed an ankle and walked with a slight limp for the rest of his life.

Then the S. African war broke out and David Morrison went off to Africa. Once there, he served as a Captain in the Intelligence and when peace was declared he remained in Africa.

An Outpost
Tete
He drifted about the southern half of the continent; shooting, poaching ivory and doing transport jobs by ox wagon as so graphically described in 'Jock of the Bushveld'. Some years were spent in Mozambique territory, when he was based near Tete, on the Zambesi. It would seem that he even engaged in some form of slave trading. When the first World War blew up, Dave at once went to the colours, again being commissioned as a captain of Intelligence. The course of events took him to Tanganyika where he did excellent work throughout most of the campaign.

Towards the end of the war there, he went off on patrol with a like minded S. African named Coetzee. When the German forces under von Lettow finally surrendered, the British H.Q. still received periodic reports of enemy activity from Morrison and Coetzee, so a party was despatched to see what they were up to.

An Outpost
Tusks
The redoubtable pair were having the time of their lives, shooting elephants and they had accumulated a considerable store of ivory. They were haled back to H.Q. and subsequently demobilised. Someone else snaffled their ivory.

From time to time, Dave made efforts to return to Scotland to visit his relatives but he never got any further than Cape Town, where his money was invariably dissipated in a wild spree. He eventually settled down as a tobacco planter in the Luangwa valley, varying the monotony with a hunting trip in the dry season. He met every kind of adventure. His buttocks bore the full imprint of the rake of the claws of a dying lion; he was put down by an elephant, yet escaped with his life. His left knee-cap was displaced by a bull buffalo which was shot in the nick of time by a brave gunbearer.

At about this period he inherited a bequest amounting to 30,000 pounds. This he made over to his two unmarried sisters, commenting that he was a man and could always earn his own keep.

In the dry season of 1929, a great friend of his named 'Buck' Sayers was killed by an elephant, some sixty miles distant, up the Luangwa valley. His remains were interred in a shallow grave by his African followers. Dave Morrison felt that his pal deserved some better marked resting place and accordingly set out for the place with some cement and iron railings. This was in October, when the heat in the valley is fearsome.

On the homeward journey, his mission accomplished, Dave and his retinue found that the waterhole where they had expected to make camp had dried up. So they spent the night dry, completing their journey the following day; making a total march of 60 miles without water. At that season the temperature in the valley seldom falls below 100 degrees Fahrenheit at mid-night and in the daytime it is a blistering torment. Dave was aged 63 when he made this trip to mark his friend's grave.

Another of his companions was killed by a lion. The tale is well told in a letter he wrote to me shortly afterwards. The complete original now reposes in the Bodleian library among a collection made to preserve some memory of these men.

An extract reads:-

"30th October (1935). Since I wrote the above I went over for tea to the Mission and while there a boy on a bike came with an S O S for me to go down to the Lupande and meet Freddy Hall who was being brought in by machila (a hammock). Padre and I went off at once in the Mission box-body as being better than my lorry and we met him just as he was carried in. He'd had a terrible mauling by a lion. Right leg below the knee being chewed to splinters, left thigh badly chewed and both arms and right hand chewed up also. He had been bandaged up and the wounds washed in permanganate by his boys but was in a dreadful state, as it happened the previous morning he had been stewing in a rough machila over 35 miles of native paths.

As I could see that he would never stand the journey to Ft. J. we took him to the Mission to have new dressings on and a bit of a rest. We landed back 10 p.m. Poor lad, he stuck it wonderfully. Not a moan out of him. He had a bit of sleep after a drop of some dope and having sent John. S. in overnight to warn the doctor, we got him in by 10 a.m. They wired off for another surgeon to come over by plane and he arrived next morning and the leg was taken off at the knee. But it was too late. Septicaemia had set in on three places and there was no hope. He died the following morning, conscious up to ten minutes before he went and game and smiling to the last. By God, he had guts and the way he stuck the dreadful agony he was suffering was wonderful. It was a great funeral. I think everybody who had notice in time was there and it was great to know how much he was respected and loved by all who knew him. I have lost a great friend."

Dave's own life ended shortly before he made the three score years and ten and he lies in the little cemetery, near Freddy and some of their contemporaries. His native name was 'Malofya' meaning 'fearless'.

IV
There were many others of this type in the outlying farms. There was Dick - a born soldier - who had proudly received the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst, not long before the first World War. He was commissioned into a crack cavalry regiment, but subsequently cashiered. At the outbreak of war he enlisted under an assumed name and swiftly rose to become a senior n.c.o. and then gained a commission. His military career was however, somewhat chequered. On active service, he was a superb soldier but on leave he would fall from grace and make a belated return to his regiment. Like so many others, he settled in near the Mozambique boundary, where it was always possible to move swiftly from one territory to another. The second great war found him back in khaki again and he soon attained field rank and met his end during the Abyssinian campaign.

This inland territory, remote from the sea, had a strange attraction for mariners. One of the local farms was advertised for sale in the English papers as being "mid-way between two railway stations". An accurate enough statement; it was 350 miles each way. A retired sea-captain, 'Skipper' P., took the bait and moved in, bringing his wife and some valuable furniture with him. They had no experience of farming, but they bought some cows and rejoiced in fresh milk, cream and home made butter.

After a while the milk yield dwindled and inexplicably vanished. It was only after the facts of life were explained to them that they acquired a bull and in the fullness of time milk flowed again.

An Outpost
.416 Rigby
Another nautical man was known to the Africans as "Devi Chimkango" - 'the big lion-Devine'. Like so many others, he came as a hunter, until his eyesight failed and he sold his .416 Rigby rifle to me. He then set up in business as the local butcher but he was not temperamentally suited to giving the soft answer to lady customers. An order book was circulated in which clients wrote their requirements. One complained that the meat was tough. "Madame, it's a tough country" was scribbled underneath. Another wrote that she had not received the ox tongue ordered. "Madame, an ox has only one tongue and you have plenty already" was the riposte.

There were also others; men of good birth and education, who could not make the grade and sank to the depths. This is not the place to tell their tale. Yet, withal, they still kept a certain pride and could turn up, clean, well shaven and clad in freshly ironed khaki drill. One such, an Irishman, had been brought up in racing stables near Dublin. Tim always studied form for the Grand National with zest and would offer the hottest of tips, just received by airmail from "Me ould auntie back home."

V
One of the greatest characters who farmed in the district was a German-Pole, universally known as "Jerry". He originally left home to avoid being conscripted into the army and somehow wandered into this remote spot, like so many others, in pursuit of ivory. He had receipts for over a thousand pairs of tusks in his house. Jerry was a short, sturdy man, with steady grey-green eyes and was reckoned to be one of the most capable hunters in a capable community. Most of his hunting was done with an antiquated Martini-Henry .450 single shot rifle and he therefore always tried to kill with the first round. He held two more cartridges inverted between the fingers of his left hand, as some expert loaders do in grouse butts today.

Jerry selected the finest farm in the province, situated at fairly high altitude among the M'pangwe hills. Three perennial streams ran out of the mountains and Jerry carefully constructed dams and led irrigation furrows over his lands. He came of farming stock and had a shrewd knowledge of what to do. He obtained seeds, plants and cuttings of everything that might grow on his property. There were groves of Washington navel oranges, grapefruit, lemons and peaches. Mangoes grew in profusion, while there were acres of coffee under irrigation and also wheat and maize.

He tried to grow rubber, both Hevea and Ceara, but without success. He also experimented with olives, which failed to bear fruit. Jerry also established a large herd of semi-improved cattle. The oxen were used as draught animals until 7-8 years old when they were fattened and butchered.

An Outpost
Beira
Little wonder that the meat was tough. The cattle were housed in roofed sheds and large quantities of manure were made with which he maintained the fertility of his fields. In due course he built a sturdy farm house with a tiled roof - unusual in a land of thatch. Came the day when Jerry felt the need of a wife and helpmate. But he could not go home for fear of conscription, so he inserted an advertisement in his local newspaper. From among the replies received, Jerry selected what seemed to be a suitable fraulein, whose photo accompanied her application. From this she appeared to be a typical flaxen nordic type. He duly sent the passage money and went to Beira to meet his bride. He stood at the gangway, photo in hand, but none of the disembarking passengers compared with it. At last a dark young woman approached him and explained that she was a substitute for the original choice, who had got 'cold feet' at the last moment. Jerry is reputed to have commented 'Vell, it isn't the von I ordered but I suppose she vill do." They married in Beira and Agnes did indeed make him a good wife and helpmate. Unfortunately, she received an injury which caused a miscarriage and they never enjoyed a family to inherit their beautiful farm. Later, various nephews came out from Germany but they all died of blackwater fever.

Agnes raised a leopard cub on the bottle. She named it 'Bismarck' and it became her faithful shadow.

British Colony Map
1959 Map of Northern Rhodesia
Colony Profile
Northern Rhodesia
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 56: October 1988


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