British Empire Article

By Geoffrey Popplewell
Tanganyika - In the Wake of the Germans
Handeni Boma
I arrived in Tanganyika Territory in May 1927, only some 50 years from the time of Livingstone, Stanley and the Arab slave trade. In 1885 the country came under German colonial rule. This lasted effectively for only some 30 years till the first world war of 1914-18. A considerable part of this period was spent in putting down Arab and Native rebellions, the last of which was the Maji-Maji uprising, so called because the tribal witch doctors claimed that the sprinkling of especially blessed water would give protection against German bullets. During most of the period of German colonial rule, the country was under military rule. Their District Headquarters - Bomas - were always castellated, often towered forts, built as a precaution against possible revolts. Under the military, native administration was carried out by Government appointed Liwalis and Akidas, for they did not trust the traditional Native rulers. Even when civil administration took over under Baron von Rechenberg and Dr Schnee (Governors 1906-16 ), local Government under Liwalis and Akidas continued, though there were exceptions to the general pattern. Bukoba and Ruanda-Urundi, following the example of Sir Frederick Lugard in Nigeria, were indirectly administered by the local chiefs under German Residents. Mahenge, my first station, one of the main centres of the Maji-Maji uprising, and Iringa, the home of the Wahehe tribe, whose chief Mkwawa committed suicide after leading a rebellion, that had in 1891 annihilated a German company some 350 strong, remained under military rule. This period of civil administration had only been in existence for some eight years when the 1914-18 war broke out.
As I Saw It
Chambeshi Memorial
Throughout the whole of this war, Colonel Lettow von Vorbeck maintained German resistance, his aim being to keep the German flag flying in the face of superior British forces. This he did by rapid retreats and forays, standing and fighting, if necessary, when too hard pressed. He even made incursions into Portuguese East Africa and only surrendered after November 11th 1918, when he was actually at Ndola in what was then Northern Rhodesia.

I reached Dar-e -Salaam on May 29th 1927 on board the Llandaff Castle on her maiden voyage - she was herself sunk during the second world war in the Mozambique channel. On passing through the narrow channel that led to the lagoon, on the north side of which lay Dar-es- Salaam, we saw to our port the dredger that the Germans had sunk to block the entry of British warships.

Tanganyika - In the Wake of the Germans
Llandaff Castle
We anchored in the lagoon itself, as in those days there was no dock or wharf deep enough for mail steamers, all cargo being landed into barges by a lighterage company using the ship's own derricks. Opposite the anchorage was the spired German Lutheran church and behind it the one hotel, originally the Kaiserhof now rechristened the New Africa. A broad road ran between the two, leading southwards to the railway station and northwards to the European Hospital, Government House and the sea. This latter building had been built by the Germans in the Moorish style, bombarded by the British in 1916 and then repaired by them in the original fashion. Another road ran in front of the Lutheran church alongside the lagoon to the High Court and the Secretariat, both housed in German two storied buildings facing the narrow harbour entrance. The town, in fact, had hardly altered at all since German times.

Tanganyika - In the Wake of the Germans
New Africa Hotel
The Germans had built a railway from Dar-es-Salaam to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, following more or less the old Arab slave route from Bagamoyo north of Dar-es-Salaam on the coast to Ujiji just south of Kigoma. The Crown Prince Wilhelm had been due to open the line in 1914, but the outbreak of the 1914-18 war gave him other duties. To house him and his staff the Germans had built two large identical buildings at Tabora and Kigoma, both called the Kaiserhof. I was District Commissioner, Kigoma, from 1948-51 and the Kaiserhof was the District Commissioner's residence. My wife remarked to some of the local Africans how fine and lofty the Kaiserhof building was. They replied "Yes, but many Africans died on the job". I was stationed at Tabora in 1939 during the first year of the second world war. The Kaiserhof at Tabora had become a hotel. By a strange coincidence in 1939 a bag of Tabora sovereigns was dug up by a local African in the grounds of that hotel. He took it to the District Office. The sovereigns were treated as "Treasure Trove" and the finder received his due reward. These sovereigns had been manufactured at Tabora during the period 1914-16, when Tabora was the administrative capital of German East Africa at a time when the country was cut off from the Fatherland by the British blockade. The sovereigns were manufactured from gold mined at Sekenke at the eastern end of the Werabere steppe, some hundred miles to the north-east of Tabora. They bore on one side the figure of an elephant and, on the other, as far as I remember, a mango tree. Presumably they had been buried by the Germans prior to its capture by the Belgians in September, 1916.

Life as a Colonial Service Child in Tanganyika
Northern Tanganyika
To reach my first station Mahenge, I had a 120 mile foot safari south from the nearest railway station, Kilosa, 160 miles west of Dar-es-Salaam. I did the journey with porters, travelling some 15 miles a day. These porters earned 50 cents a day plus their food, maize flour, beans and salt. One shilling, the standard coin, was worth 100 cents. The Africans did not refer to the 1 cent coin as a "centi" but as a "heller", the "heller", though originally Austrian, being the lowest German East African copper coin. The heller, like the Tanganyika cent, had a hole through its centre, the Africans liking to thread a string through the hole and carry a collection of such coins attached to their garments by the string. The German silver coinage was beautiful, made of pure silver with the Kaiser's head in an eagle crowned helmet on one side and its value in rupees on the other. On our safari to Mahenge the Africans we met would frequently greet us by saying a word that I took to be "Morning". In was, in fact, the German "Morgen".

Life as a Colonial Service Child in Tanganyika
Tanganyika Heller
The Mahenge District office was, like all German Bomas, a castellated fort. It lay on the western edge of the main area affected by the Maji-Maji rebellion. There was a tree outside its east wall, from which the Germnas were said to have hanged local chiefs, who had participated in that uprising. In 1927 there was a half company of the 6th K.A. R. stationed at Mahenge with two British officers. Both were keen on shooting elephant. On one such hunt the commanding officer found a cache of boxes of bully beef left behind by a column of British troops who, in 1916, were chasing a company of Germans and their African askari in the Kilombero valley. When hard pressed Von Lettow's soldiers stood and fought. The Mkasu area of the Mahenge district lay in the upper waters of the Kilombero-Rufiji riverine system. It had been the scene of one of their rearguard actions. On safari there I saw the remains of some of their trenches. A year or two before I arrived at Mahenge, Von Lettow had been allowed to return to give his ex-askari the back pay due to them. I was told how they crowded around him to salute and shake his hand. As already said, he had surrendered after the Armistice in November, 1918 in what was then Northern Rhodesia and his remaining troops, only 150 Germans and 1150 African askari strong, were interned near the Kalambo Falls, the Kalambo river being the boundary between Northern Rhodesia and German East Africa. I visited the area in 1934 when District Commissioner of the Ufipa District. The foot of the Falls, where the Germans were interned, have revealed tools made by palaeolithic man some 300,000 years ago. In 1934 they were the home of countless Marabou stork.

To return to the boxes of bully beef, they were taken into the K. A. R. store at Mahenge and given at times to friends of the K.A.R. Officers. The Wapogoro of the Mahenge plateau kept cattle and meat was available in the Mahenge market, but below the escarpment was tsetse country with no cattle, So the tins of bully beef made excellent and very welcome curry or hash. Care had to be taken before eating that a tin was not blown, but surprisingly few in view of their age were in that condition.

On Lake Tanganyika the Germans had two Headquarter stations, Kigoma, railhead of the Central Line, and Bismarckburg near the border with Northern Rhodesia. The Boma at Bismarckburg was the usual castellated fort built on a promontory jutting out into the Lake. Under the British it had ceased to be the District Headquarters, which had been transferred first to Namamyere and then to Sumbawanga both on the Ufipa plateau. There was a note in the Ufipa District Book that read"

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Carrying Mimi and Toutou
"Bismarckburg was occupied by a British column under Colonel Murray on 8th June 1916, the small enemy garrison escaping by boat. Commander Simson R. N. with captured German steamer KINGANI and two motor boats arrived at Bismarckburg on 9th June. These boats were named FIFI, MIMI and TOUTOU respectively".

These bald words conceal a most interesting story. The MIMI and TOUTOU had been brought from England, landed at Cape Town and sent by train to railhead 140 miles north of Elizabethville in the Belgian Congo, where they arrived on 5th August, 1915. The two motor launches were then dragged by two steam tractor engines, aided by oxen and manpower, through untracked bush to the 15 mile stretch of rail that lead to the Lualaba river, a tributary of the Congo. Thence they went by river steamer to Kabalo, where a 175 mile length of recently completed rail took them to the mouth of the Lukuga river at the end of October, 1915. Near the mouth of the Lukuga the port of the future town of Albertville was being constructed. This was the base from which the two motor launches operated. On Boxing day, 1915 they badly damaged the German gunboat KINGANI, really only an armed tug, as she was reconnoitring outside the port. She surrendered. After being repaired and rearmed she was taken over by the British as H. M. S FIFI.
Tanganyika - In the Wake of the Germans
Hedwig von Wissmann
In February, 1916, the German HEDWIG VON WISSMAN, three times larger than the ex-KINGANI, was sighted. The British flotilla, aided by two Belgian boats, chased and sank her. There remained the GRAF VON GOTZEN. She had been assembled at Kigoma in 1913, the various parts, made in Papenburg-on-Ems, having been transferred there from Hamburg via Dar-es-Salaam. In June, 1916, Belgian aeroplanes attacked her with bombs and claimed to have damaged her. Whether this was so or not, the Germans, having greased all the machinery, scuttled her, hoping to refloat her after the war. But it was the British who raised the GRAF VON GOTZEN, rechristened her the Liemba and put her on the southward run from Kigoma to Mpulungu, the port for Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia. She was wood burning and still was, when I travelled on her in 1934, when District Commissioner of Ufipa district.

MV Liemba
I recall reading some letters to the Times which explained that after a refit in 1952 she was converted to an oil firing unit and later in 1970 was given a diesel engine. Still to this day the Liemba making the trip from Kigoma to Mpulungu every fortnight with an extended run northwards to Burundi. This gives her a life of over a century and still going strong. Can any other vessel, ocean greyhound, merchant tramp or coaster match this record? One reason for her long life, according to the Times correspondent, is that, working in a fresh water lake, she would not rust like an ocean going ship.

African opinion varied as to the rival merits of German and British administration. For instance, when I was stationed in the Tanga District in 1936-37, a local chief told me that, under German rule, anyone employed by a German, official or settler, could behave as he liked. He could commit rape, theft or arson and no complaint was possible. The British gave everyone a hearing. As an illustration he told the story of a German settler, who put up a pole on his estate and ordered every passer-by to say "Jambo"(Good Day) to the hat. The chief, as a young man, had been a cattle trader and was passing by this estate at the head of a herd of cattle. He had heard about the order and duly bade the hat "Good Day". The lad, who was looking after the tail of the herd, knew nothing of the order and was duly hauled off and given 25 lashes. Another story concerns Tukuyu, where the German Commandant, in answer to a question as to how law-abiding was his district, is alleged to have put a bag of gold on the road outside his office. Next morning it was still there. "That shows how fearful my natives are of the consequences of stealing" he boasted with pride.

Yet some Africans seem to have appreciated the rough and ready justice, which under German military rule was swift. Certainly in Mahenge, if murder was committed, the culprit was hanged on the spot; other crimes were punished by immediate flogging. Under the British the punishment for severe crime was long delayed. Between arrest, committal for trial, trial by the High Court, conviction, appeal and execution of sentence, weeks even months could elapse. My Native Treasury clerk at Musoma as late as 1947 was in no doubt. He had been brought up, educated under the Germans, and spoke German. He was also addicted to the consumption of Nubian gin and, in his cups, he let me know in no uncertain terms how much he preferred the Germans.

Tanganyika - In the Wake of the Germans
German Transport
In Ufipa district the Germans had constructed a road from Bismarckburg on Lake Tanganyika to Neu Langenburg (Tukuyu) near Lake Nyasa, along which, according to the Wamambwe through whose territory the road ran, the Germans had used wheeled transport drawn by mules. I saw a section of this road in 1934, while on safari in the area, which was close to the Northern Rhodesian border. Though heavily overgrown owing to the lapse of time, it had clearly been excellently constructed, paved with stone and flanked at intervals with stone lined drains. The intervening years since its construction had, however, wrought irreparable damage, especially to the sections near Lake Tanganyika, and it was no longer usable.

Alt Langenburg had been built by the Germans as their nothernmost port on Lake Nyasa. For some reason the level of the Lake rose and Alt Langenburg was submerged. The Headquarters of the district were then transferred to Neu Langenburg. In the 1950s the remains of Alt Langenburg could still be seen under the water.

Ghost stories abound about the Germans. Rob Hall, who was my Provincial Commissioner, when I was District Commissioner, Musoma, in 1947, was at one time District Commissioner of Tukuyu. He told me that one evening he was sitting down relaxing in his quarters in the Boma, when there was a knock on his door. A messenger entered and asked in Swahili if he could make a request. Rob told him to come back in the morning and the messenger departed. It was only a moment or two later that Rob realised that the messenger was dressed in a very different uniform to the usual Government khaki, being greyish-green with a grey-green tarbush. It was even later that he learnt with a shock that this was the German uniform.

Tanganyika - In the Wake of the Germans
German Askari
The District Commissioner's house at Mwanza was some 100 yards from the cemetery, which lay on a flattish piece of ground between Capri Point and an arm of Lake Victoria leading westwards from Smith Sound, Capri Point itself was a hilly, forested area that jutted out into Smith Sound. The cemetery was a gloomy spot, set amidst dark gum trees. It dated from the German times and contained the graves of Germans, some of whom had died at a very early age. probably from Blackwater fever, which in those days was usually fatal. The sun always set early there, hidden behind the steep slope of Capri Point. One evening towards dusk my wife was walking towards the cemetery gate. As she drew near, she saw what appeared to be an askari dressed in a strange looking, drab grey uniform. She became very uneasy - she had always felt that the place had a brooding, eery atmosphere - and turned back home. She looked back twice and on each occasion the figure was still there. She is convinced that what she saw was the ghost of a German native soldier.

On the open lake side of Capri Point, between that Point and the docks, was a broad topped, granite inselburg jutting some twelve feet out of the lake a few yards from the shore. It was still called the Bismarck Rock in the 1950s for in German times it had been used by the officers of the garrison as a beer garden, the scene of much revelry. In the neighbouring district of Musoma to the north, there was a German built fort at Ikoma at the western edge of the Serengeti plains. It had been used in the 1914-18 war as a heliograph station to warn the Mwanza garrison of any British incursion. In my time at Musoma, 1945-48, it was a desolate place, overgrown and eery. No African would go near it. To further the tourist trade after Independence, it was cleared up and turned into a hotel. I hope the tourists sleep sound.

Another German fort had been built near the border between Nzega district in the Western Province and Singida District in the Central Province. It was near Lake Kipingiri. The German Commandant had ordered the hanging of six of the local tribesmen for some offence or other. He watched the executions, sitting on a chair and drinking. Thereafter for some occult reason - perhaps the spirits of the hanged men took up residence - the doors of the fort would never stay shut. If shut, they mysteriously opened of their own accord. Jock Griffiths, my Provincial Commissioner at Mbeya in 1956-57 and Nevill Shann, the Provincial Education Officer at Mbeya over the same period, both of whom on different occasions had slept in the fort, testify to the truth of these happenings.

The Germans, following the example of all Colonial powers, gave German names to some of the more important centres. Lushoto in the Usamabara Mountains, a centre of German settlement, was called Wilhemstal. Kasanga at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika became Bismarckburg. As already narrated, their most northerly port on Lake Nyasa was called Alt Langenburg. When this was submerged under the Lake waters, the new district headquarters was termed Neu Langenburg. Another tiny port Manda, some 60 miles south of Alt Langenburg, was rechristened Wiedhafen. This was because it was the intended Lake terminus of a railway, starting at Kilwa on the coast and opening up southern German East Africa. The 1914-18 war prevented any such construction. With the arrival of the British such names disappeared off the map with one notable exception. Lake Kipingiri became Lake Kenworthy. This lake was visited in the twenties by a Parliamentary Commission, one member of which was the Liberal Member of Parliament, Commander Kenworthy. The local District Commissioner, with a sense of humour, christened Lake Kipingiri Lake Kenworthy, as it was "short, fat and never dried up". Somehow the name stuck and appeared on maps for many years after that. It was not until 1939 that it was formally changed to Lake Kitangire by a British government that did not have the same sense of humour as the local District Commissioner.

Perhaps the attitude of the African as to the rival characteristics and attitudes of the Germans and British was best summed up by the Liwali of Mikindani Township. On the archway of the German built Boma was inscribed the date of its completion, 1895. This was still there when I was District Commissioner in the early forties. Quoth the Liwali "If it had been a British Boma, taken over by the Germans, this date would have been removed long ago".

British Empire Map
1925 German Map of East Africa which still shows German East Africa
Colony Profiles
Further Reading
The Konigsberg Adventure
by E Keble Chatterton

Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizzare Battle of Lake Tanganyika
by Giles Foden

Battle for the Bundu
by Charles Miller


Navy Man God: A BBC Radio Drama about John Spicer-Simson and Lake Tanganyika
Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
E Keble Chatterton gives an overview of the remarkable events on Lake Tanganyika in World War One when the Germans, Belgians and British vied for control of this vast interior lake. A supreme fight of logistics was employed to tip the balance in the allies favour by carrying boats thousands of miles through Southern and Central Africa.
Autobiography, and Africa too

Mrs Spicer-Simson Photograph Collection

The Battle of Lake Tanganyika, how the war on the lake was won


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