FLETCHER FAMILY ARCHIVE.
The Jura, Scotland - Southern African branch.

Data capture and research notes. A work in progress.

RHODESIANA. Anecdotal.

From: "Experiences of Rhodesian Pioneer Women", by Jeannie M. Boggie.

By Coach to Bulawayo, 1895. By Mrs. Annie A. Fletcher.

In March, 1895, we arrived at the railway terminus, Pretoria. From there we were to travel by one of Zeederberg's stage coaches, which carried the mail as well as passengers. Travelling by day and night, if the coaches were not overladen and the "going was good", we could reach Bulawayo in six days - a distance of 513 miles, but during the rainy season when the rivers were in flood, and the road heavy, it was not unusual to be delayed ten to fourteen days on the way.

Mules were changed every nine to fifteen miles according to where water could be found. Meals were provided by traders, and the food was very rough. Sometimes if the trader was a married man, the food was not so bad, but as we got further north, there were no white women at the stores. The fare provided at the eating places ( I do not know what other word to use!) generally consisted of "bully" or buck and ashcakes, which is dough, grilled on a gridiron. Sometimes pot-bread. Of course there was no butter, and even dripping was a treat.

Our party consisted of my sister-in-law, my brother, my two very small children (the younger barely four months old), myself, and some rough-looking men.
My sister-in-law, never a robust women, was soon overcome by the hardships of the journey. I can never forget my brother's care and help at that time. He took charge of the elder boy, and I carried the baby on a pillow across my knee. I feel sure he was the youngest passenger to travel to Rhodesia by coach in the early days.

The coach was drawn by ten mules. The huge vehicle was laden inside with passengers and on the top with mail bags, luggage, and an odd passenger or two. The driver reminded me of one of Bret Harte's characters, as he walked along critically examining the mules and running his fingers along his whip, as if to see if all was in order.

I was to realize later what an important part of the outfit was the whip. Practically all the guiding of the mules was done by a flick here and there, to which the animals instantly responded. A "sjambok" was for the quick guidance of the hind mules (or "wheelers") away from the stones or holes that abounded in the road. I don't remember that the mules were ever thrashed. They were often knocked up, but always kindly treated. I do remember one dropping down in the harness either from fatigue or horse-sickness, and the driver's understudy took its place. With the harness on his shoulders, he ran along beside the mule, puffing and blowing to the stable a mile or two away.
At dawn, we took our seats in the coach.We were in the highest spirits, and thought that travelling by coach into the blue was in keping with the spirit of adventure that prevailed. I remembered that I was of the third generation of pioneers in Africa, and I felt equal to carrying on the tradition.

The driver, now seated on top of the coach, with his understudy beside him, gathered up the reins, and in a sing-song voice called "All aboord!" A frisky mule here and there would do a little side-stepping and the sleepy ones jerk up there heads. The whip was flourished and cracked, and then in a high-pitched voice the driver yelled: "Ais" - a magic word well understood by all mules! We galloped down the street to the tootling of the horn, swinging along with a loud clatter over stony ways. Here and there a hat was waved as we passed along, and shouts of "Hal-l-o-o!" were given as a parting cheer. The arrival or departure of a coach is a moment of interest, I think, the world over.

Soon the mules settled down to their travelling pace. We were interested in the country around, and the roads were good. Short stops for meals at stores adjacent to the stables; then on and on again, right through the night. the baby was seldom out of my arms. It was a relief that first night when the little one slept. The quiet was a rest. Just the groaning and straining of the coach and the driver's gibberish, as he spoke incessantly to the mules. They seemed to understand him, and he to know them individually.

Oh! how tired we were towards night. The only sleep we got was sitting, or rather slacking, in our seats. Perhaps our heads would rest on the next man's shoulder. If he was of a kindly nature he would let it rest there. If not, he would hitch his shoulder up and give you a bump on the ear!

On and on we went, day and night. Then the roads got rough and we were bumped about badly. I think it was at Nylstroom that a dry storm came up at night; the thunder, lightning, and the wind were very bad, and the bumping and tossing of the coach rather alarming. Finally the driver told us to get out and walk, as the road was rough and washed out.

We stumbled down a deep rough valley; the baby clasped tightly in my arms. I was fearful lest I fall, but the vivid flashes of lightning helped us on our way, and we hall-o-e-d to each other as we lost each other in the darkness. Presently we reached the waiting coach, and with sighs of relief sank into our seats, and closed the doors on the stormy night.

The dawn was always greeted with a fresh spurt of life, tired and grimy as we were.
The children showed signs of fatigue after we left Pietersburg. The food was getting worse, and no fresh milk to be had.
Another stage and we reached the Limpopo. I do not know what it is like in daytime, but Rhodes's drift was very picturesque in the evening light. The river was in flood and there were wagons and camp fires on either bank - oxen tied along the trek chains and others being herded into lines preparatory to being tied on. there was the more modest donkey with jingling bells, and the hum of life all round. We would be here an hour or two as the coach had to cross on the pontoon.

I laid the babies flat on the ground to rest their limbs, and wandered around. Nearby was a Boer camp with a native stirring, stirring the ubiquitous three-legged pot with a stick with short prongs at the end. He rubbed the stick to and fro between the palms of his hands.

There were "Tantas" in kappies and bearded "Pas" with their veldt-schoened children around. Presently "tanta" raised her voice and all crowded round, for the evening meal was served. There was a savoury cakes, mingled with the smell of coffee which made me very hungry.
When rusks were handed round, I could contain myself no longer. I begged a few for the babies, and they were willingly given. I also drank coffee and ate with those kindly people - taking some food back for the little boy. We were contented and happy as we sat together looking at a wagon being hauled out of the river by two spans of oxen.
I noticed that the language used to the ox was not quite the same as was used to the mule. Slowly the wagon jerked out of the drift. Quite sad was the sight of dank dead fowls that lay on the bottom of the coop whick was tied beneath the wagon. From between the bars of the coop their necks, which always seem longer after death, were mournfully swaying to and fro as the wagon jolted out of the drift. Error of judgement, and the rising river had resulted in this tragedy of hen life.

The passengers and the coach crossed the river in the pontoon and soon we left the camp behind us.

+ + + +

The country around the Limpopo was marshy owing to the recent rains, and in the night we were hopelessly stuck in a bog. Shouts of "Ais", and the whip, helped us not at all.
Soon the driver's muddy face appeared at the window, and we were ordered to "climb out". And so, out into a wet and drizzling night we climbed.
With the babies wrapped up, we patiently sat in the mud and waited for the coach to "pull out". At last the driver exclaimed that the mules were done up and oxen must be found to pull us out.

I wandered off to a dreary-looking fire in the shelter of a transport rider's wagon. I was very tired, so we laid ourselves down amongdt the sleeping forms around. Were they black or white, I know not. We were soon fast asleep with a fine rain falling on us. How I hated moving when I heard the driver's "All ab-o-o-r-d."

My brother helped me carry the crying children. Seated in the coach I changed some of their clothes in the dark, feeding them to stop their crying. On and on and on.

The next place I remember is Tuli - the place that was then fortified with bully-beef tins. It is a dreary place, but the Police stationed there, in contrast to ourselves, were clean and cheerful. How kind they were! The food and hut they gave us - so welcome. A little delay, for they told us "The Shashi is up." This is a wide and sandy river that flows past the fort. It was at the moment more than a mile across.

The driver, after scanning the river, and with much consultaion with his coloured brethren - decided to cross. The Police carrying the babies, and making much of them, escorted us to the drift.

Seated in th coach, we waved our good-byes and thanks to them, and we plunged into the river. Steadily and slowly we moved, keeping upstream. Soon the water oozed in under the doors. We lifted our feet and dragged our precious parcels of food, etc., from underneath the seats. The water in the coach was rising, as we moved slowly along. Presently the coach stopped. The driver was shouting, but never a word could we hear with the muddy water hissing and swirling round the coach. The moments grew tense. We craned our necks out the windows, and the sight of that flood is vivid in my memory today. Ah! my babies and - !!

A commotion on the river bank. The driver clambered down the wheel into the water, and holding on to the coach, came round to a window telling us to have no fear for a boat was being launched and coming to our aid. The boat would take us across and we would get another coach on the other bank, and our coach would be pulled back to the fort.

We clambered out the coach windows as best we could, and so into the boat. We were not allowed to open the doors. I was full of deadly fear; the babies were so small and the boat was so wobbly, and the river steadily rising. However, off we pulled, feeling as if we were shipwrecked, and leaving our ship behind.

Our adventures were not quite over. The boat stuck in the sand, leaving many yards of water to be crossed before reaching dry land. This was a problem, as we had no dry shoes or clothes with us. However, some natives came to our aid, and pick-a-back carried us through the water. Some stumbled, and both carrier and carried had a bath. I was lucky sand got across quite dry. The boat went hurriedly back for the mail bags and what luggage could be brought.

We walked on through heavy sand. I was weak and tired with rough roads, little sleep, and scanty food. I could hardly get to the coach stable. Someone came back and helped me along and carried the baby.
After some delay we were again galloping on our way.

We seldom saw white people as we got further north. The food was bad and the children suffered. Somewhere further on, we reached a stable, and to our joy we were delayed again. The mules for the fresh team had stampeded, and had to be rounded up. This meant a chance to stretch our bodies along the ground, which was such a welcome rest, after being in a sitting day and night. It also meant a chance for a cup of tea and a rest. I found a native belonging to the store and asked for tea.
"Ikona baas, ikona tea, inkona manzi (water)," I was told.
"Rubbish," I answered, telling him his master could not live without water. Finally I gathered that the boss was trying to get a buck (shooting) and that if I went down to the dry river bed and dug in the sand, I'd find water. I went down to the so-called river, foud the sand, and began scratching a hole.Soon the sand was damp. Water! I then washed my dirty face and hands, and filled the "billy" (a small can). There was no time to make tea - so on we went.

Of the country we passed through I remember very little, excepting huge baobab trees - and babies. I wished the babies had been born grown up! The driver was always fussing over lost time. He had then been nine days on the road. On and on we went day and night.

We were quite merry on the 31st March, as we were to arrive in Bulawayo during the day. For some reason we were delayed, and there was much grumbling. However at last we were on the very last span of the journey!

We entered Bulawayo through what is now the south suburbs. Then across a running stream, the Matjesumshlope. How we craned our heads to get a glimpse of Bulawayo - "The place of slaughter."

Tootle, tootle, to-o-o-t-le-to! Then a wild and rousing air was played on the coachman's horn. Sometimes it was sad and sobbing, sometimes loud and shrill.
With extra shouts and many calls of "Ais" we put on a spurt and galloped into town. As the sound of the bugle died away we drew up before the Charter Hotel, opposite what is now the Bulawayo Club - at that time a dusty, bushy stand.
Men crowded round the coach, asking news of the "Old Colony." It seemed years since we left the "Old Colony," but I forgot we were carrying His Majesty's mails!

Kind strangers took the little ones; and soon I found the place I sought. And thus, on All Fools Day, 1895, we began our lives in what we thought was a great and glorious land of promise - Rhodesia.

" Mr Maxwell Edwards
(Retired Surveyor General of the Transvaal)
having forty winks in a corner seat of the coach"

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----------Mrs. Enid Kerr's Capsize----------

One of the most dangerous experiences while crossing a flooded river on the way to Bulawayo happened to a friend of mine, Mrs. Enid Kerr, a slight little woman and delicate, but always cheerful and with the endurance and pluck of an Amazon. Her two children, Muriel and Lance Kerr, accompanied her to Matableland, and Lance has kindly answered my request for the story of that dreadful journey as follows:-

"I think I was about three, and Muriel five, when we left the Colony. A few of my own memories are still clear. They remain in the mind like quick snapshots - each little picture being surrounded (as it were) by periods of complete darkness - blanks. "My father came up alone to Bulawayo early in 1894; and my mother set out to follow, about October in the same year.
"Rhodes! Lobengula! Matabele warriors! Gold!

"Here in a nutshell is the magic of Romance that threw a spell over us in those strange days!

" Our journey to El Dorado began at Pietersburg. Zeederberg's coach! More romance! Twelve passengers - mother, her two children, a schoolmistress, and eight men.

"This journey was perhaps one of the most difficult ever undertaken by Zeederberg's transport in those days. Unusually heavy rains had set in. The scheduled time was about a week from Pietersburg to Bulawayo. We were six weeks on the road. Provisions ran out. By a miracle of foresight, mother had provided an abundant supply of cocoa, which softened down the conditions of famine.

" Progress was made until we reached the Shashi river.

"My own recollections of the disaster here is as clear as though it was an incident of yesterday. I can see the huge rumbling, red and yellow coach (like some fantastic vehicle in a Japanese play), the Cape boy driver, the mules, the whole show being urged into a wide swirl of yellow, racing water. We got half way. The mules got out of hand. They simply collapsed; lay down and drowned themselves. they refused to have anything more to do with Zeederberg's ideas about reaching Bulawayo.

"The water rose and rose. I can see it sliding through the windows. Everybody scrambled on top of the coach. Something funny seemed to begin in the sand below; and slowly the whole thing toppled over.
"Clearest of all, is the sight of my mother's tin hat box floating away in the stream.

"A strong arm seized me. We were all rescued, and I see a vague picture of a forlorn band of people huddled together on the bank.We returned to the bank from which we entered the drift.

"A half dead very old lion was discovered on a mound nearby and it was shot. Soup was made. I like soup, and chefs go to a lot of trouble to find new recipes, but this one, I consider, was quite the most original ever recorded in history!

"The starving business continued.

"The driver and leader proposed, when the river subsided, to walk on ahead to a store, where that affable and hardy old Irishman, Michael Rorke, hearing of our plight, sat up all night baking bread for us.
He sent off as heavy a load of provisions as they could carry, but their hunger got them beat. They sat down on the road and wolfed the lot, then crawled sheepishly back to the coach with nothing. I cannot remember how we managed, apart from supplies of cocoa, until news reached my father in Bulawayo, who immediately set out to find us in a fast Scotch cart. Charlie Judge (a Kimberley man who was afterwards lost in the veld) accompanied him.

" He reached the river to find it flooded; and we stared at one another from opposite banks.
"Memories of my infant anguish come floating back. My father was a splendid swimmer. He tied up a bundle of food on his back, and after a dangerous struggle, got across. In days when men "did things" this was considered a remarkable effort.

"The schoolmistress buckled a revolver on her belt, and together with one of the passengers, trudged on foot to Bulawayo. They got in after a trying time.
"The journey was continued eventually on a relief coach, and finally my mother, barefooted, in rags and tatters, but hopeful, stepped off the coach at Zeederberg's office in Bulawayo - undefeated. Muriel arrived in Bulawayo a wreck and could not walk for weeks."

"The stage coach leaving Salisbury for Bulawayo
on its last journey before the opening of the railway line."

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NOTES AND COMMENTS:

This is an account written by Annie McDonald (m. Fletcher) which appeared in "Experiences of Rhodesian Pioneer Women", by Jeannie M. Boggie.
The book was first published in 1938 [?] A third edition was published by
Philpott & Collins in 1954[?]


Annie was born in Queenstown, eastern Cape Province, in 18xx. She was of the third generation of McDonalds born there. Her mother died when she was xx, and she had to take her place in the household, with two younger sisters. As a result she is said to have suffered from a schooling point of view, but to have made up for it by her own efforts in reading. This can be seen from a number of other writings by her in a somewhat similar "essay style". This particular piece is clearly something she wrote a long time after the events she describes, which happened when she was xx years of age. She was travelling to Bulawayo to join her husband R.A. Fletcher, who in 1894 joined his brother Pat and a mutual college friend, William Espin, as partners in a firm of land surveyors.
Links:

  • We (I?) Went to Rhodes' Funeral.

  • Going into Laager, 1896 Matabele Rebellion
  • In the Laager (Byo Club etc)
  • On the eve of her son Hugh going to War.
  • A Collection of her letters

* The sister in law: Jean? Murray? Isobel?

* Her brother: Robert Philip ("Bob")McDonald who settled in Rhodesia. He married and had eight/nine daughters. [See links]

* William Maxwell Edwards, who is shown in a photo "snoozing" in a coach, was a young surveyor associated with the firm Fletcher & Espin in its busiest times. He was born in the West Indies.
There is something problematic about the photo however. There is no mention of him or photography in her account of the trip. In the photo he appears too young to have already retired as the Surveyor General of the Transvaal!
But it is possible that he was on this coach, travelling to join the firm in Bulawayo.
He is said to have been there during the Rebellion 1896.
There is a letter to him from the office of Fletcher & Espin, surveyors:
"Mr W.M. Maxwell Edwards, Shashani River survey camp, 21st November 95."
While later employed by the Transvaal Government he was released/allowed by them to do further work for Fletcher & Espin in 1905/6/ during work on Northern Transvaal farm surveys.
Further references:

s2a3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science. serial 844

* "Drift". A term much used in that part of the world
for a river crossing or fording place. [Drif: Afrik?]

* "Matjesumshlope" [amatche amhlope = white stones. (Ndebele.)]
The stream running through Bulawayo from the granite kopjes of Hillside. An area through which the coach would have come from the south.
[Old Gwanda Road etc]

* Charter Hotel:

* "Old Colony": the Cape Colony, from where they had travelled part of their way through the Transvaal Republic.

* Enid Kerr:

Biographical material, references etc..

* The Autograph Albums:
During 190x a number of people from Britain - members of the British South Africa Co., and members of the British Soc/Assoc? went to Rhodesia on a trip or fact finding mission, perhaps as a result of growing local discontent with the Chartered Company.
Somebody, perhaps the Kerrs, saw this as an opportunity to get material for an autograph book from the visitors and other people with a history or interest in the founding of Rhodesia.
At least three albums of material resulted, because Annie Fletcher's sister Ida acquired three. It is not known how Ida came to have them; she undoubtedly knew the Kerr family.
Elwyn Fletcher thinks she might have heard her father-in-law Peter say that Ida, his mother, bought them.

* "Cape boy driver": either a black or a Coloured person from the Cape Colony, where animal drawn wheeled transport first came into use in that part of the world.
As European influence spread eastwards, black tribes of the Eastern Cape found work in this way. In particular the people called Fingos (amaFengu) played an important part in transport riding to Rhodesia. To the extent that Cecil Rhodes gave 6000 acres of freehold land to a group of 26 Fingo families, at Bembesi, north of Bulawayo.

Link Fingos etc Link : "The Blanket Vote"

* Rorke family. Essexvale; Crocodile Valley ;etc etc

* Scotch cart: small two-wheeled wagon, pulled by donkeys or oxen.

* Sby Byo railway line opened when?

Last Modified 14/8/2017

For possibly related matters see f-j-a Index.

William Maxwell Edwards.
Photo source: s2a3

Links:

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