The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 4

Although there had been times when Dunbar Moodie was helpful and had behaved as a reputable citizen, his general behaviour left much to be desired and many complaints were made about him.

Dissatisfaction with Moodie�s handling of land led the Surveyor-General to say that no land transactions were to go through him. People who had been granted farms were allowed to peg out their own land and send a sketch upon which provisional title would be issued, and the final survey had to be done by a duly admitted surveyor and all correspondence conducted through the R.M.�s office.

Dunbar was incensed when Longden docked his ground to the original grant of 27 000 morgen. There were reports of his sawing timber on Crown lands, and he was convicted of trading gunpowder to natives for mealies, mealiemeal and other produce.

On one occasion when he was summonsed on a charge of assault, he asked if in view of the disturbed state of the country the case could be postponed, as he felt that it was not safe to leave a family totally unprotected and many difficulties rendered absence from home almost impossible. The case was heard some weeks later, and Dunbar was found guilty and fined �10 or three months� imprisonment with hard labour.

On another occasion Moodie was fined for his behaviour towards Meredith, and then tried to circulate false and malicious rumours about him, Meredith reported the matter to the Chief Native Commissioner, who asked Longden for comment, adding that �I have great faith in Meredith and trust that with your assistance he will put Moodie to the right-about. Two Almighties are unheard of, and I feel sure that the Spiritual will not brook the interference of the Bodily in Melsetter.�

In spite of his faults, Dunbar Moodie must be recognised as a man of vision, as it was entirely due to his original efforts that the first settlement of Melsetter took place. Early in 1897 he died of malaria.

In January 1897 the boundary was finally settled along the Vigliani Line. Some farms fell into Portuguese territory and it took time for everyone to know just where the boundary was. Mrs. Sarah Moodie wrote-to Longden in April: �Kindly let me know if you have received the death notice of my poor husband, and what I am to do next. My health is failing, and I am extremely anxious to have matters settled. Re Portuguese boundary, please tell me may I continue completing my house? We hear conflicting reports to the effect that we have fallen in their territory. I am all alone, forsaken by God and Man.� Kenilworth is actually well within Rhodesia.

After Orpen�s initial surveys, the Rhodesian surveyors who were mainly involved in the very difficult survey between Rhodesia and Mozambique were R. S. T. Fairbridge Fairbridge and A. E. Wayland. The survey necessitated long treks through mountainous broken country and all along the top of the Chimanimani Mountains, with the highest international beacon on Point 71 at 8 000 feet above sea level.

All who met Fairbridge remember him as a very colourful character. He had led a difficult life doing surveys in many lonely stretches of Africa, and this resulted in some eccentricities. He came to Rocklands in a donkey wagon, wearing a red sash round his waist which was his towel: he told Marthinus Martin (grandson of the leader of the Martin Trek) that only lazy men bathed and that a man who worked and sweated should rub himself down. He was very well-read: when Marthinus said he was planting Burbank wheat, Fairbridge was immediately able to tell him the whole story of that variety.

L. M. McBean joined Fairbridge as a young survey assistant in 1923 at his extraordinary house at Kingsley Farm near Old Umtali, which consisted of one very large room with thick drystone walls, no windows, one stable door, and a roof of large tarpaulins supported on poles of various lengths.
His African squatters paid their rent in produce, and each morning Fairbridge sat before a huge ledger and entered the tithes brought to him. He was a most interesting man, and never tired of telling stories of the old days. In spite of long treks and a very frugal way of living he was very fit: small and thin, but hard as nails, and wiry and tough. He believed in sandbaths rather than washing in water, and used to sit in his sandpit and throw the sand over his naked body just outside the doorway.
McBean�s first meal with him smelt a bit queer, and when pressed to say what it was Fairbridge proudly said it was stewed rat. On McBean�s enquiring for the alternative he was directed to biltong hanging up on a string. Strings went across the room from wall to wall, and on them hung clothes, biltong, bunches of bananas and many other oddments.
Occasionally a rat would start off to investigate, and all would go well until the string began to wobble as the rat reached the middle of the room, where it hesitated. This moment of indecision was the signal for Fairbridge (and McBean after a bit) to throw things at it � anything: boots, tin plates, -enamel mugs. There was nothing in the place to break, and, if they got him, that was supper for that night.
Out on fieldwork his lunch would consist of a rough mealie-meal cookie smeared with crude fat and placed on the nearest antheap for about 20 minutes; the other half of the cookie would then be slapped on top: result, ant-sandwich, all wriggly. �Delicious�, said Fairbridge, and consumed it with relish.

Wayland did the full survey of Melsetter farms in 1897, work which can scarcely be faulted today. It has not been possible to ascertain exactly how or by whom the farms were named. Doubtless Wayland chose many names himself, and it seems likely that some, such as Westard Ho! and Kingsley, were suggested by Fairbridge who was a keen admirer of the novelist Charles Kingsley and possibly Albany from his earlier Grahamstown association. Some, such as Tilbury (James Tilbury English) and Lavina�s Rust (Johanna Levina van Zyl) were chosen by their first owners. Presumably also the Dutch names, mostly descriptive of the views from the farms, were chosen by the original owners and were probably in use before the formal survey was completed. In chiNdau Nzuzu is the name for a water-sprite � according to legend one lived in the deep pool on Mount Peni, and so the name Mermaid�s Grotto was chosen.

By 1897 Melsetter Township had been laid out with about 400 stands demarcated and according to the Stand Register over 100 had been taken up by September at prices varying between �30 and �120. Survey fees of �3 were due with the first of the four instalment payments, and the B.S.A. Co. charged 8% interest on arrear instalments, although in many instances the full amount was never paid and there is no further record of the would-be purchasers.

Longden found that the Company�s tardiness in paying accounts made things awkward for him, and warned that in future he would have great difficulty in making purchases as people seemed indisposed to sell to the Company if they had to wait such a long time for payment. He continued to appeal to Salisbury for more silver for salary payments, but cash was a problem which continued over the years.

At the Police Camp Inspector Nesbitt, Sergeant Herbert Remmer, and Trooper Joe Nesbitt had some troubles with Police personnel. Native Constable Peter Jackson aged 46, an American Negro born in Philadelphia, was charged in March 1897 with theft of fowls and cooking utensils and with shooting at natives with intent to murder. Jackson and another policeman, Kataza, had been sent to find an escaped prisoner, and Jackson�s defence on the theft charge was that his carriers complained of being hungry and he told them to collect some chickens. He had fired into the air to intimidate the escaped prisoner�s relatives as he did not get any co-operation from them in his search, and had impressed some � who complained that they were handcuffed and legironed � to work on Steyn�s farm. Kataza said that when he was in a hut with the women he heard a revolver fired, and Jackson called him to come out with his gun and he ran out and fired in the air.
All evidence, including that of the two Native Constables, was signed by thumb prints. Peter Jackson was committed for trial on the charge of theft and was gaoled in Melsetter pending his removal to Umtali for trial. He escaped that night by climbing through the thatch of the gaol roof, and there is no further record of him.

Another Native Constable, Long Tom, started working for Dunbar Moodie in 1894 as groom, wagondriver and ploughman until he joined the Police in 1895. By 1899, aged 35, he was the prison warder. In May, accused of being drunk and using threatening language to members of the B.S.A. Police on lawful execution of their duty, he was received into prison and paid the �2 fine. Two weeks later he was re-admitted and charged with absenting himself from duty without leave, being drunk and incapable within the gaol precincts, and disobeying the gaoler�s orders. He paid the �5 in preference to one month with Hard Labour, and was discharged from the service.

In 1897 the Medical Director, Dr. Fleming, enquired whether the doctor at the American Mission would be willing to undertake district work at usual District Surgeon�s salary of �200 a year and horse and horse allowance and Dr. W. L. Thompson of Mount Selinda Mission filled in the application form. The Acting Administrator decided that his New York degree was not recognised in Rhodesia, that he could not be authorised to engage in private practice to the detriment of other qualified and licensed practitioners, and that the licence issued by the late Dunbar Moodie was quite irregular and insufficient for the purpose for which it was intended. He added that the decision did not interfere with Dr. Thompson�s right to practise as a member of the Mission.

Dr. Thompson considered this to be a distinct breach of faith on the part of the Government and a personal insult to himself. �When I settled here four years ago the local Government official demanded to inspect my diplomas and certificates. After full correspondence the Administrator, himself a medical practitioner, granted me a licence to practise medicine. This licence was made out on a printed Government form, stamped with a Government �5 stamp, and signed by a Government official. You say this was an irregular proceeding. Even if it were irregular, that does not prove it invalid. If the Administrator was satisfied that, though my diploma was not from a college �recognised in Rhodesia�, it was still proper to grant me a licence, surely he had the power and authority to do so.

�It is only with the approval of the Mission that I have attempted to wait upon the settlers, and any revenue belongs to the Mission. For the sake of suffering humanity �there being no other medical aid available � I have, regardless of storm or danger and great difficulties of travel, attended by night and day to the cause of the sick, and have attended the majority of the settlers including Government officials and employees. My right or ability to do this has never been called in question.�

Salisbury decided to accept Dr. Thompson�s qualifications and he continued to serve the district. The horse allowance of �5 per month was paid regularly up to 1923 for the doctor at Mount Silinda, who looked after urgent cases in Chipinga long after a District Surgeon was stationed at Melsetter.

In March 1897 three missionaries of the South Africa General Mission, Raney, Coupland and Kidd, were sent to do pioneer work on the eastern border of Rhodesia. They travelled by ship to Beira and by rail to Chimoio. From there they trekked on foot with carriers who eventually deserted them, carrying off most of their food and equipment. Much time was lost in an effort to recover these necessities, and they were physically very weak when they reached their destination.

In October Dr. Thompson wrote from Silinda introducing them to Longden and recommending their Mission for any assistance he could render. Longden arranged that they should set up their Station on the Rusitu river, and they built huts and prepared for the rainy season. It was then decided that John Coupland should stay with what remained of their supplies while the others returned to railhead to obtain more. From Chimoio Kidd returned to Cape Town to report on their situation.

When Raney got back he found Coupland very ill with malaria. The neighbours, the Humans of Uitkyk and the Moolmans of Voorspoed, were away and Raney had no one to whom he could turn for help. He sat down beside his companion, very much distressed and discouraged. Coupland told him not to be troubled, as if he died it would be a promotion. He died on 14th November and Raney buried him the following day at Uitkyk. Over the grave he placed a stone on which he carved the word PROMOTION and the date.

The place where the missionaries had settled was under the jurisdiction of Chief Muwushu and his sub-chief Dzingire, who were averse to these strangers invading the country and opposed to granting them any land, although many years later Dzingire testified that he could never forget helping to bury the first missionary and that always in his heart was the thought that Christianity must be a great thing when a white man was willing to die for the sake of telling it to others. Chief Ngorima gave permission for them to settle in his territory, and the Mission moved to the present site at Chingwekwe, although from the beginning it was called  Rusitu.

  The Melsetter-Umtali road was a major problem, and in 1897 the Umtali Magistrate said that of all the road work
needed in his district this one was first and foremost, and he hoped that Longden would back him up in pressing its urgency and need of improvement and repair. He considered that setting the road in proper working order would be an advantage to everybody, and that if the rinderpest inoculation proved successful Melsetter people would ride transport and reduce the very heavy rates of 20/- per 100 lbs.
He and Longden met at the Umvumvumvu river and discussed what was needed, as the old road was almost impassable and it was a marvel how wagons travelled over it at all. �4 000 was then provided on the Estimates, and a new route was chosen, considerably shorter than the old and with easier gradients, on which Wayland surveyed and reserved Government outspans at convenient distances between the Township and the Umvumvumvu river. The railway reached Umtali in 1898, after which the hazardous route to Chimoio was gradually discontinued for transport to Melsetter.

Mails sometimes missed catching the Salisbury coach: the runners with the incoming mails were so exhausted on reaching Melsetter that they could not leave immediately with the outgoing mail, and sending out for further runners meant a further delay.

By 1898 a further 100 stands in Melsetter Township had been bought, and there were about 50 residents in the town and about 450 men, women and children in the district. In the township two stores and three dwelling houses of brick under corrugated iron were erected, and blue and red gums, casuarinas and black wattle trees were growing well on both sides of the principal streets. The water supply was considered to be very good, and a watercourse down the centre of the town from north to south satisfactorily met the requirements of the inhabitants.

Arrangements were made to have a sale of stands facing the Market Square, the price to be �80 each, and Longden suggested that other stands should also be offered for public auction on the same day as several residents were desirous of obtaining stands on the outskirts of the town.