The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 5

In 1900 the Anglo-Boer war caused a general depression which severely affected trade and commerce. Freight by ship and rail was very difficult to obtain and there were constant delays on Beira Railways. Melsetter residents had to pay carriage at the rate of 10/- per 100 lbs, soon afterwards increased to 15/-, from Umtali, where prices were already very high and increased by the institution of Customs Duties.

For supplies to road parties and Government Departments Martin charged 30/- per 200-lb bag of mealies, 33/- to 34/- a 200-lb bag of oofoo (mealiemeal), 45/- per 100-lb bag of salt, and 9d per bundle for oats. Every wagon came to grief in delivering supplies to Chipinga, and Martin complained about the state of the road.

Native administration was affected by a new Ordinance under which lobolo, or marriage compensation, had to be paid in full at the time of marriage, the advantages of which were fully realised by older and more intelligent natives especially those with marriageable daughters, but the younger ones preferred the old system whereby wives could be obtained on credit and the lobolo paid over a long period of years.

Judicial work was light as crime among the European population was practically nonexistent and the 500 Settlers had proved themselves most orderly and law-abiding, and civil jurisdiction work was also very light as the settlers were averse to litigation except in extreme cases and also there was difficulty in obtaining legal advice as there were no local practitioners.

Cases came before the court of witchcraft, abduction, house-breaking, man-stealing, fraud, theft, contraventions of the Village Management Regulations, Master & Servants� Act, and Game Preservation Ordinance. The Magistrate felt that these native cases were serious and represented only a very small percentage of the crimes actually committed because the police force was so small and ill-mounted it was impossible to patrol the country thoroughly, and European farmers were not keen on giving evidence which would lead to criminal prosecutions as their being called as witnesses would entail having to travel long distances to and from the Court, in most cases on foot, and their absence would leave their wives, families and stock without protection.

The Farmers� Association said that it was necessary for the welfare and protection of farmers that an experienced and competent Cattle Inspector be appointed, as the duties of the Native Commissioner prevented his devoting sufficient time and attention to this work. There had been several losses from lung sickness, and one farmer had lost 100 head of valuable breeding cattle in two months which he attributed to the laxity in administration of quarantine regulations. In June C. E. Owen was appointed Cattle Inspector at a salary of �200 per annum.

The Agricultural Department imported Algerian Rust Resisting Oats for distribution among farmers, and Wayland reported having located deposits of lime. The delimitations on his inspection plan of 72 farms were approved, of which some details are of interest:

the position of Dunblane had to be sorted out as the beacons were originally located before the Anglo-Portuguese boundary was delineated; on Westfield and Jameson the areas were below the amount to which the owners were entitled; objections were dealt with on the boundary between Orange Grove and Roede; and a specific inspection was made with regard to the farm Tarka or Glenmore, which included the farm Glencoe.

Iron rails and plates were received for the demarcation of the boundary and, as no other transport was available, Wayland tried to get them from the township to the boundary in his field wagon, but owing to the very bad state of the road and its absence in places the wagon collapsed when a hind wheel broke. Longden�s wagon suffered a similar fate, and Wayland then used the four front wheels and managed to proceed under immense difficulties.

In 1900 the F.A. said that the law prohibiting the shooting of bushbuck in this district was unnecessary and asked for the relevant clause to be deleted from the Game Law. They pointed out that bushbuck were well protected by their habits and the nature of the country; in spite of indiscriminate shooting they seemed to have increased in numbers, they did much damage to crops, and farmers depended largely on them for meat supplies.
At the same time apparently universal contraventions of the Game Preservation Ordinance by both whites and natives caused concern to the Magistrate, who said that only two cases had been brought to light during the year yet he was told on all sides that shooting of all descriptions of game continued both in and out of the close season, and while very few licences were taken out all farmers were in the habit of shooting game. A few years later he was pleased to report convictions for shooting Royal Game which was an offence difficult to prove and committed often.

Dr. W. T. Lawrence took over at Mount Silinda Mission, and his qualifications were queried in much the same way as Dr. Thompson�s had been three years earlier. When the Chief Secretary asked for Dr. Lawrence�s diplomas to be submitted to see if they would qualify him to be registered, the Rev. F. W. Bates replied that Dr. Lawrence was a graduate of a leading New York medical school which was not on the very meagre list of schools accepted by the Company. Dr. Lawrence was the only medical practitioner south of Melsetter and had already attended  settlers and expected more calls. Bates asked the Company to say whether he should refuse these calls: judging from experience it would be a life and death question. Dr. Lawrence�s qualifications were accepted and he continued to look after patients in the Chipinga area.
Dr. 1. Sutherland came to Melsetter as District Surgeon but died very suddenly a few months later: Mrs. Sutherland was left with two little children without any means of support and Longden asked the Government to pay her passage back to England.
A highlight of 1900 was the visit in July of Cecil John Rhodes, whose party had six horses and three mule-wagons, one of which was fitted up for anyone to travel in if he did not wish to ride and the others carried luggage, provisions and servants. It was delightful weather with cold nights and sunny days.

Rhodes was very pleased with his visit; he found the settlers contented and thriving and bravely determined to face and overcome all difficulties. He encouraged them to come to his camp and tell him their troubles, but found they had very few. He had a knack of making people feel at home, and arranged for coffee, cigars and cigarettes to be passed round while he chatted with them for hours. The settlers had absolute confidence in their leaders, Longden and le Roux, and lived together like a big family, sympathising in each others� troubles and gaining by others� experiences, and told Rhodes that they looked upon him as a father.
On one occasion Rhodes had his hat on a bench beside him: he lifted it up and put it on merely in order to raise it as a tribute to the people who had gone through so much. His visit was a great excitement for the children as he brought the first toys they had ever seen from a shop: Andries Kok received a beautiful grey wooden horse with a black mane and one foot up, with a scotchcart at the back, and attributes his continued love of horses partly to this gift.

It was hoped that Rhodes would allocate more land, and Prinsloo started the ball rolling by asking if he could have, for himself and his three sons, more than his 3 000 morgen. When asked if the farm were beneficially occupied, Prinsloo replied that they just lived there and had done no development, whereupon Rhodes said that if he worked it he would find it enough. That ended the discussion and no one asked for more land.

Rhodes took a great interest in Melsetter�s farming and visited many farms and outlined schemes for the importation of cattle, sheep and pigs for distribution with payment to extend over four years carrying 5% interest. He also discussed the care of a bull which he had previously imported for Melsetter farmers; the erection of a Pioneer Memorial to which he promised a donation; and expressed his dissatisfaction with the pole-and-dagga huts which served as Government buildings and Magistrate�s quarters, and gave Longden 30 acres for a house for himself. Rhodes was sorry when the time came to leave, and the people showed genuine regret when he shook hands with them on his departure.

Shortly afterwards pigs were imported and offered for sale at �2 each, with the purchasers guaranteeing to keep them for breeding purposes for two years. The bull was in Longden�s care and a camp was made for it: a little later the Chief Accountant telegraphed indignantly about the animal for which the Government had built a special kraal and had paid 30/- a month for herding it, and asked in what circumstances it had been allowed to stray into a bog. The circumstances remain unknown, but apparently the bull suffered no damage, and soon a new camp was made for it with a shed of rough bush timber and a galvanised iron roof as Longden felt it was dangerous to place a valuable animal in an ordinary shed of wattle and thatch on account of risk by fire.

Longden, having been encouraged by Rhodes to draw up plans for his own house, built The Residency, commonly known as The Gwasha (wooded ravine), and developed the site with a well-laid out beautiful garden, orchard and tree plantation.

�3000 had been placed on the Estimates for the Government Building, and Longden reported that the 150000 bricks made by Brent were ready for official inspection, and told the Public Works Department that he had shown the cover plans and specifications to Rhodes, who had agreed that it was necessary to erect the public offices without delay and that the proposed expensive gaol was unnecessary. Longden urged that, if the funds available were inadequate to complete the whole building according to plan, three cells only should be erected which would meet all present requirements, and the whole front block of offices be started immediately.
Building started under the supervision of a P.W.D. foreman to whom Longden gave specific instuctions regarding the fireplaces �an absolute necessity in winter � in all the offices, and the siting of the building, the stables and the urinals between the stables and the cells. The building was completed in 1901: the date, some initials and the name Remmer may be seen in the ornamental cement work at the sides of the main Courthouse door, and other initials are at the side of the Post Office door. In 1908 the Director of Public Works drew attention to the Melsetter Public Offices, erected under proper supervision at a cost of �2 250, repairs to which to that date amounted only to about �5.

An unsuitable teacher was employed at a farm school, whom Longden described as having made a scurrilous and libellous attack on English, and as unfit for appointment, disseminating erroneous information and causing agitation and unrest: in that community any person with the slightest pretence to a little learning, who would write their letters for them, and who was given to much reading of the Bible and the offering up of long prayers, would always be held by them only a little lower than the angels. The school was closed down shortly afterwards.

Lack of support for the Dutch Reformed Church School also led to its being closed in 1900 and no education was available for any Melsetter children. In 1900 and 1901 Longden called meetings of interested farmer-parents to discuss the problem, the biggest difficulty being the boarding and lodging of children as there was no suitable building nor anyone prepared to take on the supervision of a boarding establishment.
After discussion between Longden and Bates, it was arranged that a Managers� Committee of Mount Silnda Mission would run a school in the township. The Managers asked the Government for a grant of �300 a year, five acres of land and a loan towards the erection of buildings and purchase of school supplies, and undertook to supply the teachers and to erect the buildings. They laid down charges which they considered the very lowest possible. with an entrance fee of �2 towards furnishing the dormitories; the boarding department was to be open to all girls and to boys under 12 with board at a maximum of 10/- a week and 6d a week charged for washing; and tuition fees were 3/6d to 7/- a month according to grade with the pupils paying for books.
Conditions in the district were reasonably good and there seemed little doubt that these fees could be met by parents. The Mission�s parent Society in America was not at all certain that one of their missionaries would really want to teach white children and needed to be reassured, so there was some cabling between Silinda and Boston before permission was granted for the release of Miss Helen Gilson.

There was concern that no provision had yet been made on the Estimates for any hospital accommodation: patients from the country were continually being brought into town and, unless they were provided for by the kindness of local residents, there was no place for them to remain while being treated by the District Surgeon. A District Surgeon�s residence was also necessary, as the presence of a D.S. was imperative and no medical practitioner would stay if no house was provided.