The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 6

Between 1903 and 1905 problems continued but some progress was made in spite of difficulties.

The Melsetter Farmers� and Transport Aid Board, consisting of the C.C., M. J. Martin and H. du Plessis, was given to understand that farmers were compelled to take donkeys at �19 or get no assistance at all. 307 animals arrived in very bad condition and 77 died prior to allotment: it was learned later that Melsetter was sent the rejects after others had had first choice. Of the 229 taken by 30 farmers many died, not from want of care but from disease, the remedies for which (if any) were unknown locally.
The price caused great dissatisfaction and donkeys were a complete failure for transport riding; for ploughing they were some use and although there was no market for agricultural produce farmers were able to make sufficient to keep their families in food and the issue of Government supplies to farmers in reduced circumstances was discontinued. These supplies had been charged to the recipients but the CC. was unable to collect the money owing and there seemed no prospect of anything being paid for a long while as the farmers were poverty-stricken since the loss of their cattle and had made nothing out of the donkeys.

A review of the first year at the School showed that of the 29 children in school 19 were aged between 14 and 20, but only two were beyond Std. II. Most had such a limited knowledge of English that very little apparent progress could be made in a term, but parents withdrew children whenever they could not find the �2.10 for any one term. The fluctuation in numbers was disconcerting: the school had opened with four and numbers got as high as 32, but two pupils only attended for the whole year, and 25 were there for one term only; and it seemed utterly impossible to lead parents to see how much was lost by such irregular attendance especially when a new language was being learned, and during absence from school scarcely a word of English was heard.
Miss Gilson had to battle against the indifference and apathy of parents, many of whom considered their children�s education finished even before they had completed Std. III, and she asked whether the Government could afford to have 100 girls and boys growing up unable to read and write English. A startling fact the Inspector learned was that some white people were in the habit of taking letters they received to be read by natives who had been educated at Mission schools. Extraordinary excuses were given for not sending children to school: one was that it was not worth while to provide clothing if Government help was to be for one term only; and another was that children were made to work at school, the girls keeping their rooms and their own effects in order and the boys making furniture: such work was said to be natives� work, although one objector was known to have employed his daughter at home handing up bricks when he was building his house.
The Inspector said that the Dutch Reformed Minister and such influential men as Martin gave no countenance to these objections, and he felt that probably the root of all objections was that no Dutch was taught but as the children were so far behind in the official language of the country at present all their time must be devoted to that tongue. In June 1903, after considerable pressure had been exerted, the Government extended the arrangement for financial assistance for one year.

The six cell gaol was on occasion found inadequate and more prisoners were incarcerated than was considered advisable by the District Surgeon, and the Magistrate recommended that special apartments should be provided for female prisoners and for the confinement of persons of unsound mind. The average annual expenditure for each prisoner was �8.8.7d for discipline and 18/- for maintenance.
The Postmaster-Genera] asked for a confidential report on the manner in which the Post Office was being conducted, as the Postmaster was not properly attending to his duties and might be giving way to intemperate habits. Longden replied that the officer apparently conducted himself with propriety. He had inspected the Post Office and found it being conducted in a satisfactory manner and the entries in the books corresponded with the vouchers produced: on checking the postage stamps a surplus of 3d was found, explained by the fact that a customer had deposited 1/- to meet charges which might arise and 7d of this had been used, leaving a balance of 3d. In reply to the complaint that the postmaster was irregular in calling on the telegraph, Longden pointed out that this might be accounted for by the fact that the line was in a very faulty condition and disconnections were frequent; he himself had been repeatedly inconvenienced by the line being down, and in his opinion the continual repairing of a decayed line was false economy and the substitution of iron poles would be far cheaper in the end. In 1904 the telegraph line between Umtali and Melsetter was repoled with iron poles.

In 1903 William George Rose arrived as District Surgeon: his Australian drawl, husky voice and dry sense of humour are characteristics still remembered. For many years all his practice was on horseback or on foot through rain, heat, flood, storms and swollen rivers, and many tributes are paid to his memory as the most wonderful man who never failed to come when needed.

A detailed early report on a visit many miles from the Doctor�s home shows his thoroughness: he proceeded to a kraal on the Tanganda river to examine a woman alleged to have been assegaied. She had received a 1�� wound on the left side between the ribs, which was such as might have been caused by an assegai and which had penetrated the chest wall; there was a protrusion of lung through the wound, which had united at its edges all round. The doctor considered that the wound was not likely to prove fatal.

A fair start had been made in curing tobacco for export, and Longden was so interested in the prospects that for his leave he travelled to America to study the industry. While there he met and married Mary Doone, whose charm and beauty fascinated everyone. From her sophisticated Baltimore backtound she came to her new home at The Gwasha, where she gave superb dinner parties and made chocolates, sweets and icecreams �unknown until then in Melsetter; she was a talented musician and a fearless horse-rider. On a visit to Port Elizabeth Longden collected Mani, his present from Gungunyana whom his mother had brought up, and Mani worked at The Gwasha for some years as a handyman and cook.

Marthinus Martin continued throughout those difficult early years to lead the community and was chosen to represent them on many occasions. His education, resourcefulness, dependability, good husbandry and qualities of leadership all contributed to the high esteem and affection in which he was held by everyone. The whole district was very much saddened when, after a hunting trip with Mrs. Martin to Mozambique, he contracted a severe dose of malaria and died, aged 51, on 3rd September 1903.

At the end of the year Longden paid tribute to Martin and du Plessis, who at some inconvenience had met with him weekly on the Transport Aid Board. Martin died before the Board�s work was completed, but du Plessis was a little disappointed at not receiving some practical recognition of his services and, as he was in rather poor circumstances through cattle losses, Longden suggested that a cheque for �12 be sent to him by the Government.

In planning to build a school the Managers had ground cleared and fenced, trees planted, and bricks made, and in 1904 they forwarded elaborate plans with a request for a loan of �3 000. The Government turned this down and said that building should be started on a very simple scale with the bricks on hand, but the Mission had no funds for building and, confidently counting upon a loan, had already incurred heavy expense in making bricks and ordering building material.

Accommodation for staff and boarders was in rented houses, one of which was the parsonage at �25 per annum, which was an awkward arrangement as it had to be at the disposal of the Kerkraad at
Nachtmaal times.