The Story of Melsetter

In 1913 the B.S.A. Company in London considered the possibility of an aerial ropeway to Melsetter. For reports on the feasibility they approached two firms: Bleichert�s Aerial Transports, and Aerial Ropeways Ltd. who had recently landed the contract in Kashmir for an Aerial Rope Tramway. The Company�s Commercial Representative thought, after seeing photographs of Kashmir with scenery of the most mountainous description apparently offering difficulties far in excess of anything he had ever seen in Africa, that such a scheme might be feasible. Much technical correspondence followed, and, in order to get the necessary detailed report of requirements and terrain, arrangements were made for an irrigation engineer and an agriculturist to visit the Sabi Valley, Chipinga and Melsetter, but Longden had to advise against their being sent that year as heavy rains had started, and in December the Commercial Representative and Sir Charles Metcalfe decided that the cost of working and maintenance for such a long length of line would be prohibitive.

The B.S.A. Company stated that circumstances would not justify the construction of a railway, and the Melsetter Railway Committee asked for guarantees of better roads so that motor traffic might be started, and said that should Melsetter�s isolation prohibit adequate communication with other parts of Rhodesia, the Association was determined to find an outlet through Portuguese territory by private enterprise.

A Postal Notice called for tenders for the conveyance of mail between Umtali and Melsetter, by covered cart and not less than two horses or mules, for two years from 1st July 1913. Herbert Kimpton of the Umtali Motor & Garage Company tendered successfully, planning to use mules for the first 30 miles and motorcars over the rest of the route with the journey taking twelve hours, and in considering this the P.M.G.�s only doubt was the suitability of the road for motor traffic.

Resolutions flowed in from the Farmers� Associations about the state of the road, memos were passed round Government offices considering wooden bridges constructed so that it would be impossible for carts and wagons to use them, and the Treasurer said that �800 for four light bridges would be noted for the next year�s estimates.
Kimpton tried doing the whole distance with a 22 HP Enfield, carrying 400 lbs mail, 200 parcels and luggage, and five passengers. He got through, but said that until the Government did some alterations it would be impossible to run a satisfactory motor mail.
The sand was too deep for a car to grip the road and the wheels simply spun round:
chains were useless and he had to proceed very slowly laying down canvas. The cross drains needed to be made easier as they were disgraceful even for wagons, light bridges were needed across the spruits for wet weather, and vleis needed to be Macadamised or Corduroyed with poles laid lengthways across the road to enable cars to cross the washed-out or swampy stretches.

Kimpton reverted to mules only although still wanting cars all the way at any rate during the dry season. The Roads Engineer thought that a cheap separate track for cars and light traffic only could be cut, but it would be difficult to prevent wagon traffic from using it. Salisbury felt that a separate road was impracticable and a sufficiently good road was needed to meet all requirements, and the cost of approximately �6 000 from Umtali to South Melsetter would be negligible compared with the cost of a railway.

Travellers admired the skill of the Cape coloured drivers as they got the coaches through in all weathers. It was a work of art driving through the cuttings where full mule and donkey teams could not pass each other. If the coach met a wagon both teams were unhitched just leaving the two wheelers, and one vehicle was steered very carefully past the other, and then the teams were hitched on again. The opportunity was always taken of a chat and a cup of coffee when any two vehicles met on the road. Returning residents were usually met on Weltevrede and rode back over Pork Pie avoiding the last tedious hours in the coach.

In 1914 Miss Mogg, a teacher at the School, took four days and three nights from Umtali owing to breakdowns and miserable mules. The driver was given a portable telephone to communicate from any point along the line, but this service does not appear to have been continued.

Consideration was given to shortening the road, and Longden recommended that it should go down the lefthand side of the Tandaai valley, which would not cost as much to construct as had the section over Rutherfurd�s Hill which it would replace, and would give a vastly improved grade and shorten the road by about ten miles. He also recommended other deviations following native footpaths thus shortening the road, giving better grades and road surfaces, and crossing the Mpudzi river where the volume of water was quite insignificant.

Kimpton drove to Melsetter in a motor, taking from 6.30 am. till 6 p.m. to travel 92 miles, and wrote a detailed description of the trip to the Road Engineer: the worst of the sand with a bad skid in a sand drift, the appalling razorbacks and shocking road. To the top of Rutherfurd�s Hill it was very, very bad indeed with washouts, rough stones and sand. Bolsters needed looking to, and he wondered they did not break tbe coach axle as they were so sudden.

From 1914 a Road Party was more or less permanently in charge of 114 miles, from 40 miles out of Umtali through to Mount Silinda and Jersey; as better routes were constantly being sought for the permanent road, heavy work was done only on sections which were known to be on the permanent route.

Recurrent repairs were needed on washaways, landslips, sodden conditions over the cuttings, drainage, removing heavy sand drifts and boulders. Antbear holes had to be filled up; river crossings battered up well with stone neatly hand placed; dangerous embankment wash put right and strengthened with stone; dangerous wheel tracks filled with good material; drifts required the bed to be raised, stones neatly trimmed up and loose stones removed; and many more repairs were listed.

Upkeep included looking after the mules. A Roads Superintendent reported that he found the mules were badly bitten by ticks and told the Overseer to get them dipped; the harness was in bad repair and two runners, two breastpieces, four sets leader harness and seven headstalls were required.

There were outbreaks of tsetse fly on the Eastern Border and a veterinary official travelled to Tarka, Vimba and on to Maronga a rubber station in Mozambique a few miles east of the confluence of the Haroni and Rusitu rivers. He then came back to Vimba, up the Rusitu river to the Mission, and on to Wolverhampton. On the Melsetter section he reported that he attributed the cases which had occurred to fly having ascended the Rusitu river, but he felt that the risk of a permanent invasion up this channel was doubtful as the banks were well populated and harboured little game beyond bushbuck and the farms were of an upland nature remarkably free from bush and quite unsuited to harbour tsetse.

In the township a News Club was established in 1914, the success of the efforts made during the previous five years to establish a library, which had a selection of current newspapers and magazines which arrived weekly if the coach came on time and a short daily Reuter telegram with war news, and soon there was a small but well-selected book collection at the News Club and Library, but there is no record of where it was housed.

A new Police Camp was completed, but the native police were still in huts. A Commissioned Officer was in charge, with two N.C.O.s and several troopers. The troopers patrolled on horseback accompanied by an African policeman and a pack mule to carry food and camping equipment. In 1915 Lieutenant H. Simpson was in charge, who was later killed in action in East Africa.
David Bill was Assistant Magistrate, and his son Arthur was a junior clerk; Mrs. Bill�s sister married Frank Orpen who was farming at the time. Farming did not pay well so Orpen took over from Fred Wallace as Postmaster, and Mrs. Orpen was a Matron at the School who looked after the children very well. D. M. Stanley was a Law Agent from about 1907 until 1930, and took a very active part in all local matters.

When Sheba Ward (Mrs. Botha du Toit) was due to be born, her mother travelled to Melsetter by machila accompanied by her husband on horse-back and Africans carrying the luggage. Mrs. Ward stayed with Mrs. Rose, and Dr. Rose, assisted by Mrs. Cronwright, brought Sheba into the world. Travelling between Melsetter and Chipinga the Wards spent a night at a farmhouse, and when Mrs. Ward lit a candle to attend to the baby during the night she was horrified to discover the family coffins on the beams of the room they occupied!

On the farms the families were settled in. At Rocklands John Martin had married Hester du Preez and his widowed mother lived with them. The Hans Heyns were on Settler, the Bertie Remmers on Fairfield, and the Schalk Kloppers on Hillside.

A story is told of the Steyns on Greenmount, who held a service each evening at which Tante Chrissie read the Bible and the old man said the prayers. One evening as she closed the Bible Mrs. Steyn told her husband that it was time he bought her a new Bible because she knew that one off by heart from beginning to end.

Mr. and Mrs. Papenfus had come to the district in 1906 and settled on Highlands. Their son Koos remembers very clearly the shadow of A.C.F. after which restocking was a problem partly solved as a result of their having a good wheat crop when drought affected parts of the district: Africans came up from the Sabi to barter cattle for wheat, and Papenfus was able to buy some big cows and oxen at the rate of a bag of wheat for a cow and a bag and a half for an ox. Naas du Preez gave the young Koos a goat ewe and from her, at first using a local ram, he built up a small flock; later Nicklaas Swanepoel gave Koos a cow and a calf for his goats, which gave Koos his start with cattle. A.C.F. delayed any rapid building up of his herd, but in 1970 he still continues his interest in cattle on Tweelingspruit, where he and Tallie are assisted by their son Nico.

In 1913 M. J. (Oom Gallie) and Mrs. Bredenkamp settled on Uitkyk with their family, and moved later to Dairy Plot just outside the village, and Oom Gallie farmed Greenmount.

In 1914 Dr. Rose interviewed the Medical Director on the need for hospital accommodation and, at Dr. Fleming�s request, wrote a memorandum stressing the lack of accommodation and the difficulties which had been experienced. He said that a small building was required containing two rooms for the treatment of patients, two for a nurse, one for kitchen, and one for office, storeroom and general purposes; with outbuildings to include accommodation for servants and sanitary conveniences. The permanent appointment of a nurse was necessary and, although at first the number of cases would be small and the institution would be run at a small loss, the nurse�s salary and interest on buildings could scarcely exceed �250 per annum from which fees would be deducted.

When Dr. Fleming forwarded the memo to the Chief Secretary he, surprisingly in view of the fact that the need for hospital facilities had been stressed certainly since 1899, said that this was the first demand for an institution of that sort in that place and he had no knowledge of the need for such a building. He thought that little use would be made of it and as there were no funds on that year�s estimates to meet the Expenditure, he suggested the matter be referred to the Magistrate for expression of opinion, and if necessary some provision might be made the following year.

The Acting C. C. supported the project. He said that the population of the district was 800 Europeans and 30000 natives and was steadily increasing, and that hospital treatment was often very necessary. He quoted a recent instance of a patient suffering from gunshot wounds who had had to be sent by postcart to Umtali hospital. He pressed for a maternity hospital as a start, as women came into the town every year to be confined and there were great difficulties in procuring accommodation and nursing services.
The farming community was fairly prosperous and the new settlers were as a rule men of some substance, and people felt entitled to more of the advantages and conveniences usually associated with close settlement and great numbers, although the earlier lack of proper medical treatment had been accepted as a hardship inseparable from pioneers� lot. The CC. spoilt his case with the recommendation that the �1 650 allocated to school buildings would be better spent in providing a small hospital and a pure water supply for the township, and a curt letter from the Secretary said that the funds voted for school purposes were not available for a hospital.