From Boatsheds to Battlefields 51 Thrilling Encounters

One of Mick’s most thrilling encounters with game however was, when accompanied by two half-grown dogs, a cross between red setter and water spaniel, he put up a full-grown reedbuck ram and let it have a charge of birdshot. The buck stumbled and like a flash the two dogs were on him – he threw them off but Mick with a wild yell flung himself on top of the now seriously annoyed buck who with a vicious swing of his horns caught Mick a glancing blow sending him bruised and winded in the river – the dogs half frantic with joy had taken full advantage of Mick’s assault and rushing in secured holds.

The reedbuck now on his feet attempted to plunge forward but the dogs held – with a quick twist the maddened animal knocked one dog away with his horns tearing a long gash in the pups flank – as the reedbuck struck at the other Mick panting and wet once again dived at him only to get a hind hoof fair and square in the chest – down dropped Mick but the wounded dog again fastened on – the other dog let go – the reedbuck dashed forward and the free dog having got his breath again sprang for a hold whilst Mick undauntedly hurled himself for the third time on his quarry.

A desperate wrestling match ended in an exhausted antelope, two dogs and a man lying sobbing for breath the buck watching his enemies they keeping wary eyes on him – once again he made a plunge forward – down he went with three frenzied tacklers on top – again all rested and Mick stealthily drew a hunting knife – at his movement the buck again attempted a dash but this time the long cruel knife bit deeply into his throat – madly he struggled but with the ferocity of a savage Mick sawed and with a gurgling moan the noble beast began to weaken as the streams of blood spurted from severed vein and artery. Another powerful slash of the keen knife and with glazing eyes the buck rolled over conquered.

Hunting either alone, accompanied by a native or with Tom was Mick’s ruling passion though once having tasted the joys of dropping a bird on the wing he became less enamoured of the rifle. Redwing partridge, wild duck and geese were his favourite shooting and during the maize harvest, he was seldom without a gun.

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For a thoroughly enjoyable morning, however, Mick yielded the palm to a big drive – the long line fo guns and beaters advancing through the maize and dense reeds – the barking of a hundred dogs mingling with the shouts of their owners. The cries of Mark Right – Mark Left accompanied by a blaze of rifle and shotgun fires as buck or bird dashed along or whirred over the line kept him in roars of laughter and thrills of tension. Many of the guns would blaze away out of sheer excitement or devilment whether there was a chance of a hit or not.

Mick was receiving a small salary and a percentage of profits. The tobacco and maize yielding well Mick found that for the first time since leaving Grahamstown he was possessed of quite a handsome sum.

On engaging him Godfrey had arranged credit terms in Salisbury so that Mick had been enabled to stock his wardrobe and later buy a bicycle – besides keeping himself supplied with ammunition, tobacco and little luxuries.

After the second crop, eighteen months had passed on the estate and two and a half years since he bade his last farewell to the sea. The crops had not only been heavy but had realised high figures the tobacco realising an average of well over two shillings a pound. Godfrey well satisfied with his year’s results gave Mick a holiday and advised him to go off home for a month or two.

Filled with delight Mick went into Salisbury, cashed a handsome cheque booked his passage to South Africa and went up to the old Commercial Hotel for a drink.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 50 Growing Tobacco in Rhodesia

End of 49th Entry: … others would come but it was foolishness worrying about them and those that had struck him always left some memory to chuckle over even if only at his own damned innocence or foolishness.

Now with a busy interesting life, a large civilised home filled with cheerful prosperous people Mick found himself brimful of joy o’ life. He and a younger brother of Godfrey’s shared a comfortable well-furnished room – Tom Godfrey his roommate had served throughout the Boer War, was frontier born and reared, had read largely and was a companion such as Mick had always longed to have.

The two went hunting together, exchanged life histories, discussed men and matters, played the gramophone and split the farm supervision between them. There were friendly neighbours close at hand – tennis, shooting parties and the owner and his wife was father and mother to Mick.

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The tobacco work fascinated him. First, the seedbeds were most carefully prepared the ground being ploughed, cross ploughed and worked up by hand to the finest possible tilth. Then waggon load after waggon load of timber, heavy tree trunks, brushwood and branches being packed into a mess four feet high – this was set fire to and when burned out the ground was roasted to at least four inches killing all seed of weeds or grass or any insects and their eggs.

The ash having been raked off the beds were bordered out with bricks each bed four feet two inches wide and twenty yards long. The tobacco seed mixed with wood ash was then carefully sown and cheesecloth laid over a wire eighteen inches from the ground running the length of the bed – the cheesecloth was then securely fastened down onto the brick side and end walls thus making the beds insect proof.

Twenty square yards of seedbed were allowed per acre of estimated planting and Mick had 800 square yards of beds to look after. For weeks the seed and seedlings were watered two or three times a day until the plants were strong vigorous ones ready for transplanting.

Meanwhile, the lands had been well ploughed and harrowed work continuing until the first rains when all hands were set on planting out the seedlings three feet between plants in the row with the rows some distance apart.

Shortly before the rains, the land had been marked out a straw being stuck where a plant would come a later – a tablespoonful of artificial fertiliser had also been scratched in at each straw so that when the first planting rain came there was no delay. The plants set out in well worked up land caught immediately – no sooner had the roots taken than they found their food available and began a steady growth at once.

Later the lower leaves were primed to keep the stem clean and allow a free passage of wind and air the great foes of moulds and some plant diseases – then, at last, the fields of broad tobacco leaves began to turn from dark rich green to the colour of Australian gold – flower heads appeared and were nipped out so as to preserve the strength of the plant in the leaves – the plants striving to obey their natural function, the production of seed send shoots out from each junction of stem and leaf each shoot a potential seed head – these were instantly ripped out and though still sending out suckers the plant began to ripen.

Africa's bread-basket: Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, was once seen as a powerhouse on the continent. Pictures show a tobacco farm in the country in around 1900

Now came the harvest. The bottom leaves were stripped from each plant and carted to the flue-curing barns, here they were strung in batches of three on sticks each stick taking roughly thirty-four bunches strung alternately on the right and left sides. As the sticks were completed they were handed into the barn and strung on tiers seven tiers going to a barn.

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When full the barn closed, made as airtight as possible and a fire’s started in two outside furnaces the heat of which ran down great fourteen-inch iron pipes which ran into and around the barn escaping into a chimney between the furnaces.

For twelve hours the temperature was held at 90°F. The as the leaves began to yellow the temperature was slowly advanced until at 110°F the leaves reached a perfect lemon colour. Ventilation both in the roof and on the ground level was then begun and the temperature and ventilation kept slowly an steadily increasing driving off the moisture content of the leaf as rapidly as the clammy heat brought it to the leaf’s surface.

At 120°F, the leaves began to show signs of drying and both temperatures and ventilation were increased more rapidly until 140°F was reached and the leaf on the bottom tiers was as dry as tinder. At this stage, the temperature was held steady until the top tiers were almost dry and then came full steam ahead and at 5°F per hour the mercury rose until 190°F was reached – all ventilators were then closed and the temperature held until the butts and stems of the leaves were as brittle as dry sticks.

The fires were now drawn – doors, ventilators and windows opened and the barn cooled – then everything was closed wet steam was run in until the leaves were supple, the sticks being taken down and unstrung the leaves were then packed in great bulks until time allowed their being sorted out into the odd fifty-four grades demanded by the buyers.

A barn took from seventy to ninety hours to cure and with three barns in different stages, one responsible man had to be on duty day and night.

A sudden drop or rise in temperature during the first fifty hours was quite capable of ruining a whole barn which might mean a loss of up to £70.  A log was therefore kept and the temperatures entered every half an hour.

The owner, his brother and Mick divided the shifts between them so that there was always one man in charge of fieldwork, one curing and one off duty.

The first frosts ended the curing season and began the maize harvest which was followed by shelling the maize grain from the cobs. This dome came the manuring and ploughing of lands, the planting season and once again the curing.

The Godfrey’s possessed a large circle of influential friends and shooting drives were constantly being held – these were never stale to Mick – apart from them, he and Tom Godfrey did a good deal of shooting securing a regular supply of oribi, duiker and steenbuck for the larder and now and again a tsessebe or reedbuck.

Tsessebe.

Tsessebe

The feathered game was plentiful the river banks and pools yielding many a partridge, pheasant, wild duck or goose – crocodiles infested the river and now and again gave a chance of a quick shot.

One monster Mick caught properly napping and with lightning, quickness let have two barrels – the distance was just right to allow the shot to spread nicely and apparently, one or more pellets entered the eye – the scaley brute, in any case, was badly hurt – it slid into the large pool and then swam madly up and down and round often leaping out of the water and lashing the surface into foam and waves.

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Family History Letter from William Frederick Leffler to Bernard Leffler 1922

I found this photocopy of a letter from William Frederick Leffler to Bernard Leffler dated 16th October 1922.  William moved to Pretoria as Registrar of Deeds and his youngest son Jim who was 13 at the time went to the newly opened Christian Brothers College.

Some interesting stories about the Lefflers and music in the Court of George III.

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The Leffler Manuscript British Institute of Organ Studies

Music and the Leffler name are linked across the generations.

My Dad, Patrick Leffler and my brother Donald Leffler played the bagpipes and my son the guitar amongst the more reknowned multi-instrument playing Leffler musicians.

Attached are a few pages from The Leffler Manuscript published by the British Institute of Organ Studies in 2010.

Bernard’s father William Frederick Leffler was organist and choirmaster in Cape Town late 1800s to early 1900s and Bernard mentions the harp in their Cape Town home. Bernard also comments on how the family home had numerous visitors including travelling entertainers – I like to think he is referring to Lucy Leffler and Henry Harper.

1868_10_27 Empire (Sydney) Harper Leffler to Cape Town (1)

From Richard Harper

Pages from The Leffler Manuscript:

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 49 Battling Through Life

So Mick lived for nearly a year. Kotzee and himself obtained sixteen oxen from the ranch they have the use of them on condition that the oxen were trained to the yoke, and returned at the end of six months fit for use in waggon or plough.

The two with a few Mashona made bricks and built a house – a weird and wonderful erection whose chimney fell off after erection and whose corners came apart owing to lack of proper bond. Somehow they existed Mick bought a Martini-Henry rifle and 100 rounds of black powder ammunition from the police for £3 sent him by his father – he and Kotzee wore out their boots and walked the country barefooted – more and more the two grew into a pair who looked as though civilization’s breath had never touched them.

But Mick was no fool – he soon found his partner to be a man with no stability of mind or purpose – a visionary and a fanatic.

The two began to argue about Imperialism, Religion and farming. Each began to feel the other an enemy and Mick started to go off more and more to the Godfrey’s, the two English neighbours, Kruger and old Airth. All of them seemed to like him – he got plentiful food at their homes and they thought about everything in the same way that he did.

Then Kotzee’s wife arrived with two beautiful children – Mrs Kotzee proved to be a Christian Scientist and a vegetarian and came from a wealthy family.

The rains began and with it came Malaria – Mrs Kotzee refuse to take quinine or give it to the children – one child died – then Mick went down badly and Mrs Kotzee and the other child were taken ill.

For some days Mick lay delirious without a soul visiting him – he came to himself weak as a kitten and looking like a ghost.

Then came Kotzee with a shotgun practically stone mad raving that Mick had poisoned his family, put his wife against him, ridiculed him to his neighbours and that he would have Mick’s life. Mick thoroughly alarmed grabbed his Martini knocked Kotzee aside and left.

A few days later barefooted and starving he arrived in Salisbury his only possession his rifle and two shillings. At a tearoom, he ordered some soup and fainted whilst trying to eat it. On coming round he found a pretty little waitress doing all she could to help him – the girl told him at once that he had better get into the hospital as he was rotten with fever and advised Mick to interview the Anglican Clergyman who would arrange his entry.

Wearily Mick trudged up to the interview but evidently gave the worthy minister the impression he was drunk. Half delirious Mick understood that the Clergyman couldn’t do anything for him and staggered back to the tearoom for further advice.

The waitress wasted no time but helped Mick to her room and put him to bed. Three days later feeling much better the youth set out on foot for the Angwa alluvial goldfields where a younger brother of his family’s – the family black sheep was earning a precarious living from hunting and gold washing.

Advised that his route was “Follow the railway line”, Mick did – but the Fates sent him along the wrong line until he reached a farmhouse where he was advised to cut across country to the Lomagundi line the one he was on leaving to Cape Town.

That night he came to another farm – a tall bearded man took him in for a meal and hearing his name said: “Well I’m damned – not the son of William Osmond of Sea Point?”

“Yes I am,” answered Mick “Do you know Dad?”

“God Bless your soul youngster I used to live next door to you – nursed you as a baby – Hell it’s a small world.”

For two or three days Mick was kept in bed and well looked after. The Stewart’s to whose hospitable door fate had brought him laughed at the idea of the Angwa pointing out that the place was a death trap and the diggers merely making a bare existence.

The tobacco boom was in full swing and their neighbour Godfrey a brother of Mick’s Marandellas friend wanted a man. Godfrey himself came over to interview Mick with the result that a satisfactory agreement was concluded the youth as soon as he was fit enough moving over to his new employer’s home.

Mick had now had over two years of battling through life and with the exception of three months in the Struan District and six weeks near Grahamstown, his life had certainly not been a soft or easy one. He had become inured to disappointment, used to coarse scanty fare and well able to hold his own amongst any type of men.

His twenty-first birthday was past but with all his rough and tumble experiences Mick still retained the heart of a boy of sixteen with all his idealism unspoilt. A nature full of emotionalism, a strongly developed imagination and the closest possible contact with a father and a mother whose letters showed that however far from him they were in body, yet in spirit, they were always near, kept Mick from many pitfalls. His pen and his imagination were his greatest friends – if with the one he could fight loneliness with the other turn hardship and rough conditions into a game.

Early years spent on the sea and mountain certainly contributed much to his ability to accustom himself readily to any emergencies or calls on his powers of adaptability. They had given him the wiry constitution of a savage and the digestive powers of an ostrich and with Mick, a squall was past was gone – others would come but it was foolishness worrying about them and those that had struck him always left some memory to chuckle over even if only at his own damned innocence or foolishness.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 48 Third Letter Home circa 1913

Dearest Dad,

Kotzee has been away nearly a fortnight with the waggon and I am feeling simply desperate. Without the donkeys and boys, I can do nothing except write, bathe and moon around. I walked ten miles over to a ranch but found nobody at home – got back utterly weary but couldn’t sleep. I’m so sick of boiled monkey nuts and beans. We’ve lived on them for weeks and haven’t had tea or sugar for a fortnight – meat I’m forgetting the taste of. Still, I’m not fed up with the life and its hardships only with the lack of anything to do.

I would like to go over more often to our nearest neighbours the two Englishmen but Kotzee hates them. Honestly, I’m beginning to think Kotzee is a bit mad. He keeps bragging about how he was a Boer spy in the Great War and was put in gaol as a rebel. Now if there’s one thing I can’t stand at any price its a beastly disloyal South African. One can understand Irish Catholics or any Irishman living in Ireland and being rebels – after all Ireland is a country inhabited by a Celtic race ruled by a foreign power in armed occupation of the land.

In South Africa, a mixed population of whites rule themselves under the protection of Britain and are themselves the Power in armed occupation of a land that really belongs to the Blacks. Kotzee, however, won’t agree only rave – I asked him what personal grievance he had – he has been born and bred under the Union Jack, has never been under its folds, his people are wealthy distinguished citizens of the Empire, his Uncle is a peer of Britain and the second citizen of Africa. Kruger I could understand being anti-British but he isn’t, though a Burgher of the Transvaal Republic he fought against Britain and was a prisoner of war at St Helena for nearly two years.

But Kotzee can only rant and rave absolute nonsense. He boasts of refusing to ride transport with an Englishman, and about a dozen other cases of cutting off one’s own nose to spite one’s face. It all makes me sick and honestly, he not only talks like a madman when on the subject but looks like one.

I’ve found all the Englishmen I’ve met to be splendid fellows and our two neighbours, in particular, have been awfully good to me. Their place has a rather gruesome history. It was owned by a pioneer one of a kind one reads of – father a judge in the Indian Civil Service, one brother a general in the British Army, another in the navy. He himself lived as a sort of unofficial king amongst the natives. One night two or three chaps including Kotzee were over there and Devereux seemed awfully depressed. He bucked up whilst playing poker and afterwards made tea or coffee for the lot.

The others slept in an outbuilding and during the night heard a shot. Nobody bothered as when dogs keep barking at night lots of fellows go out and fire a round or two to scare any intruders.

Next morning, however, when going into the dining room one of the guests found Devereaux at the head of the table with his head in his arms – thinking him asleep he went up to shake him when to his horror he found Devereux’s head in a pool of blood and a revolver grasped in his right hand. The poor chap was stone dead and had left a letter asking the others to bury him on the top of a high hill opposite the house.

He wanted his spirit to sit there and watch Wedza and the farm he had made. There’s a beautiful orchard around the house – guavas, oranges, loquats, lemons and other fruit – queerly enough looking down from Devereux’s grave the whole orchard is a huge Union Jack.

Nearly everybody about here seems queer – one chap, of good English family, has been all over the world and was blockade running during the Russo-Japanese war – now he lives all alone right away in the hills quarrelling with his only neighbour an old Highland ex-shepherd and ex-regular – Black Watch. The Highlander to is queer – he had sunstroke badly in India and gets all kinds of funny ideas.

Airth the manager of a ranch adjoining us is another Highlander – a jolly fine chap but gets awfully drunk on kaffir Beer – Hunter another Highlander is a very wealthy trader but also drinks heavily – sometimes they all get together and booze for a week.

It’s too dark to write and beastly cold.

Love to all,

Mick

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 47 Second Letter Home

Dearest Dad,

I have now thoroughly entered into the daily routine and must say this is an ideal sort of life. The weather being bitterly cold in the early mornings we only begin stirring about eight.

The hour seems ridiculous for a farm but neither love nor threats will get a Mashona to move before the sun begins to kill the frost and warm up the earth. At eight a picannin brings a kettle of boiling water and we make tea. Having no cows we drink it black and weak. At about half-past, we get up, have a wash outside, dress and begin the days work.

At about eleven comes a halt to set about preparing a meal which combines breakfast and lunch. This consists of sourdough bread made and baked by ourselves from rapoko and wheat meal mixed – the rapoko now and again we vary by using Kaffir corn which combined with the wheatmeal or flour makes a great sustaining bread.

With the bread, we usually have rapoko or corn porridge with an occasional change to rice or maize – all four are good but Jove do I long for milk and cream. Dry bread, milkless porridge and black tea doesn’t sound appetising, but when hungry they go down all right and anyway as long as a man feels full it doesn’t matter much what sort of stuff he puts inside himself – not as long as it is nourishing anyway.

After skoff work starts again, continuing until about five when we set to on getting the evening meal ready. This is a sort of Irish stew – potatoes, native beans, shelled monkey nuts or peas which has been simmering on the fire since noon.

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Now and again we trade a fowl for some salt or a cartridge case. Sometimes Kruger or Airth the manager of an adjoining ranch sends us a bit of buck, and once or twice I’ve shot something – If we’re lucky enough to have meat we gorge to bursting point – if we haven’t, well! we add a bit of curry powder and some powdered stuff from a soup sausage – a sort of concentrated mixture of pea-flour, bacon, herbs and stuff. This thickens and flavours the stew and it goes down rapidly enough.

After eating we play euchre or go to sleep. Neither of us has any money so candles or paraffin are unobtainable luxuries. The old Lee Metford I brought up with me is the only weapon we possess and is almost useless. At 100 yards it throws eighteen inches to the left.

At present hunting is a mug’s game for the long dry grass prevents the hunter from seeing the buck and the rustling and noise of a man moving in it is enough to frighten anything within a hundred yards. One’s only chance of securing game is by going out with a shotgun and some dogs.

A buck hearing something moving in the grass generally lies down – if a hunter is accompanied by dogs they will put it up and a charge of heavy shot provides a few days supply of meat. Otherwise, it is sheer luck coming on a buck perhaps standing under a tree or feeding in an open space where the grass isn’t too long.

In a month or two the veld fires will start and then everybody assures me I will see all the game I want to. I must get a Martini-Henry rifle then, as the heavy lead bullet doesn’t give a buck a chance of getting away. I hate wounding anything and it is marvellous the vitality shown by a wounded animal. I’ve seen one run over a mile with the whole of its entrails dragging from it.

Wild things always seem to either be killed instantaneously or to fight desperately for life against most awful wounds and it is really terrible the sort of mess a soft-nosed or a bullet with its end nicked into a cross makes. If one strikes a bone or anything but soft flesh it mushrooms and splits.

There are quite a number of people in the district but all on the other side of it. Between Marandellas and ourselves, there are the Godfreys and Kruger – beyond are two young Englishmen growing tobacco in partnership and beyond them again are two fellows living in the hills doing a bit of trading.

Behind and in front of us is all native reserve and wild uninhabited country. From Marandellas towards Wedza is where settled country is – there people are going in for growing Virginian cigarette tobacco on an extensive scale and experimenting with citrus fruits, cattle breeding and general farming.

From all accounts, there are fortunes to be made from tobacco but a lot of capital is needed. Flue curing barns are required; and with transport at 5/- per 100 lbs, carpenters and bricklayers at 30/- to 40/- per day and all found, it needs £300 at least to build and equip a standard flue-curing barn 16 feet by 16 and 20 feet high. Then one requires unlimited labour – on the other hand, the profits are big.

At an average yield of 500 lbs per acre sold at from 2/- per lb for scrap to 4/6 for best Brights, the growers base their average price at 1/6 per lb or £37-10 per acre – one barn will cure 10 acres or at least £375 worth of ‘baccy’ in a season.

We want to try and build a small flue barn ourselves and also air and sun cure a couple of acres of tobacco as a start – with wheat, oathay, barley for the brewers, potatoes, trading and transport riding we should soon be on our feet but Oh Dad its cruel work starting with nothing.

Every day we are offered maize at 2/6 per 203 lbs by the Mashona and can dispose of it at 9/- to 12/- at Marandellas. Native beans cost us 8/- per bag and sell in Marandellas at from 20/- to 30/-, ground nuts 3/- to sell at 8/-. Rice 10/- to sell at 20/- and the same with everything else.

Our waggon can take 20 bags of maize – so an eight to ten-day trip would yield only £7-10. Beans pay us best but we’ve never enough cash to buy a full load.

Ever your loving son,

Mick