Skullduggery

Morag Mac Donald and Reginald Lumsden find an experienced prospector. 

True to his promise Le Roux brought Coralie’s adopted father Bill Higgins to the hotel the next morning.

A week’s careful supervision and the combined efforts of Coralie, Le Roux, a barber and an outfitter had succeeded in making the old prospector a presentable figure. Tall and gaunt, his impression on Morag was that of a typical pioneer. The broad-brimmed pinched in Stetson hat, the mahogany tanned hands, face and neck, the white combed beard and hair conveyed an atmosphere of the picturesque past which filled the girl with sympathy and romantic friendliness.

Bill Higgins was neither rogue nor actor. Too old for employment, too accustomed to the life of prospecting camps to accustom himself to a town environment he had sunk into disreputable old drunkard but throughout his chequered life he’d done the same whenever a lucky venture had given him funds for a spell in town.

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Old as he was Bill reckoned a few months back in the bush would set him up again and Le Roux had told him here was his chance and one might find him a mine over which he’d dreamed for many years.

Le Roux beyond, telling the prospector that the girl was a niece of his old partner and the youth of a friend of hers interested in the venture of seeking MacDonald’s mine, had not thought it necessary to prompt Higgins. Le Roux did not believe in his tools knowing too much.

“Let the old devil think I’ll find the money to open up the mine if it’s found” he chuckled to himself “and let the two innocents think they’ve found a real honest Old Timer to help them find it.”

Knowing the girl’s nature exceedingly well Le Roux shook his head when Morag lunching with him at the Grand informed him that she and Reg had decided to engage Old Higgins as their prospector and that the three were leaving the day after next.

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“He’s far too old and cranky to suit you Morag” Le Roux objected, “besides when she hears of it Mollie O’Connor will believe her worst suspicions confirmed. She’s a tongue and a good deal of influence has Mrs O’Connor and I certainly don’t want rumours spread about my deliberately setting a dastardly trap to catch two youngsters from the old country. Leaving out myself there’s Coralie to be considered. In a little one-horse town like this, a young girl dependant on secretarial work for a living can’t afford an influential lady telling people she’s a minx and worse.”

“How perfectly ridiculous” retorted Morag indignantly “Mollie isn’t like that at all. She doesn’t like you or Coralie I know and she has some strange ideas about your knowing all about the mine but Mollie O’Connor wouldn’t do a dirty action or say an unkind word about anybody. She’s spoken to Reg and I because she thinks it’s her duty to, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t believe it possible of poisoning other people about you or Coralie. Mollie O’Connor has been like a mother to Reg and I and Mr Le Roux! I couldn’t be a friend of anyone who insulted her.”

Le Roux’s teeth caught and gnawed his lower lip with vexation. It wasn’t often he made mistakes with girls he reflected but he’d certainly put his head in a hornet’s nest this time.

Too old a campaigner to show his annoyance Le Roux felt for his …

Climbing Taba Mhlope

From Romance and a Quest: Now and again glimpses had been caught as the car topped on one of the countless ridges which traversed the country but the realisation of the magnitude of her task came to Morag until Anderson stopping brought his arm round in a circular sweep.

“There’s Taba Bomvu Miss MacDonald – now somewhere on it or round it or about it, there’s an ancient fissure in the earth which has been filled with quartz. Thirty-five years ago old Mac O’ The Hills stumbled on a few white boulders pushed by earth movements out of the fissure. The boulders were rich in gold and he blasted a great hole into the hard rock contents of the fissure. Natives murdered him threw the body down the hole filled it in, removed all outcropping rock and made gardens on the site.

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During the years since then, the country’s gone back wild, big trees have grown up – now find the old mine. Where are you going to look, for what signs will you seek? It’d take you years to quarter the odd forty thousand acres of wild timber and bush and you might camp on top of the old mine and not see a sign of it.

Her chin resting in her cupped hands, elbows on the car’s side Morag stared at the hill, its slopes and the broken savage country about it. Ruarií whining softly crept against his mistress and the three men stole away.

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“Pretty brutal,” muttered Anderson “but it was the only way to convince her. Poor kid bit of a shock after off her dreams and seven thousand miles of travel.”

“She won’t chuck it,” said Mick.

“Well dash it all why should she?” asked Reggie wonderingly “We didn’t expect to come along and walk up to the blessed mine saying Hullo there.”

Anderson looked at Reg and raised his eyebrows, “Can’t you grasp the absolute futility of it Mr Lumsden? An experienced prospector studying the formation might gradually work to the likeliest spot for gold in the area. He’d stand chances of finding a dozen gold-bearing reefs all or any or none of which might prove good but it’s purely prospecting with everything that word in entails.

“Naturally” answered Reg “but that’s what we intend doing.”

Anderson laughed, “Come on you fellows no wonder the British won the war.”

Back at the car, they found Morag quite determined to carry on. “

“Isn’t it funny Mr Anderson, when you broke the facts to me I felt as though I’d fallen into the sea. I don’t quite know myself what I expected but now it all seems just what it should be and what has been behind the mists my thoughts have strayed in.”

“Let’s take a walk up the hill then,” suggested the miner and I’ll explain how to begin and whereabouts I’d start. It’s years since I went over the ground and I’ve learnt a lot about mining since.”

Toiling through long yellow grass often five or six feet high they reached a tiny plateau halfway up Taba Mhlope. Seating them Anderson explained his theories.

“Mac probably stumbled on the reef. First, we’ve got to consider the lower slopes of the hill as they were thirty-five years ago. Matabele Villages scattered about with gardens spread all over. Little of this time could have been about for there were too many natives – in fact, thirty odd years ago when I was here first as far as I can remember it was mostly cultivated land.”

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“Now Mac would have wondered about looking for quartz, and it being June or July most of the lands would be full of high maize and Kaffir corn. He’d hunt about ledges and islands of rock between lands most likely and that’s what you’ll do. Wherever you find quartz crush a bit and pan it then look for more – likely enough the Matabele carried away all quartz outcrop from the vicinity of the mine and scattered is about but they’re a lazy crowd. If you find bits of quartz carrying gold you’re likely enough somewhere near and the job is to visualise yourself as Matabele carrying and throwing away stones from and that’s the whole question.”

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“Now let’s go down and hunt a bit along the slopes – of course, the reef may be on the hill – maybe anywhere.”

Morag looked up at the wild cliffs far above. Uncle had been a shepherd and he was Highland. Wouldn’t he perhaps have climbed up there and maybe just accidentally come on the reef.”

Anderson scratched his head and looked with a touch of seriousness at the girl.

“There’s something in that” he admitted, “come to think of it he might have found it when looking for a leopard or lion. You’ll have to be careful about hunting. A place like that swarms with wild beasts. Wouldn’t be so risky after it was burnt out but you’re on a cattle ranch and God help anyone starting fires.

“Didn’t you prospect up there, Mr Anderson?” Morag asked.

“Me – no damn it all it never crossed my mind or anybody else’s I bet, but it isn’t likely anyway.  It’s not likely country for gold.”

Morag passed the next few hours in a dream. Try as she would the country around Taba Mhlope held no interest for her – hadn’t scores searched there and found nothing. Hadn’t even Mr Anderson admitted that probably no one had searched the cliffs. Yet wasn’t her Uncle’s very name prophetic Mac O’ The Hills, “Oh what a pity I promised to go to Mollie’s ranch.” Her thoughts were that the gold and the bones of Donald MacDonald are in the crags.

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Anderson seeing the girl’s absorption in the cliffs contented himself with striving to impress the salient points of prospecting on Reg. Mick listened with keen attention but his face wore a worried look.

“Anderson,” he remarked when the two were alone for a few minutes “For the Lord’s sake make it clear to them that those cliffs are full of leopards and snakes. The leopards or the chance of a lion will probably make them keener but snakes won’t. Tell them a few mamba yarns.”

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The miner did and on the way back Reginald’s expressive features blanched at some of the awful tales of snakes in general and the deadly black mamba in particular.

The Robertsons insisted on the party remaining overnight a proposal acceptable to all after a long day of motoring and tramping.

Mick whose horse had been brought on departed to fetch his cattle and after an interesting round of stables, byres and other ranch buildings the others sought baths and a change of garments, Ruarií finding friends apparently much to his liking amongst three silky haired red setters.

After a well-served dinner, Anderson brought the subject of conversation around to Taba Mhlope and the many attempts to find MacDonald’s mine. Robertson had been many years on the ranch and laughingly confessed that as a young cattleman he himself had wasted much of the Company’s time searching for the old shaft.

“There’s no doubt the claims are there” he stated emphatically “But to my mind, they’ll only be found by accident. A heavy rainy season might wash away ground and reveal the reef. Perhaps the plough might open up the site in one of our lands. The whole question rests as to whether the reef is on the hill itself or in the country surrounding it. On one side the country is schist and serpentine formation in which anything might be found, on three sides it’s granite were nobody would dream of prospecting.”

“There must be plenty of old Matabele about who know where the mine is.” Interrupted Mick who bathed, shaved and attired in civilised garments had joined them.

“Ah, but they won’t tell. I’ve had a few old fellows tell me yarns and actually show me the campsite of the regiment of Matabele who murdered Mac. After the Rebellion a Native Commissioner spent a week or two there making the Matabele dig up their lands and he even destroyed their huts in case one had been built over the mine – nothing has ever been found except one corner beacon plate and that was found close to Mapeta thirty miles from Taba Mhlope.”

“Ever climbed up to the top of the hill, Mr Robertson?” asked Mick casually, “looks pretty wild up there.”

“It’s worse than wild it’s absolutely hellish. The cliffs swarm with baboons, the gullies with wild pig and you can imagine it’s ideal breeding ground for lions and leopards. I’ve often wanted to have big drives up there but no native will climb into the head. Too many mambas and pythons over and beyond Carnioora. The Natives reckon it’s full of ghosts as well, but I reckon mambas are their real worry.”

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“Couldn’t you burn it out?” said Anderson.

“Aye, it’s been burnt out several times but I couldn’t get Natives to go up even then. I’ve climbed it with white men but beyond the game, we saw nothing though it was an eerie atmosphere and I was glad to get down. In fact, we all felt the same and kept in a bunch. Just went straight to the top, had a smoke and came down – marvellous view.

The conversation turned to cattle and the two older women began to discuss Mrs Robertson’s state of health which she believed would very likely necessitate a trip to England.

“Honestly, Mrs O’Connor, I thought at first that you had come for a preliminary survey of the ranch,” remarked Mrs Robertson. “My husband is seriously thinking of resigning as he is getting old for the work and I suppose Mr O’Connor would get the Ranch.”

“Oh but Mrs Robertson you didn’t think I’d ….” The older woman laughed.

“Please don’t worry Mrs O’Connor. I’m glad you’ve come for I’d be quite happy at the thought of you here.” bending Mrs Robertson dropped her voice.

“If Miss MacDonald remains on the ranch you must try and wangle Mr Osmond as stockman or Section Manager. One or two of our men would be all the better for a change and I’m sure Mr Osmond is very fond of the girl. She’s very sweet, isn’t she?”

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Romance and a Quest

End of last entry: But chaff was wasted on Morag at the mention of their goal being in sight.

The car had topped a rise and from it, the party looked down into an immensity of space broken by countless low hills and wooded basins. Slightly westward of a long curving range stood a great solitary hill crowned with white cliffs. Anderson brought the car to a standstill.

“Taba Mhlope – The White Mountain rather a decent view isn’t it?”

Morag spell-bound held her breath gazing into the fast extent of wooded country. “Oh, Mollie” she murmured as the car shot on ” I never thought – I never dreamed a land could be so immense, so lonely.”

“Dashed good shooting down there I should think.” came Reginald’s voice.

“Pretty nearly everything,” answered Mick “but the cattle are driving the game out. That’s our company’s ranch. They’ve got a hundred thousand acres and about ten thousand head of stock running on it. Not nearly as good cattle country as where we are Mrs O’Connor!”

“Not as good for cattleman,” teased his owner’s wife “only seventeen miles from the main camp to the railway station, Mick, none of the sections more than twenty miles from the main camp. Heavens what a life Dennis would lead with some of you mad boys. If we came here I could, I would insist on you all getting married.”

“Not a bad idea,” rejoined Mick, a note of deep sincerity in his voice and Morag felt the warm blood coursing tumultuously through her veins.

“Dashed uncivilised place for a bride to live in though'” declared Reg, “All right for a lark but dash it all one would soon start getting bored.  Wouldn’t she Morag?”

Mick glared venomously at Reggie the while he waited anxiously for Morag’s answer.

“It depends.” was the noncommittal reply but Mick’s heart leapt at the softness and shyness of her tone.

“Quite right Dear,” joined in Mollie O’Connor “Dennis and I and scores like us haven’t found it boring but pull up Jock here’s Bankwe Main Camp and I must tidy myself. Heavens I hope the Robertsons won’t think it strange my coming out. I’ll have to explain that I thought it a good opportunity to visit them. Jock, I think I’d better stay and you can pick me up on the way back. One never knows what weird yarns fly around these ranches.”

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Anderson grunted. The same thought had struck him. Headquarters staff would wonder quite a lot at a manager’s wife from a sister ranch flying out to look for gold mines on one of the company’s stations.

“Good idea, Mollie – Now Miss MacDonald you start your new life – Write out a notice addressed to the Manager Zambezi Pioneering Company’s Mapeti Ranch informing him that by virtue prospecting licence No. 01 you hereby give notice that you intend prospecting on the ground under his charge.”

Flushed with excitement Morag hunted for a fountain pen and writing pad whilst Mrs O’Connor attended her appearance and the men took Ruarií to stretch his legs. 

Ten minutes later the journey was resumed and in a short while after the party were being warmly welcomed by Mr Robertson, the tall grizzled ranch manager and his wife, a little-worn woman, whose appearance brought a pang of pity to the Hebridean girl’s heart.

“Come away in! Come away in!” cried Mrs Robertson cheerily.

“We’ve only stopped to drop Mrs O’Connor and serve you with notice that Miss McDonald and Mr Lumsden intend prospecting on the ranch. Osmond is bringing you a mob of cattle and is taking a run out with us whilst the stock are resting.”

“Five minutes and a swallow won’t hurt you, Anderson. Come along in. What are you bringing Osmond?”

“Five hundred Hereford, two-year-old heifers Mr Robertson.”

“And I suppose half a dozen new diseases” finished the ranchman his eyes twinkling.

“So Miss MacDonald’s a prospector – Lord Jock pity we didn’t have a few like her in the old days. Glad you’re not wearing shorts Miss MacDonald, dammit I like a girl to look like a girl don’t you Jock?”

Half an hour later amidst a chorus of laughing farewells the party minus Mrs O’Connor left, Morag’s ears still tingling with roars of laughter which is had greeted Anderson’s explanation of her quest.

“Mac’s Mine! Lord Miss MacDonald, I’ve had prospectors of all sorts around Taba Mhlope every year since I’ve been here. My own natives and cattlemen have ridden every inch of the country and if ever there was a mine the natives covered it up and the old needle in a haystack would be easier to find after all these years.”

An hour’s run through what seemed a gigantic park where red bodied white-headed cattle grazed in hundreds brought them to the foot of a huge hill. Now and again glimpses had been caught as the car topped on one of the countless ridges which traversed the country but the realisation of the magnitude of her task came to Morag until Anderson stopping brought his arm round in a circular sweep.

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Nguni Cattle

HOUSEWIVES BE PROFESSIONAL by Margaret MacIntyre

(Published in The Star newspaper, Johannesburg)

Housewives be Professional

Census and other Government documents classify women who are managing homes as housewives. The status of housewifery is clearly defined. It is a professional occupation and as such demands the business methods of any commercial concern.

No business can be managed successfully without systematically kept books. A housewife unable to tell how much her servants cost her, what proportion of income is spent on her husband, children or self is hardly likely getting full value for her money.

Household expenditure can be grouped under six headings: housing, food, clothing, running costs, insurance and recreation. It is very simple to keep a ledger divided into these allocations and to enter from a daybook the various charges on income.

Housing would include fuel, light, water, rent and sanitary charges. If one owns the home a fair and reasonable interest on invested capital together with 10% depreciation would be allocated to this Heading.

Food charges would naturally be confined to ordinary household requirements anything bought for visitors or any special luxuries being charged to Recreation. To be quite fair extra purchases might be split into charges against Food, Recreation, and Running Costs in cases where entertainment is necessary or a part of a family routine. Even then it would be preferable to open an Entertainment account.

A reasonable proportion of expenses for a family of five – husband, wife and three children would be Housing 25% of Income, Food 25%, Clothing 10%, Running Expenses under which heading comes; Domestics, soap, polish, candles and such 10%. Recreation which includes entertaining, alcohol, tobacco 10%. Thus the remaining 20% would be allocated to Insurance – that is Children’s education, Savings and Investments, doctors, dentists, travelling fares and maternity.

Dad, Mike, Molle farm with guns

Business houses rely on their regular customers. They are quite prepared to give concessions to housekeepers who put business propositions before them. A wise housewife, therefore, would interview the managers of establishments she intended dealing with and come to a definite arrangement regarding discounts and credit terms. If able to give an approximate idea of her monthly spending, the firms she is dealing with will probably be able to quote her special terms.

When a Daybook is kept and the items entered are regularly transferred to the allocation ledger a housekeeper knows exactly where her income is going. At anytime a few minutes addition and a few calculations will prove whether an essential amount is being spent on a particular group. Also at the end of the month, it is very easy to allocate the amounts to be paid to creditors.

Margaret MacIntyre

Mrs Leffler (Margaret MacIntyre)
Valley Farm
P.O.Brooklyn
Pretoria
Circa 1933

The Mine of Mac of the Hills

Morag McDonald curled up beside the ancient sea chest read again the faded writing on a yellowed sheet found amongst her mother’s treasures.

Post Office
Bankwe
3rd November 1896

Dear Sheelagh,
                           A Mining Company has offered me £5000 for a twelve-month option on the reef I wrote you about. Urquhart, their engineer knows me well and was very satisfied on his visit which resulted in the Company offer. I am however doubtful for I’m certain that a good partner who has a small stamp battery would be a better proposition. A quartz reef four feet wide going 30dwts gold to the tonne is worth a lot more than a few thousand pounds.
                         I’ve my mind on a likely partner but he’s scared of coming out as the Matabele are rather threatening just now and there’s talk of a rising. Hoping a few mails hence will bring you gladsome tidings.

Your affectionate brother,
Donald

Laying down the letter the girl picked up another also faded but good stout paper headed from one of the British South Africa Company’s Administrative offices.

Salisbury
March 10th 1897

Dear Madam,
                           I regret to inform you that no further information regarding Mr Donald MacDonald, Prospector, is available other than that his name is amongst those of outlying whites who are posted as missing. It is my painful duty to inform you that no hopes can be entertained of his still being alive.
As regards your query re Mr MacDonalds’ mining claims we find that two blocks of ten claims each are registered in his name.
Enquiries confirm your statement that these claims were inspected by the Bubi Mining Company‘s engineer and that the Company offered to take them on a £5000 option. Investigations have been made but we possess only the vaguest information regarding the location of Mr MacDonald’s claims and so far the search has proved fruitless.
We will bear in mind your letter and communicate immediately if any information reaches us.

I am Madam,
Your Obedient Servant, 
John Smith.  Secretary

“Thirty-four years ago,” murmured Morag, “Father wrote several times but neither Donald’s mine or anything of him has ever been found. Now I’m alone and four hundred pounds to use as feathers for my wings. What’s the use of staying here? There’s nobody I’d like to marry and I’m sick of typing in Glasgow. If Amy Johnson can fly the Atlantic alone what’s to stop a strong healthy Hebridean lass travelling comfortably to Rhodesia to look for an Uncle’s grave and his mine.”

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Morag MacDonald was Celtic whose vivid imagination worked as impulsively as any in her cousin’s race of Erin. Born and bred in Uist two years of typing in a Glasgow Shipping office had filled her with a distaste for the crofting life of her people. I’m Hielan through and through, as Hebridean as the Tangle she would laughingly declare “but I’d rather be singing “The Road to the Islesthan taking it, except for a holiday.”

A month ago her father had been lost at sea in a fishing boat, yesterday her mother had been bedded within the stone-walled enclosure over which the storms drove the Atlantic spray; her four brothers lay in bloodstained tartan under the poppies of Loos and Longueval. “Uncle Alan can have the Croft for the hundred pounds he offered and Father MacEachern will give me letters to the priests and nuns of Rhodesia” murmured Morag closing the chest. She went into the living room where waited, her Aunt and Cousin.

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Father MacEachern as Morag had thought offered no opposition to her plans. An ex-Army Chaplain and an ex-Missionary the old priest had travelled widely about the world, a Gael who knew and understood his race the Father shrugged his shoulders when Morag’s tale was told, took snuff voluminously and patting her head told her to be of good cheer and comfort.

“There’re are aye Hielan folk wherever one goes in the world girleen and there’s always a Catholic Church.  You’re a good looking less but your head’s not an empty one. I’ve brought you up in the knowledge of right and wrong and whilst you remember that you’re Catholic and McDonald no harm will come to you. When will you be faring forth Morag?”

“Within the month, Father, I hope! Uncle Alan and I will be going to Inverness the day after tomorrow and as soon as the business of transferring the croft and settling the estate is over I will book my passage.”

“And I will be coming up to London to find Rhodesian people to talk over the country with you and help as far as an old wanderer can.” said the priest violently blowing his nose as after shaking hands he watched the slim figure face the boisterous Atlantic Wind.

So, well furnished with letters of introduction to Hebrideans and Catholic priests scattered about Africa, well-stocked chests and suitcases of goods and gear recommended by members of the Rhodesian High Commissioner staff Morag McDonald waved a cheerful farewell from the second class deck of a Union Castle liner as the tugs drew her from the Southampton Wharf.

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Morag was wholly unused to mixing with strangers a feeling that she was free to do as she liked. Her life in Glasgow had been lived with cousins whose interest was centred on their parish church and the Clan gatherings in the Highland Institute. Men had played no part whatever in her 22 years of life but Morag was quite aware that she was attractive and rich red blood flowed strongly through her veins.

Father MacEachern had seen to it that her cabin mate was one of her own Faith a Rhodesian lady of Irish extraction but Mrs O’Connor was a cheery happy-go-lucky lady still young and possessing a number of friends aboard.

She and Morag took to one another at sight. “Heaven be praised, Miss MacDonald! When Father O’Reilly asked me to look after a young Scottish girl I thought my good nature was going to land me with some uninteresting kid who’d spoil my whole voyage. You and I are going to be friends, however. Let’s wander around and see what sort of men we’ve shipped.”

A tour of the vessel proved quite satisfactory to the Rhodesian. “Three excellent bridge partners at least, Colonel Devereaux to look after our chairs and cushions, several charming boys for you to play with – and they’ll all be very nice to me or I’ll shoo them away from the bonnie wee lassie. Quite satisfactory Morag, my dear. Now let’s go and see what frocks you possess.”

Mrs O’Connor shook her head over Morag’s wardrobe – “Looks as though you let the nuns choose it, Old Dear!” she laughed “Fortunately what you have is good and I’m excellent with the needle beside possessing a few spare frocks we could alter. Jane and no-nonsense about her has a thin time these days Morag.”

Liking her new friend, feeling her judgement to be trusted and full of feminine desire to be at her best Morag made no demur to her companion’s advice and devoutly thanked her patron saint that so good at friend had come her way. Morag possessed a slim well-rounded figure, beautiful brown eyes, a mass of silky black hair, a perfect skin and firm white teeth. 

Dressed by Mrs O’Connor and finished off by the Liner’s barber, the girl proved as irresistible to the menfolk aboard as honey to bees.

Three weeks of games, dances, whist drives, and concerts, Morag ever laughing and merry, the pet of all aboard. The honour of taking tea on the Captain’s Bridge, the fun of the sitting betwixt two grinning tars helping to paint the ship, her violin and voice much in request at concerts, and her pick of partners at dances. “Heavens Mrs O’Connor just think if I’d stayed on the croft or gone back to the office.” cried Morag.

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The other laughed “It’s good fun, isn’t it? But the party’s soon over and cake gives place to bread and butter. Another fortnight and we’ll all be in harness scattered over the length and breadth of Africa. What are actually your plans, Morag, all I know of you is that you’re travelling to Bulawayo in connection with an Uncle’s mining property? They’ve shoals of MacDonalds in Rhodesia especially Bulawayo and as I don’t know many of the mining people I haven’t questioned you – this shows what an unfeminine woman I am. My husband’s ranching as you know and I’ve begged you to come to us for as long as you like. Where do you intend staying?” 

Morag laughed “You’ll think me entirely daft, Mollie, but here are the facts. I’ve four hundred pounds and one of my uncles was a pioneer who found a rich gold mine. He was killed in a rebellion amongst the natives but neither the mine nor his body was ever found. I’ve come to look for them.”

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A corner in the Laager in Bulawayo during the 1896 Rebellion. (Central African Archives)

Mollie O’Connor held up her hands. “Morag you foolish little devil buy a hundred tickets in our Unity Club and the Dublin Sweepstakes, put the rest of your money in the bank and come and live with me till I’ve found you a husband.  Rhodesia’s full of lost prospectors’ bones and gold mines and if one does find a mine one’s troubles have only begun. The country’s full of topping youngsters who’ll look on you with more favour than on any mine that’s ever been found and you’d make a bonnie Rhodesian.”

Many thanks, Mollie. I’d love to spend a few weeks with you if I might, but I’ve a queer feeling that instinct or my Uncle’s spirit will lead me to the Ben na Conn claims.”

“More likely into losing your money and getting a typist job, you goose.” announced Mrs O’Connor “anyway I’ll look after you.” 

As Mollie O’Connor said the party was nearing its end. A few more days and Morag watched a looming mass of white cloud and grey rock showing through the dawn. Table Mountain with its flanking peaks towering over the ancient Tavern of the Seas warning the happy crowd of ships’ friends that the time of parting had come.

A wonderful week at the Cape with Mollie, “you couldn’t afford to miss it, Morag.” declared her friend “I’ll wire Pat that I am unavoidably detained to look after a friend.” So a party of merry Rhodesians surfed in the long lines of smashing waves amongst the thousands of bathers at Muizenberg, climbed the dizzy heights of Table Mountain and travelled restfully down in the wonderful aerial railway; yachted in Table Bay, explored quaint Dutch Villages hidden in mountain glens amidst a wealth of oak and vine and fruit blossom; flirted, laughed and sang.

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Then ‘Bundle and Go’ on the bagpipes cried. Mollie and faces turned Northwards as she and Morag watched hills and orchards flit past the thundering mail, looked down the giddy depths of the Hex River Valley and stared wonderingly out at the wastes of the Great Karroo.

“What’s come over you, Morag?” asked Mrs O’Connor. The Highland girl shook her head “I’ll be alright soon” she whispered “but och the country is waesome and unfriendly. Nothing but graves and stones and ports and bigness. I’m seeing kilts waving, the bayonets flashing in the hills, the pipers sounding on the march and at the onset and I’m hearing nothing but Lochaber No More and Mo Dachaidh being played over poor torn bundles of tartan. Thanks be, my brothers sleep in the flowers and kindly soil of France but there’s plenty of my kin lying in the ground we’re passing.”

Mollie swallowed hard “I’d one brother – Away Morag what matters where a soldier lays his bones or a Rhodesia either. The veld is kindlier than a town cemetery.  Let’s wander into the Dining Saloon. Kimberley of the Diamonds, then grass and trees taking the place of a desolate waste of stones, hills and tiny bushes. Bechuanaland with the country growing forestlike and every halt filled with interest as the swarming hoards of scantily dressed natives strove to find customers for their toys and skins and fruit.

“Seven o’clock tomorrow, Morag and the fun’s over” laughed Mrs O’Connor. 

But at Seven next morning, Morag felt that the fun had only begun. Pat O’Connor was a denizen of the new world into which she was entering and he, large sun-blackened and picturesque in Double Terai hat, shorts and khaki shirt seemed a fitting person to introduce her into it. Laughingly Pat waved aside his wife’s suggestion of the Majestic “What’s wrong with the old Criterion, Molly? I’ve got a room there as usual and Malcolm will fix up Miss MacDonald – here’s the porter he’ll see to your gear.”

Morag liked the atmosphere of O’Connor’s choice of hotels and after a steaming bath and change set down to make an excellent breakfast with half a dozen Rhodesian men who seemed to her like masquerading schoolboys. The O’Connors were undoubtedly popular and well known. Men came from all parts of the dining room to shake hands with and tease Mrs O’Connor, brought chairs, cups of tea and plates of food to further crowd their corner, argued over cattle, mines and contracts.

Puzzled and amused the Hebridean girl listened to the gay chatter wondering how on earth so queer a collection could be found. Some seemed rich and others poor, some were owners and others workers, some employers, some employed yet all used one another’s Christian names, ignored if they possessed, any social differences and treated each other and apparently life in general as one huge joke.

“Take Miss MacDonald up to the Mining Commissioner, Joe,” called Mollie when breakfast was at last finished “She’s come out to look for a lost mine found by one of the pioneers.”

“Gosh,” said a burly individual in shirtsleeves and khaki trousers “Is Miss MacDonald one of our crowd? I’ll sell you as bonnie a mine lassie as anyone can wish for the £6000 pounds I’ve put into it.”

“And taken £2000 out.” laughed a short, unshaven tough looking specimen.

“Now Miss MacDonald I’ve…”

“No, he hasn’t – come on Miss MacDonald.” following her guide whom Morag took to be a workman, the girl was amazed to find him provided with a big expensive car amongst whose luxury fittings were tossed picks, shovels and two cases one marked gelignite and the other White Horse Whiskey.

“Push the cases out of the road Jock” ordered the burly one called Joe – the short unshaven man obeyed.

“Climb in next to me Miss McDonald, Jock can cuddle the dynamite or the whiskey – we’ve all the world’s curses in the car, Miss MacDonald.” 

“What are they, Mr… Mr…?”

Maxwell commonly called Joe answered the other “a pretty girl, a case of whiskey, one of dynamite and a bar of gold worth £2000” and he kicked at a plain wooden box – “lift it, Miss MacDonald.”

As Maxwell started the car Morag tried to lift the little box

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “It’s lead.”

“Hope the Bank doesn’t think so.” Roared the others, “It’s my month’s output of gold.” Awed Morag gazed at the box.

“Oh, I hope I find my Uncle’s Mine” she cried as the car stopped a little way above the hotel.

“Well here’s where you’ll be a regular caller then Miss MacDonald – come and be introduced to the Mining Commissioner.

Morag introduced to a quiet and courteous gentleman thought of Mrs O’Connor’s hint. Her story told, the Mining Commissioner proceeded to end the fun.

“The story of Mr MacDonald and the Ben Na Conn claims is a well-known one Miss MacDonald.” said the Commissioner “A score of prospectors have hunted over the supposed locality of the claims. We know that property well and that the claims must lie within a certain small area. Both geological formation and areas in which men still living were working, limit the locality to an area which has been industriously combed. Neither threats nor promises of reward have extracted any information from natives in and about the area. It’s heavily timbered country, badly broken by erosion and through geological causes. One might hunt for years and never find the reef for quite likely there were native lands in its vicinity and the natives ploughed or hoed over the claims concealing all signs of them ever having been worked. If you take my advice, Miss MacDonald, you’ll have a trip to the Falls and the Matoppos, take a run to Zimbabwe and  Umtali then either accept a billet or return to Scotland. If you’ll keep in touch with me I think I can safely promise you a fairly decent office post. In the meantime, if you’d care to meet my wife I’m sure she’d be delighted to call on you. May I bring in one or two experienced mining men who will undoubtedly confirm my opinion?”

The Mining Commissioner spoke truly. The three cheery gentlemen asked, expressed opinions that confirmed the Commissioners….

A Book is Born

From loose handwritten pages written in my Grandfather’s hand almost 100 years ago

cropped-img_9673.jpgDelville Wood

transcribed into a Blog by me his Granddaughter    Trish Armstrong née Leffler

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and then the pages bound in leather the colour of African soil

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by
William Harley & Son
28 Dew St, Thebarton SA 5031
Phone: (08) 8443 7515

A legacy from Bernard Meredith Leffler protected by his sons Patrick and Michael Leffler – a tale well told for future generations.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 75 Living A Life of Utter Dissipation

End of 74th Entry: D Squadron hailed Mick’s return with enthusiasm for he was very popular and every man was needed. That very evening the column was advancing to the attack on Ukamas, a German strong point which was supposed to be heavily garrisoned.

That evening all sorts of rumours began to circulate of a fixed determination of the regiments composing the command not to cross the Border. Darkness fell.

The order came to saddle up and the 18th Mounted Rifles fell in. The bulk of the other regiments refusing to saddle or move. Troopers of D Squadron raging began to quietly slip cartridges into their magazines muttering that they were prepared to attack the others if anyone would lead.

The commands came “Prepared to Mount” “Mount” and like one man D Squadron swung into the saddle. Amongst the other squadrons, the response was varied but the bulk stood sullenly at their horses’ heads.

For an hour D Squadron sat ready to ride, every man itching to open fire on the cowardly dastards around them. Then came the order to dismount and off-saddle.

Next day new regiments rode forward to take part in Van Deventer’s wonderful ride which resulted in the Germans finding their rear threatened, and abandoning their position at Aus. Retiring with all speed the Germans were badly smitten at Gibeon by Colonel MacKenzie with the Natal Light Horse, the Imperial Light Horse, the Umuti Mounted Rifles and the Natal Field Artillery after one of the greatest military marches in the history of warfare.

Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915

Meanwhile, the 18th Mounted Rifles, the Midland Horse and various other Cape Colony Boer units rode back to Upington to be disbanded.

After a long dreary ride, the troops arrived back in Upington, D Squadron in a bitter evil temper. No delay was made in disbanding the regiment each man received his pay and two months leave pending discharge.

Thoroughly disgusted with the Union Army Mick proceeded home to Cape Town to receive a wonderful welcome the joy of which was sadly marred by the feeling of absolute hatred of anything Dutch. A hatred which would never leave him.

Mick’s mother was half Dutch, many of his friends and relatives belonged to the race but to Mick, the Boer was tainted. Mr Osmond vainly argued pointing out the wonderful loyalty and courage displayed by the bulk of the Boer race – Mick sneered.

“They know which side their bread is buttered, most of them, but damned few know the meaning of the words Truth or Honesty.

For a few days, Mick hunted around for means to go overseas. He tried steamers for work as a fireman, coal trimmer or deckhand; interviewed relatives for a loan, approached the Imperial Army Officers still in Cape Town but every shipping company was flooded with applicants like himself.

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Then one night at the theatre he met an old friend of his Marandellas days then a B.S.A police trooper now Captain and Paymaster of the 1st Rhodesian Regiment. He proposed that Mick transfer to the Rhodesians who would shortly be proceeding overseas as a unit.

Mick welcomed the offer and next day after wiring the 18th Mounted Rifles depot at Kimberly was transferred to the Rhodesians with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Six weeks passed – weeks that did Mick no good. He travelled to Kimberly to receive his discharge from the 18th Mounted Rifles who were being demobilized – this broke his service as the transfer was for some reason disallowed thus involving a new enlistment in the Rhodesian Regiment.

On his return Mick found himself being everlastingly dragged into bars by a fellow Staff Sergeants and a thousand and one old acquaintances. There was practically no work as the regiment was in German West Africa and with ample leisure, a high rate of pay and numerous friends Mick lived a life of utter dissipation.

Soon wearing Mick applied for and got a transfer into the 2nd Battalion of the Transvaal Scottish gladly relinquishing his rank and pay as a Staff Sergeant to become a private. 

Three days later he left for Luderitzbucht with two Officers of the battalion. A pleasant sea voyage was followed by a long but interesting railway journey and at last, Mick was landed amongst a battalion composed largely of ex-regulars of the Highland Regiments.

Three days went by – the battalion received orders to move down to take part in the Grand Finale of the Campaign. Hemmed in on all sides the Germans were at last at bay. The same night came news of the surrender of the entire German forces.

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Mick returned with the regiment to Johannesburg via Cape Town.

After a triumphal March through the Golden City the regimental pipes skirling in front they proceeded to a demobilisation camp and a few hours later Mick walked out once more free.

Returning to Cape Town Mick found the 1st Rhodesian Regiment arrived and awaiting orders to proceed overseas – interviewing the Commanding Officer regarding reenlistment Mick was told to hold himself in readiness until definite orders had been received.

Unfortunately, a good deal of dissatisfaction existed in the regiment and a day or two later it was disbanded many of the men returning to Rhodesia which was being threatened by a German invasion – others disgusted with Colonial warfare proceeded to Europe to enlist in Imperial units.

For a few days, Mick picked up the threads of his old Sea Point life doing some mountaineering and fishing. With several friends, he discussed every phase of the situation. All were emphatic that they would not serve again in units controlled by the Union Government or engage in Colonial warfare.

Their hearts were set on Europe but funds were lacking and scheme after scheme of going to Australia, England or Canada to enlist were threshed out and dismissed as impracticable.

Then came the news that a brigade of infantry was to be raised immediately for service in Europe. The brigade was to be equipped and paid by the Imperial Government and the troops to be enlisted as units of the Imperial Army. 

The next day Cape Town awoke to find itself placarded with recruiting posters, military bands marching through the town, pipes skirling, processions of veterans of former wars exhorting the fit and young to follow in their footsteps and all the beauty of the Cape calling on men to behave as men.

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Still in the uniform of their Union regiments Mick, his brother and a dozen chums joined the long waiting queues outside the City Hall – waited hours, fought their way into the examining doctors presence and after many hours suspense and struggling found themselves soldiers in the King’s Army.

The first year of the war was over. Mick, his brother and chums were lusty with life bronzed and well experienced in army life. All had smelt powder, were trained soldiers and now with open eyes, and sober minds had definitely chosen their future course.

They had taken a man’s share in the greatest of all wars and it was due to no fault of their’s that little of the actual clash of arms had come their way. Not one had hesitated a moment as to where duty lay. They had played a part in the land of their birth and now eagerly they went to help the land of their fathers, to the battlefields of their race.

Mick, his brothers and three school chums enlisted together. Two bore Swedish names, one Irish, two Dutch. Three were to lie beneath the poppies of Flanders, one to rest in Brighton’s Hero Corner. Mick to return a man hardly worn by suffering, hardship and captivity.

From Youth, the five entered manhood and a life which was Life, Love, and Battle and truest Comradeship – life in the service of the Red Gods.

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