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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Mick Osmond’s story continues

This links to The Mine of Mac of the Hills with some changes.

When Le Roux called next morning at The Criterion, he found to his disgust that Mrs O’Connor had left early on a sightseeing trip with Morag and Reginald (MacGregor).

“It was made up on the spur of the moment,” explained Mr O’Connor from the warm comfort of his bed. “Jock Anderson (the mining commissioner) was thinking maybe Miss McDonald would like to see a gold mine and my wife thought an extra day or two in town would not be hurting myself or the ranch.”

“They’ll be back tonight then?” inquired Le Roux trying to conceal his vexation. “Tomorrow more likely. We’re catching the 6 p.m. and there’s nothing to interest Mrs O’Connor in Bulawayo. Trot away Gerald it’s grieved I am at your missing them but it’ll be more vexed I’d be if I myself was to lose the chance of sleeping past the sun.”

Realising there was nothing to be done Le Roux left mentally cursing Mrs O’Connor and all friends of hers. But whilst Le Roux liverish at the unaccustomed hour of rising was consigning her to perdition Mrs O’Connor was at peace with all things.

The early spring splashed the veld with masses of colour, the morning air crisp and fresh filled her with the joy of homecoming, best of all her protégées happy and brimful of laughter were safe under her wing speeding to what the experienced Anderson had assured her would kill the mining nonsense forever.

“Great things cars are,” the mine owner remarked, “In the old days we’d have spent from a fortnight to a month on a trip we’ll do comfortably in two days now.” And to Morag’s delight, he began to reel off tale after tale of pioneering days.

“No roads, no bridges and no shops – living by the rifle in a country of sullen unconquered foes, the veld one’s butcher shop, wild beasts and fever always threatening. But you’ll see quite a lot of the old life at the ranch yet, won’t they Mrs O’Connor?”

“I hear lions are pretty troublesome down young Mick Osmond’s way?”

“So Dennis was saying but it’s wild country all over the ranch. We’ve even elephants – no bathing either Morag for the rivers are swarming with crocs. You’ll have to be careful with Rory (Morag’s Highland Collie dog), crocodiles love dogs.”

“Reminds me,” said Anderson and again came the recital of frontier tales. Four hours sped by through open Savannah country.

“It’s mostly ranching land” the mine owner explained “rather uninteresting but we’re following the railway on a sort of Hogsback. This is the main watershed and a few miles either side the country begins to drop off into terraces then you’re in real Rhodesian scenery and the lower the altitude the more tropical the climate. We’ll soon turn off and you’ll see some wild looking country.”

“How did Uncle get his name Mac o’ the Hills?” asked Morag suddenly, “was it because he was so very Highland?”

Anderson grinned, “He was pretty wild and Woolly from what I remember, most of us were, but it was some theory about gold formation that really gave him the name. We all went more or less by nicknames such as Mickey the Goose, and the like.”

“Whereabouts is Taba Mhlope?” Mrs O’Connor broke in “Our company’s got a big ranch down here somewhere – in fact, Dennis thinks there’s a likelihood of our being shifted to it.”

“Oh, I do hope you are Mollie! Is their Ranch near where Uncle was prospecting Mr Anderson?” Morag cried excitedly.

“I’m not sure,” answered the mining man, “Taba Mhlope’s on some big ranch maybe it’s the Zambezi Pioneering Company’s. It’s years since I was down there and the country wasn’t taken up then. How about brekker Mrs O’Connor, dso we stop or eat as we go?”

“As we go, Jock I think, I’ve two thermos and bags of sandwiches.”

At last Anderson pulled up at the little Frontier station with its usual surroundings of trading stores, hotel and cattle loading ramp.

“Well here’s Mapeta where we branch off. Stretch your legs youngsters while I make enquiries about roads and Mrs O’Connor fills the thermos. “Care for a drink, Lumsden, the beer won’t hurt you.”

As the men disappeared into a native trading store housed in the same building signboards proclaimed as an hotel and bar, Morag alive with interest decided to give her a collie a run and utilise the opportunity to see something of the hamlet she presumed would be her headquarters.

Not even the glamour of frontier life could make Mapeta a place of desire. The centre for many big cattle ranchers and several mining enterprises what comprised Mapeta was mostly dust. A few doleful ragged eucalyptus trees heavily burdened with quantities of Mapeta’s outstanding product (the dust?) grew bravely round the stationmaster’s tiny garden, a tiny oasis in a pan of thick red powder.

An American windmill creaked and groaned for lubrication behind the crumbling bricks of what buildings weren’t of unpainted corrugated iron. Old tins that had once contained beef of other ranching countries, broken paraffin tins, disused jam tins lay scattered everywhere and starved dogs slunk curlike by or scratched for fleas. A few natives in what appeared the diseased rags of scarecrows looked with unemotional incurious eyes after the girl, pot-bellied naked picaninnies scurried to their mother’s rags.

Morag felt her spirits fail. Such desolation she had never believed could exist. Swiftly that curse of the Celtic race – the reaction to atmosphere descended like clammy mist swirling about her heart. Was it an omen of the future she wondered looking about for Rory who had gone in hot pursuit of a starving mongrel?

The clatter of galloping hooves and a wild chorus of barks in Rory’s voice dispelled the gloom. Down came a whirling torrent of dust, a horse shied violently across the road, a wild-looking man cursed freely as swinging his mount around he hauled it on its haunches. Rory barking ferociously sprang at the horse and whistling him Morag darted forward. “Morag by all that’s Holy” shouted the dust-covered rider “Down Rory! Down! or you’ll have me off, Whoa! Ginger Whoa!”

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….

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 59 Disaster at the Front.

End of 58th Entry: Ships officers and Chinese sailors gathered around smoking, listening and joining in the choruses. From the Artillery Transport, from the rolling sailing ships came echoing back the strains as soldiers and sailors took up the well-known songs.

At daybreak next morning the barges were alongside but to the consternation of the Head Conductor, a message came that the only winchmen were employed in discharging the artillery batteries.

Whilst regretting his inability to supply a professional winchman the Transport Officer’s orders were that the Head Conductor was to do the best he could under the circumstances as somehow or other his material and animals had to be landed at once.

A bewildered, unhappy Dutchman interviewed the ship’s Captain but he refused to take the responsibility. None of the Conductors had worked a winch or knew anything of machinery. A few Coloured men admitted to a working acquaintance with winches but confessed their knowledge to be scanty.

A start was made with these men under the voluntary help of the Chinese Bo’sun. As an experiment, a waggon was hauled from one of the holds, hoisted high in the air, swung outboard and lowered into the waiting barge.

There was a considerable amount of swell which caused the steamer to roll heavily whilst it’s effect on the barges was to keep them rising high to the crest of a mighty roller then sinking far into the trough between the passed and incoming surge.

As the ship rolled towards the land the barge would be rising towards the ship – for a brief space of moments, the barge’s hold would be directly under the crane giving an experienced winchman time to skillfully drop his load into the barge.

Any misjudgement meant that the load either dropped into an ever-widening space between the two craft or into a rapidly narrowing one. In the former case, the load would probably strike the sea, in the latter being crushed between the rolling, rising and sinking vessels.

For a while, all went well then the Bo’sun leaving one Chinaman in charge of the forward and one at the after winch, hurried off to his own duties.

The forward winch crew were discharging donkeys slung in pairs and the after winch waggons. Mick going below took charge of hitching waggons to the iron hook of the after crane, another Conductor from the hatchway signalled to the winchman when to hoist, hold, lower or swing across, whilst a third from the ship’s side directed the lowering into the barges. Forrad the same procedure was observed.

The Bo’sun had directed both crane crews without apparent difficulty and with great success. On his departure, all manner of complications began.

The Chinese winchman could not understand the Conductor’s signs, the Conductors were not good at judging time or distance nor at all good at signals.

Unfortunate donkeys hitched to the crane-hook were suddenly yanked into the air in the middle of the roll of the ship. This, nine times out of ten meant them being swung from the hatchway to under the deck and being caught there – a wrong signal would drop them hard into the hold – after two or three attempts, a pair of stunned, bleeding, half dead animals would be triumphantly hoisted high into the air swung outboard, to hang a moment before being dropped into the sea, hauled furiously up, jammed between ship and barge and squashed flat.

The same happened to the waggons. When twenty-nine donkeys had been killed and a dozen waggons reduced to matchwood the Chief Officer stepped in. The Bo’sun was reinstated and immediately the work proceeded rapidly, methodically and successfully.

Well over half the cargo had been discharged when orders came to immediately reload everything. The vessel was to proceed at full steam back to Cape Town.

A most terrible disaster had occurred at the Front.

Colonel Grant dispatched by Colonel Lukin to seize the waterholes of Sandfontein twenty miles beyond the Orange River had been surrounded by a vastly superior force of Germans. After fighting to the last cartridge he badly wounded had surrendered with what was left of the famous Cape Mounted Rifles, two companies of the Rand Light Infantry and a section of the Transvaal Horse Artillery.

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German sergeant shortly before the Battle of Sandfontein.

This news was bad but there was worse to come, Colonel Manie Maritz in command of a large body of Union Defence Force troops had forsworn his allegiance and joined the Germans, handing over to the enemy large supplies of war material. The bulk of his troops, young Dutchman of the Kenhardt and Gordonia Districts had gone into rebellion with him.

A Scandinavian winchman came aboard and under his skilled management the ship was soon loaded, the anchor was weighed immediately and the ship steamed seawards.

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The return voyage was perfect. A strong breeze kept the air keen and invigorating, the sea gave of its best behaviour, everybody white or coloured had gained his sea legs whilst appetites were simply voracious.

A day off Cape Town the smoke of two vessels appeared on the horizon. Whispers spread that one was a warship resulting in much uneasiness as it seemed very possible that the ships might be a German cruiser escorting a prize. Soon fears were set at rest when the Captain identified her build as British and her companion as a Union Castle liner.

The two were overhauling the Queensland rapidly and soon a flutter of signal flags broke from the cruiser’s yardarm. The Queensland replied and news came around the decks that the two were British cruisers escorting a Union Castle liner filled with Portuguese troops.

As the troopship passed the soldiers lining the ship’s sides cheered and waved evidently pleased at any break in the monotony of their long voyage. Mick with all a Rhodesian’s dislike of the race who barred Rhodesia from the ocean sniffed.

“Wish they’d join the Germans,” he remarked. “In 1893…” – and he told of a war discreetly omitted from history books.

On arrival in Cape Town, the donkeys were disembarked, driven to Maitland and Mick with two of his fellow Conductors took over four hundred mules and two hundred horses. These were immediately entrained, a work entailing a vast expenditure of blasphemy and energy, and without delay, the long line of laden trucks were hauled out from the siding. Mick with his companions taking their places in the guard’s van a number of Coloured men being distributed amongst the trucks.

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The new destination was Prieska in the North-West of Cape Colony where forces were being assembled to operate against the Dutch rebels.