From Boatsheds to Battlefields 40 A Challenge

Mick was learning fast that his house held in honour and esteem wherever he went, and when once again clean and garbed as befitted a son of his father, the lad responded immediately to the kindness and interest shown him by his hostess, with the mercurial temperament of his Irish blood forgetting the past lean months as he chatted gaily of social life at the Cape.

Next day his new employer called for him and behind a pair of magnificent horses, Mick drove out through what seemed to him the most romantic looking country in the world.

The farmer finding Mick interested and well acquainted with the history of his surroundings began to point out various battlefields of the Kaffir Wars (Xhosa Wars). He himself had taken a leading part in the last great Kaffir War as well as innumerable skirmishes and raids. His grandfather who had come out with the 1820 settlers and his father had been through every Native War from 1820 besides fighting in both Boer wars.

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Encouraged by the boy’s eager attention Mr. Tracey related story after story of the old frontier days making twenty miles drive pass in what seemed no time whatever.

This painting depicts the nine Xhosa Wars between the Xhosa and European settlers(1779-1)

At last a beautiful house nestling under brown lichen-stained crags was reached wherein the cool old-fashioned dining room Mick found a friendly gathering of charming people to meet him.

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A tall good-looking youth of his own age in response to a word from a handsome motherly gentlewoman took Mick to a comfortable well-furnished bedroom telling him that it was his bedroom leaving Mick to have a wash and a change.

In Grahamstown, Mr. Osmond’s friend had insisted on the lad getting an outfit and had taken him to an Outfitter’s to whom he introduced the boy – his wife accompanying them had taken the matter of an outfit into her own hands so Mick was fairly well fitted out even if the clothing was ready-made.

Returning to the living room Mick found a beautiful tea awaiting with two pretty girls to entertain him. One a daughter of the house, the other a niece who was acting as housekeeper. The evening sped by – dinner proved an excellent homely meal so when Mick sought his bed his happy-go-lucky nature revelled in the apparently perfect atmosphere Fate had brought him to.

Next morning he commenced his duties. The farm he found to be run on well-organised business lines. The principal business was ostriches but Mr. Tracey was also a large cattle breeder, possessed many first-class sheep and went in extensively for agriculture.

In many ways, the methods differed from those he had seen and learned in the Struan District – there even the wealthiest farmers had done their utmost to preserve as much as possible the patriarchal system of their forefathers and to adapt as well as they could the old-fashioned life to modern times.

In the Eastern Province Mick found none of this. He was given to understand from the start of his life in the Albany District that he was amongst English people, finding to his utter surprise that the Dutchman was hated and despised and their ways and methods scorned.

For the first time in his life, Mick found himself expected to know his work, to be able to organise, to accept responsibility and to handle native labour efficiently. Accustomed to the friendly Cape Coloured boys all of whom had been born and bred as their fathers before them to work from earliest childhood as farm labourers Mick found great difficulty in doing anything with the Eastern Province farm hands.

Mr. Tracey employed only raw natives except for one old Cape Coloured. These natives were proud fighting Amaxhosa who looked upon most tasks belonging to a woman’s sphere of life – working as a gang on really heavy manual labour they were superb, but as individuals Mick found them lazy, arrogant and soon learned that they were perfectly willing and ready to return blow for blow whether their opponent was white or black.

Then again for the first time in his life, he found himself in contact with tribal pride and prejudice. Some of the employees were Fingoes, members of a race formed by fugitives from the Zulu armies – this race pouring into Kaffir land had been enslaved by the Amaxhosa to be eventually released and granted lands by the British Government.

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The Amaxhosa held the Fingo in utter contempt everlastingly seeking excuses to thrash or otherwise maltreat them. The Fingoes on their part were neither cowards nor weaklings nor had their period of slavery been long enough to render them a servile people. They were of Zulu stock and were mostly ready to stand up to their former masters.

Mick, a short, slightly built lad of nineteen had neither the training nor temperament to win the native’s respect and fear though he soon gained their liking. He was frankly too interested in them to worry about trying to show that he was their master. They on their front found Mick well able to handle ox-whip, implement or stock but very easy-going as regards handling themselves.

Mr. Tracey shook his head but said nothing. He tried Mick in charge of gangs, gave him full responsibility over various works, tested his initiative and after a month called the lad into his office.



From Boatsheds to Battlefields 38 Grease Monkey to Farmer

End of 37th Entry: What a damned fool he was.

At the O’Donovans’ Mick’s experiences were received with yells of laughter adding to the boy’s distress. Everyone appeared to think it an immense joke his sleeping in the wood, dining with a convict, having a beautiful little room and shivering on its floor – greasing two thousand pots in his best suit and being one of so queerly assorted a shift whilst the grand finale sent everyone rolling with mirth.

The next day Mick sailed forth once again in quest of work but first purchased dungarees and a miner’s shirt. Knowing a little more about mines and a few pounds in his pocket the boy felt different to when making the first attempt and now boldly enquired for work as a greaser or trammer – the latter an underground post superintending and loading of trucks with ore and seeing that the natives pushed them as quickly as possible from the stopes and working faces to the shafts.

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Times were bad however and more men were being laid off than taken on but still Mick kept calling on several old school friends returned home that night in a fairly cheerful mood. He had practically been promised a job by three old boyhood acquaintances and at the O’Donovan’s found a Mine Captain who had once been engaged to Muriel.

This man desiring to stand in well with the girl of his choice immediately told Mick that he would fix him up underground if he called next afternoon.

In the meantime, if Mick cared he could come down with the O’Donovans whom the Mine Captain was taking underground to show the girls what it was like 4000 feet below the Earth’s surface.

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Thrilled and delighted Mick joined the party and an hour later they all entered one of the great three-decker skips and dropped at the rate of 1000 feet per minute to the level they were to be shown.

As the skip stopped and the door opened the party saw what seemed to be a heavy rain falling past the doorway. Stepping out onto a station landing they found themselves in a great tunnel hewn out of the solid rock and taking the roadway into it passed along a narrow track laid with rails.

As they walked procession after procession of little iron trucks each pushed by an all but naked native passed by.

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From the drive, they saw the stopes twisting away from the main tunnel. Each of these stopes represented a vein of gold-bearing ore which had been followed into and extracted from the rock walls – some were great chambers, some long wide tunnels others so narrow that it was a thing to wonder at as to how men had found space to work in them.

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After an hour the party returned to the surface Mick very full of satisfaction as to conditions below.

Next morning, however, brought a long letter from Mick’s Dad in which he offered his choice of several farming billets all but one on properties owned by legal friends of his fathers’ and offering the same pupil basis terms which he had had before. Board and lodging and in one instance a pound a month pocket money.

Wrinkling his nose in disgust he came to the postscript. One of the leading Eastern Province farmers wanted an assistant manager to start at £15 per month and all found. Mr. Osmond gave some particulars which described the farmer as a thorough English gentleman known throughout Africa as one of the best practical and progressive men in the Cape Colony.

Mick liked the prospect of seeing the Eastern Province and the job seemed good so he wired applying for the billet but stipulating a three month’s trial. An answer came the same day accepting and asking him to leave for Grahamstown immediately.

Calling on a friend of his father’s, Mick borrowed three pounds to make up the fare and with many an affectionate word bade farewell to the O’Donovans and Muriel.