Project Canterbury

Journals of the Mashonaland Mission 1888 to 1892

By G. W. H. Knight-Bruce
Bishop for Mashonaland

No place: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1892

Chapter VI. Miss Blennerhasset's Journal.

April 16th.--We, Beryl Welby, Lucy Sleeman, and Rose Blennerhasset, left Capetown en route for Mashonaland to nurse there for the Bishop.

May 7th.--Durban. Alas, we are still here! The Bishop is going to the Pungwé in the first steamer, but it is strongly urged on him and on as that we had better wait for the next steamer, and then go up under the care of Dr. Doyle Glanville, who is attached to the Mission. This is decided on, as we shall go up country quicker in the end.

Sunday, June 14th.--'Mpanda's. It would be difficult to give an idea of the dirt and squalor of this place. The camp is pitched on a mud bank between the Pungw6 and a stagnant creek. We got the tent the Bishop had left ready for us; it had been used meanwhile for some sick men, but a hut was run up instead for them, as they were now convalescent but tentless. Dr. Todd, from H.M.S. Magicienne asked us this morning to help with the sick, of whom he has taken charge, Dr. Wilson, the Company's doctor, being seriously ill with fever. Yesterday morning two natives were found dead. We found 28 in two very dirty miserable sheds. All were very ill, some in great danger. We began to clean out the sheds ourselves, when a European sent two of his natives to do it. We fed the natives every three hours to-day, and I hope we shall lose none. Dr. Todd's kindness to the natives is delightful to see.

[93] Monday, June 15th.--Couldn't sleep last night because of lions roaring about half a mile from camp, where they were devouring a bullock. The rats were troublesome too--they are enormous, and run over us at night, often dropping on our heads from the roof of the tent; but they are not so fierce as English rats--their snouts are less sharp--they are more like gigantic field-mice.

We went to-day to see a so-called road, which is merely a rude track along which some grass has been burnt. A runner brought letters from the Bishop, who gives directions for our getting carriers, and being carried up in 'machilas,' in the Portuguese fashion. It is, we are told, a walk of 160 miles. We are anxious to get on.

Monday, June 29th.--Since last entry most of our sick have become convalescent. Out of 42 Europeans at 'Mpanda's 88 have had fever. Some working-men, bricklayers, &c, who had come up with their Bavings, spent everything at 'Mpanda's, unable to get on, and at last turned back with no money and with shattered health. 'Mpanda's is crammed with stores of all kinds; the owners of them can't get on. To-day the Bishop's man, Wilkins, came back from a kraal about fifty miles away, and brought us 28 natives--16 able-bodied and seven almost children. We have given up all idea of 'machilas,' as we want to try and take provisions up, and each 'machila' requires four boys. We have engaged some Portuguese-speaking boys, and hope to be ready to leave to-morrow. There is no change in the camp, and it is very difficult to get money to pay the natives. They only understand two coins--a rupee and 'umpoundo,' which is £1. They would rather have a rupee, value 1. 8d., than 5s.

Wednesday, July 1st.--We are away from 'Mpanda's at last! We planned to encamp last night about four miles from 'Mpanda's, and begin our walk in earnest to-day. Our departure was delayed in many ways, the natives being very tiresome, rushing back to the canteen to drink, refusing [93/94] to start, &c., so that it was getting dark as we filed after the long line of carriers down to a point where we were to cross the Pungwé. One little canoe, dug out of a tree, was there to meet us, and a strange little shrivelled old man paddled us over. We sat on the edges of the canoe, there being no seats or sticks across, and the boat was too narrow to admit of our sitting at the bottom of it. We were in mortal terror, afraid to breathe, for a sudden movement would easily upset such a canoe, and the river, as we know, swarms with crocodiles. It was a great relief to be on terra firma again, and to watch the natives and the loads coming over. We had now arrived at the kraal where we were to spend the night. It was already dark, and we proceeded to hunt up the bundle containing candles, lanterns, &c, but it was not to be found. To our horror we discovered that the boy who carried this special load had not come on; he had got tipsy, and remained 'somewhere.' There was hardly any wood to be had, but we made as good a fire as we could, and took the contretemps gaily. It was hopeless to try and pitch a tent in such darkness and confusion, so we rolled ourselves in our blankets and slept by the camp fire. We could hear lions roaring in the distance, and the weird cry of the hyena. Towards morning we were roused from troubled sleep by frightful screams and lamentations, a sort of dismal chant, broken by long sobbing screams; it was really a blood-curdling Bound, and for some moments we were afraid to move or speak. At last, seeing that our natives were paying little or no attention to it, we made inquiries, and found that one of the inhabitants of the kraal had just died, and his people were keening over him, much as mourners do in Ireland. As we got up we were requested to go away to one end of the kraal, and not cross the path along which the body was carried in a very ingenious sort of wicker work shell. When it had departed we started on our walk in earnest.

Friday, July 3rd.--We arrived here, Sarmento, to-day, [94/95] a little after 1 p.m. We are now forty-five miles from 'Mpanda's. Yesterday's walk was very trying; there was no water for nearly twelve miles; the soil was loose, sandy, and for every step forward we seemed to slide two back. Late in the afternoon we reached a shelter built of grass, where we decided on spending the night. We found a young fellow from 'Mpanda's there, suffering from the effects of fever; he seemed still to be rather light-beaded. His friend had followed a honey-bird into the bush, and came back noon after with the honey in a sort of palm-leaf basket. During the night the lions came down to drink at the swampy pool in front of the shelter, and they made a terrific noise. It seemed very strange to be so near all these wild creatures, with not even the slenderest door or mat to shut them out of our hut. In the morning the spoor of an elephant was seen. I wish we could have Been him and the lions--from a distance.

To-day's walk was uneventful. The path crossed a green park-like country, with good-sized trees dotted about, and clumps of palm trees. We saw an immense quantity of game, antelopes, and buffaloes. The natives became much excited; they flung down their loads and rushed after the buffaloes with their assegais. They killed one, and then followed us into Sarmento with huge lumps of gory flesh bound on their loads, and covered with blood.

Sarmento is beautifully situated on a sort of plateau terrace, with the river dashing over rocks below, and woods all round. But the village is dirty beyond belief.

July 7th.--In the woods, rain pouring, and great trouble with our carriers. At the first halt, a few hours from Sarmento, they refused to go any further. The 'Inkoos,' or chief, a very picturesque person, with his wool plaited into at least a hundred little tails, went off and hid in the woods. Towards evening he returned, and asked for blankets for all his men, pointing to ours as if inclined to take them. Dr. Glanville sent him away, and he and his [95/96] men retired in great ill-humour. The next morning the Inkoos and men came and deposited their money at our feet, but after long persuasion were induced to take it up again and go on with us.

July 10th.--Shemoios. Arrived here an hour or two ago. Stopped to breakfast at Mandigo's, a deserted Portuguese camp. Natives poured in from neighbouring kraals. The women made us presents of meal. Wherever we go the natives display great curiosity about us, watching us whilst we eat, and often following us to some distance. They used to declare at 'Mpanda's that the white women never eat, because their waists left no room for food to go down. At Mandigo's we met a native with letters, and found one for us from the Bishop, who supposes us to be at 'Mpanda's.

All round here is very, very pretty.

July 19th.--Massi-Kessi. Here we are after quite an adventure. All our boys, except four Portuguese natives, fled in the night at Shemoios! It was wet and dismal, and at first we were almost in despair; but, after a short discussion, we three decided on pushing on with Dr. Glanville and three natives. We took only a change of things with us, the smallest possible amount of food, and we left most of our blankets behind. Our few men went splendidly, and we got over the ground very well indeed. A few miles beyond Shemoios we came upon a troop of zebra, who did not allow our presence to disturb them very much. Last night we encamped outside Massi-Kessi. One of my boots was almost torn in two by the stump of a tree.

We have sent on a runner to the Bishop to tell him of our approach, and mean to encamp a few miles beyond this place.

July 14th.--At last--Umtali! Yesterday was a day of misfortune, for on leaving Massi-Kessi we found that the boys had lost their way, and were not even sure of the direction of Umtali. When we halted they went to [96/97] explore the neighbourhood; but we must have gone far out of our way, for we walked rapidly since 6.30 a.m., halting only once for half an hour, and we did not reach this place till 5 p.m. We climbed bare slippery hillsides; the heat was intense, and we could find no water till late in the afternoon. We had nothing to eat, the provisions having come to an end the day before. However, we had a small quantity of bovril, which we drank when we found a stream. We almost despaired of reaching Umtali, and it was with a feeling of intense relief that we suddenly saw the police flag afar off. The Bishop met us at a river below his camp; he had only got our letter an hour or two before we arrived. He gave us up his hut, and made us as comfortable as possible. I feel very ill, and fear I have got the fever.

Saturday, August 15th.--We have now been at Umtali a month, and are still at Sabi Ophir camp, the guests of Mr. Campion. The Bishop has gone to his Mission farm--a place about three miles from here, very picturesquely situated. The Mission-house will be on the top of a craggy mount commanding a beautiful view of the valley. I have had a rather bad attack of fever; Sister Beryl a slight one; and the Bishop has had some very sharp ones. The Company are building our hospital huts about half a mile from the camp, and the doctor's alone on a bare hillside. There is difficulty in obtaining native labour, and one does not wonder, as one hears so many stories of the way in which the natives have been ill-treated and cheated by some of the white men. The Bishop has more natives than he needs offering to work for him, and his natives do not run away. On the Mission farm, if the natives don't like it, and stay for a few days only, they are paid for what they have done, and part on good terms. They are neither pampered nor made much of there, and have to work very hard, but they are treated with perfect justice, and never knocked about.

[98] No doubt the native has great powers of aggravation, and the blunders they commit, the confusion they create, are still more irritating by their indifference to results, whether good or bad. A shrug of the shoulder, an 'I kona,' represents all they feel on every subject excepting food. On the other hand I have found them astonishingly honest. We never by any chance lock up anything, and have never missed even a spoonful of sugar, though sugar is a great temptation to them.

We are still without luggage of any kind, excepting what we brought up with us--merely a change each. A man who contracts to manage transport took our things and most of the Bishop's stores away from 'Mpanda's on the 6th of July, with waggons and eighty oxen. We hear that all the oxen are dead and the waggons stuck on the road. I fear our journey up and the bringing up of stores has cost the Bishop four or five times as much as there was reason to suppose it would when we set out.

Monday, August 24th.--To-day we heard with surprise and regret of the death of Dr. Doyle Glanville from fever and exhaustion. He was apparently a very strong, healthy man, but towards the end of our walk up appeared to suffer from exhaustion. He would not take any medicine. He was ill at Umtali after his arrival. He left the Bishop for Fort Salisbury, and died by the roadside a few miles from his destination. Three natives were with him.

The erratic post arrived to-day with the first English letters we have had since we left Natal. They were dated May 1891. The mail-bags come in different ways. Sometimes they dangle from a native's assegai, sometimes they go by waggon at the rate of a very few miles a day, sometimes they tear down by runners. You may get a letter dated July before you receive one dated May. Natives have got tired of the mail, and stuck it into the thatch of a roof or hung it on a tree and gone away. Orders marked [98/99] 'Urgent' were found in this way by a police officer weeks and weeks after he should have received them.

Three of our trunks arrived to-day and the Bishop's medicine chest. The latter has been broken open. We are assured that the branch of a tree took off the lock, tore out five screws, and split the lid evenly into two parts. The branches of African trees are endowed with marvellous powers. A number of bottles of medicine have been taken out of the chest, and an excellent little surgical case--quite new--has disappeared, together with waterproof sheets, &c. Our remaining boxes are 'somewhere' in the open between this and 'Mpanda's.

October 25th.--We walked over to the new township, which is rushing on. The temporary hospital is up; we are to have five huts with a covered way between, and a kitchen with two pantry places. Then there is to be another covered way to the two hospital wards, one for civilians, holding fifteen beds, and one for the police, holding five beds; close to these is the dispensary.


Project Canterbury