January 28, 2022 at 3:13 pm #6262
From Tanganyika with Love
continued ~ part 3
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Mchewe Estate. 22nd March 1935
I am feeling much better now that I am five months pregnant and have quite got
my appetite back. Once again I go out with “the Mchewe Hunt” which is what George
calls the procession made up of the donkey boy and donkey with Ann confidently riding
astride, me beside the donkey with Georgie behind riding the stick which he much
prefers to the donkey. The Alsatian pup, whom Ann for some unknown reason named
‘Tubbage’, and the two cats bring up the rear though sometimes Tubbage rushes
ahead and nearly knocks me off my feet. He is not the loveable pet that Kelly was.
It is just as well that I have recovered my health because my mother-in-law has
decided to fly out from England to look after Ann and George when I am in hospital. I am
very grateful for there is no one lse to whom I can turn. Kath Hickson-Wood is seldom on
their farm because Hicky is working a guano claim and is making quite a good thing out of
selling bat guano to the coffee farmers at Mbosi. They camp out at the claim, a series of
caves in the hills across the valley and visit the farm only occasionally. Anne Molteno is
off to Cape Town to have her baby at her mothers home and there are no women in
Mbeya I know well. The few women are Government Officials wives and they come
and go. I make so few trips to the little town that there is no chance to get on really
friendly terms with them.
Janey, the ayah, is turning into a treasure. She washes and irons well and keeps
the children’s clothes cupboard beautifully neat. Ann and George however are still
reluctant to go for walks with her. They find her dull because, like all African ayahs, she
has no imagination and cannot play with them. She should however be able to help with
the baby. Ann is very excited about the new baby. She so loves all little things.
Yesterday she went into ecstasies over ten newly hatched chicks.
She wants a little sister and perhaps it would be a good thing. Georgie is so very
active and full of mischief that I feel another wild little boy might be more than I can
manage. Although Ann is older, it is Georgie who always thinks up the mischief. They
have just been having a fight. Georgie with the cooks umbrella versus Ann with her frilly
pink sunshade with the inevitable result that the sunshade now has four broken ribs.
Any way I never feel lonely now during the long hours George is busy on the
shamba. The children keep me on my toes and I have plenty of sewing to do for the
baby. George is very good about amusing the children before their bedtime and on
Sundays. In the afternoons when it is not wet I take Ann and Georgie for a walk down
the hill. George meets us at the bottom and helps me on the homeward journey. He
grabs one child in each hand by the slack of their dungarees and they do a sort of giant
stride up the hill, half walking half riding.
Very much love,
Mchewe Estate. 14th June 1935
A great flap here. We had a letter yesterday to say that mother-in-law will be
arriving in four days time! George is very amused at my frantic efforts at spring cleaning
but he has told me before that she is very house proud so I feel I must make the best
of what we have.
George is very busy building a store for the coffee which will soon be ripening.
This time he is doing the bricklaying himself. It is quite a big building on the far end of the
farm and close to the river. He is also making trays of chicken wire nailed to wooden
frames with cheap calico stretched over the wire.
Mother will have to sleep in the verandah room which leads off the bedroom
which we share with the children. George will have to sleep in the outside spare room as
there is no door between the bedroom and the verandah room. I am sewing frantically
to make rose coloured curtains and bedspread out of material mother-in-law sent for
Christmas and will have to make a curtain for the doorway. The kitchen badly needs
whitewashing but George says he cannot spare the labour so I hope mother won’t look.
To complicate matters, George has been invited to lunch with the Governor on the day
of Mother’s arrival. After lunch they are to visit the newly stocked trout streams in the
Mporotos. I hope he gets back to Mbeya in good time to meet mother’s plane.
Ann has been off colour for a week. She looks very pale and her pretty fair hair,
normally so shiny, is dull and lifeless. It is such a pity that mother should see her like this
because first impressions do count so much and I am looking to the children to attract
attention from me. I am the size of a circus tent and hardly a dream daughter-in-law.
Georgie, thank goodness, is blooming but he has suddenly developed a disgusting
habit of spitting on the floor in the manner of the natives. I feel he might say “Gran, look
how far I can spit and give an enthusiastic demonstration.
Just hold thumbs that all goes well.
your loving but anxious,
Mchewe Estate. 28th June 1935
Mother-in-law duly arrived in the District Commissioner’s car. George did not dare
to use the A.C. as she is being very temperamental just now. They also brought the
mail bag which contained a parcel of lovely baby clothes from you. Thank you very
much. Mother-in-law is very put out because the large parcel she posted by surface
mail has not yet arrived.
Mother arrived looking very smart in an ankle length afternoon frock of golden
brown crepe and smart hat, and wearing some very good rings. She is a very
handsome woman with the very fair complexion that goes with red hair. The hair, once
Titan, must now be grey but it has been very successfully tinted and set. I of course,
was shapeless in a cotton maternity frock and no credit to you. However, so far, motherin-
law has been uncritical and friendly and charmed with the children who have taken to
her. Mother does not think that the children resemble me in any way. Ann resembles her
family the Purdys and Georgie is a Morley, her mother’s family. She says they had the
same dark eyes and rather full mouths. I say feebly, “But Georgie has my colouring”, but
mother won’t hear of it. So now you know! Ann is a Purdy and Georgie a Morley.
Perhaps number three will be a Leslie.
What a scramble I had getting ready for mother. Her little room really looks pretty
and fresh, but the locally woven grass mats arrived only minutes before mother did. I
also frantically overhauled our clothes and it a good thing that I did so because mother
has been going through all the cupboards looking for mending. Mother is kept so busy
in her own home that I think she finds time hangs on her hands here. She is very good at
entertaining the children and has even tried her hand at picking coffee a couple of times.
Mother cannot get used to the native boy servants but likes Janey, so Janey keeps her
room in order. Mother prefers to wash and iron her own clothes.
I almost lost our cook through mother’s surplus energy! Abel our previous cook
took a new wife last month and, as the new wife, and Janey the old, were daggers
drawn, Abel moved off to a job on the Lupa leaving Janey and her daughter here.
The new cook is capable, but he is a fearsome looking individual called Alfani. He has a
thick fuzz of hair which he wears long, sometimes hidden by a dingy turban, and he
wears big brass earrings. I think he must be part Somali because he has a hawk nose
and a real Brigand look. His kitchen is never really clean but he is an excellent cook and
as cooks are hard to come by here I just keep away from the kitchen. Not so mother!
A few days after her arrival she suggested kindly that I should lie down after lunch
so I rested with the children whilst mother, unknown to me, went out to the kitchen and
not only scrubbed the table and shelves but took the old iron stove to pieces and
cleaned that. Unfortunately in her zeal she poked a hole through the stove pipe.
Had I known of these activities I would have foreseen the cook’s reaction when
he returned that evening to cook the supper. he was furious and wished to leave on the
spot and demanded his wages forthwith. The old Memsahib had insulted him by
scrubbing his already spotless kitchen and had broken his stove and made it impossible
for him to cook. This tirade was accompanied by such waving of hands and rolling of
eyes that I longed to sack him on the spot. However I dared not as I might not get
another cook for weeks. So I smoothed him down and he patched up the stove pipe
with a bit of tin and some wire and produced a good meal. I am wondering what
transformations will be worked when I am in hospital.
Our food is really good but mother just pecks at it. No wonder really, because
she has had some shocks. One day she found the kitchen boy diligently scrubbing the box lavatory seat with a scrubbing brush which he dipped into one of my best large
saucepans! No one can foresee what these boys will do. In these remote areas house
servants are usually recruited from the ranks of the very primitive farm labourers, who first
come to the farm as naked savages, and their notions of hygiene simply don’t exist.
One day I said to mother in George’s presence “When we were newly married,
mother, George used to brag about your cooking and say that you would run a home
like this yourself with perhaps one ‘toto’. Mother replied tartly, “That was very bad of
George and not true. If my husband had brought me out here I would not have stayed a
month. I think you manage very well.” Which reply made me warm to mother a lot.
To complicate things we have a new pup, a little white bull terrier bitch whom
George has named Fanny. She is tiny and not yet house trained but seems a plucky
and attractive little animal though there is no denying that she does look like a piglet.
Very much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 3rd August 1935
Here I am in hospital, comfortably in bed with our new daughter in her basket
beside me. She is a lovely little thing, very plump and cuddly and pink and white and
her head is covered with tiny curls the colour of Golden Syrup. We meant to call her
Margery Kate, after our Marj and my mother-in-law whose name is Catherine.
I am enjoying the rest, knowing that George and mother will be coping
successfully on the farm. My room is full of flowers, particularly with the roses and
carnations which grow so well here. Kate was not due until August 5th but the doctor
wanted me to come in good time in view of my tiresome early pregnancy.
For weeks beforehand George had tinkered with the A.C. and we started for
Mbeya gaily enough on the twenty ninth, however, after going like a dream for a couple
of miles, she simply collapsed from exhaustion at the foot of a hill and all the efforts of
the farm boys who had been sent ahead for such an emergency failed to start her. So
George sent back to the farm for the machila and I sat in the shade of a tree, wondering
what would happen if I had the baby there and then, whilst George went on tinkering
with the car. Suddenly she sprang into life and we roared up that hill and all the way into
Mbeya. The doctor welcomed us pleasantly and we had tea with his family before I
settled into my room. Later he examined me and said that it was unlikely that the baby
would be born for several days. The new and efficient German nurse said, “Thank
goodness for that.” There was a man in hospital dying from a stomach cancer and she
had not had a decent nights sleep for three nights.
Kate however had other plans. I woke in the early morning with labour pains but
anxious not to disturb the nurse, I lay and read or tried to read a book, hoping that I
would not have to call the nurse until daybreak. However at four a.m., I went out into the
wind which was howling along the open verandah and knocked on the nurse’s door. She
got up and very crossly informed me that I was imagining things and should get back to
bed at once. She said “It cannot be so. The Doctor has said it.” I said “Of course it is,”
and then and there the water broke and clinched my argument. She then went into a flat
spin. “But the bed is not ready and my instruments are not ready,” and she flew around
to rectify this and also sent an African orderly to call the doctor. I paced the floor saying
warningly “Hurry up with that bed. I am going to have the baby now!” She shrieked
“Take off your dressing gown.” But I was passed caring. I flung myself on the bed and
there was Kate. The nurse had done all that was necessary by the time the doctor
A funny thing was, that whilst Kate was being born on the bed, a black cat had
kittens under it! The doctor was furious with the nurse but the poor thing must have crept
in out of the cold wind when I went to call the nurse. A happy omen I feel for the baby’s
future. George had no anxiety this time. He stayed at the hospital with me until ten
o’clock when he went down to the hotel to sleep and he received the news in a note
from me with his early morning tea. He went to the farm next morning but will return on
the sixth to fetch me home.
I do feel so happy. A very special husband and three lovely children. What
more could anyone possibly want.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 20th August 1935
Well here we are back at home and all is very well. The new baby is very placid
and so pretty. Mother is delighted with her and Ann loved her at sight but Georgie is not
so sure. At first he said, “Your baby is no good. Chuck her in the kalonga.” The kalonga
being the ravine beside the house , where, I regret to say, much of the kitchen refuse is
dumped. he is very jealous when I carry Kate around or feed her but is ready to admire
her when she is lying alone in her basket.
George walked all the way from the farm to fetch us home. He hired a car and
native driver from the hotel, but drove us home himself going with such care over ruts
and bumps. We had a great welcome from mother who had had the whole house
spring cleaned. However George loyally says it looks just as nice when I am in charge.
Mother obviously, had had more than enough of the back of beyond and
decided to stay on only one week after my return home. She had gone into the kitchen
one day just in time to see the houseboy scooping the custard he had spilt on the table
back into the jug with the side of his hand. No doubt it would have been served up
without a word. On another occasion she had walked in on the cook’s daily ablutions. He
was standing in a small bowl of water in the centre of the kitchen, absolutely naked,
enjoying a slipper bath. She left last Wednesday and gave us a big laugh before she
left. She never got over her horror of eating food prepared by our cook and used to
push it around her plate. Well, when the time came for mother to leave for the plane, she
put on the very smart frock in which she had arrived, and then came into the sitting room
exclaiming in dismay “Just look what has happened, I must have lost a stone!’ We
looked, and sure enough, the dress which had been ankle deep before, now touched
the floor. “Good show mother.” said George unfeelingly. “You ought to be jolly grateful,
you needed to lose weight and it would have cost you the earth at a beauty parlour to
get that sylph-like figure.”
When mother left she took, in a perforated matchbox, one of the frilly mantis that
live on our roses. She means to keep it in a goldfish bowl in her dining room at home.
Georgie and Ann filled another matchbox with dead flies for food for the mantis on the
Now that mother has left, Georgie and Ann attach themselves to me and firmly
refuse to have anything to do with the ayah,Janey. She in any case now wishes to have
a rest. Mother tipped her well and gave her several cotton frocks so I suspect she wants
to go back to her hometown in Northern Rhodesia to show off a bit.
Georgie has just sidled up with a very roguish look. He asked “You like your
baby?” I said “Yes indeed I do.” He said “I’ll prick your baby with a velly big thorn.”
Who would be a mother!
Mchewe Estate. 20th September 1935
I have been rather in the wars with toothache and as there is still no dentist at
Mbeya to do the fillings, I had to have four molars extracted at the hospital. George
says it is fascinating to watch me at mealtimes these days because there is such a gleam
of satisfaction in my eye when I do manage to get two teeth to meet on a mouthful.
About those scissors Marj sent Ann. It was not such a good idea. First she cut off tufts of
George’s hair so that he now looks like a bad case of ringworm and then she cut a scalp
lock, a whole fist full of her own shining hair, which George so loves. George scolded
Ann and she burst into floods of tears. Such a thing as a scolding from her darling daddy
had never happened before. George immediately made a long drooping moustache
out of the shorn lock and soon had her smiling again. George is always very gentle with
Ann. One has to be , because she is frightfully sensitive to criticism.
I am kept pretty busy these days, Janey has left and my houseboy has been ill
with pneumonia. I now have to wash all the children’s things and my own, (the cook does
George’s clothes) and look after the three children. Believe me, I can hardly keep awake
for Kate’s ten o’clock feed.
I do hope I shall get some new servants next month because I also got George
to give notice to the cook. I intercepted him last week as he was storming down the hill
with my large kitchen knife in his hand. “Where are you going with my knife?” I asked.
“I’m going to kill a man!” said Alfani, rolling his eyes and looking extremely ferocious. “He
has taken my wife.” “Not with my knife”, said I reaching for it. So off Alfani went, bent on
vengeance and I returned the knife to the kitchen. Dinner was served and I made no
enquiries but I feel that I need someone more restful in the kitchen than our brigand
George has been working on the car and has now fitted yet another radiator. This
is a lorry one and much too tall to be covered by the A.C.’s elegant bonnet which is
secured by an old strap. The poor old A.C. now looks like an ancient shoe with a turned
up toe. It only needs me in it with the children to make a fine illustration to the old rhyme!
Ann and Georgie are going through a climbing phase. They practically live in
trees. I rushed out this morning to investigate loud screams and found Georgie hanging
from a fork in a tree by one ankle, whilst Ann stood below on tiptoe with hands stretched
upwards to support his head.
Do I sound as though I have straws in my hair? I have.
Lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 11th October 1935
Thank goodness! I have a new ayah name Mary. I had heard that there was a
good ayah out of work at Tukuyu 60 miles away so sent a messenger to fetch her. She
arrived after dark wearing a bright dress and a cheerful smile and looked very suitable by
the light of a storm lamp. I was horrified next morning to see her in daylight. She was
dressed all in black and had a rather sinister look. She reminds me rather of your old maid
Candace who overheard me laughing a few days before Ann was born and croaked
“Yes , Miss Eleanor, today you laugh but next week you might be dead.” Remember
how livid you were, dad?
I think Mary has the same grim philosophy. Ann took one look at her and said,
“What a horrible old lady, mummy.” Georgie just said “Go away”, both in English and Ki-
Swahili. Anyway Mary’s references are good so I shall keep her on to help with Kate
who is thriving and bonny and placid.
Thank you for the offer of toys for Christmas but, if you don’t mind, I’d rather have
some clothing for the children. Ann is quite contented with her dolls Barbara and Yvonne.
Barbara’s once beautiful face is now pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle having come
into contact with Georgie’s ever busy hammer. However Ann says she will love her for
ever and she doesn’t want another doll. Yvonne’s hay day is over too. She
disappeared for weeks and we think Fanny, the pup, was the culprit. Ann discovered
Yvonne one morning in some long wet weeds. Poor Yvonne is now a ghost of her
former self. All the sophisticated make up was washed off her papier-mâché face and
her hair is decidedly bedraggled, but Ann was radiant as she tucked her back into bed
and Yvonne is as precious to Ann as she ever was.
Georgie simply does not care for toys. His paint box, hammer and the trenching
hoe George gave him for his second birthday are all he wants or needs. Both children
love books but I sometimes wonder whether they stimulate Ann’s imagination too much.
The characters all become friends of hers and she makes up stories about them to tell
Georgie. She adores that illustrated children’s Bible Mummy sent her but you would be
astonished at the yarns she spins about “me and my friend Jesus.” She also will call
Moses “Old Noses”, and looking at a picture of Jacob’s dream, with the shining angels
on the ladder between heaven and earth, she said “Georgie, if you see an angel, don’t
touch it, it’s hot.”
Mchewe Estate. 17th October 1935
I take back the disparaging things I said about my new Ayah, because she has
proved her worth in an unexpected way. On Wednesday morning I settled Kate in he
cot after her ten o’clock feed and sat sewing at the dining room table with Ann and
Georgie opposite me, both absorbed in painting pictures in identical seed catalogues.
Suddenly there was a terrific bang on the back door, followed by an even heavier blow.
The door was just behind me and I got up and opened it. There, almost filling the door
frame, stood a huge native with staring eyes and his teeth showing in a mad grimace. In
his hand he held a rolled umbrella by the ferrule, the shaft I noticed was unusually long
and thick and the handle was a big round knob.
I was terrified as you can imagine, especially as, through the gap under the
native’s raised arm, I could see the new cook and the kitchen boy running away down to
the shamba! I hastily tried to shut and lock the door but the man just brushed me aside.
For a moment he stood over me with the umbrella raised as though to strike. Rather
fortunately, I now think, I was too petrified to say a word. The children never moved but
Tubbage, the Alsatian, got up and jumped out of the window!
Then the native turned away and still with the same fixed stare and grimace,
began to attack the furniture with his umbrella. Tables and chairs were overturned and
books and ornaments scattered on the floor. When the madman had his back turned and
was busily bashing the couch, I slipped round the dining room table, took Ann and
Georgie by the hand and fled through the front door to the garage where I hid the
children in the car. All this took several minutes because naturally the children were
terrified. I was worried to death about the baby left alone in the bedroom and as soon
as I had Ann and Georgie settled I ran back to the house.
I reached the now open front door just as Kianda the houseboy opened the back
door of the lounge. He had been away at the river washing clothes but, on hearing of the
madman from the kitchen boy he had armed himself with a stout stick and very pluckily,
because he is not a robust boy, had returned to the house to eject the intruder. He
rushed to attack immediately and I heard a terrific exchange of blows behind me as I
opened our bedroom door. You can imagine what my feelings were when I was
confronted by an empty cot! Just then there was an uproar inside as all the farm
labourers armed with hoes and pangas and sticks, streamed into the living room from the
shamba whence they had been summoned by the cook. In no time at all the huge
native was hustled out of the house, flung down the front steps, and securely tied up
with strips of cloth.
In the lull that followed I heard a frightened voice calling from the bathroom.
”Memsahib is that you? The child is here with me.” I hastily opened the bathroom door
to find Mary couched in a corner by the bath, shielding Kate with her body. Mary had
seen the big native enter the house and her first thought had been for her charge. I
thanked her and promised her a reward for her loyalty, and quickly returned to the garage
to reassure Ann and Georgie. I met George who looked white and exhausted as well
he might having run up hill all the way from the coffee store. The kitchen boy had led him
to expect the worst and he was most relieved to find us all unhurt if a bit shaken.
We returned to the house by the back way whilst George went to the front and
ordered our labourers to take their prisoner and lock him up in the store. George then
discussed the whole affair with his Headman and all the labourers after which he reported
to me. “The boys say that the bastard is an ex-Askari from Nyasaland. He is not mad as
you thought but he smokes bhang and has these attacks. I suppose I should take him to
Mbeya and have him up in court. But if I do that you’ll have to give evidence and that will be a nuisance as the car won’t go and there is also the baby to consider.”
Eventually we decided to leave the man to sleep off the effects of the Bhang
until evening when he would be tried before an impromptu court consisting of George,
the local Jumbe(Headman) and village Elders, and our own farm boys and any other
interested spectators. It was not long before I knew the verdict because I heard the
sound of lashes. I was not sorry at all because I felt the man deserved his punishment
and so did all the Africans. They love children and despise anyone who harms or
frightens them. With great enthusiasm they frog-marched him off our land, and I sincerely
hope that that is the last we see or him. Ann and Georgie don’t seem to brood over this
affair at all. The man was naughty and he was spanked, a quite reasonable state of
affairs. This morning they hid away in the small thatched chicken house. This is a little brick
building about four feet square which Ann covets as a dolls house. They came back
covered in stick fleas which I had to remove with paraffin. My hens are laying well but
they all have the ‘gapes’! I wouldn’t run a chicken farm for anything, hens are such fussy,
Now don’t go worrying about my experience with the native. Such things
happen only once in a lifetime. We are all very well and happy, and life, apart from the
children’s pranks is very tranquil.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 25th October 1935
The hot winds have dried up the shamba alarmingly and we hope every day for
rain. The prices for coffee, on the London market, continue to be low and the local
planters are very depressed. Coffee grows well enough here but we are over 400
miles from the railway and transport to the railhead by lorry is very expensive. Then, as
there is no East African Marketing Board, the coffee must be shipped to England for
sale. Unless the coffee fetches at least 90 pounds a ton it simply doesn’t pay to grow it.
When we started planting in 1931 coffee was fetching as much as 115 pounds a ton but
prices this year were between 45 and 55 pounds. We have practically exhausted our
capitol and so have all our neighbours. The Hickson -Woods have been keeping their
pot boiling by selling bat guano to the coffee farmers at Mbosi but now everyone is
broke and there is not a market for fertilisers. They are offering their farm for sale at a very
Major Jones has got a job working on the district roads and Max Coster talks of
returning to his work as a geologist. George says he will have to go gold digging on the
Lupa unless there is a big improvement in the market. Luckily we can live quite cheaply
here. We have a good vegetable garden, milk is cheap and we have plenty of fruit.
There are mulberries, pawpaws, grenadillas, peaches, and wine berries. The wine
berries are very pretty but insipid though Ann and Georgie love them. Each morning,
before breakfast, the old garden boy brings berries for Ann and Georgie. With a thorn
the old man pins a large leaf from a wild fig tree into a cone which he fills with scarlet wine
berries. There is always a cone for each child and they wait eagerly outside for the daily
ceremony of presentation.
The rats are being a nuisance again. Both our cats, Skinny Winnie and Blackboy
disappeared a few weeks ago. We think they made a meal for a leopard. I wrote last
week to our grocer at Mbalizi asking him whether he could let us have a couple of kittens
as I have often seen cats in his store. The messenger returned with a nailed down box.
The kitchen boy was called to prize up the lid and the children stood by in eager
anticipation. Out jumped two snarling and spitting creatures. One rushed into the kalonga
and the other into the house and before they were captured they had drawn blood from
several boys. I told the boys to replace the cats in the box as I intended to return them
forthwith. They had the colouring, stripes and dispositions of wild cats and I certainly
didn’t want them as pets, but before the boys could replace the lid the cats escaped
once more into the undergrowth in the kalonga. George fetched his shotgun and said he
would shoot the cats on sight or they would kill our chickens. This was more easily said
than done because the cats could not be found. However during the night the cats
climbed up into the loft af the house and we could hear them moving around on the reed
I said to George,”Oh leave the poor things. At least they might frighten the rats
away.” That afternoon as we were having tea a thin stream of liquid filtered through the
ceiling on George’s head. Oh dear!!! That of course was the end. Some raw meat was
put on the lawn for bait and yesterday George shot both cats.
I regret to end with the sad story of Mary, heroine in my last letter and outcast in
this. She came to work quite drunk two days running and I simply had to get rid of her. I
have heard since from Kath Wood that Mary lost her last job at Tukuyu for the same
reason. She was ayah to twin girls and one day set their pram on fire.
So once again my hands are more than full with three lively children. I did say
didn’t I, when Ann was born that I wanted six children?
Very much love from us all, Eleanor.
Mchewe Estate. 8th November 1935
To set your minds at rest I must tell you that the native who so frightened me and
the children is now in jail for attacking a Greek at Mbalizi. I hear he is to be sent back to
Rhodesia when he has finished his sentence.
Yesterday we had one of our rare trips to Mbeya. George managed to get a couple of
second hand tyres for the old car and had again got her to work so we are celebrating our
wedding anniversary by going on an outing. I wore the green and fawn striped silk dress
mother bought me and the hat and shoes you sent for my birthday and felt like a million
dollars, for a change. The children all wore new clothes too and I felt very proud of them.
Ann is still very fair and with her refined little features and straight silky hair she
looks like Alice in Wonderland. Georgie is dark and sturdy and looks best in khaki shirt
and shorts and sun helmet. Kate is a pink and gold baby and looks good enough to eat.
We went straight to the hotel at Mbeya and had the usual warm welcome from
Ken and Aunty May Menzies. Aunty May wears her hair cut short like a mans and
usually wears shirt and tie and riding breeches and boots. She always looks ready to go
on safari at a moments notice as indeed she is. She is often called out to a case of illness
at some remote spot.
There were lots of people at the hotel from farms in the district and from the
diggings. I met women I had not seen for four years. One, a Mrs Masters from Tukuyu,
said in the lounge, “My God! Last time I saw you , you were just a girl and here you are
now with two children.” To which I replied with pride, “There is another one in a pram on
the verandah if you care to look!” Great hilarity in the lounge. The people from the
diggings seem to have plenty of money to throw around. There was a big party on the
go in the bar.
One of our shamba boys died last Friday and all his fellow workers and our
house boys had the day off to attend the funeral. From what I can gather the local
funerals are quite cheery affairs. The corpse is dressed in his best clothes and laid
outside his hut and all who are interested may view the body and pay their respects.
The heir then calls upon anyone who had a grudge against the dead man to say his say
and thereafter hold his tongue forever. Then all the friends pay tribute to the dead man
after which he is buried to the accompaniment of what sounds from a distance, very
Most of our workmen are pagans though there is a Lutheran Mission nearby and
a big Roman Catholic Mission in the area too. My present cook, however, claims to be
a Christian. He certainly went to a mission school and can read and write and also sing
hymns in Ki-Swahili. When I first engaged him I used to find a large open Bible
prominently displayed on the kitchen table. The cook is middle aged and arrived here
with a sensible matronly wife. To my surprise one day he brought along a young girl,
very plump and giggly and announced proudly that she was his new wife, I said,”But I
thought you were a Christian Jeremiah? Christians don’t have two wives.” To which he
replied, “Oh Memsahib, God won’t mind. He knows an African needs two wives – one
to go with him when he goes away to work and one to stay behind at home to cultivate
Needles to say, it is the old wife who has gone to till the family plot.
With love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 21st November 1935
The drought has broken with a bang. We had a heavy storm in the hills behind
the house. Hail fell thick and fast. So nice for all the tiny new berries on the coffee! The
kids loved the excitement and three times Ann and Georgie ran out for a shower under
the eaves and had to be changed. After the third time I was fed up and made them both
lie on their beds whilst George and I had lunch in peace. I told Ann to keep the
casement shut as otherwise the rain would drive in on her bed. Half way through lunch I
heard delighted squeals from Georgie and went into the bedroom to investigate. Ann
was standing on the outer sill in the rain but had shut the window as ordered. “Well
Mummy , you didn’t say I mustn’t stand on the window sill, and I did shut the window.”
George is working so hard on the farm. I have a horrible feeling however that it is
what the Africans call ‘Kazi buri’ (waste of effort) as there seems no chance of the price of
coffee improving as long as this world depression continues. The worry is that our capitol
is nearly exhausted. Food is becoming difficult now that our neighbours have left. I used
to buy delicious butter from Kath Hickson-Wood and an African butcher used to kill a
beast once a week. Now that we are his only European customers he very rarely kills
anything larger than a goat, and though we do eat goat, believe me it is not from choice.
We have of course got plenty to eat, but our diet is very monotonous. I was
delighted when George shot a large bushbuck last week. What we could not use I cut
into strips and the salted strips are now hanging in the open garage to dry.
With love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 6th December 1935
We have had a lot of rain and the countryside is lovely and green. Last week
George went to Mbeya taking Ann with him. This was a big adventure for Ann because
never before had she been anywhere without me. She was in a most blissful state as
she drove off in the old car clutching a little basket containing sandwiches and half a bottle
of milk. She looked so pretty in a new blue frock and with her tiny plaits tied with
matching blue ribbons. When Ann is animated she looks charming because her normally
pale cheeks become rosy and she shows her pretty dimples.
As I am still without an ayah I rather looked forward to a quiet morning with only
Georgie and Margery Kate to care for, but Georgie found it dull without Ann and wanted
to be entertained and even the normally placid baby was peevish. Then in mid morning
the rain came down in torrents, the result of a cloudburst in the hills directly behind our
house. The ravine next to our house was a terrifying sight. It appeared to be a great
muddy, roaring waterfall reaching from the very top of the hill to a point about 30 yards
behind our house and then the stream rushed on down the gorge in an angry brown
flood. The roar of the water was so great that we had to yell at one another to be heard.
By lunch time the rain had stopped and I anxiously awaited the return of Ann and
George. They returned on foot, drenched and hungry at about 2.30pm . George had
had to abandon the car on the main road as the Mchewe River had overflowed and
turned the road into a muddy lake. The lower part of the shamba had also been flooded
and the water receded leaving branches and driftwood amongst the coffee. This was my
first experience of a real tropical storm. I am afraid that after the battering the coffee has
had there is little hope of a decent crop next year.
Anyway Christmas is coming so we don’t dwell on these mishaps. The children
have already chosen their tree from amongst the young cypresses in the vegetable
garden. We all send our love and hope that you too will have a Happy Christmas.
Mchewe Estate. 22nd December 1935
I’ve been in the wars with my staff. The cook has been away ill for ten days but is
back today though shaky and full of self pity. The houseboy, who really has been a brick
during the cooks absence has now taken to his bed and I feel like taking to Mine! The
children however have the Christmas spirit and are making weird and wonderful paper
decorations. George’s contribution was to have the house whitewashed throughout and
it looks beautifully fresh.
My best bit of news is that my old ayah Janey has been to see me and would
like to start working here again on Jan 1st. We are all very well. We meant to give
ourselves an outing to Mbeya as a Christmas treat but here there is an outbreak of
enteric fever there so will now not go. We have had two visitors from the Diggings this
week. The children see so few strangers that they were fascinated and hung around
staring. Ann sat down on the arm of the couch beside one and studied his profile.
Suddenly she announced in her clear voice, “Mummy do you know, this man has got
wax in his ears!” Very awkward pause in the conversation. By the way when I was
cleaning out little Kate’s ears with a swab of cotton wool a few days ago, Ann asked
“Mummy, do bees have wax in their ears? Well, where do you get beeswax from
I meant to keep your Christmas parcel unopened until Christmas Eve but could
not resist peeping today. What lovely things! Ann so loves pretties and will be
delighted with her frocks. My dress is just right and I love Georgie’s manly little flannel
shorts and blue shirt. We have bought them each a watering can. I suppose I shall
regret this later. One of your most welcome gifts is the album of nursery rhyme records. I
am so fed up with those that we have. Both children love singing. I put a record on the
gramophone geared to slow and off they go . Georgie sings more slowly than Ann but
much more tunefully. Ann sings in a flat monotone but Georgie with great expression.
You ought to hear him render ‘Sing a song of sixpence’. He cannot pronounce an R or
an S. Mother has sent a large home made Christmas pudding and a fine Christmas
cake and George will shoot some partridges for Christmas dinner.
Think of us as I shall certainly think of you.
Your very loving,
Mchewe Estate. 2nd January 1936
Christmas was fun! The tree looked very gay with its load of tinsel, candles and
red crackers and the coloured balloons you sent. All the children got plenty of toys
thanks to Grandparents and Aunts. George made Ann a large doll’s bed and I made
some elegant bedding, Barbara, the big doll is now permanently bed ridden. Her poor
shattered head has come all unstuck and though I have pieced it together again it is a sad
sight. If you have not yet chosen a present for her birthday next month would you
please get a new head from the Handy House. I enclose measurements. Ann does so
love the doll. She always calls her, “My little girl”, and she keeps the doll’s bed beside
her own and never fails to kiss her goodnight.
We had no guests for Christmas this year but we were quite festive. Ann
decorated the dinner table with small pink roses and forget-me-knots and tinsel and the
crackers from the tree. It was a wet day but we played the new records and both
George and I worked hard to make it a really happy day for the children. The children
were hugely delighted when George made himself a revolting set of false teeth out of
plasticine and a moustache and beard of paper straw from a chocolate box. “Oh Daddy
you look exactly like Father Christmas!” cried an enthralled Ann. Before bedtime we lit
all the candles on the tree and sang ‘Away in a Manger’, and then we opened the box of
starlights you sent and Ann and Georgie had their first experience of fireworks.
After the children went to bed things deteriorated. First George went for his bath
and found and killed a large black snake in the bathroom. It must have been in the
bathroom when I bathed the children earlier in the evening. Then I developed bad
toothache which kept me awake all night and was agonising next day. Unfortunately the
bridge between the farm and Mbeya had been washed away and the water was too
deep for the car to ford until the 30th when at last I was able to take my poor swollen
face to Mbeya. There is now a young German woman dentist working at the hospital.
She pulled out the offending molar which had a large abscess attached to it.
Whilst the dentist attended to me, Ann and Georgie played happily with the
doctor’s children. I wish they could play more often with other children. Dr Eckhardt was
very pleased with Margery Kate who at seven months weighs 17 lbs and has lovely
rosy cheeks. He admired Ann and told her that she looked just like a German girl. “No I
don’t”, cried Ann indignantly, “I’m English!”
We were caught in a rain storm going home and as the old car still has no
windscreen or side curtains we all got soaked except for the baby who was snugly
wrapped in my raincoat. The kids thought it great fun. Ann is growing up fast now. She
likes to ‘help mummy’. She is a perfectionist at four years old which is rather trying. She
gets so discouraged when things do not turn out as well as she means them to. Sewing
is constantly being unpicked and paintings torn up. She is a very sensitive child.
Georgie is quite different. He is a man of action, but not silent. He talks incessantly
but lisps and stumbles over some words. At one time Ann and Georgie often
conversed in Ki-Swahili but they now scorn to do so. If either forgets and uses a Swahili
word, the other points a scornful finger and shouts “You black toto”.
With love to all,
Eleanor.January 28, 2022 at 2:29 pm #6261
From Tanganyika with Love
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Mchewe Estate. 11th July 1931.
You say that you would like to know more about our neighbours. Well there is
not much to tell. Kath Wood is very good about coming over to see me. I admire her
very much because she is so capable as well as being attractive. She speaks very
fluent Ki-Swahili and I envy her the way she can carry on a long conversation with the
natives. I am very slow in learning the language possibly because Lamek and the
houseboy both speak basic English.
I have very little to do with the Africans apart from the house servants, but I do
run a sort of clinic for the wives and children of our employees. The children suffer chiefly
from sore eyes and worms, and the older ones often have bad ulcers on their legs. All
farmers keep a stock of drugs and bandages.
George also does a bit of surgery and last month sewed up the sole of the foot
of a boy who had trodden on the blade of a panga, a sort of sword the Africans use for
hacking down bush. He made an excellent job of it. George tells me that the Africans
have wonderful powers of recuperation. Once in his bachelor days, one of his men was
disembowelled by an elephant. George washed his “guts” in a weak solution of
pot.permang, put them back in the cavity and sewed up the torn flesh and he
But to get back to the neighbours. We see less of Hicky Wood than of Kath.
Hicky can be charming but is often moody as I believe Irishmen often are.
Major Jones is now at home on his shamba, which he leaves from time to time
for temporary jobs on the district roads. He walks across fairly regularly and we are
always glad to see him for he is a great bearer of news. In this part of Africa there is no
knocking or ringing of doorbells. Front doors are always left open and visitors always
welcome. When a visitor approaches a house he shouts “Hodi”, and the owner of the
house yells “Karibu”, which I believe means “Come near” or approach, and tea is
produced in a matter of minutes no matter what hour of the day it is.
The road that passes all our farms is the only road to the Gold Diggings and
diggers often drop in on the Woods and Major Jones and bring news of the Goldfields.
This news is sometimes about gold but quite often about whose wife is living with
whom. This is a great country for gossip.
Major Jones now has his brother Llewyllen living with him. I drove across with
George to be introduced to him. Llewyllen’s health is poor and he looks much older than
his years and very like the portrait of Trader Horn. He has the same emaciated features,
burning eyes and long beard. He is proud of his Welsh tenor voice and often bursts into
Both brothers are excellent conversationalists and George enjoys walking over
sometimes on a Sunday for a bit of masculine company. The other day when George
walked across to visit the Joneses, he found both brothers in the shamba and Llew in a
great rage. They had been stooping to inspect a water furrow when Llew backed into a
hornets nest. One furious hornet stung him on the seat and another on the back of his
neck. Llew leapt forward and somehow his false teeth shot out into the furrow and were
carried along by the water. When George arrived Llew had retrieved his teeth but
George swears that, in the commotion, the heavy leather leggings, which Llew always
wears, had swivelled around on his thin legs and were calves to the front.
George has heard that Major Jones is to sell pert of his land to his Swedish brother-in-law, Max Coster, so we will soon have another couple in the neighbourhood.
I’ve had a bit of a pantomime here on the farm. On the day we went to Tukuyu,
all our washing was stolen from the clothes line and also our new charcoal iron. George
reported the matter to the police and they sent out a plain clothes policeman. He wears
the long white Arab gown called a Kanzu much in vogue here amongst the African elite
but, alas for secrecy, huge black police boots protrude from beneath the Kanzu and, to
add to this revealing clue, the askari springs to attention and salutes each time I pass by.
Not much hope of finding out the identity of the thief I fear.
George’s furrow was entirely successful and we now have water running behind
the kitchen. Our drinking water we get from a lovely little spring on the farm. We boil and
filter it for safety’s sake. I don’t think that is necessary. The furrow water is used for
washing pots and pans and for bath water.
Lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. 8th. August 1931
I think it is about time I told you that we are going to have a baby. We are both
thrilled about it. I have not seen a Doctor but feel very well and you are not to worry. I
looked it up in my handbook for wives and reckon that the baby is due about February
8th. next year.
The announcement came from George, not me! I had been feeling queasy for
days and was waiting for the right moment to tell George. You know. Soft lights and
music etc. However when I was listlessly poking my food around one lunch time
George enquired calmly, “When are you going to tell me about the baby?” Not at all
according to the book! The problem is where to have the baby. February is a very wet
month and the nearest Doctor is over 50 miles away at Tukuyu. I cannot go to stay at
Tukuyu because there is no European accommodation at the hospital, no hotel and no
friend with whom I could stay.
George thinks I should go South to you but Capetown is so very far away and I
love my little home here. Also George says he could not come all the way down with
me as he simply must stay here and get the farm on its feet. He would drive me as far
as the railway in Northern Rhodesia. It is a difficult decision to take. Write and tell me what
The days tick by quietly here. The servants are very willing but have to be
supervised and even then a crisis can occur. Last Saturday I was feeling squeamish and
decided not to have lunch. I lay reading on the couch whilst George sat down to a
solitary curry lunch. Suddenly he gave an exclamation and pushed back his chair. I
jumped up to see what was wrong and there, on his plate, gleaming in the curry gravy
were small bits of broken glass. I hurried to the kitchen to confront Lamek with the plate.
He explained that he had dropped the new and expensive bottle of curry powder on
the brick floor of the kitchen. He did not tell me as he thought I would make a “shauri” so
he simply scooped up the curry powder, removed the larger pieces of glass and used
part of the powder for seasoning the lunch.
The weather is getting warmer now. It was very cold in June and July and we had
fires in the daytime as well as at night. Now that much of the land has been cleared we
are able to go for pleasant walks in the weekends. My favourite spot is a waterfall on the
Mchewe River just on the boundary of our land. There is a delightful little pool below the
waterfall and one day George intends to stock it with trout.
Now that there are more Europeans around to buy meat the natives find it worth
their while to kill an occasional beast. Every now and again a native arrives with a large
bowl of freshly killed beef for sale. One has no way of knowing whether the animal was
healthy and the meat is often still warm and very bloody. I hated handling it at first but am
becoming accustomed to it now and have even started a brine tub. There is no other
way of keeping meat here and it can only be kept in its raw state for a few hours before
going bad. One of the delicacies is the hump which all African cattle have. When corned
it is like the best brisket.
See what a housewife I am becoming.
With much love,
Mchewe Estate. Sept.6th. 1931
I have grown to love the life here and am sad to think I shall be leaving
Tanganyika soon for several months. Yes I am coming down to have the baby in the
bosom of the family. George thinks it best and so does the doctor. I didn’t mention it
before but I have never recovered fully from the effects of that bad bout of malaria and
so I have been persuaded to leave George and our home and go to the Cape, in the
hope that I shall come back here as fit as when I first arrived in the country plus a really
healthy and bouncing baby. I am torn two ways, I long to see you all – but how I would
love to stay on here.
George will drive me down to Northern Rhodesia in early October to catch a
South bound train. I’ll telegraph the date of departure when I know it myself. The road is
very, very bad and the car has been giving a good deal of trouble so, though the baby
is not due until early February, George thinks it best to get the journey over soon as
possible, for the rains break in November and the the roads will then be impassable. It
may take us five or six days to reach Broken Hill as we will take it slowly. I am looking
forward to the drive through new country and to camping out at night.
Our days pass quietly by. George is out on the shamba most of the day. He
goes out before breakfast on weekdays and spends most of the day working with the
men – not only supervising but actually working with his hands and beating the labourers
at their own jobs. He comes to the house for meals and tea breaks. I potter around the
house and garden, sew, mend and read. Lamek continues to be a treasure. he turns out
some surprising dishes. One of his specialities is stuffed chicken. He carefully skins the
chicken removing all bones. He then minces all the chicken meat and adds minced onion
and potatoes. He then stuffs the chicken skin with the minced meat and carefully sews it
together again. The resulting dish is very filling because the boned chicken is twice the
size of a normal one. It lies on its back as round as a football with bloated legs in the air.
Rather repulsive to look at but Lamek is most proud of his accomplishment.
The other day he produced another of his masterpieces – a cooked tortoise. It
was served on a dish covered with parsley and crouched there sans shell but, only too
obviously, a tortoise. I took one look and fled with heaving diaphragm, but George said
it tasted quite good. He tells me that he has had queerer dishes produced by former
cooks. He says that once in his hunting days his cook served up a skinned baby
monkey with its hands folded on its breast. He says it would take a cannibal to eat that
And now for something sad. Poor old Llew died quite suddenly and it was a sad
shock to this tiny community. We went across to the funeral and it was a very simple and
dignified affair. Llew was buried on Joni’s farm in a grave dug by the farm boys. The
body was wrapped in a blanket and bound to some boards and lowered into the
ground. There was no service. The men just said “Good-bye Llew.” and “Sleep well
Llew”, and things like that. Then Joni and his brother-in-law Max, and George shovelled
soil over the body after which the grave was filled in by Joni’s shamba boys. It was a
lovely bright afternoon and I thought how simple and sensible a funeral it was.
I hope you will be glad to have me home. I bet Dad will be holding thumbs that
the baby will be a girl.
Very much love,
“There are no letters to my family during the period of Sept. 1931 to June 1932
because during these months I was living with my parents and sister in a suburb of
Cape Town. I had hoped to return to Tanganyika by air with my baby soon after her
birth in Feb.1932 but the doctor would not permit this.
A month before my baby was born, a company called Imperial Airways, had
started the first passenger service between South Africa and England. One of the night
stops was at Mbeya near my husband’s coffee farm, and it was my intention to take the
train to Broken Hill in Northern Rhodesia and to fly from there to Mbeya with my month
old baby. In those days however, commercial flying was still a novelty and the doctor
was not sure that flying at a high altitude might not have an adverse effect upon a young
He strongly advised me to wait until the baby was four months old and I did this
though the long wait was very trying to my husband alone on our farm in Tanganyika,
and to me, cherished though I was in my old home.
My story, covering those nine long months is soon told. My husband drove me
down from Mbeya to Broken Hill in NorthernRhodesia. The journey was tedious as the
weather was very hot and dry and the road sandy and rutted, very different from the
Great North road as it is today. The wooden wheel spokes of the car became so dry
that they rattled and George had to bind wet rags around them. We had several
punctures and with one thing and another I was lucky to catch the train.
My parents were at Cape Town station to welcome me and I stayed
comfortably with them, living very quietly, until my baby was born. She arrived exactly
on the appointed day, Feb.8th.
I wrote to my husband “Our Charmian Ann is a darling baby. She is very fair and
rather pale and has the most exquisite hands, with long tapering fingers. Daddy
absolutely dotes on her and so would you, if you were here. I can’t bear to think that you
are so terribly far away. Although Ann was born exactly on the day, I was taken quite by
surprise. It was awfully hot on the night before, and before going to bed I had a fancy for
some water melon. The result was that when I woke in the early morning with labour
pains and vomiting I thought it was just an attack of indigestion due to eating too much
melon. The result was that I did not wake Marjorie until the pains were pretty frequent.
She called our next door neighbour who, in his pyjamas, drove me to the nursing home
at breakneck speed. The Matron was very peeved that I had left things so late but all
went well and by nine o’clock, Mother, positively twittering with delight, was allowed to
see me and her first granddaughter . She told me that poor Dad was in such a state of
nerves that he was sick amongst the grapevines. He says that he could not bear to go
through such an anxious time again, — so we will have to have our next eleven in
The next four months passed rapidly as my time was taken up by the demands
of my new baby. Dr. Trudy King’s method of rearing babies was then the vogue and I
stuck fanatically to all the rules he laid down, to the intense exasperation of my parents
who longed to cuddle the child.
As the time of departure drew near my parents became more and more reluctant
to allow me to face the journey alone with their adored grandchild, so my brother,
Graham, very generously offered to escort us on the train to Broken Hill where he could
put us on the plane for Mbeya.
Mchewe Estate. June 15th 1932
You’ll be glad to know that we arrived quite safe and sound and very, very
happy to be home.The train Journey was uneventful. Ann slept nearly all the way.
Graham was very kind and saw to everything. He even sat with the baby whilst I went
to meals in the dining car.
We were met at Broken Hill by the Thoms who had arranged accommodation for
us at the hotel for the night. They also drove us to the aerodrome in the morning where
the Airways agent told us that Ann is the first baby to travel by air on this section of the
Cape to England route. The plane trip was very bumpy indeed especially between
Broken Hill and Mpika. Everyone was ill including poor little Ann who sicked up her milk
all over the front of my new coat. I arrived at Mbeya looking a sorry caricature of Radiant
Motherhood. I must have been pale green and the baby was snow white. Under the
circumstances it was a good thing that George did not meet us. We were met instead
by Ken Menzies, the owner of the Mbeya Hotel where we spent the night. Ken was
most fatherly and kind and a good nights rest restored Ann and me to our usual robust
Mbeya has greatly changed. The hotel is now finished and can accommodate
fifty guests. It consists of a large main building housing a large bar and dining room and
offices and a number of small cottage bedrooms. It even has electric light. There are
several buildings out at the aerodrome and private houses going up in Mbeya.
After breakfast Ken Menzies drove us out to the farm where we had a warm
welcome from George, who looks well but rather thin. The house was spotless and the
new cook, Abel, had made light scones for tea. George had prepared all sorts of lovely
surprises. There is a new reed ceiling in the living room and a new dresser gay with
willow pattern plates which he had ordered from England. There is also a writing table
and a square table by the door for visitors hats. More personal is a lovely model ship
which George assembled from one of those Hobbie’s kits. It puts the finishing touch to
the rather old world air of our living room.
In the bedroom there is a large double bed which George made himself. It has
strips of old car tyres nailed to a frame which makes a fine springy mattress and on top
of this is a thick mattress of kapok.In the kitchen there is a good wood stove which
George salvaged from a Mission dump. It looks a bit battered but works very well. The
new cook is excellent. The only blight is that he will wear rubber soled tennis shoes and
they smell awful. I daren’t hurt his feelings by pointing this out though. Opposite the
kitchen is a new laundry building containing a forty gallon hot water drum and a sink for
washing up. Lovely!
George has been working very hard. He now has forty acres of coffee seedlings
planted out and has also found time to plant a rose garden and fruit trees. There are
orange and peach trees, tree tomatoes, paw paws, guavas and berries. He absolutely
adores Ann who has been very good and does not seem at all unsettled by the long
It is absolutely heavenly to be back and I shall be happier than ever now that I
have a baby to play with during the long hours when George is busy on the farm,
Thank you for all your love and care during the many months I was with you. Ann
sends a special bubble for granddad.
Your very loving,
Mchewe Estate Mbeya July 18th 1932
Ann at five months is enchanting. She is a very good baby, smiles readily and is
gaining weight steadily. She doesn’t sleep much during the day but that does not
matter, because, apart from washing her little things, I have nothing to do but attend to
her. She sleeps very well at night which is a blessing as George has to get up very
early to start work on the shamba and needs a good nights rest.
My nights are not so good, because we are having a plague of rats which frisk
around in the bedroom at night. Great big ones that come up out of the long grass in the
gorge beside the house and make cosy homes on our reed ceiling and in the thatch of
We always have a night light burning so that, if necessary, I can attend to Ann
with a minimum of fuss, and the things I see in that dim light! There are gaps between
the reeds and one night I heard, plop! and there, before my horrified gaze, lay a newly
born hairless baby rat on the floor by the bed, plop, plop! and there lay two more.
Quite dead, poor things – but what a careless mother.
I have also seen rats scampering around on the tops of the mosquito nets and
sometimes we have them on our bed. They have a lovely game. They swarm down
the cord from which the mosquito net is suspended, leap onto the bed and onto the
floor. We do not have our net down now the cold season is here and there are few
Last week a rat crept under Ann’s net which hung to the floor and bit her little
finger, so now I tuck the net in under the mattress though it makes it difficult for me to
attend to her at night. We shall have to get a cat somewhere. Ann’s pram has not yet
arrived so George carries her when we go walking – to her great content.
The native women around here are most interested in Ann. They come to see
her, bearing small gifts, and usually bring a child or two with them. They admire my child
and I admire theirs and there is an exchange of gifts. They produce a couple of eggs or
a few bananas or perhaps a skinny fowl and I hand over sugar, salt or soap as they
value these commodities. The most lavish gift went to the wife of Thomas our headman,
who produced twin daughters in the same week as I had Ann.
Our neighbours have all been across to welcome me back and to admire the
baby. These include Marion Coster who came out to join her husband whilst I was in
South Africa. The two Hickson-Wood children came over on a fat old white donkey.
They made a pretty picture sitting astride, one behind the other – Maureen with her arms
around small Michael’s waist. A native toto led the donkey and the children’ s ayah
walked beside it.
It is quite cold here now but the sun is bright and the air dry. The whole
countryside is beautifully green and we are a very happy little family.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate August 11th 1932
George has been very unwell for the past week. He had a nasty gash on his
knee which went septic. He had a swelling in the groin and a high temperature and could
not sleep at night for the pain in his leg. Ann was very wakeful too during the same
period, I think she is teething. I luckily have kept fit though rather harassed. Yesterday the
leg looked so inflamed that George decided to open up the wound himself. he made
quite a big cut in exactly the right place. You should have seen the blackish puss
After he had thoroughly cleaned the wound George sewed it up himself. he has
the proper surgical needles and gut. He held the cut together with his left hand and
pushed the needle through the flesh with his right. I pulled the needle out and passed it
to George for the next stitch. I doubt whether a surgeon could have made a neater job
of it. He is still confined to the couch but today his temperature is normal. Some
The previous week was hectic in another way. We had a visit from lions! George
and I were having supper about 8.30 on Tuesday night when the back verandah was
suddenly invaded by women and children from the servants quarters behind the kitchen.
They were all yelling “Simba, Simba.” – simba means lions. The door opened suddenly
and the houseboy rushed in to say that there were lions at the huts. George got up
swiftly, fetched gun and ammunition from the bedroom and with the houseboy carrying
the lamp, went off to investigate. I remained at the table, carrying on with my supper as I
felt a pioneer’s wife should! Suddenly something big leapt through the open window
behind me. You can imagine what I thought! I know now that it is quite true to say one’s
hair rises when one is scared. However it was only Kelly, our huge Irish wolfhound,
George returned quite soon to say that apparently the commotion made by the
women and children had frightened the lions off. He found their tracks in the soft earth
round the huts and a bag of maize that had been playfully torn open but the lions had
Next day we heard that they had moved to Hickson-Wood’s shamba. Hicky
came across to say that the lions had jumped over the wall of his cattle boma and killed
both his white Muskat riding donkeys.
He and a friend sat up all next night over the remains but the lions did not return to
Apart from the little set back last week, Ann is blooming. She has a cap of very
fine fair hair and clear blue eyes under straight brow. She also has lovely dimples in both
cheeks. We are very proud of her.
Our neighbours are picking coffee but the crops are small and the price is low. I
am amazed that they are so optimistic about the future. No one in these parts ever
seems to grouse though all are living on capital. They all say “Well if the worst happens
we can always go up to the Lupa Diggings.”
Don’t worry about us, we have enough to tide us over for some time yet.
Much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 28th Sept. 1932
News! News! I’m going to have another baby. George and I are delighted and I
hope it will be a boy this time. I shall be able to have him at Mbeya because things are
rapidly changing here. Several German families have moved to Mbeya including a
German doctor who means to build a hospital there. I expect he will make a very good
living because there must now be some hundreds of Europeans within a hundred miles
radius of Mbeya. The Europeans are mostly British or German but there are also
Greeks and, I believe, several other nationalities are represented on the Lupa Diggings.
Ann is blooming and developing according to the Book except that she has no
teeth yet! Kath Hickson-Wood has given her a very nice high chair and now she has
breakfast and lunch at the table with us. Everything within reach goes on the floor to her
amusement and my exasperation!
You ask whether we have any Church of England missionaries in our part. No we
haven’t though there are Lutheran and Roman Catholic Missions. I have never even
heard of a visiting Church of England Clergyman to these parts though there are babies
in plenty who have not been baptised. Jolly good thing I had Ann Christened down
The R.C. priests in this area are called White Fathers. They all have beards and
wear white cassocks and sun helmets. One, called Father Keiling, calls around frequently.
Though none of us in this area is Catholic we take it in turn to put him up for the night. The
Catholic Fathers in their turn are most hospitable to travellers regardless of their beliefs.
Rather a sad thing has happened. Lucas our old chicken-boy is dead. I shall miss
his toothy smile. George went to the funeral and fired two farewell shots from his rifle
over the grave – a gesture much appreciated by the locals. Lucas in his day was a good
Several of the locals own muzzle loading guns but the majority hunt with dogs
and spears. The dogs wear bells which make an attractive jingle but I cannot bear the
idea of small antelope being run down until they are exhausted before being clubbed of
stabbed to death. We seldom eat venison as George does not care to shoot buck.
Recently though, he shot an eland and Abel rendered down the fat which is excellent for
cooking and very like beef fat.
Much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. P.O.Mbeya 21st November 1932
George has gone off to the Lupa for a week with John Molteno. John came up
here with the idea of buying a coffee farm but he has changed his mind and now thinks of
staking some claims on the diggings and also setting up as a gold buyer.
Did I tell you about his arrival here? John and George did some elephant hunting
together in French Equatorial Africa and when John heard that George had married and
settled in Tanganyika, he also decided to come up here. He drove up from Cape Town
in a Baby Austin and arrived just as our labourers were going home for the day. The little
car stopped half way up our hill and John got out to investigate. You should have heard
the astonished exclamations when John got out – all 6 ft 5 ins. of him! He towered over
the little car and even to me it seemed impossible for him to have made the long
journey in so tiny a car.
Kath Wood has been over several times lately. She is slim and looks so right in
the shirt and corduroy slacks she almost always wears. She was here yesterday when
the shamba boy, digging in the front garden, unearthed a large earthenware cooking pot,
sealed at the top. I was greatly excited and had an instant mental image of fabulous
wealth. We made the boy bring the pot carefully on to the verandah and opened it in
happy anticipation. What do you think was inside? Nothing but a grinning skull! Such a
treat for a pregnant female.
We have a tree growing here that had lovely straight branches covered by a
smooth bark. I got the garden boy to cut several of these branches of a uniform size,
peeled off the bark and have made Ann a playpen with the poles which are much like
broom sticks. Now I can leave her unattended when I do my chores. The other morning
after breakfast I put Ann in her playpen on the verandah and gave her a piece of toast
and honey to keep her quiet whilst I laundered a few of her things. When I looked out a
little later I was horrified to see a number of bees buzzing around her head whilst she
placidly concentrated on her toast. I made a rapid foray and rescued her but I still don’t
know whether that was the thing to do.
We all send our love,
Mbeya Hospital. April 25th. 1933
Here I am, installed at the very new hospital, built by Dr Eckhardt, awaiting the
arrival of the new baby. George has gone back to the farm on foot but will walk in again
to spend the weekend with us. Ann is with me and enjoys the novelty of playing with
other children. The Eckhardts have two, a pretty little girl of two and a half and a very fair
roly poly boy of Ann’s age. Ann at fourteen months is very active. She is quite a little girl
now with lovely dimples. She walks well but is backward in teething.
George, Ann and I had a couple of days together at the hotel before I moved in
here and several of the local women visited me and have promised to visit me in
hospital. The trip from farm to town was very entertaining if not very comfortable. There
is ten miles of very rough road between our farm and Utengule Mission and beyond the
Mission there is a fair thirteen or fourteen mile road to Mbeya.
As we have no car now the doctor’s wife offered to drive us from the Mission to
Mbeya but she would not risk her car on the road between the Mission and our farm.
The upshot was that I rode in the Hickson-Woods machila for that ten mile stretch. The
machila is a canopied hammock, slung from a bamboo pole, in which I reclined, not too
comfortably in my unwieldy state, with Ann beside me or sometime straddling me. Four
of our farm boys carried the machila on their shoulders, two fore and two aft. The relief
bearers walked on either side. There must have been a dozen in all and they sang a sort
of sea shanty song as they walked. One man would sing a verse and the others took up
the chorus. They often improvise as they go. They moaned about my weight (at least
George said so! I don’t follow Ki-Swahili well yet) and expressed the hope that I would
have a son and that George would reward them handsomely.
George and Kelly, the dog, followed close behind the machila and behind
George came Abel our cook and his wife and small daughter Annalie, all in their best
attire. The cook wore a palm beach suit, large Terai hat and sunglasses and two colour
shoes and quite lent a tone to the proceedings! Right at the back came the rag tag and
bobtail who joined the procession just for fun.
Mrs Eckhardt was already awaiting us at the Mission when we arrived and we had
an uneventful trip to the Mbeya Hotel.
During my last week at the farm I felt very tired and engaged the cook’s small
daughter, Annalie, to amuse Ann for an hour after lunch so that I could have a rest. They
played in the small verandah room which adjoins our bedroom and where I keep all my
sewing materials. One afternoon I was startled by a scream from Ann. I rushed to the
room and found Ann with blood steaming from her cheek. Annalie knelt beside her,
looking startled and frightened, with my embroidery scissors in her hand. She had cut off
half of the long curling golden lashes on one of Ann’s eyelids and, in trying to finish the
job, had cut off a triangular flap of skin off Ann’s cheek bone.
I called Abel, the cook, and demanded that he should chastise his daughter there and
then and I soon heard loud shrieks from behind the kitchen. He spanked her with a
bamboo switch but I am sure not as well as she deserved. Africans are very tolerant
towards their children though I have seen husbands and wives fighting furiously.
I feel very well but long to have the confinement over.
Very much love,
Mbeya Hospital. 2nd May 1933.
Little George arrived at 7.30 pm on Saturday evening 29 th. April. George was
with me at the time as he had walked in from the farm for news, and what a wonderful bit
of luck that was. The doctor was away on a case on the Diggings and I was bathing Ann
with George looking on, when the pains started. George dried Ann and gave her
supper and put her to bed. Afterwards he sat on the steps outside my room and a
great comfort it was to know that he was there.
The confinement was short but pretty hectic. The Doctor returned to the Hospital
just in time to deliver the baby. He is a grand little boy, beautifully proportioned. The
doctor says he has never seen a better formed baby. He is however rather funny
looking just now as his head is, very temporarily, egg shaped. He has a shock of black
silky hair like a gollywog and believe it or not, he has a slight black moustache.
George came in, looked at the baby, looked at me, and we both burst out
laughing. The doctor was shocked and said so. He has no sense of humour and couldn’t
understand that we, though bursting with pride in our son, could never the less laugh at
Friends in Mbeya have sent me the most gorgeous flowers and my room is
transformed with delphiniums, roses and carnations. The room would be very austere
without the flowers. Curtains, bedspread and enamelware, walls and ceiling are all
George hired a car and took Ann home next day. I have little George for
company during the day but he is removed at night. I am longing to get him home and
away from the German nurse who feeds him on black tea when he cries. She insists that
tea is a medicine and good for him.
Much love from a proud mother of two.
Mchewe Estate 12May 1933
We are all together at home again and how lovely it feels. Even the house
servants seem pleased. The boy had decorated the lounge with sprays of
bougainvillaea and Abel had backed one of his good sponge cakes.
Ann looked fat and rosy but at first was only moderately interested in me and the
new baby but she soon thawed. George is good with her and will continue to dress Ann
in the mornings and put her to bed until I am satisfied with Georgie.
He, poor mite, has a nasty rash on face and neck. I am sure it is just due to that
tea the nurse used to give him at night. He has lost his moustache and is fast loosing his
wild black hair and emerging as quite a handsome babe. He is a very masculine looking
infant with much more strongly marked eyebrows and a larger nose that Ann had. He is
very good and lies quietly in his basket even when awake.
George has been making a hatching box for brown trout ova and has set it up in
a small clear stream fed by a spring in readiness for the ova which is expected from
South Africa by next weeks plane. Some keen fishermen from Mbeya and the District
have clubbed together to buy the ova. The fingerlings are later to be transferred to
streams in Mbeya and Tukuyu Districts.
I shall now have my hands full with the two babies and will not have much time for the
garden, or I fear, for writing very long letters. Remember though, that no matter how
large my family becomes, I shall always love you as much as ever.
Mchewe Estate. 14th June 1933
The four of us are all well but alas we have lost our dear Kelly. He was rather a
silly dog really, although he grew so big he retained all his puppy ways but we were all
very fond of him, especially George because Kelly attached himself to George whilst I
was away having Ann and from that time on he was George’s shadow. I think he had
some form of biliary fever. He died stretched out on the living room couch late last night,
with George sitting beside him so that he would not feel alone.
The children are growing fast. Georgie is a darling. He now has a fluff of pale
brown hair and his eyes are large and dark brown. Ann is very plump and fair.
We have had several visitors lately. Apart from neighbours, a car load of diggers
arrived one night and John Molteno and his bride were here. She is a very attractive girl
but, I should say, more suited to life in civilisation than in this back of beyond. She has
gone out to the diggings with her husband and will have to walk a good stretch of the fifty
or so miles.
The diggers had to sleep in the living room on the couch and on hastily erected
camp beds. They arrived late at night and left after breakfast next day. One had half a
beard, the other side of his face had been forcibly shaved in the bar the night before.
Mchewe Estate. August 10 th. 1933
George is away on safari with two Indian Army officers. The money he will get for
his services will be very welcome because this coffee growing is a slow business, and
our capitol is rapidly melting away. The job of acting as White Hunter was unexpected
or George would not have taken on the job of hatching the ova which duly arrived from
George and the District Commissioner, David Pollock, went to meet the plane
by which the ova had been consigned but the pilot knew nothing about the package. It
came to light in the mail bag with the parcels! However the ova came to no harm. David
Pollock and George brought the parcel to the farm and carefully transferred the ova to
the hatching box. It was interesting to watch the tiny fry hatch out – a process which took
several days. Many died in the process and George removed the dead by sucking
them up in a glass tube.
When hatched, the tiny fry were fed on ant eggs collected by the boys. I had to
take over the job of feeding and removing the dead when George left on safari. The fry
have to be fed every four hours, like the baby, so each time I have fed Georgie. I hurry
down to feed the trout.
The children are very good but keep me busy. Ann can now say several words
and understands more. She adores Georgie. I long to show them off to you.
Very much love
Mchewe Estate. October 27th 1933
All just over flu. George and Ann were very poorly. I did not fare so badly and
Georgie came off best. He is on a bottle now.
There was some excitement here last Wednesday morning. At 6.30 am. I called
for boiling water to make Georgie’s food. No water arrived but muffled shouting and the
sound of blows came from the kitchen. I went to investigate and found a fierce fight in
progress between the house boy and the kitchen boy. In my efforts to make them stop
fighting I went too close and got a sharp bang on the mouth with the edge of an
enamelled plate the kitchen boy was using as a weapon. My teeth cut my lip inside and
the plate cut it outside and blood flowed from mouth to chin. The boys were petrified.
By the time I had fed Georgie the lip was stiff and swollen. George went in wrath
to the kitchen and by breakfast time both house boy and kitchen boy had swollen faces
too. Since then I have a kettle of boiling water to hand almost before the words are out
of my mouth. I must say that the fight was because the house boy had clouted the
kitchen boy for keeping me waiting! In this land of piece work it is the job of the kitchen
boy to light the fire and boil the kettle but the houseboy’s job to carry the kettle to me.
I have seen little of Kath Wood or Marion Coster for the past two months. Major
Jones is the neighbour who calls most regularly. He has a wireless set and calls on all of
us to keep us up to date with world as well as local news. He often brings oranges for
Ann who adores him. He is a very nice person but no oil painting and makes no effort to
entertain Ann but she thinks he is fine. Perhaps his monocle appeals to her.
George has bought a six foot long galvanised bath which is a great improvement
on the smaller oval one we have used until now. The smaller one had grown battered
from much use and leaks like a sieve. Fortunately our bathroom has a cement floor,
because one had to fill the bath to the brim and then bath extremely quickly to avoid
being left high and dry.
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. P.O. Mbeya 1st December 1933
Ann has not been well. We think she has had malaria. She has grown a good
deal lately and looks much thinner and rather pale. Georgie is thriving and has such
sparkling brown eyes and a ready smile. He and Ann make a charming pair, one so fair
and the other dark.
The Moltenos’ spent a few days here and took Georgie and me to Mbeya so
that Georgie could be vaccinated. However it was an unsatisfactory trip because the
doctor had no vaccine.
George went to the Lupa with the Moltenos and returned to the farm in their Baby
Austin which they have lent to us for a week. This was to enable me to go to Mbeya to
have a couple of teeth filled by a visiting dentist.
We went to Mbeya in the car on Saturday. It was quite a squash with the four of
us on the front seat of the tiny car. Once George grabbed the babies foot instead of the
gear knob! We had Georgie vaccinated at the hospital and then went to the hotel where
the dentist was installed. Mr Dare, the dentist, had few instruments and they were very
tarnished. I sat uncomfortably on a kitchen chair whilst he tinkered with my teeth. He filled
three but two of the fillings came out that night. This meant another trip to Mbeya in the
Baby Austin but this time they seem all right.
The weather is very hot and dry and the garden a mess. We are having trouble
with the young coffee trees too. Cut worms are killing off seedlings in the nursery and
there is a borer beetle in the planted out coffee.
George bought a large grey donkey from some wandering Masai and we hope
the children will enjoy riding it later on.
Very much love,
Mchewe Estate. 14th February 1934.
You will be sorry to hear that little Ann has been very ill, indeed we were terribly
afraid that we were going to lose her. She enjoyed her birthday on the 8th. All the toys
you, and her English granny, sent were unwrapped with such delight. However next
day she seemed listless and a bit feverish so I tucked her up in bed after lunch. I dosed
her with quinine and aspirin and she slept fitfully. At about eleven o’clock I was
awakened by a strange little cry. I turned up the night light and was horrified to see that
Ann was in a convulsion. I awakened George who, as always in an emergency, was
perfectly calm and practical. He filled the small bath with very warm water and emersed
Ann in it, placing a cold wet cloth on her head. We then wrapped her in blankets and
gave her an enema and she settled down to sleep. A few hours later we had the same
thing over again.
At first light we sent a runner to Mbeya to fetch the doctor but waited all day in
vain and in the evening the runner returned to say that the doctor had gone to a case on
the diggings. Ann had been feverish all day with two or three convulsions. Neither
George or I wished to leave the bedroom, but there was Georgie to consider, and in
the afternoon I took him out in the garden for a while whilst George sat with Ann.
That night we both sat up all night and again Ann had those wretched attacks of
convulsions. George and I were worn out with anxiety by the time the doctor arrived the
next afternoon. Ann had not been able to keep down any quinine and had had only
small sips of water since the onset of the attack.
The doctor at once diagnosed the trouble as malaria aggravated by teething.
George held Ann whilst the Doctor gave her an injection. At the first attempt the needle
bent into a bow, George was furious! The second attempt worked and after a few hours
Ann’s temperature dropped and though she was ill for two days afterwards she is now
up and about. She has also cut the last of her baby teeth, thank God. She looks thin and
white, but should soon pick up. It has all been a great strain to both of us. Georgie
behaved like an angel throughout. He played happily in his cot and did not seem to
sense any tension as people say, babies do. Our baby was cheerful and not at all
This is the rainy season and it is a good thing that some work has been done on
our road or the doctor might not have got through.
Much love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 1st October 1934
We are all well now, thank goodness, but last week Georgie gave us such a
fright. I was sitting on the verandah, busy with some sewing and not watching Ann and
Georgie, who were trying to reach a bunch of bananas which hung on a rope from a
beam of the verandah. Suddenly I heard a crash, Georgie had fallen backward over the
edge of the verandah and hit the back of his head on the edge of the brick furrow which
carries away the rainwater. He lay flat on his back with his arms spread out and did not
move or cry. When I picked him up he gave a little whimper, I carried him to his cot and
bathed his face and soon he began sitting up and appeared quite normal. The trouble
began after he had vomited up his lunch. He began to whimper and bang his head
against the cot.
George and I were very worried because we have no transport so we could not
take Georgie to the doctor and we could not bear to go through again what we had gone
through with Ann earlier in the year. Then, in the late afternoon, a miracle happened. Two
men George hardly knew, and complete strangers to me, called in on their way from the
diggings to Mbeya and they kindly drove Georgie and me to the hospital. The Doctor
allowed me to stay with Georgie and we spent five days there. Luckily he responded to
treatment and is now as alive as ever. Children do put years on one!
There is nothing much else to report. We have a new vegetable garden which is
doing well but the earth here is strange. Gardens seem to do well for two years but by
that time the soil is exhausted and one must move the garden somewhere else. The
coffee looks well but it will be another year before we can expect even a few bags of
coffee and prices are still low. Anyway by next year George should have some good
return for all his hard work.
Lots of love,
Mchewe Estate. November 4th 1934
George is home from his White Hunting safari looking very sunburnt and well.
The elderly American, who was his client this time, called in here at the farm to meet me
and the children. It is amazing what spirit these old lads have! This one looked as though
he should be thinking in terms of slippers and an armchair but no, he thinks in terms of
high powered rifles with telescopic sights.
It is lovely being together again and the children are delighted to have their Dad
home. Things are always exciting when George is around. The day after his return
George said at breakfast, “We can’t go on like this. You and the kids never get off the
shamba. We’ll simply have to get a car.” You should have heard the excitement. “Get a
car Daddy?’” cried Ann jumping in her chair so that her plaits bounced. “Get a car
Daddy?” echoed Georgie his brown eyes sparkling. “A car,” said I startled, “However
can we afford one?”
“Well,” said George, “on my way back from Safari I heard that a car is to be sold
this week at the Tukuyu Court, diseased estate or bankruptcy or something, I might get it
cheap and it is an A.C.” The name meant nothing to me, but George explained that an
A.C. is first cousin to a Rolls Royce.
So off he went to the sale and next day the children and I listened all afternoon for
the sound of an approaching car. We had many false alarms but, towards evening we
heard what appeared to be the roar of an aeroplane engine. It was the A.C. roaring her
way up our steep hill with a long plume of steam waving gaily above her radiator.
Out jumped my beaming husband and in no time at all, he was showing off her
points to an admiring family. Her lines are faultless and seats though worn are most
comfortable. She has a most elegant air so what does it matter that the radiator leaks like
a sieve, her exhaust pipe has broken off, her tyres are worn almost to the canvas and
she has no windscreen. She goes, and she cost only five pounds.
Next afternoon George, the kids and I piled into the car and drove along the road
on lookout for guinea fowl. All went well on the outward journey but on the homeward
one the poor A.C. simply gasped and died. So I carried the shot gun and George
carried both children and we trailed sadly home. This morning George went with a bunch
of farmhands and brought her home. Truly temperamental, she came home literally
under her own steam.
George now plans to get a second hand engine and radiator for her but it won’t
be an A.C. engine. I think she is the only one of her kind in the country.
I am delighted to hear, dad, that you are sending a bridle for Joseph for
Christmas. I am busy making a saddle out of an old piece of tent canvas stuffed with
kapok, some webbing and some old rug straps. A car and a riding donkey! We’re
definitely carriage folk now.
Lots of love to all,
Mchewe Estate. 28th December 1934
Thank you for the wonderful Christmas parcel. My frock is a splendid fit. George
declares that no one can knit socks like Mummy and the children love their toys and new
Joseph, the donkey, took his bit with an air of bored resignation and Ann now
rides proudly on his back. Joseph is a big strong animal with the looks and disposition of
a mule. he will not go at all unless a native ‘toto’ walks before him and when he does go
he wears a pained expression as though he were carrying fourteen stone instead of
Ann’s fly weight. I walk beside the donkey carrying Georgie and our cat, ‘Skinny Winnie’,
follows behind. Quite a cavalcade. The other day I got so exasperated with Joseph that
I took Ann off and I got on. Joseph tottered a few paces and sat down! to the huge
delight of our farm labourers who were going home from work. Anyway, one good thing,
the donkey is so lazy that there is little chance of him bolting with Ann.
The Moltenos spent Christmas with us and left for the Lupa Diggings yesterday.
They arrived on the 22nd. with gifts for the children and chocolates and beer. That very
afternoon George and John Molteno left for Ivuna, near Lake Ruckwa, to shoot some
guinea fowl and perhaps a goose for our Christmas dinner. We expected the menfolk
back on Christmas Eve and Anne and I spent a busy day making mince pies and
sausage rolls. Why I don’t know, because I am sure Abel could have made them better.
We decorated the Christmas tree and sat up very late but no husbands turned up.
Christmas day passed but still no husbands came. Anne, like me, is expecting a baby
and we both felt pretty forlorn and cross. Anne was certain that they had been caught up
in a party somewhere and had forgotten all about us and I must say when Boxing Day
went by and still George and John did not show up I felt ready to agree with her.
They turned up towards evening and explained that on the homeward trip the car
had bogged down in the mud and that they had spent a miserable Christmas. Anne
refused to believe their story so George, to prove their case, got the game bag and
tipped the contents on to the dining room table. Out fell several guinea fowl, long past
being edible, followed by a large goose so high that it was green and blue where all the
feathers had rotted off.
The stench was too much for two pregnant girls. I shot out of the front door
closely followed by Anne and we were both sick in the garden.
I could not face food that evening but Anne is made of stronger stuff and ate her
belated Christmas dinner with relish.
I am looking forward enormously to having Marjorie here with us. She will be able
to carry back to you an eyewitness account of our home and way of life.
Much love to you all,
Mchewe Estate. 5th January 1935
You cannot imagine how lovely it is to have Marjorie here. She came just in time
because I have had pernicious vomiting and have lost a great deal of weight and she
took charge of the children and made me spend three days in hospital having treatment.
George took me to the hospital on the afternoon of New Years Eve and decided
to spend the night at the hotel and join in the New Years Eve celebrations. I had several
visitors at the hospital that evening and George actually managed to get some imported
grapes for me. He returned to the farm next morning and fetched me from the hospital
four days later. Of course the old A.C. just had to play up. About half way home the
back axle gave in and we had to send a passing native some miles back to a place
called Mbalizi to hire a lorry from a Greek trader to tow us home to the farm.
The children looked well and were full of beans. I think Marjorie was thankful to
hand them over to me. She is delighted with Ann’s motherly little ways but Georgie she
calls “a really wild child”. He isn’t, just has such an astonishing amount of energy and is
always up to mischief. Marjorie brought us all lovely presents. I am so thrilled with my
sewing machine. It may be an old model but it sews marvellously. We now have an
Alsatian pup as well as Joseph the donkey and the two cats.
Marjorie had a midnight encounter with Joseph which gave her quite a shock but
we had a good laugh about it next day. Some months ago George replaced our wattle
and daub outside pit lavatory by a substantial brick one, so large that Joseph is being
temporarily stabled in it at night. We neglected to warn Marj about this and one night,
storm lamp in hand, she opened the door and Joseph walked out braying his thanks.
I am afraid Marjorie is having a quiet time, a shame when the journey from Cape
Town is so expensive. The doctor has told me to rest as much as I can, so it is
impossible for us to take Marj on sight seeing trips.
I hate to think that she will be leaving in ten days time.
Mchewe Estate. 18th February 1935
You must be able to visualise our life here quite well now that Marj is back and
has no doubt filled in all the details I forget to mention in my letters. What a journey we
had in the A.C. when we took her to the plane. George, the children and I sat in front and
Marj sat behind with numerous four gallon tins of water for the insatiable radiator. It was
raining and the canvas hood was up but part of the side flaps are missing and as there is
no glass in the windscreen the rain blew in on us. George got fed up with constantly
removing the hot radiator cap so simply stuffed a bit of rag in instead. When enough
steam had built up in the radiator behind the rag it blew out and we started all over again.
The car still roars like an aeroplane engine and yet has little power so that George sent
gangs of boys to the steep hills between the farm and the Mission to give us a push if
necessary. Fortunately this time it was not, and the boys cheered us on our way. We
needed their help on the homeward journey however.
I am sorry to say that I am still not well, something to do with kidneys or bladder.
George bought me some pills from one of the several small shops which have opened
in Mbeya and Ann is most interested in the result. She said seriously to Kath Wood,
“Oh my Mummy is a very clever Mummy. She can do blue wee and green wee as well
as yellow wee.” I simply can no longer manage the children without help and have
engaged the cook’s wife, Janey, to help. The children are by no means thrilled. I plead in
vain that I am not well enough to go for walks. Ann says firmly, “Ann doesn’t want to go
for a walk. Ann will look after you.” Funny, though she speaks well for a three year old,
she never uses the first person. Georgie say he would much rather walk with
Keshokutwa, the kitchen boy. His name by the way, means day-after-tomorrow and it
suits him down to the ground, Kath Wood walks over sometimes with offers of help and Ann will gladly go walking with her but Georgie won’t. He on the other hand will walk with Anne Molteno
and Ann won’t. They are obstinate kids. Ann has developed a very fertile imagination.
She has probably been looking at too many of those nice women’s magazines you
sent. A few days ago she said, “You are sick Mummy, but Ann’s got another Mummy.
She’s not sick, and my other mummy (very smugly) has lovely golden hair”. This
morning’ not ten minutes after I had dressed her, she came in with her frock wet and
muddy. I said in exasperation, “Oh Ann, you are naughty.” To which she instantly
returned, “My other Mummy doesn’t think I am naughty. She thinks I am very nice.” It
strikes me I shall have to get better soon so that I can be gay once more and compete
with that phantom golden haired paragon.
We had a very heavy storm over the farm last week. There was heavy rain with
hail which stripped some of the coffee trees and the Mchewe River flooded and the
water swept through the lower part of the shamba. After the water had receded George
picked up a fine young trout which had been stranded. This was one of some he had
put into the river when Georgie was a few months old.
The trials of a coffee farmer are legion. We now have a plague of snails. They
ring bark the young trees and leave trails of slime on the glossy leaves. All the ring
barked trees will have to be cut right back and this is heartbreaking as they are bearing
berries for the first time. The snails are collected by native children, piled upon the
ground and bashed to a pulp which gives off a sickening stench. I am sorry for the local
Africans. Locusts ate up their maize and now they are losing their bean crop to the snails.
Lots of love, EleanorJanuary 28, 2022 at 1:10 pm #6260
From Tanganyika with Love
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
- “The letters of Eleanor Dunbar Leslie to her parents and her sister in South Africa
concerning her life with George Gilman Rushby of Tanganyika, and the trials and
joys of bringing up a family in pioneering conditions.
These letters were transcribed from copies of letters typed by Eleanor Rushby from
the originals which were in the estate of Marjorie Leslie, Eleanor’s sister. Eleanor
kept no diary of her life in Tanganyika, so these letters were the living record of an
important part of her life.
Having walked across Africa from the East coast to Ubangi Shauri Chad
in French Equatorial Africa, hunting elephant all the way, George Rushby
made his way down the Congo to Leopoldville. He then caught a ship to
Europe and had a holiday in Brussels and Paris before visiting his family
in England. He developed blackwater fever and was extremely ill for a
while. When he recovered he went to London to arrange his return to
Whilst staying at the Overseas Club he met Eileen Graham who had come
to England from Cape Town to study music. On hearing that George was
sailing for Cape Town she arranged to introduce him to her friend
Eleanor Dunbar Leslie. “You’ll need someone lively to show you around,”
she said. “She’s as smart as paint, a keen mountaineer, a very good school
teacher, and she’s attractive. You can’t miss her, because her father is a
well known Cape Town Magistrate. And,” she added “I’ve already written
and told her what ship you are arriving on.”
Eleanor duly met the ship. She and George immediately fell in love.
Within thirty six hours he had proposed marriage and was accepted
despite the misgivings of her parents. As she was under contract to her
High School, she remained in South Africa for several months whilst
George headed for Tanganyika looking for a farm where he could build
These details are a summary of chapter thirteen of the Biography of
George Gilman Rushby ‘The Hunter is Death “ by T.V.Bulpin.
Terrifically exciting news! I’ve just become engaged to an Englishman whom I
met last Monday. The result is a family upheaval which you will have no difficulty in
The Aunts think it all highly romantic and cry in delight “Now isn’t that just like our
El!” Mummy says she doesn’t know what to think, that anyway I was always a harum
scarum and she rather expected something like this to happen. However I know that
she thinks George highly attractive. “Such a nice smile and gentle manner, and such
good hands“ she murmurs appreciatively. “But WHY AN ELEPHANT HUNTER?” she
ends in a wail, as though elephant hunting was an unmentionable profession.
Anyway I don’t think so. Anyone can marry a bank clerk or a lawyer or even a
millionaire – but whoever heard of anyone marrying anyone as exciting as an elephant
hunter? I’m thrilled to bits.
Daddy also takes a dim view of George’s profession, and of George himself as
a husband for me. He says that I am so impulsive and have such wild enthusiasms that I
need someone conservative and steady to give me some serenity and some ballast.
Dad says George is a handsome fellow and a good enough chap he is sure, but
he is obviously a man of the world and hints darkly at a possible PAST. George says
he has nothing of the kind and anyway I’m the first girl he has asked to marry him. I don’t
care anyway, I’d gladly marry him tomorrow, but Dad has other ideas.
He sat in his armchair to deliver his verdict, wearing the same look he must wear
on the bench. If we marry, and he doesn’t think it would be a good thing, George must
buy a comfortable house for me in Central Africa where I can stay safely when he goes
hunting. I interrupted to say “But I’m going too”, but dad snubbed me saying that in no
time at all I’ll have a family and one can’t go dragging babies around in the African Bush.”
George takes his lectures with surprising calm. He says he can see Dad’s point of
view much better than I can. He told the parents today that he plans to buy a small
coffee farm in the Southern Highlands of Tanganyika and will build a cosy cottage which
will be a proper home for both of us, and that he will only hunt occasionally to keep the
Mummy, of course, just had to spill the beans. She said to George, “I suppose
you know that Eleanor knows very little about house keeping and can’t cook at all.” a fact
that I was keeping a dark secret. But George just said, “Oh she won’t have to work. The
boys do all that sort of thing. She can lie on a couch all day and read if she likes.” Well
you always did say that I was a “Lily of the field,” and what a good thing! If I were one of
those terribly capable women I’d probably die of frustration because it seems that
African house boys feel that they have lost face if their Memsahibs do anything but the
most gracious chores.
George is absolutely marvellous. He is strong and gentle and awfully good
looking too. He is about 5 ft 10 ins tall and very broad. He wears his curly brown hair cut
very short and has a close clipped moustache. He has strongly marked eyebrows and
very striking blue eyes which sometimes turn grey or green. His teeth are strong and
even and he has a quiet voice.
I expect all this sounds too good to be true, but come home quickly and see for
yourself. George is off to East Africa in three weeks time to buy our farm. I shall follow as
soon as he has bought it and we will be married in Dar es Salaam.
Dad has taken George for a walk “to get to know him” and that’s why I have time
to write such a long screed. They should be back any minute now and I must fly and
apply a bit of glamour.
Much love my dear,
S.S.Timavo. Durban. 28th.October. 1930.
Thank you for the lovely send off. I do wish you were all on board with me and
could come and dance with me at my wedding. We are having a very comfortable
voyage. There were only four of the passengers as far as Durban, all of them women,
but I believe we are taking on more here. I have a most comfortable deck cabin to
myself and the use of a sumptuous bathroom. No one is interested in deck games and I
am having a lazy time, just sunbathing and reading.
I sit at the Captain’s table and the meals are delicious – beautifully served. The
butter for instance, is moulded into sprays of roses, most exquisitely done, and as for
the ice-cream, I’ve never tasted anything like them.
The meals are continental type and we have hors d’oeuvre in a great variety
served on large round trays. The Italians souse theirs with oil, Ugh! We also of course
get lots of spaghetti which I have some difficulty in eating. However this presents no
problem to the Chief Engineer who sits opposite to me. He simply rolls it around his
fork and somehow the spaghetti flows effortlessly from fork to mouth exactly like an
ascending escalator. Wine is served at lunch and dinner – very mild and pleasant stuff.
Of the women passengers the one i liked best was a young German widow
from South west Africa who left the ship at East London to marry a man she had never
met. She told me he owned a drapers shop and she was very happy at the prospect
of starting a new life, as her previous marriage had ended tragically with the death of her
husband and only child in an accident.
I was most interested to see the bridegroom and stood at the rail beside the gay
young widow when we docked at East London. I picked him out, without any difficulty,
from the small group on the quay. He was a tall thin man in a smart grey suit and with a
grey hat perched primly on his head. You can always tell from hats can’t you? I wasn’t
surprised to see, when this German raised his head, that he looked just like the Kaiser’s
“Little Willie”. Long thin nose and cold grey eyes and no smile of welcome on his tight
mouth for the cheery little body beside me. I quite expected him to jerk his thumb and
stalk off, expecting her to trot at his heel.
However she went off blithely enough. Next day before the ship sailed, she
was back and I saw her talking to the Captain. She began to cry and soon after the
Captain patted her on the shoulder and escorted her to the gangway. Later the Captain
told me that the girl had come to ask him to allow her to work her passage back to
Germany where she had some relations. She had married the man the day before but
she disliked him because he had deceived her by pretending that he owned a shop
whereas he was only a window dresser. Bad show for both.
The Captain and the Chief Engineer are the only officers who mix socially with
the passengers. The captain seems rather a melancholy type with, I should say, no
sense of humour. He speaks fair English with an American accent. He tells me that he
was on the San Francisco run during Prohibition years in America and saw many Film
Stars chiefly “under the influence” as they used to flock on board to drink. The Chief
Engineer is big and fat and cheerful. His English is anything but fluent but he makes up
for it in mime.
I visited the relations and friends at Port Elizabeth and East London, and here at
Durban. I stayed with the Trotters and Swans and enjoyed myself very much at both
places. I have collected numerous wedding presents, china and cutlery, coffee
percolator and ornaments, and where I shall pack all these things I don’t know. Everyone has been terribly kind and I feel extremely well and happy.
At the start of the voyage I had a bit of bad luck. You will remember that a
perfectly foul South Easter was blowing. Some men were busy working on a deck
engine and I stopped to watch and a tiny fragment of steel blew into my eye. There is
no doctor on board so the stewardess put some oil into the eye and bandaged it up.
The eye grew more and more painful and inflamed and when when we reached Port
Elizabeth the Captain asked the Port Doctor to look at it. The Doctor said it was a job for
an eye specialist and telephoned from the ship to make an appointment. Luckily for me,
Vincent Tofts turned up at the ship just then and took me off to the specialist and waited
whilst he extracted the fragment with a giant magnet. The specialist said that I was very
lucky as the thing just missed the pupil of my eye so my sight will not be affected. I was
temporarily blinded by the Belladona the eye-man put in my eye so he fitted me with a
pair of black goggles and Vincent escorted me back to the ship. Don’t worry the eye is
now as good as ever and George will not have to take a one-eyed bride for better or
I have one worry and that is that the ship is going to be very much overdue by
the time we reach Dar es Salaam. She is taking on a big wool cargo and we were held
up for three days in East london and have been here in Durban for five days.
Today is the ninth Anniversary of the Fascist Movement and the ship was
dressed with bunting and flags. I must now go and dress for the gala dinner.
Bless you all,
S.S.Timavo. 6th. November 1930
Nearly there now. We called in at Lourenco Marques, Beira, Mozambique and
Port Amelia. I was the only one of the original passengers left after Durban but there we
took on a Mrs Croxford and her mother and two men passengers. Mrs C must have
something, certainly not looks. She has a flat figure, heavily mascared eyes and crooked
mouth thickly coated with lipstick. But her rather sweet old mother-black-pearls-type tells
me they are worn out travelling around the world trying to shake off an admirer who
pursues Mrs C everywhere.
The one male passenger is very quiet and pleasant. The old lady tells me that he
has recently lost his wife. The other passenger is a horribly bumptious type.
I had my hair beautifully shingled at Lourenco Marques, but what an experience it
was. Before we docked I asked the Captain whether he knew of a hairdresser, but he
said he did not and would have to ask the agent when he came aboard. The agent was
a very suave Asian. He said “Sure he did” and offered to take me in his car. I rather
doubtfully agreed — such a swarthy gentleman — and was driven, not to a hairdressing
establishment, but to his office. Then he spoke to someone on the telephone and in no
time at all a most dago-y type arrived carrying a little black bag. He was all patent
leather, hair, and flashing smile, and greeted me like an old and valued friend.
Before I had collected my scattered wits tthe Agent had flung open a door and
ushered me through, and I found myself seated before an ornate mirror in what was only
too obviously a bedroom. It was a bedroom with a difference though. The unmade bed
had no legs but hung from the ceiling on brass chains.
The agent beamingly shut the door behind him and I was left with my imagination
and the afore mentioned oily hairdresser. He however was very business like. Before I
could say knife he had shingled my hair with a cut throat razor and then, before I could
protest, had smothered my neck in stinking pink powder applied with an enormous and
filthy swansdown powder puff. He held up a mirror for me to admire his handiwork but I
was aware only of the enormous bed reflected in it, and hurriedly murmuring “very nice,
very nice” I made my escape to the outer office where, to my relief, I found the Chief
Engineer who escorted me back to the ship.
In the afternoon Mrs Coxford and the old lady and I hired a taxi and went to the
Polana Hotel for tea. Very swish but I like our Cape Peninsula beaches better.
At Lorenco Marques we took on more passengers. The Governor of
Portuguese Nyasaland and his wife and baby son. He was a large middle aged man,
very friendly and unassuming and spoke perfect English. His wife was German and
exquisite, as fragile looking and with the delicate colouring of a Dresden figurine. She
looked about 18 but she told me she was 28 and showed me photographs of two
other sons – hefty youngsters, whom she had left behind in Portugal and was missing
It was frightfully hot at Beira and as I had no money left I did not go up to the
town, but Mrs Croxford and I spent a pleasant hour on the beach under the Casurina
The Governor and his wife left the ship at Mozambique. He looked very
imposing in his starched uniform and she more Dresden Sheperdish than ever in a
flowered frock. There was a guard of honour and all the trimmings. They bade me a warm farewell and invited George and me to stay at any time.
The German ship “Watussi” was anchored in the Bay and I decided to visit her
and try and have my hair washed and set. I had no sooner stepped on board when a
lady came up to me and said “Surely you are Beeba Leslie.” It was Mrs Egan and she
had Molly with her. Considering Mrs Egan had not seen me since I was five I think it was
jolly clever of her to recognise me. Molly is charming and was most friendly. She fixed
things with the hairdresser and sat with me until the job was done. Afterwards I had tea
Port Amelia was our last stop. In fact the only person to go ashore was Mr
Taylor, the unpleasant man, and he returned at sunset very drunk indeed.
We reached Port Amelia on the 3rd – my birthday. The boat had anchored by
the time I was dressed and when I went on deck I saw several row boats cluttered
around the gangway and in them were natives with cages of wild birds for sale. Such tiny
crowded cages. I was furious, you know me. I bought three cages, carried them out on
to the open deck and released the birds. I expected them to fly to the land but they flew
straight up into the rigging.
The quiet male passenger wandered up and asked me what I was doing. I said
“I’m giving myself a birthday treat, I hate to see caged birds.” So next thing there he
was buying birds which he presented to me with “Happy Birthday.” I gladly set those
birds free too and they joined the others in the rigging.
Then a grinning steward came up with three more cages. “For the lady with
compliments of the Captain.” They lost no time in joining their friends.
It had given me so much pleasure to free the birds that I was only a little
discouraged when the quiet man said thoughtfully “This should encourage those bird
catchers you know, they are sold out. When evening came and we were due to sail I
was sure those birds would fly home, but no, they are still there and they will probably
remain until we dock at Dar es Salaam.
During the morning the Captain came up and asked me what my Christian name
is. He looked as grave as ever and I couldn’t think why it should interest him but said “the
name is Eleanor.” That night at dinner there was a large iced cake in the centre of the
table with “HELENA” in a delicate wreath of pink icing roses on the top. We had
champagne and everyone congratulated me and wished me good luck in my marriage.
A very nice gesture don’t you think. The unpleasant character had not put in an
appearance at dinner which made the party all the nicer
I sat up rather late in the lounge reading a book and by the time I went to bed
there was not a soul around. I bathed and changed into my nighty,walked into my cabin,
shed my dressing gown, and pottered around. When I was ready for bed I put out my
hand to draw the curtains back and a hand grasped my wrist. It was that wretched
creature outside my window on the deck, still very drunk. Luckily I was wearing that
heavy lilac silk nighty. I was livid. “Let go at once”, I said, but he only grinned stupidly.
“I’m not hurting you” he said, “only looking”. “I’ll ring for the steward” said I, and by
stretching I managed to press the bell with my free hand. I rang and rang but no one
came and he just giggled. Then I said furiously, “Remember this name, George
Rushby, he is a fine boxer and he hates specimens like you. When he meets me at Dar
es Salaam I shall tell him about this and I bet you will be sorry.” However he still held on
so I turned and knocked hard on the adjoining wall which divided my cabin from Mrs
Croxfords. Soon Mrs Croxford and the old lady appeared in dressing gowns . This
seemed to amuse the drunk even more though he let go my wrist. So whilst the old
lady stayed with me, Mrs C fetched the quiet passenger who soon hustled him off. He has kept out of my way ever since. However I still mean to tell George because I feel
the fellow got off far too lightly. I reported the matter to the Captain but he just remarked
that he always knew the man was low class because he never wears a jacket to meals.
This is my last night on board and we again had free champagne and I was given
some tooled leather work by the Captain and a pair of good paste earrings by the old
lady. I have invited them and Mrs Croxford, the Chief Engineer, and the quiet
passenger to the wedding.
This may be my last night as Eleanor Leslie and I have spent this long while
writing to you just as a little token of my affection and gratitude for all the years of your
love and care. I shall post this letter on the ship and must turn now and get some beauty
sleep. We have been told that we shall be in Dar es Salaam by 9 am. I am so excited
that I shall not sleep.
Very much love, and just for fun I’ll sign my full name for the last time.
with my “bes respeks”,
Eleanor and George Rushby:
Splendid Hotel, Dar es Salaam 11th November 1930
I’m writing this in the bedroom whilst George is out buying a tin trunk in which to
pack all our wedding presents. I expect he will be gone a long time because he has
gone out with Hicky Wood and, though our wedding was four days ago, it’s still an
excuse for a party. People are all very cheery and friendly here.
I am wearing only pants and slip but am still hot. One swelters here in the
mornings, but a fresh sea breeze blows in the late afternoons and then Dar es Salaam is
We arrived in Dar es Salaam harbour very early on Friday morning (7 th Nov).
The previous night the Captain had said we might not reach Dar. until 9 am, and certainly
no one would be allowed on board before 8 am. So I dawdled on the deck in my
dressing gown and watched the green coastline and the islands slipping by. I stood on
the deck outside my cabin and was not aware that I was looking out at the wrong side of
the landlocked harbour. Quite unknown to me George and some friends, the Hickson
Woods, were standing on the Gymkhana Beach on the opposite side of the channel
anxiously scanning the ship for a sign of me. George says he had a horrible idea I had
missed the ship. Blissfully unconscious of his anxiety I wandered into the bathroom
prepared for a good soak. The anchor went down when I was in the bath and suddenly
there was a sharp wrap on the door and I heard Mrs Croxford say “There’s a man in a
boat outside. He is looking out for someone and I’m sure it’s your George. I flung on
some clothes and rushed on deck with tousled hair and bare feet and it was George.
We had a marvellous reunion. George was wearing shorts and bush shirt and
looked just like the strong silent types one reads about in novels. I finished dressing then
George helped me bundle all the wedding presents I had collected en route into my
travelling rug and we went into the bar lounge to join the Hickson Woods. They are the
couple from whom George bought the land which is to be our coffee farm Hicky-Wood
was laughing when we joined them. he said he had called a chap to bring a couple of
beers thinking he was the steward but it turned out to be the Captain. He does wear
such a very plain uniform that I suppose it was easy to make the mistake, but Hicky
says he was not amused.
Anyway as the H-W’s are to be our neighbours I’d better describe them. Kath
Wood is very attractive, dark Irish, with curly black hair and big brown eyes. She was
married before to Viv Lumb a great friend of George’s who died some years ago of
blackwater fever. They had one little girl, Maureen, and Kath and Hicky have a small son
of three called Michael. Hicky is slightly below average height and very neat and dapper
though well built. He is a great one for a party and good fun but George says he can be
Anyway we all filed off the ship and Hicky and Cath went on to the hotel whilst
George and I went through customs. Passing the customs was easy. Everyone
seemed to know George and that it was his wedding day and I just sailed through,
except for the little matter of the rug coming undone when George and I had to scramble
on the floor for candlesticks and fruit knives and a wooden nut bowl.
Outside the customs shed we were mobbed by a crowd of jabbering Africans
offering their services as porters, and soon my luggage was piled in one rickshaw whilst
George and I climbed into another and we were born smoothly away on rubber shod
wheels to the Splendid Hotel. The motion was pleasing enough but it seemed weird to
be pulled along by one human being whilst another pushed behind. We turned up a street called Acacia Avenue which, as its name implies, is lined
with flamboyant acacia trees now in the full glory of scarlet and gold. The rickshaw
stopped before the Splendid Hotel and I was taken upstairs into a pleasant room which
had its own private balcony overlooking the busy street.
Here George broke the news that we were to be married in less than an hours
time. He would have to dash off and change and then go straight to the church. I would
be quite all right, Kath would be looking in and friends would fetch me.
I started to dress and soon there was a tap at the door and Mrs Hickson-Wood
came in with my bouquet. It was a lovely bunch of carnations and frangipani with lots of
asparagus fern and it went well with my primrose yellow frock. She admired my frock
and Leghorn hat and told me that her little girl Maureen was to be my flower girl. Then
she too left for the church.
I was fully dressed when there was another knock on the door and I opened it to
be confronted by a Police Officer in a starched white uniform. I’m McCallum”, he said,
“I’ve come to drive you to the church.” Downstairs he introduced me to a big man in a
tussore silk suit. “This is Dr Shicore”, said McCallum, “He is going to give you away.”
Honestly, I felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland. Wouldn’t have been at all surprised if
the White Rabbit had popped up and said he was going to be my page.
I walked out of the hotel and across the pavement in a dream and there, by the
curb, was a big dark blue police car decorated with white ribbons and with a tall African
Police Ascari holding the door open for me. I had hardly time to wonder what next when
the car drew up before a tall German looking church. It was in fact the Lutheran Church in
the days when Tanganyika was German East Africa.
Mrs Hickson-Wood, very smart in mushroom coloured georgette and lace, and
her small daughter were waiting in the porch, so in we went. I was glad to notice my
friends from the boat sitting behind George’s friends who were all complete strangers to
me. The aisle seemed very long but at last I reached George waiting in the chancel with
Hicky-Wood, looking unfamiliar in a smart tussore suit. However this feeling of unreality
passed when he turned his head and smiled at me.
In the vestry after the ceremony I was kissed affectionately by several complete
strangers and I felt happy and accepted by George’s friends. Outside the church,
standing apart from the rest of the guests, the Italian Captain and Chief Engineer were
waiting. They came up and kissed my hand, and murmured felicitations, but regretted
they could not spare the time to come to the reception. Really it was just as well
because they would not have fitted in at all well.
Dr Shircore is the Director of Medical Services and he had very kindly lent his
large house for the reception. It was quite a party. The guests were mainly men with a
small sprinkling of wives. Champagne corks popped and there was an enormous cake
and soon voices were raised in song. The chief one was ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’
and I shall remember it for ever.
The party was still in full swing when George and I left. The old lady from the ship
enjoyed it hugely. She came in an all black outfit with a corsage of artificial Lily-of-the-
Valley. Later I saw one of the men wearing the corsage in his buttonhole and the old
lady was wearing a carnation.
When George and I got back to the hotel,I found that my luggage had been
moved to George’s room by his cook Lamek, who was squatting on his haunches and
clapped his hands in greeting. My dears, you should see Lamek – exactly like a
chimpanzee – receding forehead, wide flat nose, and long lip, and such splayed feet. It was quite a strain not to laugh, especially when he produced a gift for me. I have not yet
discovered where he acquired it. It was a faded mauve straw toque of the kind worn by
Queen Mary. I asked George to tell Lamek that I was touched by his generosity but felt
that I could not accept his gift. He did not mind at all especially as George gave him a
generous tip there and then.
I changed into a cotton frock and shady straw hat and George changed into shorts
and bush shirt once more. We then sneaked into the dining room for lunch avoiding our
wedding guests who were carrying on the party in the lounge.
After lunch we rejoined them and they all came down to the jetty to wave goodbye
as we set out by motor launch for Honeymoon Island. I enjoyed the launch trip very
much. The sea was calm and very blue and the palm fringed beaches of Dar es Salaam
are as romantic as any bride could wish. There are small coral islands dotted around the
Bay of which Honeymoon Island is the loveliest. I believe at one time it bore the less
romantic name of Quarantine Island. Near the Island, in the shallows, the sea is brilliant
green and I saw two pink jellyfish drifting by.
There is no jetty on the island so the boat was stopped in shallow water and
George carried me ashore. I was enchanted with the Island and in no hurry to go to the
bungalow, so George and I took our bathing costumes from our suitcases and sent the
luggage up to the house together with a box of provisions.
We bathed and lazed on the beach and suddenly it was sunset and it began to
get dark. We walked up the beach to the bungalow and began to unpack the stores,
tea, sugar, condensed milk, bread and butter, sardines and a large tin of ham. There
were also cups and saucers and plates and cutlery.
We decided to have an early meal and George called out to the caretaker, “Boy
letta chai”. Thereupon the ‘boy’ materialised and jabbered to George in Ki-Swaheli. It
appeared he had no utensil in which to boil water. George, ever resourceful, removed
the ham from the tin and gave him that. We had our tea all right but next day the ham
Then came bed time. I took a hurricane lamp in one hand and my suitcase in the
other and wandered into the bedroom whilst George vanished into the bathroom. To
my astonishment I saw two perfectly bare iron bedsteads – no mattress or pillows. We
had brought sheets and mosquito nets but, believe me, they are a poor substitute for a
Anyway I arrayed myself in my pale yellow satin nightie and sat gingerly down
on the iron edge of the bed to await my groom who eventually appeared in a
handsome suit of silk pyjamas. His expression, as he took in the situation, was too much
for me and I burst out laughing and so did he.
Somewhere in the small hours I woke up. The breeze had dropped and the
room was unbearably stuffy. I felt as dry as a bone. The lamp had been turned very
low and had gone out, but I remembered seeing a water tank in the yard and I decided
to go out in the dark and drink from the tap. In the dark I could not find my slippers so I
slipped my feet into George’s shoes, picked up his matches and groped my way out
of the room. I found the tank all right and with one hand on the tap and one cupped for
water I stooped to drink. Just then I heard a scratchy noise and sensed movements
around my feet. I struck a match and oh horrors! found that the damp spot on which I was
standing was alive with white crabs. In my hurry to escape I took a clumsy step, put
George’s big toe on the hem of my nightie and down I went on top of the crabs. I need
hardly say that George was awakened by an appalling shriek and came rushing to my
aid like a knight of old. Anyway, alarms and excursions not withstanding, we had a wonderful weekend on the island and I was sorry to return to the heat of Dar es Salaam, though the evenings
here are lovely and it is heavenly driving along the coast road by car or in a rickshaw.
I was surprised to find so many Indians here. Most of the shops, large and small,
seem to be owned by Indians and the place teems with them. The women wear
colourful saris and their hair in long black plaits reaching to their waists. Many wear baggy
trousers of silk or satin. They give a carnival air to the sea front towards sunset.
This long letter has been written in instalments throughout the day. My first break
was when I heard the sound of a band and rushed to the balcony in time to see The
Kings African Rifles band and Askaris march down the Avenue on their way to an
Armistice Memorial Service. They looked magnificent.
I must end on a note of most primitive pride. George returned from his shopping
expedition and beamingly informed me that he had thrashed the man who annoyed me
on the ship. I felt extremely delighted and pressed for details. George told me that
when he went out shopping he noticed to his surprise that the ‘Timavo” was still in the
harbour. He went across to the Agents office and there saw a man who answered to the
description I had given. George said to him “Is your name Taylor?”, and when he said
“yes”, George said “Well my name is George Rushby”, whereupon he hit Taylor on the
jaw so that he sailed over the counter and down the other side. Very satisfactory, I feel.
With much love to all.
Your cave woman
Mchewe Estate. P.O. Mbeya 22 November 1930
Well here we are at our Country Seat, Mchewe Estate. (pronounced
Mn,-che’-we) but I will start at the beginning of our journey and describe the farm later.
We left the hotel at Dar es Salaam for the station in a taxi crowded with baggage
and at the last moment Keith Wood ran out with the unwrapped bottom layer of our
wedding cake. It remained in its naked state from there to here travelling for two days in
the train on the luggage rack, four days in the car on my knee, reposing at night on the
roof of the car exposed to the winds of Heaven, and now rests beside me in the tent
looking like an old old tombstone. We have no tin large enough to hold it and one
simply can’t throw away ones wedding cake so, as George does not eat cake, I can see
myself eating wedding cake for tea for months to come, ants permitting.
We travelled up by train from Dar to Dodoma, first through the lush vegetation of
the coastal belt to Morogoro, then through sisal plantations now very overgrown with
weeds owing to the slump in prices, and then on to the arid area around Dodoma. This
part of the country is very dry at this time of the year and not unlike parts of our Karoo.
The train journey was comfortable enough but slow as the engines here are fed with
wood and not coal as in South Africa.
Dodoma is the nearest point on the railway to Mbeya so we left the train there to
continue our journey by road. We arrived at the one and only hotel in the early hours and
whilst someone went to rout out the night watchman the rest of us sat on the dismal
verandah amongst a litter of broken glass. Some bright spark remarked on the obvious –
that there had been a party the night before.
When we were shown to a room I thought I rather preferred the verandah,
because the beds had not yet been made up and there was a bucket of vomit beside
the old fashioned washstand. However George soon got the boys to clean up the
room and I fell asleep to be awakened by George with an invitation to come and see
our car before breakfast.
Yes, we have our own car. It is a Chev, with what is called a box body. That
means that sides, roof and doors are made by a local Indian carpenter. There is just the
one front seat with a kapok mattress on it. The tools are kept in a sort of cupboard fixed
to the side so there is a big space for carrying “safari kit” behind the cab seat.
Lamek, who had travelled up on the same train, appeared after breakfast, and
helped George to pack all our luggage into the back of the car. Besides our suitcases
there was a huge bedroll, kitchen utensils and a box of provisions, tins of petrol and
water and all Lamek’s bits and pieces which included three chickens in a wicker cage and
an enormous bunch of bananas about 3 ft long.
When all theses things were packed there remained only a small space between
goods and ceiling and into this Lamek squeezed. He lay on his back with his horny feet a
mere inch or so from the back of my head. In this way we travelled 400 miles over
bumpy earth roads and crude pole bridges, but whenever we stopped for a meal
Lamek wriggled out and, like Aladdin’s genie, produced good meals in no time at all.
In the afternoon we reached a large river called the Ruaha. Workmen were busy
building a large bridge across it but it is not yet ready so we crossed by a ford below
the bridge. George told me that the river was full of crocodiles but though I looked hard, I
did not see any. This is also elephant country but I did not see any of those either, only
piles of droppings on the road. I must tell you that the natives around these parts are called Wahehe and the river is Ruaha – enough to make a cat laugh. We saw some Wahehe out hunting with spears
and bows and arrows. They live in long low houses with the tiniest shuttered windows
and rounded roofs covered with earth.
Near the river we also saw a few Masai herding cattle. They are rather terrifying to
look at – tall, angular, and very aloof. They wear nothing but a blanket knotted on one
shoulder, concealing nothing, and all carried one or two spears.
The road climbs steeply on the far side of the Ruaha and one has the most
tremendous views over the plains. We spent our first night up there in the high country.
Everything was taken out of the car, the bed roll opened up and George and I slept
comfortably in the back of the car whilst Lamek, rolled in a blanket, slept soundly by a
small fire nearby. Next morning we reached our first township, Iringa, and put up at the
Colonist Hotel. We had a comfortable room in the annex overlooking the golf course.
our room had its own little dressing room which was also the bathroom because, when
ordered to do so, the room boy carried in an oval galvanised bath and filled it with hot
water which he carried in a four gallon petrol tin.
When we crossed to the main building for lunch, George was immediately hailed
by several men who wanted to meet the bride. I was paid some handsome
compliments but was not sure whether they were sincere or the result of a nice alcoholic
glow. Anyhow every one was very friendly.
After lunch I went back to the bedroom leaving George chatting away. I waited and
waited – no George. I got awfully tired of waiting and thought I’d give him a fright so I
walked out onto the deserted golf course and hid behind some large boulders. Soon I
saw George returning to the room and the boy followed with a tea tray. Ah, now the hue
and cry will start, thought I, but no, no George appeared nor could I hear any despairing
cry. When sunset came I trailed crossly back to our hotel room where George lay
innocently asleep on his bed, hands folded on his chest like a crusader on his tomb. In a
moment he opened his eyes, smiled sleepily and said kindly, “Did you have a nice walk
my love?” So of course I couldn’t play the neglected wife as he obviously didn’t think
me one and we had a very pleasant dinner and party in the hotel that evening.
Next day we continued our journey but turned aside to visit the farm of a sprightly
old man named St.Leger Seaton whom George had known for many years, so it was
after dark before George decided that we had covered our quota of miles for the day.
Whilst he and Lamek unpacked I wandered off to a stream to cool my hot feet which had
baked all day on the floor boards of the car. In the rather dim moonlight I sat down on the
grassy bank and gratefully dabbled my feet in the cold water. A few minutes later I
started up with a shriek – I had the sensation of red hot pins being dug into all my most
sensitive parts. I started clawing my clothes off and, by the time George came to the
rescue with the lamp, I was practically in the nude. “Only Siafu ants,” said George calmly.
Take off all your clothes and get right in the water.” So I had a bathe whilst George
picked the ants off my clothes by the light of the lamp turned very low for modesty’s
sake. Siafu ants are beastly things. They are black ants with outsized heads and
pinchers. I shall be very, very careful where I sit in future.
The next day was even hotter. There was no great variety in the scenery. Most
of the country was covered by a tree called Miombo, which is very ordinary when the
foliage is a mature deep green, but when in new leaf the trees look absolutely beautiful
as the leaves,surprisingly, are soft pastel shades of red and yellow.
Once again we turned aside from the main road to visit one of George’s friends.
This man Major Hugh Jones MC, has a farm only a few miles from ours but just now he is supervising the making of an airstrip. Major Jones is quite a character. He is below
average height and skinny with an almost bald head and one nearly blind eye into which
he screws a monocle. He is a cultured person and will, I am sure, make an interesting
neighbour. George and Major Jones’ friends call him ‘Joni’ but he is generally known in
this country as ‘Ropesoles’ – as he is partial to that type of footwear.
We passed through Mbeya township after dark so I have no idea what the place
is like. The last 100 miles of our journey was very dusty and the last 15 miles extremely
bumpy. The road is used so little that in some places we had to plow our way through
long grass and I was delighted when at last George turned into a side road and said
“This is our place.” We drove along the bank of the Mchewe River, then up a hill and
stopped at a tent which was pitched beside the half built walls of our new home. We
were expected so there was hot water for baths and after a supper of tinned food and
good hot tea, I climbed thankfully into bed.
Next morning I was awakened by the chattering of the African workmen and was
soon out to inspect the new surroundings. Our farm was once part of Hickson Wood’s
land and is separated from theirs by a river. Our houses cannot be more than a few
hundred yards apart as the crow flies but as both are built on the slopes of a long range
of high hills, and one can only cross the river at the foot of the slopes, it will be quite a
safari to go visiting on foot . Most of our land is covered with shoulder high grass but it
has been partly cleared of trees and scrub. Down by the river George has made a long
coffee nursery and a large vegetable garden but both coffee and vegetable seedlings
are too small to be of use.
George has spared all the trees that will make good shade for the coffee later on.
There are several huge wild fig trees as big as oaks but with smooth silvery-green trunks
and branches and there are lots of acacia thorn trees with flat tops like Japanese sun
shades. I’ve seen lovely birds in the fig trees, Louries with bright plumage and crested
heads, and Blue Rollers, and in the grasslands there are widow birds with incredibly long
black tail feathers.
There are monkeys too and horrible but fascinating tree lizards with blue bodies
and orange heads. There are so many, many things to tell you but they must wait for
another time as James, the house boy, has been to say “Bafu tiari” and if I don’t go at
once, the bath will be cold.
I am very very happy and terribly interested in this new life so please don’t
worry about me.
Much love to you all,
Mchewe Estate 29th. November 1930
I’ve lots of time to write letters just now because George is busy supervising the
building of the house from early morning to late afternoon – with a break for lunch of
On our second day here our tent was moved from the house site to a small
clearing further down the slope of our hill. Next to it the labourers built a ‘banda’ , which is
a three sided grass hut with thatched roof – much cooler than the tent in this weather.
There is also a little grass lav. so you see we have every convenience. I spend most of
my day in the banda reading or writing letters. Occasionally I wander up to the house site
and watch the building, but mostly I just sit.
I did try exploring once. I wandered down a narrow path towards the river. I
thought I might paddle and explore the river a little but I came round a bend and there,
facing me, was a crocodile. At least for a moment I thought it was and my adrenaline
glands got very busy indeed. But it was only an enormous monitor lizard, four or five
feet long. It must have been as scared as I was because it turned and rushed off through
the grass. I turned and walked hastily back to the camp and as I passed the house site I
saw some boys killing a large puff adder. Now I do my walking in the evenings with
George. Nothing alarming ever seems to happen when he is around.
It is interesting to watch the boys making bricks for the house. They make a pile
of mud which they trample with their feet until it is the right consistency. Then they fill
wooden moulds with the clayey mud, and press it down well and turn out beautiful shiny,
dark brown bricks which are laid out in rows and covered with grass to bake slowly in the
Most of the materials for the building are right here at hand. The walls will be sun
dried bricks and there is a white clay which will make a good whitewash for the inside
walls. The chimney and walls will be of burnt brick and tiles and George is now busy
building a kiln for this purpose. Poles for the roof are being cut in the hills behind the
house and every day women come along with large bundles of thatching grass on their
heads. Our windows are modern steel casement ones and the doors have been made
at a mission in the district. George does some of the bricklaying himself. The other
bricklayer is an African from Northern Rhodesia called Pedro. It makes me perspire just
to look at Pedro who wears an overcoat all day in the very hot sun.
Lamek continues to please. He turns out excellent meals, chicken soup followed
by roast chicken, vegetables from the Hickson-Woods garden and a steamed pudding
or fruit to wind up the meal. I enjoy the chicken but George is fed up with it and longs for
good red meat. The chickens are only about as large as a partridge but then they cost
only sixpence each.
I had my first visit to Mbeya two days ago. I put on my very best trousseau frock
for the occasion- that yellow striped silk one – and wore my wedding hat. George didn’t
comment, but I saw later that I was dreadfully overdressed.
Mbeya at the moment is a very small settlement consisting of a bundle of small
Indian shops – Dukas they call them, which stock European tinned foods and native soft
goods which seem to be mainly of Japanese origin. There is a one storied Government
office called the Boma and two attractive gabled houses of burnt brick which house the
District Officer and his Assistant. Both these houses have lovely gardens but i saw them
only from the outside as we did not call. After buying our stores George said “Lets go to the pub, I want you to meet Mrs Menzies.” Well the pub turned out to be just three or four grass rondavels on a bare
plot. The proprietor, Ken Menzies, came out to welcome us. I took to him at once
because he has the same bush sandy eyebrows as you have Dad. He told me that
unfortunately his wife is away at the coast, and then he ushered me through the door
saying “Here’s George with his bride.” then followed the Iringa welcome all over again,
only more so, because the room was full of diggers from the Lupa Goldfields about fifty
Champagne corks popped as I shook hands all around and George was
clapped on the back. I could see he was a favourite with everyone and I tried not to be
gauche and let him down. These men were all most kind and most appeared to be men
of more than average education. However several were unshaven and looked as
though they had slept in their clothes as I suppose they had. When they have a little luck
on the diggings they come in here to Menzies pub and spend the lot. George says
they bring their gold dust and small nuggets in tobacco tins or Kruschen salts jars and
hand them over to Ken Menzies saying “Tell me when I’ve spent the lot.” Ken then
weighs the gold and estimates its value and does exactly what the digger wants.
However the Diggers get good value for their money because besides the drink
they get companionship and good food and nursing if they need it. Mrs Menzies is a
trained nurse and most kind and capable from what I was told. There is no doctor or
hospital here so her experience as a nursing sister is invaluable.
We had lunch at the Hotel and afterwards I poured tea as I was the only female
present. Once the shyness had worn off I rather enjoyed myself.
Now to end off I must tell you a funny story of how I found out that George likes
his women to be feminine. You will remember those dashing black silk pyjamas Aunt
Mary gave me, with flowered “happy coat” to match. Well last night I thought I’d give
George a treat and when the boy called me for my bath I left George in the ‘banda’
reading the London Times. After my bath I put on my Japanese pyjamas and coat,
peered into the shaving mirror which hangs from the tent pole and brushed my hair until it
shone. I must confess that with my fringe and shingled hair I thought I made quite a
glamourous Japanese girl. I walked coyly across to the ‘banda’. Alas no compliment.
George just glanced up from the Times and went on reading.
He was away rather a long time when it came to his turn to bath. I glanced up
when he came back and had a slight concussion. George, if you please, was arrayed in
my very best pale yellow satin nightie. The one with the lace and ribbon sash and little
bows on the shoulder. I knew exactly what he meant to convey. I was not to wear the
trousers in the family. I seethed inwardly, but pretending not to notice, I said calmly “shall
I call for food?” In this garb George sat down to dinner and it says a great deal for African
phlegm that the boy did not drop the dishes.
We conversed politely about this and that, and then, as usual, George went off
to bed. I appeared to be engrossed in my book and did not stir. When I went to the
tent some time later George lay fast asleep still in my nightie, though all I could see of it
was the little ribbon bows looking farcically out of place on his broad shoulders.
This morning neither of us mentioned the incident, George was up and dressed
by the time I woke up but I have been smiling all day to think what a ridiculous picture
we made at dinner. So farewell to pyjamas and hey for ribbons and bows.
Mchewe Estate. Mbeya. 8th December 1930
A mere shadow of her former buxom self lifts a languid pen to write to you. I’m
convalescing after my first and I hope my last attack of malaria. It was a beastly
experience but all is now well and I am eating like a horse and will soon regain my
I took ill on the evening of the day I wrote my last letter to you. It started with a
splitting headache and fits of shivering. The symptoms were all too familiar to George
who got me into bed and filled me up with quinine. He then piled on all the available
blankets and packed me in hot water bottles. I thought I’d explode and said so and
George said just to lie still and I’d soon break into a good sweat. However nothing of the
kind happened and next day my temperature was 105 degrees. Instead of feeling
miserable as I had done at the onset, I now felt very merry and most chatty. George
now tells me I sang the most bawdy songs but I hardly think it likely. Do you?
You cannot imagine how tenderly George nursed me, not only that day but
throughout the whole eight days I was ill. As we do not employ any African house
women, and there are no white women in the neighbourhood at present to whom we
could appeal for help, George had to do everything for me. It was unbearably hot in the
tent so George decided to move me across to the Hickson-Woods vacant house. They
have not yet returned from the coast.
George decided I was too weak to make the trip in the car so he sent a
messenger over to the Woods’ house for their Machila. A Machila is a canopied canvas
hammock slung from a bamboo pole and carried by four bearers. The Machila duly
arrived and I attempted to walk to it, clinging to George’s arm, but collapsed in a faint so
the trip was postponed to the next morning when I felt rather better. Being carried by
Machila is quite pleasant but I was in no shape to enjoy anything and got thankfully into
bed in the Hickson-Woods large, cool and rather dark bedroom. My condition did not
improve and George decided to send a runner for the Government Doctor at Tukuyu
about 60 miles away. Two days later Dr Theis arrived by car and gave me two
injections of quinine which reduced the fever. However I still felt very weak and had to
spend a further four days in bed.
We have now decided to stay on here until the Hickson-Woods return by which
time our own house should be ready. George goes off each morning and does not
return until late afternoon. However don’t think “poor Eleanor” because I am very
comfortable here and there are lots of books to read and the days seem to pass very
The Hickson-Wood’s house was built by Major Jones and I believe the one on
his shamba is just like it. It is a square red brick building with a wide verandah all around
and, rather astonishingly, a conical thatched roof. There is a beautiful view from the front
of the house and a nice flower garden. The coffee shamba is lower down on the hill.
Mrs Wood’s first husband, George’s friend Vi Lumb, is buried in the flower
garden. He died of blackwater fever about five years ago. I’m told that before her
second marriage Kath lived here alone with her little daughter, Maureen, and ran the farm
entirely on her own. She must be quite a person. I bet she didn’t go and get malaria
within a few weeks of her marriage.
The native tribe around here are called Wasafwa. They are pretty primitive but
seem amiable people. Most of the men, when they start work, wear nothing but some
kind of sheet of unbleached calico wrapped round their waists and hanging to mid calf. As soon as they have drawn their wages they go off to a duka and buy a pair of khaki
shorts for five or six shillings. Their women folk wear very short beaded skirts. I think the
base is goat skin but have never got close enough for a good look. They are very shy.
I hear from George that they have started on the roof of our house but I have not
seen it myself since the day I was carried here by Machila. My letters by the way go to
the Post Office by runner. George’s farm labourers take it in turn to act in this capacity.
The mail bag is given to them on Friday afternoon and by Saturday evening they are
back with our very welcome mail.
Very much love,
Mbeya 23rd December 1930
George drove to Mbeya for stores last week and met Col. Sherwood-Kelly VC.
who has been sent by the Government to Mbeya as Game Ranger. His job will be to
protect native crops from raiding elephants and hippo etc., and to protect game from
poachers. He has had no training for this so he has asked George to go with him on his
first elephant safari to show him the ropes.
George likes Col. Kelly and was quite willing to go on safari but not willing to
leave me alone on the farm as I am still rather shaky after malaria. So it was arranged that
I should go to Mbeya and stay with Mrs Harmer, the wife of the newly appointed Lands
and Mines Officer, whose husband was away on safari.
So here I am in Mbeya staying in the Harmers temporary wattle and daub
house. Unfortunately I had a relapse of the malaria and stayed in bed for three days with
a temperature. Poor Mrs Harmer had her hands full because in the room next to mine
she was nursing a digger with blackwater fever. I could hear his delirious babble through
the thin wall – very distressing. He died poor fellow , and leaves a wife and seven
I feel better than I have done for weeks and this afternoon I walked down to the
store. There are great signs of activity and people say that Mbeya will grow rapidly now
owing to the boom on the gold fields and also to the fact that a large aerodrome is to be
built here. Mbeya is to be a night stop on the proposed air service between England
and South Africa. I seem to be the last of the pioneers. If all these schemes come about
Mbeya will become quite suburban.
26th December 1930
George, Col. Kelly and Mr Harmer all returned to Mbeya on Christmas Eve and
it was decided that we should stay and have midday Christmas dinner with the
Harmers. Col. Kelly and the Assistant District Commissioner came too and it was quite a
festive occasion, We left Mbeya in the early afternoon and had our evening meal here at
Hickson-Wood’s farm. I wore my wedding dress.
I went across to our house in the car this morning. George usually walks across to
save petrol which is very expensive here. He takes a short cut and wades through the
river. The distance by road is very much longer than the short cut. The men are now
thatching the roof of our cottage and it looks charming. It consists of a very large living
room-dinning room with a large inglenook fireplace at one end. The bedroom is a large
square room with a smaller verandah room adjoining it. There is a wide verandah in the
front, from which one has a glorious view over a wide valley to the Livingstone
Mountains on the horizon. Bathroom and storeroom are on the back verandah and the
kitchen is some distance behind the house to minimise the risk of fire.
You can imagine how much I am looking forward to moving in. We have some
furniture which was made by an Indian carpenter at Iringa, refrectory dining table and
chairs, some small tables and two armchairs and two cupboards and a meatsafe. Other
things like bookshelves and extra cupboards we will have to make ourselves. George
has also bought a portable gramophone and records which will be a boon.
We also have an Irish wolfhound puppy, a skinny little chap with enormous feet
who keeps me company all day whilst George is across at our farm working on the
Lots and lots of love,
Mchewe Estate 8th Jan 1931
Alas, I have lost my little companion. The Doctor called in here on Boxing night
and ran over and killed Paddy, our pup. It was not his fault but I was very distressed
about it and George has promised to try and get another pup from the same litter.
The Hickson-Woods returned home on the 29th December so we decided to
move across to our nearly finished house on the 1st January. Hicky Wood decided that
we needed something special to mark the occasion so he went off and killed a sucking
pig behind the kitchen. The piglet’s screams were terrible and I felt that I would not be
able to touch any dinner. Lamek cooked and served sucking pig up in the traditional way
but it was high and quite literally, it stank. Our first meal in our own home was not a
However next day all was forgotten and I had something useful to do. George
hung doors and I held the tools and I also planted rose cuttings I had brought from
Mbeya and sowed several boxes with seeds.
Dad asked me about the other farms in the area. I haven’t visited any but there
are five besides ours. One belongs to the Lutheran Mission at Utengule, a few miles
from here. The others all belong to British owners. Nearest to Mbeya, at the foot of a
very high peak which gives Mbeya its name, are two farms, one belonging to a South
African mining engineer named Griffiths, the other to I.G.Stewart who was an officer in the
Kings African Rifles. Stewart has a young woman called Queenie living with him. We are
some miles further along the range of hills and are some 23 miles from Mbeya by road.
The Mchewe River divides our land from the Hickson-Woods and beyond their farm is
All these people have been away from their farms for some time but have now
returned so we will have some neighbours in future. However although the houses are
not far apart as the crow flies, they are all built high in the foothills and it is impossible to
connect the houses because of the rivers and gorges in between. One has to drive right
down to the main road and then up again so I do not suppose we will go visiting very
often as the roads are very bumpy and eroded and petrol is so expensive that we all
save it for occasional trips to Mbeya.
The rains are on and George has started to plant out some coffee seedlings. The
rains here are strange. One can hear the rain coming as it moves like a curtain along the
range of hills. It comes suddenly, pours for a little while and passes on and the sun
I do like it here and I wish you could see or dear little home.
Mchewe Estate. 1st April 1931
Everything is now running very smoothly in our home. Lamek continues to
produce palatable meals and makes wonderful bread which he bakes in a four gallon
petrol tin as we have no stove yet. He puts wood coals on the brick floor of the kitchen,
lays the tin lengh-wise on the coals and heaps more on top. The bread tins are then put
in the petrol tin, which has one end cut away, and the open end is covered by a flat
piece of tin held in place by a brick. Cakes are also backed in this make-shift oven and I
have never known Lamek to have a failure yet.
Lamek has a helper, known as the ‘mpishi boy’ , who does most of the hard
work, cleans pots and pans and chops the firewood etc. Another of the mpishi boy’s
chores is to kill the two chickens we eat each day. The chickens run wild during the day
but are herded into a small chicken house at night. One of the kitchen boy’s first duties is
to let the chickens out first thing in the early morning. Some time after breakfast it dawns
on Lamek that he will need a chicken for lunch. he informs the kitchen boy who selects a
chicken and starts to chase it in which he is enthusiastically joined by our new Irish
wolfhound pup, Kelly. Together they race after the frantic fowl, over the flower beds and
around the house until finally the chicken collapses from sheer exhaustion. The kitchen
boy then hands it over to Lamek who murders it with the kitchen knife and then pops the
corpse into boiling water so the feathers can be stripped off with ease.
I pointed out in vain, that it would be far simpler if the doomed chickens were kept
in the chicken house in the mornings when the others were let out and also that the correct
way to pluck chickens is when they are dry. Lamek just smiled kindly and said that that
may be so in Europe but that his way is the African way and none of his previous
Memsahibs has complained.
My houseboy, named James, is clean and capable in the house and also a
good ‘dhobi’ or washboy. He takes the washing down to the river and probably
pounds it with stones, but I prefer not to look. The ironing is done with a charcoal iron
only we have no charcoal and he uses bits of wood from the kitchen fire but so far there
has not been a mishap.
It gets dark here soon after sunset and then George lights the oil lamps and we
have tea and toast in front of the log fire which burns brightly in our inglenook. This is my
favourite hour of the day. Later George goes for his bath. I have mine in the mornings
and we have dinner at half past eight. Then we talk a bit and read a bit and sometimes
play the gramophone. I expect it all sounds pretty unexciting but it doesn’t seem so to
Very much love,
Mchewe Estate 20th April 1931
It is still raining here and the countryside looks very lush and green, very different
from the Mbeya district I first knew, when plains and hills were covered in long brown
grass – very course stuff that grows shoulder high.
Most of the labourers are hill men and one can see little patches of cultivation in
the hills. Others live in small villages near by, each consisting of a cluster of thatched huts
and a few maize fields and perhaps a patch of bananas. We do not have labour lines on
the farm because our men all live within easy walking distance. Each worker has a labour
card with thirty little squares on it. One of these squares is crossed off for each days work
and when all thirty are marked in this way the labourer draws his pay and hies himself off
to the nearest small store and blows the lot. The card system is necessary because
these Africans are by no means slaves to work. They work only when they feel like it or
when someone in the family requires a new garment, or when they need a few shillings
to pay their annual tax. Their fields, chickens and goats provide them with the food they
need but they draw rations of maize meal beans and salt. Only our headman is on a
salary. His name is Thomas and he looks exactly like the statues of Julius Caesar, the
same bald head and muscular neck and sardonic expression. He comes from Northern
Rhodesia and is more intelligent than the locals.
We still live mainly on chickens. We have a boy whose job it is to scour the
countryside for reasonable fat ones. His name is Lucas and he is quite a character. He
has such long horse teeth that he does not seem able to close his mouth and wears a
perpetual amiable smile. He brings his chickens in beehive shaped wicker baskets
which are suspended on a pole which Lucas carries on his shoulder.
We buy our groceries in bulk from Mbeya, our vegetables come from our
garden by the river and our butter from Kath Wood. Our fresh milk we buy from the
natives. It is brought each morning by three little totos each carrying one bottle on his
shaven head. Did I tell you that the local Wasafwa file their teeth to points. These kids
grin at one with their little sharks teeth – quite an “all-ready-to-eat-you-with-my-dear” look.
A few nights ago a message arrived from Kath Wood to say that Queenie
Stewart was very ill and would George drive her across to the Doctor at Tukuyu. I
wanted George to wait until morning because it was pouring with rain, and the mountain
road to Tukuyu is tricky even in dry weather, but he said it is dangerous to delay with any
kind of fever in Africa and he would have to start at once. So off he drove in the rain and I
did not see him again until the following night.
George said that it had been a nightmare trip. Queenie had a high temperature
and it was lucky that Kath was able to go to attend to her. George needed all his
attention on the road which was officially closed to traffic, and very slippery, and in some
places badly eroded. In some places the decking of bridges had been removed and
George had to get out in the rain and replace it. As he had nothing with which to fasten
the decking to the runners it was a dangerous undertaking to cross the bridges especially
as the rivers are now in flood and flowing strongly. However they reached Tukuyu safely
and it was just as well they went because the Doctor diagnosed Queenies illness as
Spirillium Tick Fever which is a very nasty illness indeed.
Mchewe Estate. 20th May 1931
I’m feeling fit and very happy though a bit lonely sometimes because George
spends much of his time away in the hills cutting a furrow miles long to bring water to the
house and to the upper part of the shamba so that he will be able to irrigate the coffee
during the dry season.
It will be quite an engineering feat when it is done as George only has makeshift
surveying instruments. He has mounted an ordinary cheap spirit level on an old camera
tripod and has tacked two gramophone needles into the spirit level to give him a line.
The other day part of a bank gave way and practically buried two of George’s labourers
but they were quickly rescued and no harm was done. However he will not let them
work unless he is there to supervise.
I keep busy so that the days pass quickly enough. I am delighted with the
material you sent me for curtains and loose covers and have hired a hand sewing
machine from Pedro-of-the-overcoat and am rattling away all day. The machine is an
ancient German one and when I say rattle, I mean rattle. It is a most cumbersome, heavy
affair of I should say, the same vintage as George Stevenson’s Rocket locomotive.
Anyway it sews and I am pleased with my efforts. We made a couch ourselves out of a
native bed, a mattress and some planks but all this is hidden under the chintz cover and
it looks quite the genuine bought article. I have some diversions too. Small black faced
monkeys sit in the trees outside our bedroom window and they are most entertaining to
watch. They are very mischievous though. When I went out into the garden this morning
before breakfast I found that the monkeys had pulled up all my carnations. There they
lay, roots in the air and whether they will take again I don’t know.
I like the monkeys but hate the big mountain baboons that come and hang
around our chicken house. I am terrified that they will tear our pup into bits because he is
a plucky young thing and will rush out to bark at the baboons.
George usually returns for the weekends but last time he did not because he had
a touch of malaria. He sent a boy down for the mail and some fresh bread. Old Lucas
arrived with chickens just as the messenger was setting off with mail and bread in a
haversack on his back. I thought it might be a good idea to send a chicken to George so
I selected a spry young rooster which I handed to the messenger. He, however,
complained that he needed both hands for climbing. I then had one of my bright ideas
and, putting a layer of newspaper over the bread, I tucked the rooster into the haversack
and buckled down the flap so only his head protruded.
I thought no more about it until two days later when the messenger again
appeared for fresh bread. He brought a rather terse note from George saying that the
previous bread was uneatable as the rooster had eaten some of it and messed on the
rest. Ah me!
The previous weekend the Hickson-Woods, Stewarts and ourselves, went
across to Tukuyu to attend a dance at the club there. the dance was very pleasant. All
the men wore dinner jackets and the ladies wore long frocks. As there were about
twenty men and only seven ladies we women danced every dance whilst the surplus
men got into a huddle around the bar. George and I spent the night with the Agricultural
Officer, Mr Eustace, and I met his fiancee, Lillian Austin from South Africa, to whom I took
a great liking. She is Governess to the children of Major Masters who has a farm in the
On the Sunday morning we had a look at the township. The Boma was an old German one and was once fortified as the Africans in this district are a very warlike tribe.
They are fine looking people. The men wear sort of togas and bands of cloth around
their heads and look like Roman Senators, but the women go naked except for a belt
from which two broad straps hang down, one in front and another behind. Not a graceful
garb I assure you.
We also spent a pleasant hour in the Botanical Gardens, laid out during the last
war by the District Commissioner, Major Wells, with German prisoner of war labour.
There are beautiful lawns and beds of roses and other flowers and shady palm lined
walks and banana groves. The gardens are terraced with flights of brick steps connecting
the different levels and there is a large artificial pond with little islands in it. I believe Major
Wells designed the lake to resemble in miniature, the Lakes of Killarney.
I enjoyed the trip very much. We got home at 8 pm to find the front door locked
and the kitchen boy fast asleep on my newly covered couch! I hastily retreated to the
bedroom whilst George handled the situation.
- “The letters of Eleanor Dunbar Leslie to her parents and her sister in South Africa
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