I started reading a book. In fact I started reading it three weeks ago, and have read the first page of the preface every night and fallen asleep. But my neck aches from doing too much gardening so I went back to bed to read this morning. I still fell asleep six times but at least I finished the preface. It’s the story of the family , initiated by the family collection of netsuke (whatever that is. Tiny Japanese carvings) But this is what stopped me reading and made me think (and then fall asleep each time I re read it)
“And I’m not entitled to nostalgia about all that lost wealth and glamour from a century ago. And I am not interested in thin. I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers – hard and tricky and Japanese – and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about it and thought about it – if they thought about it. I want to know what it has witnessed.” ― Edmund de Waal, The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss
And I felt almost bereft that none of the records tell me which way the light fell in through the windows.
I know who lived in the house in which years, but I don’t know who sat in the sun streaming through the window and which painting upon the wall they looked at and what the material was that covered the chair they sat on.
Were his clothes confortable (or hers, likely not), did he have an old favourite pair of trousers that his mother hated?
There is one house in particular that I keep coming back to. Like I got on the Housley train at Smalley and I can’t get off. Kidsley Grange Farm, they turned it into a nursing home and built extensions, and now it’s for sale for five hundred thousand pounds. But is the ghost still under the back stairs? Is there still a stain somewhere when a carafe of port was dropped?
Did Anns writing desk survive? Does someone have that, polished, with a vase of spring tulips on it? (on a mat of course so it doesn’t make a ring, despite that there are layers of beeswaxed rings already)
Does the desk remember the letters, the weight of a forearm or elbow, perhaps a smeared teardrop, or a comsumptive cough stain?
Is there perhaps a folded bit of paper or card that propped an uneven leg that fell through the floorboards that might tear into little squares if you found it and opened it, and would it be a rough draft of a letter never sent, or just a receipt for five head of cattle the summer before?
Did he hate the curtain material, or not even think of it? Did he love the house, or want to get away to see something new ~ or both?
Did he have a favourite cup, a favourite food, did he hate liver or cabbage?
Did he like his image when the photograph came from the studio or did he think it made his nose look big or his hair too thin, or did he wish he’d worn his other waistcoat?
Did he love his wife so much he couldn’t bear to see her dying, was it neglect or was it the unbearableness of it all that made him go away and drink?
Did the sun slanting in through the dormer window of his tiny attic room where he lodged remind him of ~ well no perhaps he was never in the room in daylight hours at all. Work all day and pub all night, keeping busy working hard and drinking hard and perhaps laughing hard, and maybe he only thought of it all on Sunday mornings.
So many deaths, one after another, his father, his wife, his brother, his sister, and another and another, all the coughing, all the debility. Perhaps he never understood why he lived and they did not, what kind of justice was there in that?
Did he take a souvenir or two with him, a handkerchief or a shawl perhaps, tucked away at the bottom of a battered leather bag that had his 3 shirts and 2 waistcoats in and a spare cap,something embroidered perhaps.
The quote in that book started me off with the light coming in the window and the need to know the simplest things, something nobody ever wrote in a letter, maybe never even mentioned to anyone.
Light coming in windows. I remeber when I was a teenager I had a day off sick and spent the whole day laying on the couch in a big window with the winter sun on my face all day, and I read Bonjour Tristesse in one sitting, and I’ll never forget that afternoon. I don’t remember much about that book, but I remember being transported. But at the same time as being present in that sunny window.
“Stories and objects share something, a patina…Perhaps patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed…But it also seems additive, in the way that a piece of oak furniture gains over years and years of polishing.”
“How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten? There can be a chain of forgetting, the rubbing away of previous ownership as much as the slow accretion of stories. What is being passed on to me with all these small Japanese objects?”
“There are things in this world that the children hear, but whose sounds oscillate below an adult’s sense of pitch.”
What did the children hear?February 2, 2022 at 1:15 pm #6268
From Tanganyika with Love
continued part 9
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Lyamungu 3rd January 1945
We had a novel Christmas this year. We decided to avoid the expense of
entertaining and being entertained at Lyamungu, and went off to spend Christmas
camping in a forest on the Western slopes of Kilimanjaro. George decided to combine
business with pleasure and in this way we were able to use Government transport.
We set out the day before Christmas day and drove along the road which skirts
the slopes of Kilimanjaro and first visited a beautiful farm where Philip Teare, the ex
Game Warden, and his wife Mary are staying. We had afternoon tea with them and then
drove on in to the natural forest above the estate and pitched our tent beside a small
clear mountain stream. We decorated the tent with paper streamers and a few small
balloons and John found a small tree of the traditional shape which we decorated where
it stood with tinsel and small ornaments.
We put our beer, cool drinks for the children and bottles of fresh milk from Simba
Estate, in the stream and on Christmas morning they were as cold as if they had been in
the refrigerator all night. There were not many presents for the children, there never are,
but they do not seem to mind and are well satisfied with a couple of balloons apiece,
sweets, tin whistles and a book each.
George entertain the children before breakfast. He can make a magical thing out
of the most ordinary balloon. The children watched entranced as he drew on his pipe
and then blew the smoke into the balloon. He then pinched the neck of the balloon
between thumb and forefinger and released the smoke in little puffs. Occasionally the
balloon ejected a perfect smoke ring and the forest rang with shouts of “Do it again
Daddy.” Another trick was to blow up the balloon to maximum size and then twist the
neck tightly before releasing. Before subsiding the balloon darted about in a crazy
fashion causing great hilarity. Such fun, at the cost of a few pence.
After breakfast George went off to fish for trout. John and Jim decided that they
also wished to fish so we made rods out of sticks and string and bent pins and they
fished happily, but of course quite unsuccessfully, for hours. Both of course fell into the
stream and got soaked, but I was prepared for this, and the little stream was so shallow
that they could not come to any harm. Henry played happily in the sand and I had a
most peaceful morning.
Hamisi roasted a chicken in a pot over the camp fire and the jelly set beautifully in the
stream. So we had grilled trout and chicken for our Christmas dinner. I had of course
taken an iced cake for the occasion and, all in all, it was a very successful Christmas day.
On Boxing day we drove down to the plains where George was to investigate a
report of game poaching near the Ngassari Furrow. This is a very long ditch which has
been dug by the Government for watering the Masai stock in the area. It is also used by
game and we saw herds of zebra and wildebeest, and some Grant’s Gazelle and
giraffe, all comparatively tame. At one point a small herd of zebra raced beside the lorry
apparently enjoying the fun of a gallop. They were all sleek and fat and looked wild and
beautiful in action.
We camped a considerable distance from the water but this precaution did not
save us from the mosquitoes which launched a vicious attack on us after sunset, so that
we took to our beds unusually early. They were on the job again when we got up at
sunrise so I was very glad when we were once more on our way home.
“I like Christmas safari. Much nicer that silly old party,” said John. I agree but I think
it is time that our children learned to play happily with others. There are no other young
children at Lyamungu though there are two older boys and a girl who go to boarding
school in Nairobi.
On New Years Day two Army Officers from the military camp at Moshi, came for
tea and to talk game hunting with George. I think they rather enjoy visiting a home and
seeing children and pets around.
Lyamungu 14 May 1945
So the war in Europe is over at last. It is such marvellous news that I can hardly
believe it. To think that as soon as George can get leave we will go to England and
bring Ann and George home with us to Tanganyika. When we know when this leave can
be arranged we will want Kate to join us here as of course she must go with us to
England to meet George’s family. She has become so much a part of your lives that I
know it will be a wrench for you to give her up but I know that you will all be happy to
think that soon our family will be reunited.
The V.E. celebrations passed off quietly here. We all went to Moshi to see the
Victory Parade of the King’s African Rifles and in the evening we went to a celebration
dinner at the Game Warden’s house. Besides ourselves the Moores had invited the
Commanding Officer from Moshi and a junior officer. We had a very good dinner and
many toasts including one to Mrs Moore’s brother, Oliver Milton who is fighting in Burma
and has recently been awarded the Military Cross.
There was also a celebration party for the children in the grounds of the Moshi
Club. Such a spread! I think John and Jim sampled everything. We mothers were
having our tea separately and a friend laughingly told me to turn around and have a look.
I did, and saw the long tea tables now deserted by all the children but my two sons who
were still eating steadily, and finding the party more exciting than the game of Musical
Bumps into which all the other children had entered with enthusiasm.
There was also an extremely good puppet show put on by the Italian prisoners
of war from the camp at Moshi. They had made all the puppets which included well
loved characters like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Babes in the Wood as
well as more sophisticated ones like an irritable pianist and a would be prima donna. The
most popular puppets with the children were a native askari and his family – a very
happy little scene. I have never before seen a puppet show and was as entranced as
the children. It is amazing what clever manipulation and lighting can do. I believe that the
Italians mean to take their puppets to Nairobi and am glad to think that there, they will
have larger audiences to appreciate their art.
George has just come in, and I paused in my writing to ask him for the hundredth
time when he thinks we will get leave. He says I must be patient because it may be a
year before our turn comes. Shipping will be disorganised for months to come and we
cannot expect priority simply because we have been separated so long from our
children. The same situation applies to scores of other Government Officials.
I have decided to write the story of my childhood in South Africa and about our
life together in Tanganyika up to the time Ann and George left the country. I know you
will have told Kate these stories, but Ann and George were so very little when they left
home that I fear that they cannot remember much.
My Mother-in-law will have told them about their father but she can tell them little
about me. I shall send them one chapter of my story each month in the hope that they
may be interested and not feel that I am a stranger when at last we meet again.
Lyamungu 19th September 1945
In a months time we will be saying good-bye to Lyamungu. George is to be
transferred to Mbeya and I am delighted, not only as I look upon Mbeya as home, but
because there is now a primary school there which John can attend. I feel he will make
much better progress in his lessons when he realises that all children of his age attend
school. At present he is putting up a strong resistance to learning to read and spell, but
he writes very neatly, does his sums accurately and shows a real talent for drawing. If
only he had the will to learn I feel he would do very well.
Jim now just four, is too young for lessons but too intelligent to be interested in
the ayah’s attempts at entertainment. Yes I’ve had to engage a native girl to look after
Henry from 9 am to 12.30 when I supervise John’s Correspondence Course. She is
clean and amiable, but like most African women she has no initiative at all when it comes
to entertaining children. Most African men and youths are good at this.
I don’t regret our stay at Lyamungu. It is a beautiful spot and the change to the
cooler climate after the heat of Morogoro has been good for all the children. John is still
tall for his age but not so thin as he was and much less pale. He is a handsome little lad
with his large brown eyes in striking contrast to his fair hair. He is wary of strangers but
very observant and quite uncanny in the way he sums up people. He seldom gets up
to mischief but I have a feeling he eggs Jim on. Not that Jim needs egging.
Jim has an absolute flair for mischief but it is all done in such an artless manner that
it is not easy to punish him. He is a very sturdy child with a cap of almost black silky hair,
eyes brown, like mine, and a large mouth which is quick to smile and show most beautiful
white and even teeth. He is most popular with all the native servants and the Game
Scouts. The servants call Jim, ‘Bwana Tembo’ (Mr Elephant) because of his sturdy
Henry, now nearly two years old, is quite different from the other two in
appearance. He is fair complexioned and fair haired like Ann and Kate, with large, black
lashed, light grey eyes. He is a good child, not so merry as Jim was at his age, nor as
shy as John was. He seldom cries, does not care to be cuddled and is independent and
strong willed. The servants call Henry, ‘Bwana Ndizi’ (Mr Banana) because he has an
inexhaustible appetite for this fruit. Fortunately they are very inexpensive here. We buy
an entire bunch which hangs from a beam on the back verandah, and pluck off the
bananas as they ripen. This way there is no waste and the fruit never gets bruised as it
does in greengrocers shops in South Africa. Our three boys make a delightful and
interesting trio and I do wish you could see them for yourselves.
We are delighted with the really beautiful photograph of Kate. She is an
extraordinarily pretty child and looks so happy and healthy and a great credit to you.
Now that we will be living in Mbeya with a school on the doorstep I hope that we will
soon be able to arrange for her return home.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 30th October 1945
How nice to be able to write c/o Game Dept. Mbeya at the head of my letters.
We arrived here safely after a rather tiresome journey and are installed in a tiny house on
the edge of the township.
We left Lyamungu early on the morning of the 22nd. Most of our goods had
been packed on the big Ford lorry the previous evening, but there were the usual
delays and farewells. Of our servants, only the cook, Hamisi, accompanied us to
Mbeya. Japhet, Tovelo and the ayah had to be paid off and largesse handed out.
Tovelo’s granny had come, bringing a gift of bananas, and she also brought her little
granddaughter to present a bunch of flowers. The child’s little scolded behind is now
completely healed. Gifts had to be found for them too.
At last we were all aboard and what a squash it was! Our few pieces of furniture
and packing cases and trunks, the cook, his wife, the driver and the turney boy, who
were to take the truck back to Lyamungu, and all their bits and pieces, bunches of
bananas and Fanny the dog were all crammed into the body of the lorry. George, the
children and I were jammed together in the cab. Before we left George looked
dubiously at the tyres which were very worn and said gloomily that he thought it most
unlikely that we would make our destination, Dodoma.
Too true! Shortly after midday, near Kwakachinja, we blew a back tyre and there
was a tedious delay in the heat whilst the wheel was changed. We were now without a
spare tyre and George said that he would not risk taking the Ford further than Babati,
which is less than half way to Dodoma. He drove very slowly and cautiously to Babati
where he arranged with Sher Mohammed, an Indian trader, for a lorry to take us to
Dodoma the next morning.
It had been our intention to spend the night at the furnished Government
Resthouse at Babati but when we got there we found that it was already occupied by
several District Officers who had assembled for a conference. So, feeling rather
disgruntled, we all piled back into the lorry and drove on to a place called Bereku where
we spent an uncomfortable night in a tumbledown hut.
Before dawn next morning Sher Mohammed’s lorry drove up, and there was a
scramble to dress by the light of a storm lamp. The lorry was a very dilapidated one and
there was already a native woman passenger in the cab. I felt so tired after an almost
sleepless night that I decided to sit between the driver and this woman with the sleeping
Henry on my knee. It was as well I did, because I soon found myself dosing off and
drooping over towards the woman. Had she not been there I might easily have fallen
out as the battered cab had no door. However I was alert enough when daylight came
and changed places with the woman to our mutual relief. She was now able to converse
with the African driver and I was able to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air!
George, John and Jim were less comfortable. They sat in the lorry behind the
cab hemmed in by packing cases. As the lorry was an open one the sun beat down
unmercifully upon them until George, ever resourceful, moved a table to the front of the
truck. The two boys crouched under this and so got shelter from the sun but they still had
to endure the dust. Fanny complicated things by getting car sick and with one thing and
another we were all jolly glad to get to Dodoma.
We spent the night at the Dodoma Hotel and after hot baths, a good meal and a
good nights rest we cheerfully boarded a bus of the Tanganyika Bus Service next
morning to continue our journey to Mbeya. The rest of the journey was uneventful. We slept two nights on the road, the first at Iringa Hotel and the second at Chimala. We
reached Mbeya on the 27th.
I was rather taken aback when I first saw the little house which has been allocated
to us. I had become accustomed to the spacious houses we had in Morogoro and
Lyamungu. However though the house is tiny it is secluded and has a long garden
sloping down to the road in front and another long strip sloping up behind. The front
garden is shaded by several large cypress and eucalyptus trees but the garden behind
the house has no shade and consists mainly of humpy beds planted with hundreds of
carnations sadly in need of debudding. I believe that the previous Game Ranger’s wife
cultivated the carnations and, by selling them, raised money for War Funds.
Like our own first home, this little house is built of sun dried brick. Its original
owners were Germans. It is now rented to the Government by the Custodian of Enemy
Property, and George has his office in another ex German house.
This afternoon we drove to the school to arrange about enrolling John there. The
school is about four miles out of town. It was built by the German settlers in the late
1930’s and they were justifiably proud of it. It consists of a great assembly hall and
classrooms in one block and there are several attractive single storied dormitories. This
school was taken over by the Government when the Germans were interned on the
outbreak of war and many improvements have been made to the original buildings. The
school certainly looks very attractive now with its grassed playing fields and its lawns and
bright flower beds.
The Union Jack flies from a tall flagpole in front of the Hall and all traces of the
schools German origin have been firmly erased. We met the Headmaster, Mr
Wallington, and his wife and some members of the staff. The school is co-educational
and caters for children from the age of seven to standard six. The leaving age is elastic
owing to the fact that many Tanganyika children started school very late because of lack
of educational facilities in this country.
The married members of the staff have their own cottages in the grounds. The
Matrons have quarters attached to the dormitories for which they are responsible. I felt
most enthusiastic about the school until I discovered that the Headmaster is adamant
upon one subject. He utterly refuses to take any day pupils at the school. So now our
poor reserved Johnny will have to adjust himself to boarding school life.
We have arranged that he will start school on November 5th and I shall be very
busy trying to assemble his school uniform at short notice. The clothing list is sensible.
Boys wear khaki shirts and shorts on weekdays with knitted scarlet jerseys when the
weather is cold. On Sundays they wear grey flannel shorts and blazers with the silver
and scarlet school tie.
Mbeya looks dusty, brown and dry after the lush evergreen vegetation of
Lyamungu, but I prefer this drier climate and there are still mountains to please the eye.
In fact the lower slopes of Lolesa Mountain rise at the upper end of our garden.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 21st November 1945
We’re quite settled in now and I have got the little house fixed up to my
satisfaction. I have engaged a rather uncouth looking houseboy but he is strong and
capable and now that I am not tied down in the mornings by John’s lessons I am able to
go out occasionally in the mornings and take Jim and Henry to play with other children.
They do not show any great enthusiasm but are not shy by nature as John is.
I have had a good deal of heartache over putting John to boarding school. It
would have been different had he been used to the company of children outside his
own family, or if he had even known one child there. However he seems to be adjusting
himself to the life, though slowly. At least he looks well and tidy and I am quite sure that
he is well looked after.
I must confess that when the time came for John to go to school I simply did not
have the courage to take him and he went alone with George, looking so smart in his
new uniform – but his little face so bleak. The next day, Sunday, was visiting day but the
Headmaster suggested that we should give John time to settle down and not visit him
When we drove up to the school I spied John on the far side of the field walking
all alone. Instead of running up with glad greetings, as I had expected, he came almost
reluctently and had little to say. I asked him to show me his dormitory and classroom and
he did so politely as though I were a stranger. At last he volunteered some information.
“Mummy,” he said in an awed voice, Do you know on the night I came here they burnt a
man! They had a big fire and they burnt him.” After a blank moment the penny dropped.
Of course John had started school and November the fifth but it had never entered my
head to tell him about that infamous character, Guy Fawkes!
I asked John’s Matron how he had settled down. “Well”, she said thoughtfully,
“John is very good and has not cried as many of the juniors do when they first come
here, but he seems to keep to himself all the time.” I went home very discouraged but
on the Sunday John came running up with another lad of about his own age.” This is my
friend Marks,” he announced proudly. I could have hugged Marks.
Mbeya is very different from the small settlement we knew in the early 1930’s.
Gone are all the colourful characters from the Lupa diggings for the alluvial claims are all
worked out now, gone also are our old friends the Menzies from the Pub and also most
of the Government Officials we used to know. Mbeya has lost its character of a frontier
township and has become almost suburban.
The social life revolves around two places, the Club and the school. The Club
which started out as a little two roomed building, has been expanded and the golf
course improved. There are also tennis courts and a good library considering the size of
the community. There are frequent parties and dances, though most of the club revenue
comes from Bar profits. The parties are relatively sober affairs compared with the parties
of the 1930’s.
The school provides entertainment of another kind. Both Mr and Mrs Wallington
are good amateur actors and I am told that they run an Amateur Dramatic Society. Every
Wednesday afternoon there is a hockey match at the school. Mbeya town versus a
mixed team of staff and scholars. The match attracts almost the whole European
population of Mbeya. Some go to play hockey, others to watch, and others to snatch
the opportunity to visit their children. I shall have to try to arrange a lift to school when
George is away on safari.
I have now met most of the local women and gladly renewed an old friendship
with Sheilagh Waring whom I knew two years ago at Morogoro. Sheilagh and I have
much in common, the same disregard for the trappings of civilisation, the same sense of
the ludicrous, and children. She has eight to our six and she has also been cut off by the
war from two of her children. Sheilagh looks too young and pretty to be the mother of so
large a family and is, in fact, several years younger than I am. her husband, Donald, is a
large quiet man who, as far as I can judge takes life seriously.
Our next door neighbours are the Bank Manager and his wife, a very pleasant
couple though we seldom meet. I have however had correspondence with the Bank
Manager. Early on Saturday afternoon their houseboy brought a note. It informed me
that my son was disturbing his rest by precipitating a heart attack. Was I aware that my
son was about 30 feet up in a tree and balanced on a twig? I ran out and,sure enough,
there was Jim, right at the top of the tallest eucalyptus tree. It would be the one with the
mound of stones at the bottom! You should have heard me fluting in my most
wheedling voice. “Sweets, Jimmy, come down slowly dear, I’ve some nice sweets for
I’ll bet that little story makes you smile. I remember how often you have told me
how, as a child, I used to make your hearts turn over because I had no fear of heights
and how I used to say, “But that is silly, I won’t fall.” I know now only too well, how you
must have felt.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 14th January 1946
I hope that by now you have my telegram to say that Kate got home safely
yesterday. It was wonderful to have her back and what a beautiful child she is! Kate
seems to have enjoyed the train journey with Miss Craig, in spite of the tears she tells
me she shed when she said good-bye to you. She also seems to have felt quite at
home with the Hopleys at Salisbury. She flew from Salisbury in a small Dove aircraft
and they had a smooth passage though Kate was a little airsick.
I was so excited about her home coming! This house is so tiny that I had to turn
out the little store room to make a bedroom for her. With a fresh coat of whitewash and
pretty sprigged curtains and matching bedspread, borrowed from Sheilagh Waring, the
tiny room looks most attractive. I had also iced a cake, made ice-cream and jelly and
bought crackers for the table so that Kate’s home coming tea could be a proper little
I was pleased with my preparations and then, a few hours before the plane was
due, my crowned front tooth dropped out, peg and all! When my houseboy wants to
describe something very tatty, he calls it “Second-hand Kabisa.” Kabisa meaning
absolutely. That is an apt description of how I looked and felt. I decided to try some
emergency dentistry. I think you know our nearest dentist is at Dar es Salaam five
hundred miles away.
First I carefully dried the tooth and with a match stick covered the peg and base
with Durofix. I then took the infants rubber bulb enema, sucked up some heat from a
candle flame and pumped it into the cavity before filling that with Durofix. Then hopefully
I stuck the tooth in its former position and held it in place for several minutes. No good. I
sent the houseboy to a shop for Scotine and tried the whole process again. No good
When George came home for lunch I appealed to him for advice. He jokingly
suggested that a maize seed jammed into the space would probably work, but when
he saw that I really was upset he produced some chewing gum and suggested that I
should try that . I did and that worked long enough for my first smile anyway.
George and the three boys went to meet Kate but I remained at home to
welcome her there. I was afraid that after all this time away Kate might be reluctant to
rejoin the family but she threw her arms around me and said “Oh Mummy,” We both
shed a few tears and then we both felt fine.
How gay Kate is, and what an infectious laugh she has! The boys follow her
around in admiration. John in fact asked me, “Is Kate a Princess?” When I said
“Goodness no, Johnny, she’s your sister,” he explained himself by saying, “Well, she
has such golden hair.” Kate was less complementary. When I tucked her in bed last night
she said, “Mummy, I didn’t expect my little brothers to be so yellow!” All three boys
have been taking a course of Atebrin, an anti-malarial drug which tinges skin and eyeballs
So now our tiny house is bursting at its seams and how good it feels to have one
more child under our roof. We are booked to sail for England in May and when we return
we will have Ann and George home too. Then I shall feel really content.
c/o Game Dept. Mbeya. 2nd March 1946
My life just now is uneventful but very busy. I am sewing hard and knitting fast to
try to get together some warm clothes for our leave in England. This is not a simple
matter because woollen materials are in short supply and very expensive, and now that
we have boarding school fees to pay for both Kate and John we have to budget very
Kate seems happy at school. She makes friends easily and seems to enjoy
communal life. John also seems reconciled to school now that Kate is there. He no
longer feels that he is the only exile in the family. He seems to rub along with the other
boys of his age and has a couple of close friends. Although Mbeya School is coeducational
the smaller boys and girls keep strictly apart. It is considered extremely
cissy to play with girls.
The local children are allowed to go home on Sundays after church and may bring
friends home with them for the day. Both John and Kate do this and Sunday is a very
busy day for me. The children come home in their Sunday best but bring play clothes to
change into. There is always a scramble to get them to bath and change again in time to
deliver them to the school by 6 o’clock.
When George is home we go out to the school for the morning service. This is
taken by the Headmaster Mr Wallington, and is very enjoyable. There is an excellent
school choir to lead the singing. The service is the Church of England one, but is
attended by children of all denominations, except the Roman Catholics. I don’t think that
more than half the children are British. A large proportion are Greeks, some as old as
sixteen, and about the same number are Afrikaners. There are Poles and non-Nazi
Germans, Swiss and a few American children.
All instruction is through the medium of English and it is amazing how soon all the
foreign children learn to chatter in English. George has been told that we will return to
Mbeya after our leave and for that I am very thankful as it means that we will still be living
near at hand when Jim and Henry start school. Because many of these children have to
travel many hundreds of miles to come to school, – Mbeya is a two day journey from the
railhead, – the school year is divided into two instead of the usual three terms. This
means that many of these children do not see their parents for months at a time. I think
this is a very sad state of affairs especially for the seven and eight year olds but the
Matrons assure me , that many children who live on isolated farms and stations are quite
reluctant to go home because they miss the companionship and the games and
entertainment that the school offers.
My only complaint about the life here is that I see far too little of George. He is
kept extremely busy on this range and is hardly at home except for a few days at the
months end when he has to be at his office to check up on the pay vouchers and the
issue of ammunition to the Scouts. George’s Range takes in the whole of the Southern
Province and the Southern half of the Western Province and extends to the border with
Northern Rhodesia and right across to Lake Tanganyika. This vast area is patrolled by
only 40 Game Scouts because the Department is at present badly under staffed, due
partly to the still acute shortage of rifles, but even more so to the extraordinary reluctance
which the Government shows to allocate adequate funds for the efficient running of the
The Game Scouts must see that the Game Laws are enforced, protect native
crops from raiding elephant, hippo and other game animals. Report disease amongst game and deal with stock raiding lions. By constantly going on safari and checking on
their work, George makes sure the range is run to his satisfaction. Most of the Game
Scouts are fine fellows but, considering they receive only meagre pay for dangerous
and exacting work, it is not surprising that occasionally a Scout is tempted into accepting
a bribe not to report a serious infringement of the Game Laws and there is, of course,
always the temptation to sell ivory illicitly to unscrupulous Indian and Arab traders.
Apart from supervising the running of the Range, George has two major jobs.
One is to supervise the running of the Game Free Area along the Rhodesia –
Tanganyika border, and the other to hunt down the man-eating lions which for years have
terrorised the Njombe District killing hundreds of Africans. Yes I know ‘hundreds’ sounds
fantastic, but this is perfectly true and one day, when the job is done and the official
report published I shall send it to you to prove it!
I hate to think of the Game Free Area and so does George. All the game from
buffalo to tiny duiker has been shot out in a wide belt extending nearly two hundred
miles along the Northern Rhodesia -Tanganyika border. There are three Europeans in
widely spaced camps who supervise this slaughter by African Game Guards. This
horrible measure is considered necessary by the Veterinary Departments of
Tanganyika, Rhodesia and South Africa, to prevent the cattle disease of Rinderpest
from spreading South.
When George is home however, we do relax and have fun. On the Saturday
before the school term started we took Kate and the boys up to the top fishing camp in
the Mporoto Mountains for her first attempt at trout fishing. There are three of these
camps built by the Mbeya Trout Association on the rivers which were first stocked with
the trout hatched on our farm at Mchewe. Of the three, the top camp is our favourite. The
scenery there is most glorious and reminds me strongly of the rivers of the Western
Cape which I so loved in my childhood.
The river, the Kawira, flows from the Rungwe Mountain through a narrow valley
with hills rising steeply on either side. The water runs swiftly over smooth stones and
sometimes only a foot or two below the level of the banks. It is sparkling and shallow,
but in places the water is deep and dark and the banks high. I had a busy day keeping
an eye on the boys, especially Jim, who twice climbed out on branches which overhung
deep water. “Mummy, I was only looking for trout!”
How those kids enjoyed the freedom of the camp after the comparative
restrictions of town. So did Fanny, she raced about on the hills like a mad dog chasing
imaginary rabbits and having the time of her life. To escape the noise and commotion
George had gone far upstream to fish and returned in the late afternoon with three good
sized trout and four smaller ones. Kate proudly showed George the two she had caught
with the assistance or our cook Hamisi. I fear they were caught in a rather unorthodox
manner but this I kept a secret from George who is a stickler for the orthodox in trout
Jacksdale England 24th June 1946
Here we are all together at last in England. You cannot imagine how wonderful it
feels to have the whole Rushby family reunited. I find myself counting heads. Ann,
George, Kate, John, Jim, and Henry. All present and well. We had a very pleasant trip
on the old British India Ship Mantola. She was crowded with East Africans going home
for the first time since the war, many like us, eagerly looking forward to a reunion with their
children whom they had not seen for years. There was a great air of anticipation and
good humour but a little anxiety too.
“I do hope our children will be glad to see us,” said one, and went on to tell me
about a Doctor from Dar es Salaam who, after years of separation from his son had
recently gone to visit him at his school. The Doctor had alighted at the railway station
where he had arranged to meet his son. A tall youth approached him and said, very
politely, “Excuse me sir. Are you my Father?” Others told me of children who had
become so attached to their relatives in England that they gave their parents a very cool
reception. I began to feel apprehensive about Ann and George but fortunately had no
time to mope.
Oh, that washing and ironing for six! I shall remember for ever that steamy little
laundry in the heat of the Red Sea and queuing up for the ironing and the feeling of guilt
at the size of my bundle. We met many old friends amongst the passengers, and made
some new ones, so the voyage was a pleasant one, We did however have our
John was the first to disappear and we had an anxious search for him. He was
quite surprised that we had been concerned. “I was just talking to my friend Chinky
Chinaman in his workshop.” Could John have called him that? Then, when I returned to
the cabin from dinner one night I found Henry swigging Owbridge’s Lung Tonic. He had
drunk half the bottle neat and the label said ‘five drops in water’. Luckily it did not harm
Jim of course was forever risking his neck. George had forbidden him to climb on
the railings but he was forever doing things which no one had thought of forbidding him
to do, like hanging from the overhead pipes on the deck or standing on the sill of a
window and looking down at the well deck far below. An Officer found him doing this and
gave me the scolding.
Another day he climbed up on a derrick used for hoisting cargo. George,
oblivious to this was sitting on the hatch cover with other passengers reading a book. I
was in the wash house aft on the same deck when Kate rushed in and said, “Mummy
come and see Jim.” Before I had time to more than gape, the butcher noticed Jim and
rushed out knife in hand. “Get down from there”, he bellowed. Jim got, and with such
speed that he caught the leg or his shorts on a projecting piece of metal. The cotton
ripped across the seam from leg to leg and Jim stood there for a humiliating moment in a
sort of revealing little kilt enduring the smiles of the passengers who had looked up from
their books at the butcher’s shout.
That incident cured Jim of his urge to climb on the ship but he managed to give
us one more fright. He was lost off Dover. People from whom we enquired said, “Yes
we saw your little boy. He was by the railings watching that big aircraft carrier.” Now Jim,
though mischievous , is very obedient. It was not until George and I had conducted an
exhaustive search above and below decks that I really became anxious. Could he have
fallen overboard? Jim was returned to us by an unamused Officer. He had been found
in one of the lifeboats on the deck forbidden to children.
Our ship passed Dover after dark and it was an unforgettable sight. Dover Castle
and the cliffs were floodlit for the Victory Celebrations. One of the men passengers sat
down at the piano and played ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’, and people sang and a few
wept. The Mantola docked at Tilbury early next morning in a steady drizzle.
There was a dockers strike on and it took literally hours for all the luggage to be
put ashore. The ships stewards simply locked the public rooms and went off leaving the
passengers shivering on the docks. Eventually damp and bedraggled, we arrived at St
Pancras Station and were given a warm welcome by George’s sister Cath and her
husband Reg Pears, who had come all the way from Nottingham to meet us.
As we had to spend an hour in London before our train left for Nottingham,
George suggested that Cath and I should take the children somewhere for a meal. So
off we set in the cold drizzle, the boys and I without coats and laden with sundry
packages, including a hand woven native basket full of shoes. We must have looked like
a bunch of refugees as we stood in the hall of The Kings Cross Station Hotel because a
supercilious waiter in tails looked us up and down and said, “I’m afraid not Madam”, in
answer to my enquiry whether the hotel could provide lunch for six.
Anyway who cares! We had lunch instead at an ABC tea room — horrible
sausage and a mound or rather sloppy mashed potatoes, but very good ice-cream.
After the train journey in a very grimy third class coach, through an incredibly green and
beautiful countryside, we eventually reached Nottingham and took a bus to Jacksdale,
where George’s mother and sisters live in large detached houses side by side.
Ann and George were at the bus stop waiting for us, and thank God, submitted
to my kiss as though we had been parted for weeks instead of eight years. Even now
that we are together again my heart aches to think of all those missed years. They have
not changed much and I would have picked them out of a crowd, but Ann, once thin and
pale, is now very rosy and blooming. She still has her pretty soft plaits and her eyes are
still a clear calm blue. Young George is very striking looking with sparkling brown eyes, a
ready, slightly lopsided smile, and charming manners.
Mother, and George’s elder sister, Lottie Giles, welcomed us at the door with the
cheering news that our tea was ready. Ann showed us the way to mother’s lovely lilac
tiled bathroom for a wash before tea. Before I had even turned the tap, Jim had hung
form the glass towel rail and it lay in three pieces on the floor. There have since been
similar tragedies. I can see that life in civilisation is not without snags.
I am most grateful that Ann and George have accepted us so naturally and
affectionately. Ann said candidly, “Mummy, it’s a good thing that you had Aunt Cath with
you when you arrived because, honestly, I wouldn’t have known you.”
Jacksdale England 28th August 1946
I am sorry that I have not written for some time but honestly, I don’t know whether
I’m coming or going. Mother handed the top floor of her house to us and the
arrangement was that I should tidy our rooms and do our laundry and Mother would
prepare the meals except for breakfast. It looked easy at first. All the rooms have wall to
wall carpeting and there was a large vacuum cleaner in the box room. I was told a
window cleaner would do the windows.
Well the first time I used the Hoover I nearly died of fright. I pressed the switch
and immediately there was a roar and the bag filled with air to bursting point, or so I
thought. I screamed for Ann and she came at the run. I pointed to the bag and shouted
above the din, “What must I do? It’s going to burst!” Ann looked at me in astonishment
and said, “But Mummy that’s the way it works.” I couldn’t have her thinking me a
complete fool so I switched the current off and explained to Ann how it was that I had
never seen this type of equipment in action. How, in Tanganyika , I had never had a
house with electricity and that, anyway, electric equipment would be superfluous
because floors are of cement which the houseboy polishes by hand, one only has a
few rugs or grass mats on the floor. “But what about Granny’s house in South Africa?’”
she asked, so I explained about your Josephine who threatened to leave if you
bought a Hoover because that would mean that you did not think she kept the house
clean. The sad fact remains that, at fourteen, Ann knows far more about housework than I
do, or rather did! I’m learning fast.
The older children all go to school at different times in the morning. Ann leaves first
by bus to go to her Grammar School at Sutton-in-Ashfield. Shortly afterwards George
catches a bus for Nottingham where he attends the High School. So they have
breakfast in relays, usually scrambled egg made from a revolting dried egg mixture.
Then there are beds to make and washing and ironing to do, so I have little time for
sightseeing, though on a few afternoons George has looked after the younger children
and I have gone on bus tours in Derbyshire. Life is difficult here with all the restrictions on
foodstuffs. We all have ration books so get our fair share but meat, fats and eggs are
scarce and expensive. The weather is very wet. At first I used to hang out the washing
and then rush to bring it in when a shower came. Now I just let it hang.
We have left our imprint upon my Mother-in-law’s house for ever. Henry upset a
bottle of Milk of Magnesia in the middle of the pale fawn bedroom carpet. John, trying to
be helpful and doing some dusting, broke one of the delicate Dresden china candlesticks
which adorn our bedroom mantelpiece.Jim and Henry have wrecked the once
professionally landscaped garden and all the boys together bored a large hole through
Mother’s prized cherry tree. So now Mother has given up and gone off to Bournemouth
for a much needed holiday. Once a week I have the capable help of a cleaning woman,
called for some reason, ‘Mrs Two’, but I have now got all the cooking to do for eight. Mrs
Two is a godsend. She wears, of all things, a print mob cap with a hole in it. Says it
belonged to her Grandmother. Her price is far beyond Rubies to me, not so much
because she does, in a couple of hours, what it takes me all day to do, but because she
sells me boxes of fifty cigarettes. Some non-smoking relative, who works in Players
tobacco factory, passes on his ration to her. Until Mrs Two came to my rescue I had
been starved of cigarettes. Each time I asked for them at the shop the grocer would say,
“Are you registered with us?” Only very rarely would some kindly soul sell me a little
packet of five Woodbines.
England is very beautiful but the sooner we go home to Tanganyika, the better.
On this, George and I and the children agree.
Jacksdale England 20th September 1946
Our return passages have now been booked on the Winchester Castle and we
sail from Southampton on October the sixth. I look forward to returning to Tanganyika but
hope to visit England again in a few years time when our children are older and when
rationing is a thing of the past.
I have grown fond of my Sisters-in-law and admire my Mother-in-law very much.
She has a great sense of humour and has entertained me with stories of her very
eventful life, and told me lots of little stories of the children which did not figure in her
letters. One which amused me was about young George. During one of the air raids
early in the war when the sirens were screaming and bombers roaring overhead Mother
made the two children get into the cloak cupboard under the stairs. Young George
seemed quite unconcerned about the planes and the bombs but soon an anxious voice
asked in the dark, “Gran, what will I do if a spider falls on me?” I am afraid that Mother is
going to miss Ann and George very much.
I had a holiday last weekend when Lottie and I went up to London on a spree. It
was a most enjoyable weekend, though very rushed. We placed ourselves in the
hands of Thos. Cook and Sons and saw most of the sights of London and were run off
our feet in the process. As you all know London I shall not describe what I saw but just
to say that, best of all, I enjoyed walking along the Thames embankment in the evening
and the changing of the Guard at Whitehall. On Sunday morning Lottie and I went to
Kew Gardens and in the afternoon walked in Kensington Gardens.
We went to only one show, ‘The Skin of our Teeth’ starring Vivienne Leigh.
Neither of us enjoyed the performance at all and regretted having spent so much on
circle seats. The show was far too highbrow for my taste, a sort of satire on the survival
of the human race. Miss Leigh was unrecognisable in a blond wig and her voice strident.
However the night was not a dead loss as far as entertainment was concerned as we
were later caught up in a tragicomedy at our hotel.
We had booked communicating rooms at the enormous Imperial Hotel in Russell
Square. These rooms were comfortably furnished but very high up, and we had a rather
terrifying and dreary view from the windows of the enclosed courtyard far below. We
had some snacks and a chat in Lottie’s room and then I moved to mine and went to bed.
I had noted earlier that there was a special lock on the outer door of my room so that
when the door was closed from the inside it automatically locked itself.
I was just dropping off to sleep when I heard a hammering which seemed to
come from my wardrobe. I got up, rather fearfully, and opened the wardrobe door and
noted for the first time that the wardrobe was set in an opening in the wall and that the
back of the wardrobe also served as the back of the wardrobe in the room next door. I
quickly shut it again and went to confer with Lottie.
Suddenly a male voice was raised next door in supplication, “Mary Mother of
God, Help me! They’ve locked me in!” and the hammering resumed again, sometimes
on the door, and then again on the back of the wardrobe of the room next door. Lottie
had by this time joined me and together we listened to the prayers and to the
hammering. Then the voice began to threaten, “If you don’t let me out I’ll jump out of the
window.” Great consternation on our side of the wall. I went out into the passage and
called through the door, “You’re not locked in. Come to your door and I’ll tell you how to
open it.” Silence for a moment and then again the prayers followed by a threat. All the
other doors in the corridor remained shut.
Luckily just then a young man and a woman came walking down the corridor and I
explained the situation. The young man hurried off for the night porter who went into the
next door room. In a matter of minutes there was peace next door. When the night
porter came out into the corridor again I asked for an explanation. He said quite casually,
“It’s all right Madam. He’s an Irish Gentleman in Show Business. He gets like this on a
Saturday night when he has had a drop too much. He won’t give any more trouble
now.” And he didn’t. Next morning at breakfast Lottie and I tried to spot the gentleman in
the Show Business, but saw no one who looked like the owner of that charming Irish
George had to go to London on business last Monday and took the older
children with him for a few hours of sight seeing. They returned quite unimpressed.
Everything was too old and dirty and there were far too many people about, but they
had enjoyed riding on the escalators at the tube stations, and all agreed that the highlight
of the trip was, “Dad took us to lunch at the Chicken Inn.”
Now that it is almost time to leave England I am finding the housework less of a
drudgery, Also, as it is school holiday time, Jim and Henry are able to go on walks with
the older children and so use up some of their surplus energy. Cath and I took the
children (except young George who went rabbit shooting with his uncle Reg, and
Henry, who stayed at home with his dad) to the Wakes at Selston, the neighbouring
village. There were the roundabouts and similar contraptions but the side shows had
more appeal for the children. Ann and Kate found a stall where assorted prizes were
spread out on a sloping table. Anyone who could land a penny squarely on one of
these objects was given a similar one as a prize.
I was touched to see that both girls ignored all the targets except a box of fifty
cigarettes which they were determined to win for me. After numerous attempts, Kate
landed her penny successfully and you would have loved to have seen her radiant little
Dar es Salaam 22nd October 1946
Back in Tanganyika at last, but not together. We have to stay in Dar es Salaam
until tomorrow when the train leaves for Dodoma. We arrived yesterday morning to find
all the hotels filled with people waiting to board ships for England. Fortunately some
friends came to the rescue and Ann, Kate and John have gone to stay with them. Jim,
Henry and I are sleeping in a screened corner of the lounge of the New Africa Hotel, and
George and young George have beds in the Palm Court of the same hotel.
We travelled out from England in the Winchester Castle under troopship
conditions. We joined her at Southampton after a rather slow train journey from
Nottingham. We arrived after dark and from the station we could see a large ship in the
docks with a floodlit red funnel. “Our ship,” yelled the children in delight, but it was not the
Winchester Castle but the Queen Elizabeth, newly reconditioned.
We had hoped to board our ship that evening but George made enquiries and
found that we would not be allowed on board until noon next day. Without much hope,
we went off to try to get accommodation for eight at a small hotel recommended by the
taxi driver. Luckily for us there was a very motherly woman at the reception desk. She
looked in amusement at the six children and said to me, “Goodness are all these yours,
ducks? Then she called over her shoulder, “Wilf, come and see this lady with lots of
children. We must try to help.” They settled the problem most satisfactorily by turning
two rooms into a dormitory.
In the morning we had time to inspect bomb damage in the dock area of
Southampton. Most of the rubble had been cleared away but there are still numbers of
damaged buildings awaiting demolition. A depressing sight. We saw the Queen Mary
at anchor, still in her drab war time paint, but magnificent nevertheless.
The Winchester Castle was crammed with passengers and many travelled in
acute discomfort. We were luckier than most because the two girls, the three small boys
and I had a stateroom to ourselves and though it was stripped of peacetime comforts,
we had a private bathroom and toilet. The two Georges had bunks in a huge men-only
dormitory somewhere in the bowls of the ship where they had to share communal troop
ship facilities. The food was plentiful but unexciting and one had to queue for afternoon
tea. During the day the decks were crowded and there was squatting room only. The
many children on board got bored.
Port Said provided a break and we were all entertained by the ‘Gully Gully’ man
and his conjuring tricks, and though we had no money to spend at Simon Artz, we did at
least have a chance to stretch our legs. Next day scores of passengers took ill with
sever stomach upsets, whether from food poisoning, or as was rumoured, from bad
water taken on at the Egyptian port, I don’t know. Only the two Georges in our family
were affected and their attacks were comparatively mild.
As we neared the Kenya port of Mombassa, the passengers for Dar es Salaam
were told that they would have to disembark at Mombassa and continue their journey in
a small coaster, the Al Said. The Winchester Castle is too big for the narrow channel
which leads to Dar es Salaam harbour.
From the wharf the Al Said looked beautiful. She was once the private yacht of
the Sultan of Zanzibar and has lovely lines. Our admiration lasted only until we were
shown our cabins. With one voice our children exclaimed, “Gosh they stink!” They did, of
a mixture of rancid oil and sweat and stale urine. The beds were not yet made and the
thin mattresses had ominous stains on them. John, ever fastidious, lifted his mattress and two enormous cockroaches scuttled for cover.
We had a good homely lunch served by two smiling African stewards and
afterwards we sat on deck and that was fine too, though behind ones enjoyment there
was the thought of those stuffy and dirty cabins. That first night nearly everyone,
including George and our older children, slept on deck. Women occupied deck chairs
and men and children slept on the bare decks. Horrifying though the idea was, I decided
that, as Jim had a bad cough, he, Henry and I would sleep in our cabin.
When I announced my intention of sleeping in the cabin one of the passengers
gave me some insecticide spray which I used lavishly, but without avail. The children
slept but I sat up all night with the light on, determined to keep at least their pillows clear
of the cockroaches which scurried about boldly regardless of the light. All the next day
and night we avoided the cabins. The Al Said stopped for some hours at Zanzibar to
offload her deck cargo of live cattle and packing cases from the hold. George and the
elder children went ashore for a walk but I felt too lazy and there was plenty to watch
That night I too occupied a deck chair and slept quite comfortably, and next
morning we entered the palm fringed harbour of Dar es Salaam and were home.
Mbeya 1st November 1946
Home at last! We are all most happily installed in a real family house about three
miles out of Mbeya and near the school. This house belongs to an elderly German and
has been taken over by the Custodian of Enemy Property and leased to the
The owner, whose name is Shenkel, was not interned but is allowed to occupy a
smaller house on the Estate. I found him in the garden this morning lecturing the children
on what they may do and may not do. I tried to make it quite clear to him that he was not
our landlord, though he clearly thinks otherwise. After he had gone I had to take two
aspirin and lie down to recover my composure! I had been warned that he has this effect
Mr Shenkel is a short and ugly man, his clothes are stained with food and he
wears steel rimmed glasses tied round his head with a piece of dirty elastic because
one earpiece is missing. He speaks with a thick German accent but his English is fluent
and I believe he is a cultured and clever man. But he is maddening. The children were
more amused than impressed by his exhortations and have happily Christened our
home, ‘Old Shenks’.
The house has very large grounds as the place is really a derelict farm. It suits us
down to the ground. We had no sooner unpacked than George went off on safari after
those maneating lions in the Njombe District. he accounted for one, and a further two
jointly with a Game Scout, before we left for England. But none was shot during the five
months we were away as George’s relief is quite inexperienced in such work. George
thinks that there are still about a dozen maneaters at large. His theory is that a female
maneater moved into the area in 1938 when maneating first started, and brought up her
cubs to be maneaters, and those cubs in turn did the same. The three maneating lions
that have been shot were all in very good condition and not old and maimed as
maneaters usually are.
George anticipates that it will be months before all these lions are accounted for
because they are constantly on the move and cover a very large area. The lions have to
be hunted on foot because they range over broken country covered by bush and fairly
I did a bit of shooting myself yesterday and impressed our African servants and
the children and myself. What a fluke! Our houseboy came to say that there was a snake
in the garden, the biggest he had ever seen. He said it was too big to kill with a stick and
would I shoot it. I had no gun but a heavy .450 Webley revolver and I took this and
hurried out with the children at my heels.
The snake turned out to be an unusually large puff adder which had just shed its
skin. It looked beautiful in a repulsive way. So flanked by servants and children I took
aim and shot, not hitting the head as I had planned, but breaking the snake’s back with
the heavy bullet. The two native boys then rushed up with sticks and flattened the head.
“Ma you’re a crack shot,” cried the kids in delighted surprise. I hope to rest on my laurels
for a long, long while.
Although there are only a few weeks of school term left the four older children will
start school on Monday. Not only am I pleased with our new home here but also with
the staff I have engaged. Our new houseboy, Reuben, (but renamed Robin by our
children) is not only cheerful and willing but intelligent too, and Jumbe, the wood and
garden boy, is a born clown and a source of great entertainment to the children.
I feel sure that we are all going to be very happy here at ‘Old Shenks!.
Eleanor.February 2, 2022 at 11:53 am #6265
From Tanganyika with Love
continued ~ part 6
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Mchewe 6th June 1937
Home again! We had an uneventful journey. Kate was as good as gold all the
way. We stopped for an hour at Bulawayo where we had to change trains but
everything was simplified for me by a very pleasant man whose wife shared my
compartment. Not only did he see me through customs but he installed us in our new
train and his wife turned up to see us off with magazines for me and fruit and sweets for
Kate. Very, very kind, don’t you think?
Kate and I shared the compartment with a very pretty and gentle girl called
Clarice Simpson. She was very worried and upset because she was going home to
Broken Hill in response to a telegram informing her that her young husband was
dangerously ill from Blackwater Fever. She was very helpful with Kate whose
cheerfulness helped Clarice, I think, though I, quite unintentionally was the biggest help
at the end of our journey. Remember the partial dentures I had had made just before
leaving Cape Town? I know I shall never get used to the ghastly things, I’ve had them
two weeks now and they still wobble. Well this day I took them out and wrapped them
in a handkerchief, but when we were packing up to leave the train I could find the
handkerchief but no teeth! We searched high and low until the train had slowed down to
enter Broken Hill station. Then Clarice, lying flat on the floor, spied the teeth in the dark
corner under the bottom bunk. With much stretching she managed to retrieve the
dentures covered in grime and fluff. My look of horror, when I saw them, made young
Clarice laugh. She was met at the station by a very grave elderly couple. I do wonder
how things turned out for her.
I stayed overnight with Kate at the Great Northern Hotel, and we set off for
Mbeya by plane early in the morning. One of our fellow passengers was a young
mother with a three week old baby. How ideas have changed since Ann was born. This
time we had a smooth passage and I was the only passenger to get airsick. Although
there were other women passengers it was a man once again, who came up and
offered to help. Kate went off with him amiably and he entertained her until we touched
down at Mbeya.
George was there to meet us with a wonderful surprise, a little red two seater
Ford car. She is a bit battered and looks a bit odd because the boot has been
converted into a large wooden box for carrying raw salt, but she goes like the wind.
Where did George raise the cash to buy a car? Whilst we were away he found a small
cave full of bat guano near a large cave which is worked by a man called Bob Sargent.
As Sargent did not want any competition he bought the contents of the cave from
George giving him the small car as part payment.
It was lovely to return to our little home and find everything fresh and tidy and the
garden full of colour. But it was heartbreaking to go into the bedroom and see George’s
precious forgotten boots still standing by his empty bed.
With much love,
Mchewe 25th June 1937
Last Friday George took Kate and me in the little red Ford to visit Mr Sargent’s
camp on the Songwe River which cuts the Mbeya-Mbosi road. Mr Sargent bought
Hicky-Wood’s guano deposit and also our small cave and is making a good living out of
selling the bat guano to the coffee farmers in this province. George went to try to interest
him in a guano deposit near Kilwa in the Southern Province. Mr Sargent agreed to pay
25 pounds to cover the cost of the car trip and pegging costs. George will make the trip
to peg the claim and take samples for analysis. If the quality is sufficiently high, George
and Mr Sargent will go into partnership. George will work the claim and ship out the
guano from Kilwa which is on the coast of the Southern Province of Tanganyika. So now
we are busy building castles in the air once more.
On Saturday we went to Mbeya where George had to attend a meeting of the
Trout Association. In the afternoon he played in a cricket match so Kate and I spent the
whole day with the wife of the new Superintendent of Police. They have a very nice
new house with lawns and a sunken rose garden. Kate had a lovely romp with Kit, her
three year old son.
Mrs Wolten also has two daughters by a previous marriage. The elder girl said to
me, “Oh Mrs Rushby your husband is exactly like the strong silent type of man I
expected to see in Africa but he is the only one I have seen. I think he looks exactly like
those men in the ‘Barney’s Tobacco’ advertisements.”
I went home with a huge pile of magazines to keep me entertained whilst
George is away on the Kilwa trip.
Lots of love,
Mchewe 9th July 1937
George returned on Monday from his Kilwa safari. He had an entertaining
tale to tell.
Before he approached Mr Sargent about going shares in the Kilwa guano
deposit he first approached a man on the Lupa who had done very well out of a small
gold reef. This man, however said he was not interested so you can imagine how
indignant George was when he started on his long trip, to find himself being trailed by
this very man and a co-driver in a powerful Ford V8 truck. George stopped his car and
had some heated things to say – awful threats I imagine as to what would happen to
anyone who staked his claim. Then he climbed back into our ancient little two seater and
went off like a bullet driving all day and most of the night. As the others took turns in
driving you can imagine what a feat it was for George to arrive in Kilwa ahead of them.
When they drove into Kilwa he met them with a bright smile and a bit of bluff –
quite justifiable under the circumstances I think. He said, you chaps can have a rest now,
you’re too late.” He then whipped off and pegged the claim. he brought some samples
of guano back but until it has been analysed he will not know whether the guano will be
an economic proposition or not. George is not very hopeful. He says there is a good
deal of sand mixed with the guano and that much of it was damp.
The trip was pretty eventful for Kianda, our houseboy. The little two seater car
had been used by its previous owner for carting bags of course salt from his salt pans.
For this purpose the dicky seat behind the cab had been removed, and a kind of box
built into the boot of the car. George’s camp kit and provisions were packed into this
open box and Kianda perched on top to keep an eye on the belongings. George
travelled so fast on the rough road that at some point during the night Kianda was
bumped off in the middle of the Game Reserve. George did not notice that he was
missing until the next morning. He concluded, quite rightly as it happened, that Kianda
would be picked up by the rival truck so he continued his journey and Kianda rejoined
him at Kilwa.
Believe it or not, the same thing happened on the way back but fortunately this
time George noticed his absence. He stopped the car and had just started back on his
tracks when Kianda came running down the road still clutching the unlighted storm lamp
which he was holding in his hand when he fell. The glass was not even cracked.
We are finding it difficult just now to buy native chickens and eggs. There has
been an epidemic amongst the poultry and one hesitates to eat the survivors. I have a
brine tub in which I preserve our surplus meat but I need the chickens for soup.
I hope George will be home for some months. He has arranged to take a Mr
Blackburn, a wealthy fruit farmer from Elgin, Cape, on a hunting safari during September
and October and that should bring in some much needed cash. Lillian Eustace has
invited Kate and me to spend the whole of October with her in Tukuyu.
I am so glad that you so much enjoy having Ann and George with you. We miss
them dreadfully. Kate is a pretty little girl and such a little madam. You should hear the
imperious way in which she calls the kitchenboy for her meals. “Boy Brekkis, Boy Lunch,
and Boy Eggy!” are her three calls for the day. She knows no Ki-Swahili.
Mchewe 8th October 1937
I am rapidly becoming as superstitious as our African boys. They say the wild
animals always know when George is away from home and come down to have their
revenge on me because he has killed so many.
I am being besieged at night by a most beastly leopard with a half grown cub. I
have grown used to hearing leopards grunt as they hunt in the hills at night but never
before have I had one roaming around literally under the windows. It has been so hot at
night lately that I have been sleeping with my bedroom door open onto the verandah. I
felt quite safe because the natives hereabouts are law-abiding and in any case I always
have a boy armed with a club sleeping in the kitchen just ten yards away. As an added
precaution I also have a loaded .45 calibre revolver on my bedside table, and Fanny
our bullterrier, sleeps on the mat by my bed. I am also looking after Barney, a fine
Airedale dog belonging to the Costers. He slept on a mat by the open bedroom door
near a dimly burning storm lamp.
As usual I went to sleep with an easy mind on Monday night, but was awakened
in the early hours of Tuesday by the sound of a scuffle on the front verandah. The noise
was followed by a scream of pain from Barney. I jumped out of bed and, grabbing the
lamp with my left hand and the revolver in my right, I rushed outside just in time to see
two animal figures roll over the edge of the verandah into the garden below. There they
engaged in a terrific tug of war. Fortunately I was too concerned for Barney to be
nervous. I quickly fired two shots from the revolver, which incidentally makes a noise like
a cannon, and I must have startled the leopard for both animals, still locked together,
disappeared over the edge of the terrace. I fired two more shots and in a few moments
heard the leopard making a hurried exit through the dry leaves which lie thick under the
wild fig tree just beyond the terrace. A few seconds later Barney appeared on the low
terrace wall. I called his name but he made no move to come but stood with hanging
head. In desperation I rushed out, felt blood on my hands when I touched him, so I
picked him up bodily and carried him into the house. As I regained the verandah the boy
appeared, club in hand, having been roused by the shots. He quickly grasped what had
happened when he saw my blood saturated nightie. He fetched a bowl of water and a
clean towel whilst I examined Barney’s wounds. These were severe, the worst being a
gaping wound in his throat. I washed the gashes with a strong solution of pot permang
and I am glad to say they are healing remarkably well though they are bound to leave
scars. Fanny, very prudently, had taken no part in the fighting except for frenzied barking
which she kept up all night. The shots had of course wakened Kate but she seemed
more interested than alarmed and kept saying “Fanny bark bark, Mummy bang bang.
Poor Barney lots of blood.”
In the morning we inspected the tracks in the garden. There was a shallow furrow
on the terrace where Barney and the leopard had dragged each other to and fro and
claw marks on the trunk of the wild fig tree into which the leopard climbed after I fired the
shots. The affair was of course a drama after the Africans’ hearts and several of our
shamba boys called to see me next day to make sympathetic noises and discuss the
I went to bed early that night hoping that the leopard had been scared off for
good but I must confess I shut all windows and doors. Alas for my hopes of a restful
night. I had hardly turned down the lamp when the leopard started its terrifying grunting
just under the bedroom windows. If only she would sniff around quietly I should not
mind, but the noise is ghastly, something like the first sickening notes of a braying
donkey, amplified here by the hills and the gorge which is only a stones throw from the
bedroom. Barney was too sick to bark but Fanny barked loud enough for two and the more
frantic she became the hungrier the leopard sounded. Kate of course woke up and this
time she was frightened though I assured her that the noise was just a donkey having
fun. Neither of us slept until dawn when the leopard returned to the hills. When we
examined the tracks next morning we found that the leopard had been accompanied by
a fair sized cub and that together they had prowled around the house, kitchen, and out
houses, visiting especially the places to which the dogs had been during the day.
As I feel I cannot bear many more of these nights, I am sending a note to the
District Commissioner, Mbeya by the messenger who takes this letter to the post,
asking him to send a game scout or an armed policeman to deal with the leopard.
So don’t worry, for by the time this reaches you I feel sure this particular trouble
will be over.
Mchewe 17th October 1937
More about the leopard I fear! My messenger returned from Mbeya to say that
the District Officer was on safari so he had given the message to the Assistant District
Officer who also apparently left on safari later without bothering to reply to my note, so
there was nothing for me to do but to send for the village Nimrod and his muzzle loader
and offer him a reward if he could frighten away or kill the leopard.
The hunter, Laza, suggested that he should sleep at the house so I went to bed
early leaving Laza and his two pals to make themselves comfortable on the living room
floor by the fire. Laza was armed with a formidable looking muzzle loader, crammed I
imagine with nuts and bolts and old rusty nails. One of his pals had a spear and the other
a panga. This fellow was also in charge of the Petromax pressure lamp whose light was
hidden under a packing case. I left the campaign entirely to Laza’s direction.
As usual the leopard came at midnight stealing down from the direction of the
kitchen and announcing its presence and position with its usual ghastly grunts. Suddenly
pandemonium broke loose on the back verandah. I heard the roar of the muzzle loader
followed by a vigourous tattoo beaten on an empty paraffin tin and I rushed out hoping
to find the dead leopard. however nothing of the kind had happened except that the
noise must have scared the beast because she did not return again that night. Next
morning Laza solemnly informed me that, though he had shot many leopards in his day,
this was no ordinary leopard but a “sheitani” (devil) and that as his gun was no good
against witchcraft he thought he might as well retire from the hunt. Scared I bet, and I
don’t blame him either.
You can imagine my relief when a car rolled up that afternoon bringing Messers
Stewart and Griffiths, two farmers who live about 15 miles away, between here and
Mbeya. They had a note from the Assistant District Officer asking them to help me and
they had come to set up a trap gun in the garden. That night the leopard sniffed all
around the gun and I had the added strain of waiting for the bang and wondering what I
should do if the beast were only wounded. I conjured up horrible visions of the two little
totos trotting up the garden path with the early morning milk and being horribly mauled,
but I needn’t have worried because the leopard was far too wily to be caught that way.
Two more ghastly nights passed and then I had another visitor, a Dr Jackson of
the Tsetse Department on safari in the District. He listened sympathetically to my story
and left his shotgun and some SSG cartridges with me and instructed me to wait until the
leopard was pretty close and blow its b—– head off. It was good of him to leave his
gun. George always says there are three things a man should never lend, ‘His wife, his
gun and his dog.’ (I think in that order!)I felt quite cheered by Dr Jackson’s visit and sent
once again for Laza last night and arranged a real show down. In the afternoon I draped
heavy blankets over the living room windows to shut out the light of the pressure lamp
and the four of us, Laza and his two stooges and I waited up for the leopard. When we
guessed by her grunts that she was somewhere between the kitchen and the back door
we all rushed out, first the boy with the panga and the lamp, next Laza with his muzzle
loader, then me with the shotgun followed closely by the boy with the spear. What a
farce! The lamp was our undoing. We were blinded by the light and did not even
glimpse the leopard which made off with a derisive grunt. Laza said smugly that he knew
it was hopeless to try and now I feel tired and discouraged too.
This morning I sent a runner to Mbeya to order the hotel taxi for tomorrow and I
shall go to friends in Mbeya for a day or two and then on to Tukuyu where I shall stay
with the Eustaces until George returns from Safari.
Mchewe 18th November 1937
My darling Ann,
Here we are back in our own home and how lovely it is to have Daddy back from
safari. Thank you very much for your letter. I hope by now you have got mine telling you
how very much I liked the beautiful tray cloth you made for my birthday. I bet there are
not many little girls of five who can embroider as well as you do, darling. The boy,
Matafari, washes and irons it so carefully and it looks lovely on the tea tray.
Daddy and I had some fun last night. I was in bed and Daddy was undressing
when we heard a funny scratching noise on the roof. I thought it was the leopard. Daddy
quickly loaded his shotgun and ran outside. He had only his shirt on and he looked so
funny. I grabbed the loaded revolver from the cupboard and ran after Dad in my nightie
but after all the rush it was only your cat, Winnie, though I don’t know how she managed
to make such a noise. We felt so silly, we laughed and laughed.
Kate talks a lot now but in such a funny way you would laugh to her her. She
hears the houseboys call me Memsahib so sometimes instead of calling me Mummy
she calls me “Oompaab”. She calls the bedroom a ‘bippon’ and her little behind she
calls her ‘sittendump’. She loves to watch Mandawi’s cattle go home along the path
behind the kitchen. Joseph your donkey, always leads the cows. He has a lazy life now.
I am glad you had such fun on Guy Fawkes Day. You will be sad to leave
Plumstead but I am sure you will like going to England on the big ship with granny Kate.
I expect you will start school when you get to England and I am sure you will find that
God bless my dear little girl. Lots of love from Daddy and Kate,
Mchewe 18th November 1937
Hello George Darling,
Thank you for your lovely drawing of Daddy shooting an elephant. Daddy says
that the only thing is that you have drawn him a bit too handsome.
I went onto the verandah a few minutes ago to pick a banana for Kate from the
bunch hanging there and a big hornet flew out and stung my elbow! There are lots of
them around now and those stinging flies too. Kate wears thick corduroy dungarees so
that she will not get her fat little legs bitten. She is two years old now and is a real little
pickle. She loves running out in the rain so I have ordered a pair of red Wellingtons and a
tiny umbrella from a Nairobi shop for her Christmas present.
Fanny’s puppies have their eyes open now and have very sharp little teeth.
They love to nip each other. We are keeping the fiercest little one whom we call Paddy
but are giving the others to friends. The coffee bushes are full of lovely white flowers
and the bees and ants are very busy stealing their honey.
Yesterday a troop of baboons came down the hill and Dad shot a big one to
scare the others off. They are a nuisance because they steal the maize and potatoes
from the native shambas and then there is not enough food for the totos.
Dad and I are very proud of you for not making a fuss when you went to the
dentist to have that tooth out.
Bye bye, my fine little son.
Three bags full of love from Kate, Dad and Mummy.
Mchewe 12th February, 1938
here is some news that will please you. George has been offered and has
accepted a job as Forester at Mbulu in the Northern Province of Tanganyika. George
would have preferred a job as Game Ranger, but though the Game Warden, Philip
Teare, is most anxious to have him in the Game Department, there is no vacancy at
present. Anyway if one crops up later, George can always transfer from one
Government Department to another. Poor George, he hates the idea of taking a job. He
says that hitherto he has always been his own master and he detests the thought of
being pushed around by anyone.
Now however he has no choice. Our capitol is almost exhausted and the coffee
market shows no signs of improving. With three children and another on the way, he
feels he simply must have a fixed income. I shall be sad to leave this little farm. I love
our little home and we have been so very happy here, but my heart rejoices at the
thought of overseas leave every thirty months. Now we shall be able to fetch Ann and
George from England and in three years time we will all be together in Tanganyika once
There is no sale for farms so we will just shut the house and keep on a very small
labour force just to keep the farm from going derelict. We are eating our hens but will
take our two dogs, Fanny and Paddy with us.
One thing I shall be glad to leave is that leopard. She still comes grunting around
at night but not as badly as she did before. I do not mind at all when George is here but
until George was accepted for this forestry job I was afraid he might go back to the
Diggings and I should once more be left alone to be cursed by the leopard’s attentions.
Knowing how much I dreaded this George was most anxious to shoot the leopard and
for weeks he kept his shotgun and a powerful torch handy at night.
One night last week we woke to hear it grunting near the kitchen. We got up very
quietly and whilst George loaded the shotgun with SSG, I took the torch and got the
heavy revolver from the cupboard. We crept out onto the dark verandah where George
whispered to me to not switch on the torch until he had located the leopard. It was pitch
black outside so all he could do was listen intently. And then of course I spoilt all his
plans. I trod on the dog’s tin bowl and made a terrific clatter! George ordered me to
switch on the light but it was too late and the leopard vanished into the long grass of the
Kalonga, grunting derisively, or so it sounded.
She never comes into the clearing now but grunts from the hillside just above it.
Mbulu 18th March, 1938
Journeys end at last. here we are at Mbulu, installed in our new quarters which are
as different as they possibly could be from our own cosy little home at Mchewe. We
live now, my dears, in one wing of a sort of ‘Beau Geste’ fort but I’ll tell you more about
it in my next letter. We only arrived yesterday and have not had time to look around.
This letter will tell you just about our trip from Mbeya.
We left the farm in our little red Ford two seater with all our portable goods and
chattels plus two native servants and the two dogs. Before driving off, George took one
look at the flattened springs and declared that he would be surprised if we reached
Mbeya without a breakdown and that we would never make Mbulu with the car so
However luck was with us. We reached Mbeya without mishap and at one of the
local garages saw a sturdy used Ford V8 boxbody car for sale. The garage agreed to
take our small car as part payment and George drew on our little remaining capitol for the
rest. We spent that night in the house of the Forest Officer and next morning set out in
comfort for the Northern Province of Tanganyika.
I had done the journey from Dodoma to Mbeya seven years before so was
familiar with the scenery but the road was much improved and the old pole bridges had
been replaced by modern steel ones. Kate was as good as gold all the way. We
avoided hotels and camped by the road and she found this great fun.
The road beyond Dodoma was new to me and very interesting country, flat and
dry and dusty, as little rain falls there. The trees are mostly thorn trees but here and there
one sees a giant baobab, weird trees with fantastically thick trunks and fat squat branches
with meagre foliage. The inhabitants of this area I found interesting though. They are
called Wagogo and are a primitive people who ape the Masai in dress and customs
though they are much inferior to the Masai in physique. They are also great herders of
cattle which, rather surprisingly, appear to thrive in that dry area.
The scenery alters greatly as one nears Babati, which one approaches by a high
escarpment from which one has a wonderful view of the Rift Valley. Babati township
appears to be just a small group of Indian shops and shabby native houses, but I
believe there are some good farms in the area. Though the little township is squalid,
there is a beautiful lake and grand mountains to please the eye. We stopped only long
enough to fill up with petrol and buy some foodstuffs. Beyond Babati there is a tsetse
fly belt and George warned our two native servants to see that no tsetse flies settled on
We stopped for the night in a little rest house on the road about 80 miles from
Arusha where we were to spend a few days with the Forest Officer before going on to
Mbulu. I enjoyed this section of the road very much because it runs across wide plains
which are bounded on the West by the blue mountains of the Rift Valley wall. Here for
the first time I saw the Masai on their home ground guarding their vast herds of cattle. I
also saw their strange primitive hovels called Manyattas, with their thorn walled cattle
bomas and lots of plains game – giraffe, wildebeest, ostriches and antelope. Kate was
wildly excited and entranced with the game especially the giraffe which stood gazing
curiously and unafraid of us, often within a few yards of the road.
Finally we came across the greatest thrill of all, my first view of Mt Meru the extinct
volcano about 16,000 feet high which towers over Arusha township. The approach to
Arusha is through flourishing coffee plantations very different alas from our farm at Mchewe. George says that at Arusha coffee growing is still a paying proposition
because here the yield of berry per acre is much higher than in the Southern highlands
and here in the North the farmers have not such heavy transport costs as the railway runs
from Arusha to the port at Tanga.
We stayed overnight at a rather second rate hotel but the food was good and we
had hot baths and a good nights rest. Next day Tom Lewis the Forest Officer, fetched
us and we spent a few days camping in a tent in the Lewis’ garden having meals at their
home. Both Tom and Lillian Lewis were most friendly. Tom lewis explained to George
what his work in the Mbulu District was to be, and they took us camping in a Forest
Reserve where Lillian and her small son David and Kate and I had a lovely lazy time
amidst beautiful surroundings. Before we left for Mbulu, Lillian took me shopping to buy
material for curtains for our new home. She described the Forest House at Mbulu to me
and it sounded delightful but alas, when we reached Mbulu we discovered that the
Assistant District Officer had moved into the Forest House and we were directed to the
Fort or Boma. The night before we left Arusha for Mbulu it rained very heavily and the
road was very treacherous and slippery due to the surface being of ‘black cotton’ soil
which has the appearance and consistency of chocolate blancmange, after rain. To get to
Mbulu we had to drive back in the direction of Dodoma for some 70 miles and then turn
to the right and drive across plains to the Great Rift Valley Wall. The views from this
escarpment road which climbs this wall are magnificent. At one point one looks down
upon Lake Manyara with its brilliant white beaches of soda.
The drive was a most trying one for George. We had no chains for the wheels
and several times we stuck in the mud and our two houseboys had to put grass and
branches under the wheels to stop them from spinning. Quite early on in the afternoon
George gave up all hope of reaching Mbulu that day and planned to spend the night in
a little bush rest camp at Karatu. However at one point it looked as though we would not
even reach this resthouse for late afternoon found us properly bogged down in a mess
of mud at the bottom of a long and very steep hill. In spite of frantic efforts on the part of
George and the two boys, all now very wet and muddy, the heavy car remained stuck.
Suddenly five Masai men appeared through the bushes beside the road. They
were all tall and angular and rather terrifying looking to me. Each wore only a blanket
knotted over one shoulder and all were armed with spears. They lined up by the side of
the road and just looked – not hostile but simply aloof and supercilious. George greeted
them and said in Ki-Swahili, “Help to push and I will reward you.” But they said nothing,
just drawing back imperceptibly to register disgust at the mere idea of manual labour.
Their expressions said quite clearly “A Masai is a warrior and does not soil his hands.”
George then did something which startled them I think, as much as me. He
plucked their spears from their hands one by one and flung them into the back of the
boxbody. “Now push!” he said, “And when we are safely out of the mud you shall have
your spears back.” To my utter astonishment the Masai seemed to applaud George’s
action. I think they admire courage in a man more than anything else. They pushed with a
will and soon we were roaring up the long steep slope. “I can’t stop here” quoth George
as up and up we went. The Masai were in mad pursuit with their blankets streaming
behind. They took a very steep path which was a shortcut to the top. They are certainly
amazing athletes and reached the top at the same time as the car. Their route of course
was shorter but much more steep, yet they came up without any sign of fatigue to claim
their spears and the money which George handed out with a friendly grin. The Masai
took the whole episode in good heart and we parted on the most friendly terms.
After a rather chilly night in the three walled shack, we started on the last lap of our
journey yesterday morning in bright weather and made the trip to Mbulu without incident.
Mbulu 24th March, 1938
Mbulu is an attractive station but living in this rather romantic looking fort has many
disadvantages. Our quarters make up one side of the fort which is built up around a
hollow square. The buildings are single storied but very tall in the German manner and
there is a tower on one corner from which the Union Jack flies. The tower room is our
sitting room, and one has very fine views from the windows of the rolling country side.
However to reach this room one has to climb a steep flight of cement steps from the
court yard. Another disadvantage of this tower room is that there is a swarm of bees in
the roof and the stray ones drift down through holes in the ceiling and buzz angrily
against the window panes or fly around in a most menacing manner.
Ours are the only private quarters in the Fort. Two other sides of the Fort are
used as offices, storerooms and court room and the fourth side is simply a thick wall with
battlements and loopholes and a huge iron shod double door of enormous thickness
which is always barred at sunset when the flag is hauled down. Two Police Askari always
remain in the Fort on guard at night. The effect from outside the whitewashed fort is very
romantic but inside it is hardly homely and how I miss my garden at Mchewe and the
grass and trees.
We have no privacy downstairs because our windows overlook the bare
courtyard which is filled with Africans patiently waiting to be admitted to the courtroom as
witnesses or spectators. The outside windows which overlook the valley are heavily
barred. I can only think that the Germans who built this fort must have been very scared
of the local natives.
Our rooms are hardly cosy and are furnished with typical heavy German pieces.
We have a vast bleak bedroom, a dining room and an enormous gloomy kitchen in
which meals for the German garrison were cooked. At night this kitchen is alive with
gigantic rats but fortunately they do not seem to care for the other rooms. To crown
everything owls hoot and screech at night on the roof.
On our first day here I wandered outside the fort walls with Kate and came upon a
neatly fenced plot enclosing the graves of about fifteen South African soldiers killed by
the Germans in the 1914-18 war. I understand that at least one of theses soldiers died in
the courtyard here. The story goes, that during the period in the Great War when this fort
was occupied by a troop of South African Horse, a German named Siedtendorf
appeared at the great barred door at night and asked to speak to the officer in command
of the Troop. The officer complied with this request and the small shutter in the door was
opened so that he could speak with the German. The German, however, had not come
to speak. When he saw the exposed face of the officer, he fired, killing him, and
escaped into the dark night. I had this tale on good authority but cannot vouch for it. I do
know though, that there are two bullet holes in the door beside the shutter. An unhappy
story to think about when George is away, as he is now, and the moonlight throws queer
shadows in the court yard and the owls hoot.
However though I find our quarters depressing, I like Mbulu itself very much. It is
rolling country, treeless except for the plantations of the Forestry Dept. The land is very
fertile in the watered valleys but the grass on hills and plains is cropped to the roots by
the far too numerous cattle and goats. There are very few Europeans on the station, only
Mr Duncan, the District Officer, whose wife and children recently left for England, the
Assistant District Officer and his wife, a bachelor Veterinary Officer, a Road Foreman and
ourselves, and down in the village a German with an American wife and an elderly
Irishman whom I have not met. The Government officials have a communal vegetable
garden in the valley below the fort which keeps us well supplied with green stuff.
Most afternoons George, Kate and I go for walks after tea. On Fridays there is a
little ceremony here outside the fort. In the late afternoon a little procession of small
native schoolboys, headed by a drum and penny whistle band come marching up the
road to a tune which sounds like ‘Two lovely black eyes”. They form up below our tower
and as the flag is lowered for the day they play ‘God save the King’, and then march off
again. It is quite a cheerful little ceremony.
The local Africans are a skinny lot and, I should say, a poor tribe. They protect
themselves against the cold by wrapping themselves in cotton blankets or a strip of
unbleached sheeting. This they drape over their heads, almost covering their faces and
the rest is wrapped closely round their bodies in the manner of a shroud. A most
depressing fashion. They live in very primitive comfortless houses. They simply make a
hollow in the hillside and build a front wall of wattle and daub. Into this rude shelter at night
go cattle and goats, men, women, and children.
Mbulu village has the usual mud brick and wattle dukas and wattle and daub
houses. The chief trader is a Goan who keeps a surprisingly good variety of tinned
foodstuffs and also sells hardware and soft goods.
The Europeans here have been friendly but as you will have noted there are
only two other women on station and no children at all to be companions for Kate.
Mbulu 20th June 1938
Here we are on Safari with George at Babati where we are occupying a rest
house on the slopes of Ufiome Mountain. The slopes are a Forest Reserve and
George is supervising the clearing of firebreaks in preparation for the dry weather. He
goes off after a very early breakfast and returns home in the late afternoon so Kate and I
have long lazy days.
Babati is a pleasant spot and the resthouse is quite comfortable. It is about a mile
from the village which is just the usual collection of small mud brick and corrugated iron
Indian Dukas. There are a few settlers in the area growing coffee, or going in for mixed
farming but I don’t think they are doing very well. The farm adjoining the rest house is
owned by Lord Lovelace but is run by a manager.
George says he gets enough exercise clambering about all day on the mountain,
so Kate and I do our walking in the mornings when George is busy, and we all relax in
the evenings when George returns from his field work. Kate’s favourite walk is to the big
block of mtama (sorghum) shambas lower down the hill. There are huge swarms of tiny
grain eating birds around waiting the chance to plunder the mtama, so the crops are
watched from sunrise to sunset.
Crude observation platforms have been erected for this purpose in the centre of
each field and the women and the young boys of the family concerned, take it in turn to
occupy the platform and scare the birds. Each watcher has a sling and uses clods of
earth for ammunition. The clod is placed in the centre of the sling which is then whirled
around at arms length. Suddenly one end of the sling is released and the clod of earth
flies out and shatters against the mtama stalks. The sling makes a loud whip like crack and
the noise is quite startling and very effective in keeping the birds at a safe distance.
Karatu 3rd July 1938
Still on safari you see! We left Babati ten days ago and passed through Mbulu
on our way to this spot. We slept out of doors one night beside Lake Tiawa about eight
miles from Mbulu. It was a peaceful spot and we enjoyed watching the reflection of the
sunset on the lake and the waterhens and duck and pelicans settling down for the night.
However it turned piercingly cold after sunset so we had an early supper and then all
three of us lay down to sleep in the back of the boxbody (station wagon). It was a tight
fit and a real case of ‘When Dad turns, we all turn.’
Here at Karatu we are living in a grass hut with only three walls. It is rather sweet
and looks like the setting for a Nativity Play. Kate and I share the only camp bed and
George and the dogs sleep on the floor. The air here is very fresh and exhilarating and
we all feel very fit. George is occupied all day supervising the cutting of firebreaks
around existing plantations and the forest reserve of indigenous trees. Our camp is on
the hillside and below us lie the fertile wheat lands of European farmers.
They are mostly Afrikaners, the descendants of the Boer families who were
invited by the Germans to settle here after the Boer War. Most of them are pro-British
now and a few have called in here to chat to George about big game hunting. George
gets on extremely well with them and recently attended a wedding where he had a
lively time dancing at the reception. He likes the older people best as most are great
individualists. One fine old man, surnamed von Rooyen, visited our camp. He is a Boer
of the General Smuts type with spare figure and bearded face. George tells me he is a
real patriarch with an enormous family – mainly sons. This old farmer fought against the
British throughout the Boer War under General Smuts and again against the British in the
German East Africa campaign when he was a scout and right hand man to Von Lettow. It
is said that Von Lettow was able to stay in the field until the end of the Great War
because he listened to the advise given to him by von Rooyen. However his dislike for
the British does not extend to George as they have a mutual interest in big game
Kate loves being on safari. She is now so accustomed to having me as her nurse
and constant companion that I do not know how she will react to paid help. I shall have to
get someone to look after her during my confinement in the little German Red Cross
hospital at Oldeani.
George has obtained permission from the District Commissioner, for Kate and
me to occupy the Government Rest House at Oldeani from the end of July until the end
of August when my baby is due. He will have to carry on with his field work but will join
us at weekends whenever possible.
Karatu 12th July 1938
Not long now before we leave this camp. We have greatly enjoyed our stay
here in spite of the very chilly earl mornings and the nights when we sit around in heavy
overcoats until our early bed time.
Last Sunday I persuaded George to take Kate and me to the famous Ngoro-
Ngoro Crater. He was not very keen to do so because the road is very bumpy for
anyone in my interesting condition but I feel so fit that I was most anxious to take this
opportunity of seeing the enormous crater. We may never be in this vicinity again and in
any case safari will not be so simple with a small baby.
What a wonderful trip it was! The road winds up a steep escarpment from which
one gets a glorious birds eye view of the plains of the Great Rift Valley far, far below.
The crater is immense. There is a road which skirts the rim in places and one has quite
startling views of the floor of the crater about two thousand feet below.
A camp for tourists has just been built in a clearing in the virgin forest. It is most
picturesque as the camp buildings are very neatly constructed log cabins with very high
pitched thatched roofs. We spent about an hour sitting on the grass near the edge of the
crater enjoying the sunshine and the sharp air and really awe inspiring view. Far below us
in the middle of the crater was a small lake and we could see large herds of game
animals grazing there but they were too far away to be impressive, even seen through
George’s field glasses. Most appeared to be wildebeest and zebra but I also picked
out buffalo. Much more exciting was my first close view of a wild elephant. George
pointed him out to me as we approached the rest camp on the inward journey. He
stood quietly under a tree near the road and did not seem to be disturbed by the car
though he rolled a wary eye in our direction. On our return journey we saw him again at
almost uncomfortably close quarters. We rounded a sharp corner and there stood the
elephant, facing us and slap in the middle of the road. He was busily engaged giving
himself a dust bath but spared time to give us an irritable look. Fortunately we were on a
slight slope so George quickly switched off the engine and backed the car quietly round
the corner. He got out of the car and loaded his rifle, just in case! But after he had finished
his toilet the elephant moved off the road and we took our chance and passed without
One notices the steepness of the Ngoro-Ngoro road more on the downward
journey than on the way up. The road is cut into the side of the mountain so that one has
a steep slope on one hand and a sheer drop on the other. George told me that a lorry
coming down the mountain was once charged from behind by a rhino. On feeling and
hearing the bash from behind the panic stricken driver drove off down the mountain as
fast as he dared and never paused until he reached level ground at the bottom of the
mountain. There was no sign of the rhino so the driver got out to examine his lorry and
found the rhino horn embedded in the wooden tail end of the lorry. The horn had been
wrenched right off!
Happily no excitement of that kind happened to us. I have yet to see a rhino.
Oldeani. 19th July 1938
Greetings from a lady in waiting! Kate and I have settled down comfortably in the
new, solidly built Government Rest House which comprises one large living room and
one large office with a connecting door. Outside there is a kitchen and a boys quarter.
There are no resident Government officials here at Oldeani so the office is in use only
when the District Officer from Mbulu makes his monthly visit. However a large Union
Jack flies from a flagpole in the front of the building as a gentle reminder to the entirely
German population of Oldeani that Tanganyika is now under British rule.
There is quite a large community of German settlers here, most of whom are
engaged in coffee farming. George has visited several of the farms in connection with his
forestry work and says the coffee plantations look very promising indeed. There are also
a few German traders in the village and there is a large boarding school for German
children and also a very pleasant little hospital where I have arranged to have the baby.
Right next door to the Rest House is a General Dealers Store run by a couple named
Schnabbe. The shop is stocked with drapery, hardware, china and foodstuffs all
imported from Germany and of very good quality. The Schnabbes also sell local farm
produce, beautiful fresh vegetables, eggs and pure rich milk and farm butter. Our meat
comes from a German butchery and it is a great treat to get clean, well cut meat. The
sausages also are marvellous and in great variety.
The butcher is an entertaining character. When he called round looking for custom I
expected him to break out in a yodel any minute, as it was obvious from a glance that
the Alps are his natural background. From under a green Tyrollean hat with feather,
blooms a round beefy face with sparkling small eyes and such widely spaced teeth that
one inevitably thinks of a garden rake. Enormous beefy thighs bulge from greasy
lederhosen which are supported by the traditional embroidered braces. So far the
butcher is the only cheery German, male or female, whom I have seen, and I have met
most of the locals at the Schnabbe’s shop. Most of the men seem to have cultivated
the grim Hitler look. They are all fanatical Nazis and one is usually greeted by a raised
hand and Heil Hitler! All very theatrical. I always feel like crying in ringing tones ‘God
Save the King’ or even ‘St George for England’. However the men are all very correct
and courteous and the women friendly. The women all admire Kate and cry, “Ag, das
kleine Englander.” She really is a picture with her rosy cheeks and huge grey eyes and
golden curls. Kate is having a wonderful time playing with Manfried, the Scnabbe’s small
son. Neither understands a word said by the other but that doesn’t seem to worry them.
Before he left on safari, George took me to hospital for an examination by the
nurse, Sister Marianne. She has not been long in the country and knows very little
English but is determined to learn and carried on an animated, if rather quaint,
conversation with frequent references to a pocket dictionary. She says I am not to worry
because there is not doctor here. She is a very experienced midwife and anyway in an
emergency could call on the old retired Veterinary Surgeon for assistance.
I asked sister Marianne whether she knew of any German woman or girl who
would look after Kate whilst I am in hospital and today a very top drawer German,
bearing a strong likeness to ‘Little Willie’, called and offered the services of his niece who
is here on a visit from Germany. I was rather taken aback and said, “Oh no Baron, your
niece would not be the type I had in mind. I’m afraid I cannot pay much for a companion.”
However the Baron was not to be discouraged. He told me that his niece is seventeen
but looks twenty, that she is well educated and will make a cheerful companion. Her
father wishes her to learn to speak English fluently and that is why the Baron wished her
to come to me as a house daughter. As to pay, a couple of pounds a month for pocket
money and her keep was all he had in mind. So with some misgivings I agreed to take
the niece on as a companion as from 1st August.
Oldeani. 10th August 1938
Never a dull moment since my young companion arrived. She is a striking looking
girl with a tall boyish figure and very short and very fine dark hair which she wears
severely slicked back. She wears tweeds, no make up but has shiny rosy cheeks and
perfect teeth – she also,inevitably, has a man friend and I have an uncomfortable
suspicion that it is because of him that she was planted upon me. Upon second
thoughts though, maybe it was because of her excessive vitality, or even because of
her healthy appetite! The Baroness, I hear is in poor health and I can imagine that such
abundant health and spirit must have been quite overpowering. The name is Ingeborg,
but she is called Mouche, which I believe means Mouse. Someone in her family must
have a sense of humour.
Her English only needed practice and she now chatters fluently so that I know her
background and views on life. Mouche’s father is a personal friend of Goering. He was
once a big noise in the German Airforce but is now connected with the car industry and
travels frequently and intensively in Europe and America on business. Mouche showed
me some snap shots of her family and I must say they look prosperous and charming.
Mouche tells me that her father wants her to learn to speak English fluently so that
she can get a job with some British diplomat in Cairo. I had immediate thought that I
might be nursing a future Mata Hari in my bosom, but this was immediately extinguished
when Mouche remarked that her father would like her to marry an Englishman. However
it seems that the mere idea revolts her. “Englishmen are degenerates who swill whisky
all day.” I pointed out that she had met George, who was a true blue Englishman, but
was nevertheless a fine physical specimen and certainly didn’t drink all day. Mouche
replied that George is not an Englishman but a hunter, as though that set him apart.
Mouche is an ardent Hitler fan and an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth
Movement. The house resounds with Hitler youth songs and when she is not singing,
her gramophone is playing very stirring marching songs. I cannot understand a word,
which is perhaps as well. Every day she does the most strenuous exercises watched
with envy by me as my proportions are now those of a circus Big Top. Mouche eats a
fantastic amount of meat and I feel it is a blessing that she is much admired by our
Tyrollean butcher who now delivers our meat in person and adds as a token of his
admiration some extra sausages for Mouche.
I must confess I find her stimulating company as George is on safari most of the
time and my evenings otherwise would be lonely. I am a little worried though about
leaving Kate here with Mouche when I go to hospital. The dogs and Kate have not taken
to her. I am trying to prepare Kate for the separation but she says, “She’s not my
mummy. You are my dear mummy, and I want you, I want you.” George has got
permission from the Provincial Forestry Officer to spend the last week of August here at
the Rest House with me and I only hope that the baby will be born during that time.
Kate adores her dad and will be perfectly happy to remain here with him.
One final paragraph about Mouche. I thought all German girls were domesticated
but not Mouche. I have Kesho-Kutwa here with me as cook and I have engaged a local
boy to do the laundry. I however expected Mouche would take over making the
puddings and pastry but she informed me that she can only bake a chocolate cake and
absolutely nothing else. She said brightly however that she would do the mending. As
there is none for her to do, she has rescued a large worn handkerchief of George’s and
sits with her feet up listening to stirring gramophone records whilst she mends the
handkerchief with exquisite darning.
Oldeani. 20th August 1938
Just after I had posted my last letter I received what George calls a demi official
letter from the District Officer informing me that I would have to move out of the Rest
House for a few days as the Governor and his hangers on would be visiting Oldeani
and would require the Rest House. Fortunately George happened to be here for a few
hours and he arranged for Kate and Mouche and me to spend a few days at the
German School as borders. So here I am at the school having a pleasant and restful
time and much entertained by all the goings on.
The school buildings were built with funds from Germany and the school is run on
the lines of a contemporary German school. I think the school gets a grant from the
Tanganyika Government towards running expenses, but I am not sure. The school hall is
dominated by a more than life sized oil painting of Adolf Hitler which, at present, is
flanked on one side by the German Flag and on the other by the Union Jack. I cannot
help feeling that the latter was put up today for the Governor’s visit today.
The teachers are very amiable. We all meet at mealtimes, and though few of the
teachers speak English, the ones who do are anxious to chatter. The headmaster is a
scholarly man but obviously anti-British. He says he cannot understand why so many
South Africans are loyal to Britain – or rather to England. “They conquered your country
didn’t they?” I said that that had never occurred to me and that anyway I was mainly of
Scots descent and that loyalty to the crown was natural to me. “But the English
conquered the Scots and yet you are loyal to England. That I cannot understand.” “Well I
love England,” said I firmly, ”and so do all British South Africans.” Since then we have
stuck to English literature. Shakespeare, Lord Byron and Galsworthy seem to be the
favourites and all, thank goodness, make safe topics for conversation.
Mouche is in her element but Kate and I do not enjoy the food which is typically
German and consists largely of masses of fat pork and sauerkraut and unfamiliar soups. I
feel sure that the soup at lunch today had blobs of lemon curd in it! I also find most
disconcerting the way that everyone looks at me and says, “Bon appetite”, with much
smiling and nodding so I have to fight down my nausea and make a show of enjoying
The teacher whose room adjoins mine is a pleasant woman and I take my
afternoon tea with her. She, like all the teachers, has a large framed photo of Hitler on her
wall flanked by bracket vases of fresh flowers. One simply can’t get away from the man!
Even in the dormitories each child has a picture of Hitler above the bed. Hitler accepting
flowers from a small girl, or patting a small boy on the head. Even the children use the
greeting ‘Heil Hitler’. These German children seem unnaturally prim when compared with
my cheerful ex-pupils in South Africa but some of them are certainly very lovely to look
Tomorrow Mouche, Kate and I return to our quarters in the Rest House and in a
few days George will join us for a week.
Oldeani Hospital. 9th September 1938
You will all be delighted to hear that we have a second son, whom we have
named John. He is a darling, so quaint and good. He looks just like a little old man with a
high bald forehead fringed around the edges with a light brown fluff. George and I call
him Johnny Jo because he has a tiny round mouth and a rather big nose and reminds us
of A.A.Milne’s ‘Jonathan Jo has a mouth like an O’ , but Kate calls him, ‘My brother John’.
George was not here when he was born on September 5th, just two minutes
before midnight. He left on safari on the morning of the 4th and, of course, that very night
the labour pains started. Fortunately Kate was in bed asleep so Mouche walked with
me up the hill to the hospital where I was cheerfully received by Sister Marianne who
had everything ready for the confinement. I was lucky to have such an experienced
midwife because this was a breech birth and sister had to manage single handed. As
there was no doctor present I was not allowed even a sniff of anaesthetic. Sister slaved
away by the light of a pressure lamp endeavouring to turn the baby having first shoved
an inverted baby bath under my hips to raise them.
What a performance! Sister Marianne was very much afraid that she might not be
able to save the baby and great was our relief when at last she managed to haul him out
by the feet. One slap and the baby began to cry without any further attention so Sister
wrapped him up in a blanket and took Johnny to her room for the night. I got very little
sleep but was so thankful to have the ordeal over that I did not mind even though I
heard a hyaena cackling and calling under my window in a most evil way.
When Sister brought Johnny to me in the early morning I stared in astonishment.
Instead of dressing him in one of his soft Viyella nighties, she had dressed him in a short
sleeved vest of knitted cotton with a cotton cloth swayed around his waist sarong
fashion. When I protested, “But Sister why is the baby not dressed in his own clothes?”
She answered firmly, “I find it is not allowed. A baby’s clotheses must be boiled and I
cannot boil clotheses of wool therefore your baby must wear the clotheses of the Red
It was the same with the bedding. Poor Johnny lies all day in a deep wicker
basket with a detachable calico lining. There is no pillow under his head but a vast kind of
calico covered pillow is his only covering. There is nothing at all cosy and soft round my
poor baby. I said crossly to the Sister, “As every thing must be so sterile, I wonder you
don’t boil me too.” This she ignored.
When my message reached George he dashed back to visit us. Sister took him
first to see the baby and George was astonished to see the baby basket covered by a
sheet. “She has the poor little kid covered up like a bloody parrot,” he told me. So I
asked him to go at once to buy a square of mosquito netting to replace the sheet.
Kate is quite a problem. She behaves like an Angel when she is here in my
room but is rebellious when Sister shoos her out. She says she “Hates the Nanny”
which is what she calls Mouche. Unfortunately it seems that she woke before midnight
on the night Johnny Jo was born to find me gone and Mouche in my bed. According to
Mouche, Kate wept all night and certainly when she visited me in the early morning
Kate’s face was puffy with crying and she clung to me crying “Oh my dear mummy, why
did you go away?” over and over again. Sister Marianne was touched and suggested
that Mouche and Kate should come to the hospital as boarders as I am the only patient
at present and there is plenty of room. Luckily Kate does not seem at all jealous of the
baby and it is a great relief to have here here under my eye.
Eleanor.January 28, 2022 at 9:30 pm #6264
From Tanganyika with Love
continued ~ part 5
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Chunya 16th December 1936
Since last I wrote I have visited Chunya and met several of the diggers wives.
On the whole I have been greatly disappointed because there is nothing very colourful
about either township or women. I suppose I was really expecting something more like
the goldrush towns and women I have so often seen on the cinema screen.
Chunya consists of just the usual sun-dried brick Indian shops though there are
one or two double storied buildings. Most of the life in the place centres on the
Goldfields Hotel but we did not call there. From the store opposite I could hear sounds
of revelry though it was very early in the afternoon. I saw only one sight which was quite
new to me, some elegantly dressed African women, with high heels and lipsticked
mouths teetered by on their way to the silk store. “Native Tarts,” said George in answer
to my enquiry.
Several women have called on me and when I say ‘called’ I mean called. I have
grown so used to going without stockings and wearing home made dresses that it was
quite a shock to me to entertain these ladies dressed to the nines in smart frocks, silk
stockings and high heeled shoes, handbags, makeup and whatnot. I feel like some
female Rip van Winkle. Most of the women have a smart line in conversation and their
talk and views on life would make your nice straight hair curl Mummy. They make me feel
very unsophisticated and dowdy but George says he has a weakness for such types
and I am to stay exactly as I am. I still do not use any makeup. George says ‘It’s all right
for them. They need it poor things, you don’t.” Which, though flattering, is hardly true.
I prefer the men visitors, though they also are quite unlike what I had expected
diggers to be. Those whom George brings home are all well educated and well
groomed and I enjoy listening to their discussion of the world situation, sport and books.
They are extremely polite to me and gentle with the children though I believe that after a
few drinks at the pub tempers often run high. There were great arguments on the night
following the abdication of Edward VIII. Not that the diggers were particularly attached to
him as a person, but these men are all great individualists and believe in freedom of
choice. George, rather to my surprise, strongly supported Edward. I did not.
Many of the diggers have wireless sets and so we keep up to date with the
news. I seldom leave camp. I have my hands full with the three children during the day
and, even though Janey is a reliable ayah, I would not care to leave the children at night
in these grass roofed huts. Having experienced that fire on the farm, I know just how
unlikely it would be that the children would be rescued in time in case of fire. The other
women on the diggings think I’m crazy. They leave their children almost entirely to ayahs
and I must confess that the children I have seen look very well and happy. The thing is
that I simply would not enjoy parties at the hotel or club, miles away from the children
and I much prefer to stay at home with a book.
I love hearing all about the parties from George who likes an occasional ‘boose
up’ with the boys and is terribly popular with everyone – not only the British but with the
Germans, Scandinavians and even the Afrikaans types. One Afrikaans woman said “Jou
man is ‘n man, al is hy ‘n Engelsman.” Another more sophisticated woman said, “George
is a handsome devil. Aren’t you scared to let him run around on his own?” – but I’m not. I
usually wait up for George with sandwiches and something hot to drink and that way I
get all the news red hot.
There is very little gold coming in. The rains have just started and digging is
temporarily at a standstill. It is too wet for dry blowing and not yet enough water for
panning and sluicing. As this camp is some considerable distance from the claims, all I see of the process is the weighing of the daily taking of gold dust and tiny nuggets.
Unless our luck changes I do not think we will stay on here after John Molteno returns.
George does not care for the life and prefers a more constructive occupation.
Ann and young George still search optimistically for gold. We were all saddened
last week by the death of Fanny, our bull terrier. She went down to the shopping centre
with us and we were standing on the verandah of a store when a lorry passed with its
canvas cover flapping. This excited Fanny who rushed out into the street and the back
wheel of the lorry passed right over her, killing her instantly. Ann was very shocked so I
soothed her by telling her that Fanny had gone to Heaven. When I went to bed that
night I found Ann still awake and she asked anxiously, “Mummy, do you think God
remembered to give Fanny her bone tonight?”
Much love to all,
Itewe, Chunya 23rd December 1936
Your Christmas parcel arrived this morning. Thank you very much for all the
clothing for all of us and for the lovely toys for the children. George means to go hunting
for a young buffalo this afternoon so that we will have some fresh beef for Christmas for
ourselves and our boys and enough for friends too.
I had a fright this morning. Ann and Georgie were, as usual, searching for gold
whilst I sat sewing in the living room with Kate toddling around. She wandered through
the curtained doorway into the store and I heard her playing with the paraffin pump. At
first it did not bother me because I knew the tin was empty but after ten minutes or so I
became irritated by the noise and went to stop her. Imagine my horror when I drew the
curtain aside and saw my fat little toddler fiddling happily with the pump whilst, curled up
behind the tin and clearly visible to me lay the largest puffadder I have ever seen.
Luckily I acted instinctively and scooped Kate up from behind and darted back into the
living room without disturbing the snake. The houseboy and cook rushed in with sticks
and killed the snake and then turned the whole storeroom upside down to make sure
there were no more.
I have met some more picturesque characters since I last wrote. One is a man
called Bishop whom George has known for many years having first met him in the
Congo. I believe he was originally a sailor but for many years he has wandered around
Central Africa trying his hand at trading, prospecting, a bit of elephant hunting and ivory
poaching. He is now keeping himself by doing ‘Sign Writing”. Bish is a gentle and
dignified personality. When we visited his camp he carefully dusted a seat for me and
called me ‘Marm’, quite ye olde world. The only thing is he did spit.
Another spitter is the Frenchman in a neighbouring camp. He is in bed with bad
rheumatism and George has been going across twice a day to help him and cheer him
up. Once when George was out on the claim I went across to the Frenchman’s camp in
response to an SOS, but I think he was just lonely. He showed me snapshots of his
two daughters, lovely girls and extremely smart, and he chatted away telling me his life
history. He punctuated his remarks by spitting to right and left of the bed, everywhere in
fact, except actually at me.
George took me and the children to visit a couple called Bert and Hilda Farham.
They have a small gold reef which is worked by a very ‘Heath Robinson’ type of
machinery designed and erected by Bert who is reputed to be a clever engineer though
eccentric. He is rather a handsome man who always looks very spruce and neat and
wears a Captain Kettle beard. Hilda is from Johannesburg and quite a character. She
has a most generous figure and literally masses of beetroot red hair, but she also has a
warm deep voice and a most generous disposition. The Farhams have built
themselves a more permanent camp than most. They have a brick cottage with proper
doors and windows and have made it attractive with furniture contrived from petrol
boxes. They have no children but Hilda lavishes a great deal of affection on a pet
monkey. Sometimes they do quite well out of their gold and then they have a terrific
celebration at the Club or Pub and Hilda has an orgy of shopping. At other times they
are completely broke but Hilda takes disasters as well as triumphs all in her stride. She
says, “My dear, when we’re broke we just live on tea and cigarettes.”
I have met a young woman whom I would like as a friend. She has a dear little
baby, but unfortunately she has a very wet husband who is also a dreadful bore. I can’t
imagine George taking me to their camp very often. When they came to visit us George
just sat and smoked and said,”Oh really?” to any remark this man made until I felt quite
hysterical. George looks very young and fit and the children are lively and well too. I ,
however, am definitely showing signs of wear and tear though George says,
“Nonsense, to me you look the same as you always did.” This I may say, I do not
regard as a compliment to the young Eleanor.
Anyway, even though our future looks somewhat unsettled, we are all together
and very happy.
Itewe, Chunya 30th December 1936
We had a very cheery Christmas. The children loved the toys and are so proud
of their new clothes. They wore them when we went to Christmas lunch to the
Cresswell-Georges. The C-Gs have been doing pretty well lately and they have a
comfortable brick house and a large wireless set. The living room was gaily decorated
with bought garlands and streamers and balloons. We had an excellent lunch cooked by
our ex cook Abel who now works for the Cresswell-Georges. We had turkey with
trimmings and plum pudding followed by nuts and raisons and chocolates and sweets
galore. There was also a large variety of drinks including champagne!
There were presents for all of us and, in addition, Georgie and Ann each got a
large tin of chocolates. Kate was much admired. She was a picture in her new party frock
with her bright hair and rosy cheeks. There were other guests beside ourselves and
they were already there having drinks when we arrived. Someone said “What a lovely
child!” “Yes” said George with pride, “She’s a Marie Stopes baby.” “Truby King!” said I
quickly and firmly, but too late to stop the roar of laughter.
Our children played amicably with the C-G’s three, but young George was
unusually quiet and surprised me by bringing me his unopened tin of chocolates to keep
for him. Normally he is a glutton for sweets. I might have guessed he was sickening for
something. That night he vomited and had diarrhoea and has had an upset tummy and a
slight temperature ever since.
Janey is also ill. She says she has malaria and has taken to her bed. I am dosing
her with quinine and hope she will soon be better as I badly need her help. Not only is
young George off his food and peevish but Kate has a cold and Ann sore eyes and
they all want love and attention. To complicate things it has been raining heavily and I
must entertain the children indoors.
Itewe, Chunya 19th January 1937
So sorry I have not written before but we have been in the wars and I have had neither
the time nor the heart to write. However the worst is now over. Young George and
Janey are both recovering from Typhoid Fever. The doctor had Janey moved to the
native hospital at Chunya but I nursed young George here in the camp.
As I told you young George’s tummy trouble started on Christmas day. At first I
thought it was only a protracted bilious attack due to eating too much unaccustomed rich
food and treated him accordingly but when his temperature persisted I thought that the
trouble might be malaria and kept him in bed and increased the daily dose of quinine.
He ate less and less as the days passed and on New Years Day he seemed very
weak and his stomach tender to the touch.
George fetched the doctor who examined small George and said he had a very
large liver due no doubt to malaria. He gave the child injections of emertine and quinine
and told me to give young George frequent and copious drinks of water and bi-carb of
soda. This was more easily said than done. Young George refused to drink this mixture
and vomited up the lime juice and water the doctor had suggested as an alternative.
The doctor called every day and gave George further injections and advised me
to give him frequent sips of water from a spoon. After three days the child was very
weak and weepy but Dr Spiers still thought he had malaria. During those anxious days I
also worried about Janey who appeared to be getting worse rather that better and on
January the 3rd I asked the doctor to look at her. The next thing I knew, the doctor had
put Janey in his car and driven her off to hospital. When he called next morning he
looked very grave and said he wished to talk to my husband. I said that George was out
on the claim but if what he wished to say concerned young George’s condition he might
just as well tell me.
With a good deal of reluctance Dr Spiers then told me that Janey showed all the
symptoms of Typhoid Fever and that he was very much afraid that young George had
contracted it from her. He added that George should be taken to the Mbeya Hospital
where he could have the professional nursing so necessary in typhoid cases. I said “Oh
no,I’d never allow that. The child had never been away from his family before and it
would frighten him to death to be sick and alone amongst strangers.” Also I was sure that
the fifty mile drive over the mountains in his weak condition would harm him more than
my amateur nursing would. The doctor returned to the camp that afternoon to urge
George to send our son to hospital but George staunchly supported my argument that
young George would stand a much better chance of recovery if we nursed him at home.
I must say Dr Spiers took our refusal very well and gave young George every attention
coming twice a day to see him.
For some days the child was very ill. He could not keep down any food or liquid
in any quantity so all day long, and when he woke at night, I gave him a few drops of
water at a time from a teaspoon. His only nourishment came from sucking Macintosh’s
toffees. Young George sweated copiously especially at night when it was difficult to
change his clothes and sponge him in the draughty room with the rain teeming down
outside. I think I told you that the bedroom is a sort of shed with only openings in the wall
for windows and doors, and with one wall built only a couple of feet high leaving a six
foot gap for air and light. The roof leaked and the damp air blew in but somehow young
George pulled through.
Only when he was really on the mend did the doctor tell us that whilst he had
been attending George, he had also been called in to attend to another little boy of the same age who also had typhoid. He had been called in too late and the other little boy,
an only child, had died. Young George, thank God, is convalescent now, though still on a
milk diet. He is cheerful enough when he has company but very peevish when left
alone. Poor little lad, he is all hair, eyes, and teeth, or as Ann says” Georgie is all ribs ribs
now-a-days Mummy.” He shares my room, Ann and Kate are together in the little room.
Anyway the doctor says he should be up and around in about a week or ten days time.
We were all inoculated against typhoid on the day the doctor made the diagnosis
so it is unlikely that any of us will develop it. Dr Spiers was most impressed by Ann’s
unconcern when she was inoculated. She looks gentle and timid but has always been
very brave. Funny thing when young George was very ill he used to wail if I left the
room, but now that he is convalescent he greatly prefers his dad’s company. So now I
have been able to take the girls for walks in the late afternoons whilst big George
entertains small George. This he does with the minimum of effort, either he gets out
cartons of ammunition with which young George builds endless forts, or else he just sits
beside the bed and cleans one of his guns whilst small George watches with absorbed
The Doctor tells us that Janey is also now convalescent. He says that exhusband
Abel has been most attentive and appeared daily at the hospital with a tray of
food that made his, the doctor’s, mouth water. All I dare say, pinched from Mrs
I’ll write again soon. Lots of love to all,
Chunya 29th January 1937
Georgie is up and about but still tires very easily. At first his legs were so weak
that George used to carry him around on his shoulders. The doctor says that what the
child really needs is a long holiday out of the Tropics so that Mrs Thomas’ offer, to pay all
our fares to Cape Town as well as lending us her seaside cottage for a month, came as
a Godsend. Luckily my passport is in order. When George was in Mbeya he booked
seats for the children and me on the first available plane. We will fly to Broken Hill and go
on to Cape Town from there by train.
Ann and George are wildly thrilled at the idea of flying but I am not. I remember
only too well how airsick I was on the old Hannibal when I flew home with the baby Ann.
I am longing to see you all and it will be heaven to give the children their first seaside
I mean to return with Kate after three months but, if you will have him, I shall leave
George behind with you for a year. You said you would all be delighted to have Ann so
I do hope you will also be happy to have young George. Together they are no trouble
at all. They amuse themselves and are very independent and loveable.
George and I have discussed the matter taking into consideration the letters from
you and George’s Mother on the subject. If you keep Ann and George for a year, my
mother-in-law will go to Cape Town next year and fetch them. They will live in England
with her until they are fit enough to return to the Tropics. After the children and I have left
on this holiday, George will be able to move around and look for a job that will pay
sufficiently to enable us to go to England in a few years time to fetch our children home.
We both feel very sad at the prospect of this parting but the children’s health
comes before any other consideration. I hope Kate will stand up better to the Tropics.
She is plump and rosy and could not look more bonny if she lived in a temperate
We should be with you in three weeks time!
Very much love,
Broken Hill, N Rhodesia 11th February 1937
Well here we are safe and sound at the Great Northern Hotel, Broken Hill, all
ready to board the South bound train tonight.
We were still on the diggings on Ann’s birthday, February 8th, when George had
a letter from Mbeya to say that our seats were booked on the plane leaving Mbeya on
the 10th! What a rush we had packing up. Ann was in bed with malaria so we just
bundled her up in blankets and set out in John Molteno’s car for the farm. We arrived that
night and spent the next day on the farm sorting things out. Ann and George wanted to
take so many of their treasures and it was difficult for them to make a small selection. In
the end young George’s most treasured possession, his sturdy little boots, were left
Before leaving home on the morning of the tenth I took some snaps of Ann and
young George in the garden and one of them with their father. He looked so sad. After
putting us on the plane, George planned to go to the fishing camp for a day or two
before returning to the empty house on the farm.
John Molteno returned from the Cape by plane just before we took off, so he
will take over the running of his claims once more. I told John that I dreaded the plane trip
on account of air sickness so he gave me two pills which I took then and there. Oh dear!
How I wished later that I had not done so. We had an extremely bumpy trip and
everyone on the plane was sick except for small George who loved every moment.
Poor Ann had a dreadful time but coped very well and never complained. I did not
actually puke until shortly before we landed at Broken Hill but felt dreadfully ill all the way.
Kate remained rosy and cheerful almost to the end. She sat on my lap throughout the
trip because, being under age, she travelled as baggage and was not entitled to a seat.
Shortly before we reached Broken Hill a smartly dressed youngish man came up
to me and said, “You look so poorly, please let me take the baby, I have children of my
own and know how to handle them.” Kate made no protest and off they went to the
back of the plane whilst I tried to relax and concentrate on not getting sick. However,
within five minutes the man was back. Kate had been thoroughly sick all over his collar
I took Kate back on my lap and then was violently sick myself, so much so that
when we touched down at Broken Hill I was unable to speak to the Immigration Officer.
He was so kind. He sat beside me until I got my diaphragm under control and then
drove me up to the hotel in his own car.
We soon recovered of course and ate a hearty dinner. This morning after
breakfast I sallied out to look for a Bank where I could exchange some money into
Rhodesian and South African currency and for the Post Office so that I could telegraph
to George and to you. What a picnic that trip was! It was a terribly hot day and there was
no shade. By the time we had done our chores, the children were hot, and cross, and
tired and so indeed was I. As I had no push chair for Kate I had to carry her and she is
pretty heavy for eighteen months. George, who is still not strong, clung to my free arm
whilst Ann complained bitterly that no one was helping her.
Eventually Ann simply sat down on the pavement and declared that she could
not go another step, whereupon George of course decided that he also had reached his
limit and sat down too. Neither pleading no threats would move them so I had to resort
to bribery and had to promise that when we reached the hotel they could have cool
drinks and ice-cream. This promise got the children moving once more but I am determined that nothing will induce me to stir again until the taxi arrives to take us to the
This letter will go by air and will reach you before we do. How I am longing for
With love to you all,
Leaving home 10th February 1937, George Gilman Rushby with Ann and Georgie (Mike) Rushby:
We had a very warm welcome to the family home at Plumstead Cape Town.
After ten days with my family we moved to Hout Bay where Mrs Thomas lent us her
delightful seaside cottage. She also provided us with two excellent maids so I had
nothing to do but rest and play on the beach with the children.
After a month at the sea George had fully recovered his health though not his
former gay spirits. After another six months with my parents I set off for home with Kate,
leaving Ann and George in my parent’s home under the care of my elder sister,
One or two incidents during that visit remain clearly in my memory. Our children
had never met elderly people and were astonished at the manifestations of age. One
morning an elderly lady came around to collect church dues. She was thin and stooped
and Ann surveyed her with awe. She turned to me with a puzzled expression and
asked in her clear voice, “Mummy, why has that old lady got a moustache – oh and a
beard?’ The old lady in question was very annoyed indeed and said, “What a rude little
girl.” Ann could not understand this, she said, “But Mummy, I only said she had a
moustache and a beard and she has.” So I explained as best I could that when people
have defects of this kind they are hurt if anyone mentions them.
A few days later a strange young woman came to tea. I had been told that she
had a most disfiguring birthmark on her cheek and warned Ann that she must not
comment on it. Alas! with the kindest intentions Ann once again caused me acute
embarrassment. The young woman was hardly seated when Ann went up to her and
gently patted the disfiguring mark saying sweetly, “Oh, I do like this horrible mark on your
I remember also the afternoon when Kate and George were christened. My
mother had given George a white silk shirt for the occasion and he wore it with intense
pride. Kate was baptised first without incident except that she was lost in admiration of a
gold bracelet given her that day by her Godmother and exclaimed happily, “My
bangle, look my bangle,” throughout the ceremony. When George’s turn came the
clergyman held his head over the font and poured water on George’s forehead. Some
splashed on his shirt and George protested angrily, “Mum, he has wet my shirt!” over
and over again whilst I led him hurriedly outside.
My last memory of all is at the railway station. The time had come for Kate and
me to get into our compartment. My sisters stood on the platform with Ann and George.
Ann was resigned to our going, George was not so, at the last moment Sylvia, my
younger sister, took him off to see the engine. The whistle blew and I said good-bye to
my gallant little Ann. “Mummy”, she said urgently to me, “Don’t forget to wave to
And so I waved good-bye to my children, never dreaming that a war would
intervene and it would be eight long years before I saw them again.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.
Eleanor.January 14, 2022 at 3:06 pm #6253
My Grandparents Kitchen
My grandmother used to have golden syrup in her larder, hanging on the white plastic coated storage rack that was screwed to the inside of the larder door. Mostly the larder door was left propped open with an old flat iron, so you could see the Heinz ketchup and home made picallilli (she made a particularly good picallili), the Worcester sauce and the jar of pickled onions, as you sat at the kitchen table.
If you were sitting to the right of the kitchen table you could see an assortment of mismatched crockery, cups and bowls, shoe cleaning brushes, and at the back, tiny tins of baked beans and big ones of plum tomatoes, and normal sized tins of vegetable and mushroom soup. Underneath the little shelves that housed the tins was a blue plastic washing up bowl with a few onions, some in, some out of the yellow string bag they came home from the expensive little village supermarket in.
There was much more to the left in the awkward triangular shape under the stairs, but you couldn’t see under there from your seat at the kitchen table. You could see the shelf above the larder door which held an ugly china teapot of graceless modern lines, gazed with metallic silver which was wearing off in places. Beside the teapot sat a serving bowl, squat and shapely with little handles, like a flattened Greek urn, in white and reddish brown with flecks of faded gilt. A plain white teapot completed the trio, a large cylindrical one with neat vertical ridges and grooves.
There were two fridges under the high shallow wooden wall cupboard. A waist high bulbous old green one with a big handle that pulled out with a clunk, and a chest high sleek white one with a small freezer at the top with a door of its own. On the top of the fridges were biscuit and cracker tins, big black keys, pencils and brittle yellow notepads, rubber bands and aspirin value packs and a bottle of Brufen. There was a battered old maroon spectacle case and a whicker letter rack, letters crammed in and fanning over the top. There was always a pile of glossy advertising pamphlets and flyers on top of the fridges, of the sort that were best put straight into the tiny pedal bin.
My grandmother never lined the pedal bin with a used plastic bag, nor with a specially designed plastic bin liner. The bin was so small that the flip top lid was often gaping, resting on a mound of cauliflower greens and soup tins. Behind the pedal bin, but on the outer aspect of the kitchen wall, was the big black dustbin with the rubbery lid. More often than not, the lid was thrust upwards. If Thursday when the dustbin men came was several days away, you’d wish you hadn’t put those newspapers in, or those old shoes! You stood in the softly drizzling rain in your slippers, the rubbery sheild of a lid in your left hand and the overflowing pedal bin in the other. The contents of the pedal bin are not going to fit into the dustbin. You sigh, put the pedal bin and the dustbin lid down, and roll up your sleeves ~ carefully, because you’ve poked your fingers into a porridge covered teabag. You grab the sides of the protruding black sack and heave. All being well, the contents should settle and you should have several inches more of plastic bag above the rim of the dustbin. Unless of course it’s a poor quality plastic bag in which case your fingernail will go through and a horizontal slash will appear just below rubbish level. Eventually you upend the pedal bin and scrape the cigarette ash covered potato peelings into the dustbin with your fingers. By now the fibres of your Shetland wool jumper are heavy with damp, just like the fuzzy split ends that curl round your pale frowning brow. You may push back your hair with your forearm causing the moisture to bead and trickle down your face, as you turn the brass doorknob with your palm and wrist, tea leaves and cigarette ash clinging unpleasantly to your fingers.
The pedal bin needs rinsing in the kitchen sink, but the sink is full of mismatched saucepans, some new in shades of harvest gold, some battered and mishapen in stainless steel and aluminium, bits of mashed potato stuck to them like concrete pebbledash. There is a pale pink octagonally ovoid shallow serving dish and a little grey soup bowl with a handle like a miniature pottery saucepan decorated with kitcheny motifs.
The water for the coffee bubbles in a suacepan on the cream enamelled gas cooker. My grandmother never used a kettle, although I do remember a heavy flame orange one. The little pan for boiling water had a lip for easy pouring and a black plastic handle.
The steam has caused the condensation on the window over the sink to race in rivulets down to the fablon coated windowsill. The yellow gingham curtains hang limply, the left one tucked behind the back of the cooker.
You put the pedal bin back it it’s place below the tea towel holder, and rinse your mucky fingers under the tap. The gas water heater on the wall above you roars into life just as you turn the tap off, and disappointed, subsides.
As you lean over to turn the cooker knob, the heat from the oven warms your arm. The gas oven was almost always on, the oven door open with clean tea towels and sometimes large white pants folded over it to air.
The oven wasn’t the only heat in my grandparents kitchen. There was an electric bar fire near the red formica table which used to burn your legs. The kitchen table was extended by means of a flap at each side. When I was small I wasn’t allowed to snap the hinge underneath shut as my grandmother had pinched the skin of her palm once.
The electric fire was plugged into the same socket as the radio. The radio took a minute or two to warm up when you switched it on, a bulky thing with sharp seventies edges and a reddish wood effect veneer and big knobs. The light for my grandfathers workshop behind the garage (where he made dentures) was plugged into the same socket, which had a big heavy white three way adaptor in. The plug for the washing machine was hooked by means of a bit of string onto a nail or hook so that it didn’t fall down behing the washing machine when it wasn’t plugged in. Everything was unplugged when it wasn’t in use. Sometimes there was a shrivelled Christmas cactus on top of the radio, but it couldn’t hide the adaptor and all those plugs.
Above the washing machine was a rhomboid wooden wall cupboard with sliding frsoted glass doors. It was painted creamy gold, the colour of a nicotine stained pub ceiling, and held packets of Paxo stuffing and little jars of Bovril and Marmite, packets of Bisto and a jar of improbably red Maraschino cherries.
The nicotine coloured cupboard on the opposite wall had half a dozen large hooks screwed under the bottom shelf. A variety of mugs and cups hung there when they weren’t in the bowl waiting to be washed up. Those cupboard doors seemed flimsy for their size, and the thin beading on the edge of one door had come unstuck at the bottom and snapped back if you caught it with your sleeve. The doors fastened with a little click in the centre, and the bottom of the door reverberated slightly as you yanked it open. There were always crumbs in the cupboard from the numerous packets of bisucits and crackers and there was always an Allbran packet with the top folded over to squeeze it onto the shelf. The sugar bowl was in there, sticky grains like sandpaper among the biscuit crumbs.
Half of one of the shelves was devoted to medicines: grave looking bottles of codeine linctus with no nonsense labels, brown glass bottles with pills for rheumatism and angina. Often you would find a large bottle, nearly full, of Brewers yeast or vitamin supplements with a dollar price tag, souvenirs of the familys last visit. Above the medicines you’d find a faded packet of Napolitana pasta bows or a dusty packet of muesli. My grandparents never used them but she left them in the cupboard. Perhaps the dollar price tags and foreign foods reminded her of her children.
If there had been a recent visit you would see monstrous jars of Sanka and Maxwell House coffee in there too, but they always used the coffee. They liked evaporated milk in their coffee, and used tins and tins of “evap” as they called it. They would pour it over tinned fruit, or rhubard crumble or stewed apples.
When there was just the two of them, or when I was there as well, they’d eat at the kitchen table. The table would be covered in a white embroidered cloth and the food served in mismatched serving dishes. The cutlery was large and bent, the knife handles in varying shades of bone. My grandfathers favourite fork had the tip of each prong bent in a different direction. He reckoned it was more efficient that way to spear his meat. He often used to chew his meat and then spit it out onto the side of his plate. Not in company, of course. I can understand why he did that, not having eaten meat myself for so long. You could chew a piece of meat for several hours and still have a stringy lump between your cheek and your teeth.
My grandfather would always have a bowl of Allbran with some Froment wheat germ for his breakfast, while reading the Daily Mail at the kitchen table. He never worse slippers, always shoes indoors, and always wore a tie. He had lots of ties but always wore a plain maroon one. His shirts were always cream and buttoned at throat and cuff, and eventually started wearing shirts without detachable collars. He wore greeny grey trousers and a cardigan of the same shade most of the time, the same colour as a damp English garden.
The same colour as the slimy green wooden clothes pegs that I threw away and replaced with mauve and fuschia pink plastic ones. “They’re a bit bright for up the garden, aren’t they,” he said. He was right. I should have ignored the green peg stains on the laundry. An English garden should be shades of moss and grassy green, rich umber soil and brick red walls weighed down with an atmosphere of dense and heavy greyish white.
After Grandma died and Mop had retired (I always called him Mop, nobody knows why) at 10:00am precisely Mop would have a cup of instant coffee with evap. At lunch, a bowl of tinned vegetable soup in his special soup bowl, and a couple of Krackawheat crackers and a lump of mature Cheddar. It was a job these days to find a tasty cheddar, he’d say.
When he was working, and he worked until well into his seventies, he took sandwiches. Every day he had the same sandwich filling: a combination of cheese, peanut butter and marmite. It was an unusal choice for an otherwise conventional man. He loved my grandmothers cooking, which wasn’t brilliant but was never awful. She was always generous with the cheese in cheese sauces and the meat in meat pies. She overcooked the cauliflower, but everyone did then. She made her gravy in the roasting pan, and made onion sauce, bread sauce, parsley sauce and chestnut stuffing. She had her own version of cosmopolitan favourites, and called her quiche a quiche when everyone was still calling it egg and bacon pie. She used to like Auntie Daphne’s ratatouille, rather exotic back then, and pronounced it Ratta Twa. She made pizza unlike any other, with shortcrust pastry smeared with tomato puree from a tube, sprinkled with oregano and great slabs of cheddar.
The roast was always overdone. “We like our meat well done” she’d say. She’d walk up the garden to get fresh mint for the mint sauce and would announce with pride “these runner beans are out of the garding”. They always grew vegetables at the top of the garden, behind the lawn and the silver birch tree. There was always a pudding: a slice of almond tart (always with home made pastry), a crumble or stewed fruit. Topped with evap, of course.
“It’s Thursday today,” remarked Star.
“Special subject the bloody obvious?” Tara replied rudely. “You should be on Mastermind.”
“Well, we were wondering what we were going to do to pass the time until Thursday, and here we are. It’s Thursday!”
“Are you losing your marbles?”
“Actually it’s you losing your memory,” Star sighed. “Remember the case?”
“The case we were working on!”
“Oh, that case! Well you can hardly expect me to remember that when it’s been such a strange week!” Tara was starting to get tearful and agitated.
“Look, Tara, the tests came back negative. You can stop worrying about it now. We can go back to normal now and carry on. And just in time for the rendezvous at the cafe on Main Street.” Star patted Tara’s arm encouragingly. “And what timing! If the results hadn’t come back yet, or we’d tested positive, we wouldn’t have been able to go to the cafe.”
“Well we could have gone and just not said anything about the tests,” sniffed Tara. “Everyone else seems to be doing what they want regardless.”
“Yes, but we’re not as morally bankrupt as them,” retorted Star.
Tara giggled. “But we used to work for Madame Limonella.”
“Is it a fancy dress party? I could wear my plague doctor outfit.”
Star rolled her eyes. “No! We have to dress appropriately, something subtle and serious. A dark suit perhaps.”
“Oh like my Ace of Spades T shirt?”
This is going nowhere fast, Star thought, but then had a revelation. A moment later, she had forgotten what the revelation was when the door burst open.
“Ta Da!” shouted Rosamund, entering the office with two middle aged ladies in tow. “I nabbed them both, they were lurking in the queue for the food bank! And I single handedly brought then back. Can we talk about my bonus now?”
One of the ladies piped up, “She said you’d be taking us out for afternoon tea at a nice cafe!”
The other one added, “We haven’t eaten for days, we’re starving!”
The first middle aged lady said, “Oh no dear, it’s September. I’m quite sure of that.”FloveParticipant
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
Since the sudden disappearance of the two au pair maids, a lot had happened. But for August Finest it has been a lot of the same routine going on.
He wakes up in the early, early morning, his eyelids rubs on his eyeballs as if they are made of sandpaper. He seizes his belly with his hands, feels a little guilty about the nice meals prepared by Noor Mary especially for him since the start of the confinement. His six packs have started to fade away under a layer of fatty insulation and he tries to compensate by a daily routine in white T-shirt and underwear.
The coffee machine has detected his movements and starts to make what it does. It’s always cleaned and replenished by the discrete Mary. The noise and the smell creates an ambiance and when it rings he eats breakfast before taking his shower.
When he’s dressed up, his real work starts. It had not been easy for a man of his origins to appear as the best choice for the job under the Lump administration. President Lump was known to make bad jokes about his tan and him having spent too much time at the beach, and other worse things. But his worth was in the network he could connect the president with, his high discretion, which Lump was in dire need to compensate his innate tendency to boasting, and a strong adaptability to fix the president’s frequent messing around.
If August Finest had once admired the man and accepted the job for him, it soon changed when he realised there was nothing more underneath the boasting than more boasting and unpredictability. At the moment the only thing that make him continue was his ability to go stealth when the president had a fit of nerves, and the imposed confinement that made it impossible to leave the Beige House.
After the morning meeting during which the president asked him to fire a few members of the staff, August had to prepare a press conference. President Lump said he had thought about a few remarks about China and making a connection with the Mexican immigrants threatening the country by stealing the masks of the American People. After which, he had to plan a charity with first Lady Mellie Noma and redefine what a Masquerade meant. He had been asked to invite nurses and medical personnel, meaning republican and good looking in a blouse with a medical mask to make the promotion of the new mask industry Made in America. One of Mr Lump’s friend had just started a brand and was in need of some media promotion.
August reread the memo to be addressed to the director of the FBI, a good friend of his. A special cell at the FBI had been created especially since Lump came to power. For this particular occasion, agents posing as patients victims of the virus would be sent in the best ranked hospitals in the country with the task to look for the best nurse and doctor candidates and send them an invitation printed by Lump’s nephew’s printing company.
As Lump always said: “America Fist! And don’t forget people, I am America.”
August hit the enter button and closed the window of his professional mail account, leaving the draft of a personal mail on screen. He wasn’t sure if he could send this one. It was addressed to Noor Mary and he feared she would misunderstand the meaning of it.
They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.
Bert tells me it’s new years eve today. Looking forward to the champagne and fireworks I said to him. Joking of course. The wonder is that I even remembered what such things were. Bert looked sharply at me then, bit strange it was. Then he relaxed a bit and had a peculiar secretive smile on his face. Of course that’s easy to say in retrospect, that he had a secretive smile on his face. But little did I know at the time.
I’d been in the doldrums ever since that hot air balloon thing didn’t materialize into anything. I told Bert about it, and he went off down to the Brundy place, gone ages he was, and came back saying it was nothing. He had an odd spring in his step though which puzzled me a bit at the time, but I was so deflated after the excitement of thinking something might actually happen for a change, and when it didn’t, well, I couldn’t be bothered to think about Bert acting funny.
When Bert had a shower and asked me to iron ~ iron, I ask you! ~ his best shirt, I was more depressed than ever. If Bert goes mad as well, then where will we be? I was already wondering if I’d started hallucinating and if that was a sign of madness. I’d been catching glimpses of things out of the corner of my eye all week. I’d even heard stifled giggles. It was unnerving, I tell you.
When Bert suggested I have a shower as well, and asked if I still had that red sequinned dress I started to worry. What was he thinking? Then ~ get this ~ he asked if I had red knickers on.
Bert! I said, aghast.
He mumbled something about it being a tradition in Spain to wear red underpants on new years eve, and surely I hadn’t forgotten?
I gently reminded him that we weren’t in Spain, and he said, You’re damn right this isn’t Kansas anymore, hooted with laughter, and fairly skipped out of the room.
I sat there for a bit pondering all this and then thought, Hell, why not? Why not wear red knickers and that old red sequinned dress? Why not have a shower as well?
And much to my surprise I found I was humming a song and smiling to myself as I went to find that old red dress.FloveParticipant
“Nothing injured here,” said Agent X brushing himself down. “What is your status, Agent V?”
“Hunky dory.” She extricated her tee shirt from a branch and inspected a deep red scrape on her arm. Her eyes circled the small clearing in which they had landed. If landed isn’t too grand a word.
“Lots of trees,” she said.
Agent X started heading towards a particularly dense area of bush. “This way to destination D,” he said brightly. “No time to lose.”
I wonder what I ever saw in him,” mused V. Although he does have quite a nice butt.
They had only trekked a few hundred meters when Agent X stopped abruptly. “Shush,” he whispered, holding his finger to his lips. “Do you hear something?”
The mental mention of locks reminded her confused brain that her characters had gone on a reckless romp through her pages in pursuit of keys. Again! She sighed. Should she just let then run away with themselves, or should she try to rein them in?
“Could you pass me the butter?” asked a strange fellow seated on Shawn Paul’s left. The man was odd, a bit looking like Captain Sparrow with his black jabot lavaliere shirt and golden earrings.
Shawn Paul felt awkward, the kind of awkwardness cultivated for many years with shyness and fear of social interactions. No wonder I wanted to be a writer, he thought. Nonetheless he handed the butter to the stranger. Could he be daring for a change and talk like his grandma always pushed him to do? The best remedy to shyness is to talk. Start by saying your name Shasha!
“My name is Shawn Paul,” he said, feeling the heat rise to his face. He gulped, unsure of what to do next. Should he talk about the morning weather?
“My name is Sanso,” said the man. “At your service,” he added waving his puffy sleeves. “Have you read the last article on _whateveralready_?
The cat behind them snorted. Shawn Paul looked at it. It looked grumpy and ready to talk.
“Don’t send Mandrake any food,” said one of the other guests, a woman wearing an indian looking outfit with a scarf hiding her hair. Something moved under the head scarf and a strand of red hair ventured timidly outside, soon followed by a lizard’s head. The woman pushed it back under her hood and emitted a disgusted grunt when she saw the meat dish brought by the maid.
“I’m not a maid,” muttered Finly to whomever could hear/read her, or to the writer. “It’s good liz… chicken,” she said. No need for the long faces.”
“But it’s dead, dear,” said the woman with the veil.
“The Godfrey silently prayed under the third moon,” was saying Sanso who didn’t seem to mind that Shawn Paul was not listening to him. “And he entered late inside the lake wearing a funny blue toge. Sanso realised Finly was looking at him her mouth reduced to a tight line. “And I followed with opened hope,” he finished before gulping a spoonful of butter.
“Do you happen to have a lock in your bedroom?” asked Sanso. The woman in the scarf looked at him with dark eyes. The lizard, seizing the opportunity to be free, jumped from under her scarf and landed into the gaspacho, splashing all the guests with a bit of red.materParticipant
Thank God for Finly. She appears to be the only one who has any sense left in her noggin. Dodo is passed out on the sofa in the lounge, sprawled in a most unladylike manner. It looks like she got rip snorting drunk again.
Bert has disappeared. I can’t recall if I sent him to town to buy food for the guests … but perhaps I did. Bert is the only other person who knows the secret. I would like to discuss it with him but we’ve both kept our silence all these years and silence is a hard habit to break.
What monster will we unleash if we speak I wonder? But if we don’t speak, will the monster choke us all?
As I said, or I think I said, Finly is being a real trooper, showing guests to their rooms and for the most part being civil.
I did see her slap an odd looking gentleman in a ruffle shirt when he asked if he was in room six. “Sex is not included in your room rate!” she shouted at him and glared most ferociously. Fortunately the man was not offended, indeed he ragarded her almost with a look of admiration. She did look a fine sight standing there, hands on hips and her face flushed with righteous indignation. Unfortunately, Finly has never managed to rid herself of her awful kiwi accent, despite the years she has lived here.
Dear Prune is behaving oddly. I am loathe to even consider it but it did cross my mind she may have become one of those dreadful drug addicts I’ve read about. I caught her hiding behind a curtain and motioning for me to “Shush!” in a most agitated manner. After all, it wouldn’t be surprising given the influence Dodo has surely had on her over the years. I will be most disappointed if I find out this is indeed the case. In the meantime, I intend to give the dear child the benefit of the doubt.prUneParticipant
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…EricKeymaster
When they reached outside the next morning, the sky was blue, and the light already intense.
Birds were hovering silently above in regular patterns.
He handed to Olliver a tan cape to put over his red shirt.
“Better be careful with the sun too.”
The baby snoot was quick to jump on Olli’s shoulder, and at its touch, the cape seemed to glimmer invisible.
“Ah,… that can work too.” Rukshan was still intrigued by the creatures’ capacity. They didn’t seem born of magic, but of inter-dimensional energy blending.
“We shouldn’t be far from a village, I’ve seen some oasis from the top of the ridge earlier, we’ll follow that route, and hopefully will find out some more about these mysteries.”
The grass was covered with frost. Fox growled, curled up in his clothes. He put his tail on his nose to protect it from the cold morning air. He sneezed. The city clock chimed the eighth hour. His fine ear alerted him that the sound was still a tad out of phase, but it seemed better than the day before. It took a moment to his brain to understand what that meant.
Rats! I fell asleep, Fox yelped. He tried to stood up on his four legs, only to get tangled in his pants and shirt. He growled again, unnerved at the poking of the branches of the bush under which he had waited… slept.
He froze, alerted by noises from the house. He turned his ears straight toward the building in an attempt to pick up any useful information. His heart was beating fast. With each breath steam was escaping from his mouth. Someone unlatched the door. They were going out.
Fox panicked at the idea of being seen that way. Agitation was not the best ingredient to facilitate shapeshifting, it could result in unfortunate entanglements of body parts. He breathed deeply and realized he had chosen his hideout not to be seen. He was out of sight. His heart still beating fast, but not quite as fast as before. Fox resumed his watch.
A woman under a tattered burka got out of the house. She was holding a basket covered by a red gingham cloth. From the tinkling sound, Fox concluded she was carrying small glass bottles among other things. He wondered if that could be the potions that gnome and his strange creature talked about last night. His stomach growled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten in a day. The garden seemed a small and empty place to find food. He didn’t like shrews for breakfast. Furthermore, his previous targets certainly had time to get far away. There was no trace of them in the air or on the ground.
Never mind. His curiosity picked, Fox decided to follow the woman. He considered his clothes on the ground for a moment. There was no way he could shapeshift all dressed up, and he didn’t want to get his butt frozen in that cold. Human form would have to wait. Still, he adjusted the color of his fur from fox orange to a darker tone before leaving the cover of his bush. He reminded himself to be careful, city people were not known to be fond of his kind except dead on their back.
The woman was already outside the stonewall surrounding the garden. He caught her scent in the crisp morning air. The cold made him sneeze again. But he would not lose her and could follow from a distance. He went past a small statue before going out of the garden. It looked oddly familiar.
- “The letters of Eleanor Dunbar Leslie to her parents and her sister in South Africa
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