The Teaching Autobiography, Contents: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3 Photo 4
Married Life In Portuguese East Africa
1911 was an eventful year for me. I was married on the 10th. January. I was twenty one on 5th. April and Elizabeth (2) was born on 18th. December. Muriel was married just six weeks earlier in Johannesburg. She did not want a double wedding, so first I was her bridesmaid and had all the fun of a big wedding and then for ourselves, had the quiet wedding we both wanted. We were married with only my family present at the Consulate at Port Melville. This made it easier and less tiring in the heat of summer to leave for Swaziland where we were spending our honeymoon. Sir Robert Corryndon, an old friend of Anthony's had lent him the little cottage attached to the residency at Mbabane. It was a difficult journey but to us worth any trouble compared with the alternative, a conventional honeymoon at a large coastal hotel.
Finally the Portuguese Governor general, General Andrade lent Anthony his private coach, complete with kitchen and cook and thereby won our lasting gratitude. This was attached to the back of the mail train and sometime during the night was unhitched and left in a siding at our station. Next day we continued in a less luxurious but to me no less exciting fashion. Major Maxwell came to fetch us in a hooded cart drawn by eight mules. That night we had to stay at a very primitive hotel which I remember chiefly on account of an embarrassing incident. When we arrived, the landlady kindly brought me a cup of tea to our room. Unfortunately the milk had curdled and lay in large clotted lumps on top. I could not drink it, yet was unwilling to appear ungrateful by leaving it. Anthony solved the problem by pouring it into a window-sill flower box but alas, it had been raining and the sodden soil refused to absorb more moisture. Laughing at our predicament I had to spoon it out onto the grass below. The following day a flooded river nearly held us up for another night but our host came to the rescue in a pony vehicle carrying a canvas boat, so that we arrived at Mbabane for dinner.
There is one thing that never fails to give me pleasure and that is to move at ease through the countryside, especially if it is one I have not seen before, so the whole journey was a delight to me. It was a wonderful month, most of it spent in exploring our surroundings. After breakfast we were given two ponies and our lunch and set out for the day returning tired but content to a hot bath and change, then over to the Residency for dinner. We sat round a large highly polished table, bare except for mats, with the reflected gleam of the silver and glass on it, a new fashion then. Afterwards at ease in comfortable chairs, Anthony would draw out Sir Robert to talk. He was a man who had two characteristics not often combined, I think, for he was a man of vigorous action coupled with the gift of speech. He had lived an unusual and exciting life and in talking of it, could hold his listeners unaware of the passing time. Anthony was not a brilliant conversationalist himself but had the art of drawing others out, a quality which, I think, makes a good host.
Mbabane is set amongst hills in the broken country between the high veldt and the bush veldt and has the charm, unusual in Africa, of running water. There are some magnificent views looking from the berg down on the bush veldt. While we were there the blue agapantha lilies were out, growing with wine coloured watsonias and the tree ferns that are in any sheltered corner.
A year or two after our marriage, we moved into a larger house in the middle of two and a half acres of garden which also contained a tennis court and a rose garden of a sort. The roses were grown each in a tub, a hundred and fifty of them, standing on cement because of the white ants. The grounds were mostly covered with flowering trees and shrubs. In the summer there was a vivid display of cannas; in winter we could grow English flowers such as snapdragons, verbenas and delphiniums and all the year round, roses and masses of carnations for cutting.
Photo 2 : Kath with her family in South Africa
I think life in Port Melville struck the happy mean between the restless round of social life in Johannesburg and the isolation of most farm life in South Africa. I found the Portuguese interesting, the women congenial, cultured compared to us as regards languages. Those that I knew all spoke English or French as well as their own language, and many both. They said I was 'muinto sympatico', which they also declared was untranslatable, but I think it simply meant that I liked and got on with them. The English colony was small during the early years of our married life, with a preponderance of men rather like, I should think, early Rhodesian life but in addition there was the cosmopolitan group formed by the consuls, representatives of France, Germany, America and Italy. Before I left, the population was much larger and as it increased it seemed to me to become more ordinary and dull. In the early days when you dined out, especially if your host was a bachelor, you would find your own boys assisting and anything from your fish kettle to your silver borrowed for the occasion. In those days Anthony continued to entertain in his old bachelor fashion and I was generally the only woman present. After dinner when a little deliberately manufactured feminine conversation had been accomplished, they would drift off into men's discussion by the hour, almost oblivious of my presence. I enjoyed that and it formed a large part of my adult education and helped me adjust myself to my new life.
My domestic cares were light. After breakfast, which was served separately to master, mistress and guests, a very civilised custom I think, there were the flowers to do. For most of the year the heat made this a daily job and the roses and carnations had to be cut early. I did not enjoy my other tasks which was to interview our excellent Goanese cook, because at intervals I had to simulate discontent and disapproval, otherwise the slowly mounting expenses would have continued to soar. He looked so pained and misunderstood during this operation and as the check was only temporary, I hated its endless repetition. My strength and stay was Moses, our Swahili head boy. He had been with Anthony for twelve years and everyone predicted he would leave when Anthony married. Perhaps my ignorance of household matters helped. I was in no position to instruct and only too glad to be guided, as I was, in the most deferential and gentle way possible. Dear Moses, without respect of colour, he was one of the finest characters I have known. We never ventured outside the conventional barriers of boy and mistress in words but in understanding I know of no one who had such quick, intuitive response. We had eight boys but Antoine was the only other one to have an unusual personality. He was our head gardener and in charge of the car. He was very intelligent and learned anything new quickly. We always took him with us to cook when we went camping but I was not so happy with him. Most natives are joyous but he was subject to melancholy. He was the only native I came in contact with, who seemed to beat against the bars of the limitations his colour imposed on him. He was eager while working but in repose looked dejected and one could do nothing to help.
Anthony held the post of Agent of the Union Government of South Africa. He was also honorary British Consul during the many gaps between the departures and arrivals of Consuls General and also during a large part of the 1914 war, was left in charge as Acting Consul General. His position brought us in contact with a variety of people. Visitors to the Union often returned by the East Coast. Once we entertained the Hon. Mrs Ronnie Grenville and kept her up to the small hours while we listened fascinated to her sketches and anecdotes of famous people, who were given by her art a human guise lost in biographies. I hope our enthralled enjoyment repaid her, she was so very kind to us. Occasionally passing Royalty invited themselves to our house. Prince Arthur of Connaught on his return after holding the position of Governor General of the Union, Princess Marie Louise to whom I gave my collection of shells picked up at Inhaca. How her equerry must have blessed me! We also entertained Mark Hambourg, The Roman Singers, Allan Cobham, Allister Miller, Mr Buckle, one time editor of 'The Times' and always the Admirals and Captains of the Cape Squadron on their annual cruise up the East Coast, an event everyone enjoyed. Also one must not forget our friend and only wedding guest who was staying at the consulate when we were married, Colonel Stevenson Hamilton, then Warden of the Sabi Game Reserve, which thanks to his devotion has become the Kruger National Park; and hosts of other visitors, perhaps less exalted but not the less interesting.
The nicest part of our life at Port Melville was that these bouts of entertaining were sandwiched between weeks of quiet home life with our own local friends, our children, the dogs and the garden.
During the winter months we usually managed a hunting trip. The longest and most exciting was when we left the three children with their grandparents or friends and for a couple of months were the guests of Senor Riposa, the manager and part owner of the Senna Sugar Estates, three of them all on the banks of the Zambesi River. We went as far as Chinde in their coastal cargo steamer, the Waterbuck, the only time I have been permitted the free run of the bridge. Once I was deeply puzzled because the captain told me after taking the sights that we were travelling fifty miles inland. At Chinde we were transferred to a river steamer and once more I was completely happy in seeing new country.
First we went to Senor Riposa's home in Mopea, a small village self contained, with its own library, stores and swimming bath. It was strange living in such luxury with hundreds of miles of untouched country surrounding us. From there we made a circular hunting trip, interesting enough but not unusual except for the excellence of Anthony's hunting boy. I went with them once to watch him at work. There were a few waterbuck quietly feeding in the centre of a small dambo, a grassy swamp dry in the winter. There was no shelter or cover of any kind. Ksumbo relied entirely on his knowledge that buck take little notice of an object that does not move and in his skill in anticipating the moment when one of the buck would raise a head. All we had to do was to walk behind in single file, stopping the instant he stopped, without making the slightest movement until he moved again. He took us up to my shooting distance, a hundred or a hundred and twenty yards, then, not wanting to kill, we moved apart after watching them. Instantly they were off in a spurt of dust.
Our second trip was a most lovely voyage on its own account. We went up the Zambesi in a house boat in charge of Senor Rebello, a most kind and jovial Commandant, whose ideas of shooting were diametrically opposed to ours. Anthony did not shoot unless the camp wanted meat, except at the particular thing he was after, which meant an old male with exceptionally good horns, or of course any big game. At the end of a morning's shoot Rebello would return and politely commiserate with Anthony who would be perfectly happy if he had got one good sable or koodoo and nothing else. Then Rebello would recount the story of his own hunting, first rubbing his hands and exclaiming "muinto sang." Even if he was after an elephant and first saw a duiker, I doubt if he would have resisted the duiker. His idea of a good morning's shoot was the number of bodies slain. Apart from that he was a delightful host with the happy nature of a child. He had an excellent and very smart crew of twentytwo boys, ten paddlers, or when necessary, polers, five on each side in front and behind the central cabin, one at the helm and one at the prow as lookout. All were of fine physique, wearing a red fez and a blue loincloth held by a broad highly polished belt with a shiny brass buckle.
They sang as they paddled and it was fascinating to listen to them. I wrote down one of their minor melodies that we particularly liked. These are short refrains which all of them sing, while one of them, the soloist, would chant above and below it in a kind of wandering recitative. When the refrain ended he would continue alone for a little, then they would all join in again repeating the sad little melody and so on, again and again.
It was very peaceful and lovely. We would draw up to some island or sand bank for the night, sometimes in time for the evening shoot, more often at sunset with only time for our evening meal before turning in to sleep. Up again before daybreak for the morning shoot, to come in about ten before the heat got too fierce. What luxury that was to rest in the shade with cool drinks, although under Anthony's discipline I first had a cup of hot tea and a hot bath and change before sitting down. I had only to be persuaded once to do this to find it worth while. It was a good habit.
We continued as far as the Lupato Gorge where the Zambesi narrows into a hilly rocky pass, a most impressive sight. Here we turned and soon after walked over into Nyasaland. Curiously I remember nothing about this trip except seeing some kapok trees, tall, rather bare and angular, with queer horizontal branches, two alternately pointing North and South, with the next pair pointing East and West and from whose pods the soft down for filling pillows and mattresses is gathered.
Our third and last hunting trip was down the river below Mopea. There I had the luck on the last day of the last trip to shoot a buffalo myself. I had only seen them twice before, once on this same trip when I was riding in a machilla, a hammock slung on poles and carried by four boys. I disliked this method of travelling but at the time was suffering from a slight dose of malaria. Suddenly the boys said there were buffalo about. I tumbled out of my machilla and crept up a large ant heap. From there, I saw a lone bull about a hundred yards away watching us. I took a shot, clean missed and he lumbered away.
The other occasion was during the trip up the river with Rebello and in it I was a passive partaker in the only dangerous adventure we had. Anthony late one day had come across the spoor of a small herd of buffalo and had decided to go after them the next day. I hadn't seen any then and persuaded him to let me go too, preferring to be an onlooker rather than to hunt anything else on my own.
We had reached a small clearing not larger than a room, which was surrounded by thick bush. Our tracker stopped and pointed at something. Anthony stepped up beside him. Although close behind, I could see nothing. Slowly he rised his rifle and fired. Instantly there was a fearful crashing as the herd got to its feet and made off. Then out of this dying hubbub rose a lesser noise, not diminishing but coming in our direction and I looked up to see two huge bull buffalo tearing through the bush as if it were paper, noses outstretched and horns laid back coming not straight at us but obliquely and I realised they were returning on their own tracks on which we stood.
What followed occupied only a few minutes. Stepping from behind Anthony I raised my rifle to sight but instantly decided that to fire so close to him might spoil his aim, so withheld it, waiting for his shot first. I waited in vain. I remember the thought passing through my mind: "Hmph, she didn't know it, but mother was right." She had jokingly besought us to be careful and not leave her with three orphaned grandchildren. Then I was watching the two animals passing so close beside me that it seemed as if I could have touched them by putting out my arm. I could actually see points of wet mud sticking to the hair of their sides. Then the noise of their passing died down.
What had happened had really been most fortunate for us, for it had kept the three of us, Anthony, the tracker and myself, practically motionless. The other boys, unarmed, had wisely climbed trees or made off at the first disturbance. Anthony had had trouble with the safety catch of his doublebarrelled rifle, for he was using a strange weapon lent to him and not his own magazine rifle. By sheer good luck the unwounded beast was leading and as is usual with unwounded animals, had swerved aside when he saw us standing in his path. Mercifully the wounded one followed him, his head actually pressing into the shoulder of the first buffalo as they passed. It all happened so quickly. No shot could have stopped them before they were on us. If Anthony had fired then, we should just have had two wounded beasts rampaging round in that small space, even if our second shots had been fatal.
The first thing Anthony said when he turned round and found me beside him was: "Good God! Are you there? You should have got behind a tree!" and then in the same breath to congratulate me on not running away. I disclaimed both praise and blame and told him there had not been time to think of anything except whether I should shoot or wait for him. The other boys then joined us and we held a council of war. They said the second bull had a broken hind leg from Anthony's shot but they were insistent on the madness of continuing in this thick country and to reinforce their argument, told us how a Portuguese half cast hunter had lost his life to this herd the year before and how they had found his remains trodden to pulp in the ground. He had not only been tossed but also trampled on. Against this, it was not Anthony's custom to leave a wounded animal but now we were far from camp and it was getting very hot, so, tying a handkerchief to a tree, he decided to return next day and take up the trail. I had a little difficulty in persuading him that we should finish the adventure together but he was very fair about such things and beyond making me promise to put a tree between myself and danger if possible, was satisfied.
The next day's trek was an interesting and exiting example of the skill and cunning a wounded buffalo will show when fearing pursuit. We started of with only our tracker of the previous day but with instructions for another six to follow us, to carry the meat home, having given us a full hour's start. We had been on the trail for a couple of hours, when looking up, we saw coming towards us the six boys who were supposed to be behind. A little heated argument between the tracker and them showed they had obeyed orders and given us an hour's start. It was the buffalo who made an immense loop and chosen to return almost on to his back tracks to see if anyone was following. Soon after this we came on the spot where he had decided to spend the night. It had been chosen with care, for his tracks passed some fairly low thorn bushes and it was not until we had almost passed by that we saw a deep recess from which he had first watched for pursuit and finally lain down to rest. Our tracker showed how he had had trouble in getting up and said he had probably gone off in search of water. Indeed it was not long before we came upon him, fortunately where the bush had been burned and was more open. He had turned and was looking in our direction when a careful shot from Anthony put him out of his misery and finished the adventure.
My own success on this last day was a simple affair. Again it was two lone bulls that we sighted. I never saw anything else, although Anthony once had the pleasure of stalking a large herd, watching them with his glasses and seeing the calves with their mothers. That was the day I came into camp with malaria and he would not let me go out again. He showed me a big tree I could get up from which I might watch. I heard his shot but all I could see was a cloud of white tick birds rise up and a grey mass obscured in dust pass away. This time, again I saw two or three tick birds rising from my two bulls as they moved slowly away. I thought my luck was out but my boy signed that they had not seen us and standing motionless, I saw that they were moving in a semicircle round us. Then one stood and I took aim and fired. He went down and in my excitement I rushed forward, forgetting all but the need to finish him, when my boy caught hold of my arm. I checked myself, for the buffalo was trying to rise and the second bull was circling back to him but when he did not get up, his mate made off. I then drew close and shot again, when to my great relief, for buffalo can take a lot of shooting to finish quickly, he lifted up his head, gave one bellow and died at once, shot through the heart. I argued to myself that he was already a lone bull kicked out of the herd and might as he grew older have died by starvation or more likely fallen to a lion. I loved camping life, the excitement of never knowing what you might see and the many pictures I gained of wild life, without a kill but given youth and opportunity again, I should substitute the camera for the rifle.
Photo 3 : Kath on a hunting trip in South Africa.
(2) Later Kath gave birth to a son (Michael) and a second daughter (Susan). Back to text.