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Chapter One.
Bulawayo, November 5, 1897.

This extraordinary town does not disappoint expectations by its progress or present condition. It is in about as advanced a state as it could well be, considering the troubles it has endured. War and cattle-plague have retarded the progressive growth of a town that would have been by this, judging from the spirit of the people, a phenomenon in a century which has seen cities grow like mushrooms. It is cast on broad lines; its streets rival those of Washington for breadth, and its houses occupy as much space as decency requires, for unless they were pulled down and scattered over their respective lots, it is scarcely possible, with due respect to height, that they could occupy more.

Its situation, however, does not approach what I had anticipated to find. From its association with Lo Bengula, the dread Matabele despot on whose single word hung life and death, I had expected to find Bulawayo situate on a commanding eminence, looking down on broad lowlands and far-reaching views that fed the despot’s pride of power; instead of which we found it squatted low on a reddish plain, the ridges of its houses scarcely higher than the thorn bush that surrounds it. There are no hills or eminences anywhere in view, whence a large prospect could be obtained. In fact, the greater part of South Africa appears different to what I had imagined. Probably the partiality of all South African writers for Dutch terms had contributed to give me erroneous impressions. When I read Fenimore Cooper and Mayne Reid’s descriptions of the West, I fancied I knew what a prairie or plain was, and when, years afterwards, I came in view of them my impressions were only confirmed. But high, low, and bush veld, and Karroo, etc., have been always indefinite terms to me, and so I came to conceive aspects of land which were different to the reality. For a thousand miles we have been travelling over very level or slightly undulating plains, bush-covered over large spaces, the rest being genuine grassy prairie. After a thousand mites, or nearly three days by rail, over a flat country of this description, one naturally thinks that the objective point of such a journey must be of a different character. Most of the guests were on the qui vive for a pleasing change of scenery until we were within five minutes of Bulawayo station. All at once we caught sight of a few gleams of zinc roofs through the low thorn bush, and a single iron smoke-stack. When we came out of the bush, Bulawayo was spread out before us, squatted on what is undeniably a plain. This plain continues to be of the same character of levelness as far as Salisbury, ay, even as far as the northern edge of Mashonaland; it spreads out to Fort Victoria equally level; and as the land declines to N’gami and the Victoria Falls, it still retains the appearance of plains. Now, the wonder to me is, not that I am 1360 miles north of Cape Town, but that the railway limit should be fixed at Bulawayo, a mere bit of undistinguishable acreage in a flat area which extends to over half a million square miles. Why this place more than any other? There is no river near it, there is no topographic feature to distinguish it. Why not have continued this trunk line on to Salisbury, on to Tete, and the Zambesi? Why not have continued it on to the Victoria Falls?
The New Railway.

Considering that we have come all the way from London, 7300 miles away, to celebrate the arrival of the locomotive at Bulawayo, such questions may sound ungrateful, and considering that last night at the banquet every speaker had something favourable to say of the Bechuanaland Railway and its builders, such questions may be supposed to indicate disagreement with the general opinion. There is really no necessity to suppose anything of the kind. Both the builders and the railway deserve praise. The fact that some eight trains have already arrived at Bulawayo, and that every passenger expresses himself warmly as to the condition of the line, and the pleasure derived from the journey, ought to satisfy everyone that the railway is ready for traffic, and will serve for many years, I hope, to connect Bulawayo with Cape Town.

But I want my readers to thoroughly understand what has been done, without prejudice to Bulawayo, the railway, or its builders. I am not so surprised at the railway, as at the length of time people in South Africa were content to be without it. The whole country seems to have been created for railway making. It offers as few difficulties as the London Embankment Hyde Park is extremely uneven as compared with it. For nearly a thousand miles the railway sleepers have been laid at intervals of thirty inches on the natural face of the land; the rails have been laid across these, and connected together; the native navvies have scraped a little soil together, sufficient to cover the steel sleepers; and the iron road was thus ready for traffic. In March, 1896, the railway was but a few miles beyond Mafeking—say, about 880 miles from Cape Town—on November 4, 1897, it is 1360 miles in length from Cape Town, showing a construction of 480 miles in 19 months. There is nothing remarkable in this. The union Pacific Railway between Omaha and Denver progressed at three, four, even five miles a day, over a much more irregular surface; but then, of course, the navvies were Irishmen, who handled the shovel like experts, and the rails with the precision and skill of master workmen. Natives could not be expected to attain the proficiency and organisation of the American Celts.
In one of the Cape Specials.

Our special train left Cape Town on Sunday at 4 p.m. A corridor train of six coaches, marked Bulawayo, at an ordinary provincial-looking station, seemed somewhat strange. Had it been marked Ujiji, or Yambuya, it could not have been more so. Three of us were put in a compartment for four. The fourth berth was available for hand luggage. Soon after starting we were served with tea and biscuits, and were it not for the flat wilderness scenery we might have imagined ourselves in an International sleeping car. Time tables were also furnished us, from which we learned that we were due at Kimberley, 647 miles, at 10:15 p.m. on the next day, November 1; at Mafeking, 870 miles, at 3:12 p.m. on November 2; Palachwe, in Khama’s country, 1132 miles, at 12:47 p.m., November 3; and at Bulawayo, 1360 miles, at 9:30 a.m. on November 4, which would be ninety hours at fifteen miles per hour.

It took us an hour to cross the Lowry Strait, which at no very distant period must have been covered by sea and separated the Cape Peninsula from the Continent.

At 5:30 we arrived at the Paarl, 35 miles, a beautiful place suggestive of Italy with its vineyards, gardens and shrubbery, and lovingly enfolded by the Drakenstein Range. With its groves of fir and eucalyptus, bright sunshine, and pleasant-faced people, with picturesque mountains round about, it seemed a most desirable place.

The Paarl Station and others we passed bear witness to the excellence of Cape railway administration. The names of the stations were boldly printed on japanned iron plates, and though the passage of so many trains crowded with distinguished strangers had drawn large assemblages of the Colonists, male and female, whites, mulattoes, and negroes, the cleanliness and orderliness that prevailed were very conspicuous.
A Message to Mr Labouchere.

At 6 p.m. we had passed Wellington, 45 miles, which went to prove the rate of travel. This town also drew from us admiring expressions for its picturesque situation in one of the folds of the Drakenstein, for the early summer green of its groves, vineyards, and fields, and its pretty white houses. I thought, as I marked the charming town and its church spires, and the sweet groves around, what a contrast it was to the time when the Hottentot reared his cattle in the valley, and the predatory bushman infested the neighbourhood, and preyed on ground game and goats.

On the platform, among those who welcomed our coming, were a dozen Radical shoemakers lately arrived from Leicester. They charged Colonel Saunderson, M.P., my fellow traveller, with an expressive message to Mr Labouchere. It is too forcible and inelegant for print, but it admirably illustrates the rapidity with which Radicals become perverted by travel.

Darkness found the train labouring through the mountainous defile of the Hex River. We could see but a loom of the rugged heights on either side, but from all accounts this part of the line is one of the show places which strangers are asked to note.

At daylight we were well on the Karroo, which at first sight was all but a desert. However, we were not long on it before we all took to it kindly. The air was strangely appetising, and we could not help regarding it with benevolence. The engineers who designed the line must have been skilful men, and by the track, as the train curves in and out of narrowing valleys and broadening plains, we are led to suppose that the Continent slopes gently from the interior down to Table Bay. The railway is a surface line, without a single tunnel or any serious cutting. The gradients in some places are stiff, but a single engine finds no difficulty in surmounting them.

At 4 p.m. of November 1 we reached the 458th mile from Cape Town, so that our rate of travel had been nineteen miles the hour. On tolerably level parts our speed, as timed by watch, was thirty miles; stoppages and steep gradients reduce this to nineteen miles.

We were fast asleep by the time we reached Kimberley. Night, and the short pause we made, prevented any correct impressions of the chief city of the Diamond Fields. At half-past six of November 2 we woke up at Taungs, 731 miles. The small stream over which we entered the late Crown Colony of Bechuanaland serves as a frontier line between it and Griqualand.
The Capabilities of Bechuanaland.

The first view of the country reminded me of East Central Africa, and I looked keenly at it to gauge its capabilities. To a new-comer it would not seem so full of promise as it was to me. It would appear as a waterless region, and too dry for a man accustomed to green fields and flowing rivers, but I have seen nothing between the immediate neighbourhood of the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains to surpass it, and each mile we travelled in Bechuanaland confirmed that impression. Every few miles we crossed dry watercourses; but, though there was no water in sight, it does not derogate from its value as farm land. The plateau of Persia is a naked desert compared to it, and yet Persia possesses eight millions of people, and at one time contained double that number. The prairies of Nebraska, of Colorado, and Kansas are inferior in appearance, and I have seen them in their uninhabited state, but to-day they are remarkable for the growth of their many cities and their magnificent farming estates. All that is wanted to render Bechuanaland a desirable colony is water, so that every farm might draw irrigating supplies from reservoirs along these numerous watercourses. For Nature has so disposed the land that anyone with observant eyes may see with what little trouble water could be converted into rich green pastures and fields bearing weighty grain crops. The track of the railway runs over broad, almost level, valleys, hemmed in by masses of elevated land which have been broken up by ages of torrential rains, and whose soil has been swept by the floods over the valleys, naturally leaving the bases of the mountains higher than the central depression. If a Persian colonist came here he would say: “How admirable for my purpose! I shall begin my draining ditches or canauts from the bases of those hills and train them down towards the lower parts of these valleys, by which time I shall have as many constant and regular running streams as I have ditches, and my flocks and herds and fields shall have abundance of the necessary element.” A thousand of such Persians would create thus a central stream with the surplus water flowing along the valley, and its borders would become one continuous grove. As the Persians would do, the English colonists whose luck it may be to come to this land may also do, and enrich themselves faster than by labouring at gold mining.

These dry river-beds, now filled with sand, need only to have stone dams built across, every few hundred yards, to provide any number of reservoirs. They have been formed by rushing torrents which have furrowed the lowlands down to the bed rock, and the depth and breadth of the river courses show us what mighty supplies of water are wasted every year. As the torrents slackened their flow, they deposited their sediment, and finally filtered through underneath until no water was visible, but by digging down about two feet, it is found in liberal quantities, cool and sweet.

Even the improvident black has discovered what the greenness of the grass shows, that, though water is not visible, it is not far off. At one station the guards told me that they could find plenty of water by an hour’s digging, which was a marvel to many of our party. I was told in Khama’s territory that Khama, the chief, owned eight hundred thousand head of cattle before the rinderpest made its appearance and reduced his stock by half. If true, and there is no reason to doubt it, it shows what Bechuanaland might become with trifling improvements.

Before we came to Vryburg, the continuous valley had broadened out into a prairie, with not a hill in sight. The face of the land was as bare as though ploughed. By 4 p.m. we had come to the 850th mile, showing that the rate during the last twenty-four hours had been sixteen and a third miles an hour. Since Taungs, 731 miles, we had been closely skirting the Transvaal frontier, while to the west of the line lay what was once the mission-field of Livingstone and Moffatt. An hour later we arrived at Mafeking, on the Moloppo River, a tributary of the Orange River. Mafeking will always be celebrated in the future as the place whence Jameson started on his desperate incursion into the Dutch Republic. The Moloppo River contains lengthy pools of water along its deepened course, but the inhabitants of Mafeking are supplied by copious springs from Montsioa’s old farm. The town lies on the north, or right bank, and is 870 miles from Cape Town. It is 4194 feet above the sea. Already it has been laid out in broad streets which are planted with trees, and as these are flourishing they promise to furnish grateful shade in a few years. Outside of the town there is not a tree in sight, scarcely a shrub, and consequently it is more purely a prairie town than any other. Due east of it lies Pretoria, the Boer capital, about 180 miles distant, and it may be when the Boers take broader views of their duty to South Africa at large, and their own interests, that they will permit a railway to be constructed to connect the two towns, in which case the people of Mafeking cannot fail to profit by having exits at Delagoa Bay, Durban, and Cape Town. It will be passing strange also if the neighbourhood of Mafeking will not be found to contain some of the minerals for which the Transvaal is famous. The Malmani Gold Field is about 50 miles off, and the Zeerust Lead and Quicksilver Mine but a trifle further. For the growing of cereals it ought also to be as distinguished as the neighbouring state, for the soil is of the right colour.
In Khama’s Country.

On leaving Mafeking we were in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, a country of even greater promise than the Crown Colony. The next morning (November 3) we were well into Khama’s country, 1071 miles from Cape Town. A thin forest of acacia trees, about 20 feet in height, covered the face of the land. The soil was richly ochreous in colour. The grass was young and of a tender green, and the air cool and refreshing. The railway constructors must have rejoiced on finding so little labour required to perform their contract in this section. By skilfully chosen curves they were enabled to easily surmount any unevenness on the surface, and nothing more was required than to lay the steel sleepers on the ground, cross them with the rails, and add a few spadefuls of earth to complete the railway. The train runs wonderfully smooth and steady, and we experienced less discomfort than on some English trains I know. This is naturally due in a great measure to the slower and safer rate of speed we travel, and the newness of the rolling stock. During the whole day we were not once reminded by any jolt, jar, or swaying, of any imperfections, and our nights were undisturbed by loose play of rails or jumping.

At Three Sisters, 388 miles from Cape Town, we were at the highest altitude of the line, being 4518 feet above the sea. Thence to Bulawayo, a thousand miles, the greatest variation in altitude is 1500 feet; but were it not for the Railway Guide we should never have supposed that the variation was over 100 feet, so imperceptible are the ascents and descents of the line.

Magalapye Station (1088 miles) consisted of a third-class carriage and a goods van laid on three lengths of rail. We were halted nearly an hour near the Magalapye River, and learned that we were sixty miles inside of Khama’s country. Improvements are proceeding to make the line more secure during the torrential season. At present it descends into the bed of the broad stream of sand, and here, if anywhere, a smart rainfall would destroy the line. Consequently, a high embankment has been made, stone piers have been built, and an iron bridge will span the river at a sufficient height. Here we heard also that one of the special trains ahead of us had suffered an accident from the explosion of an oil engine, which generated the electric light, resulting in the burning of two men, one of them badly.

The Magalapye River is one of those sandy watercourses so common in South Africa. To provide water for the station a broad ditch was cut across the sandy course, which was soon filled with clear and excellent water—enough, in fact to supply a small township. It is to be hoped that all the guests noted this and carried away with them the object lesson.
What Water Storage would do.

The sight of this suggested to me that there was an opportunity for a genius like Rhodes to do more for South Africa than can be done by the discovery and exploitation of gold fields. A company called the United South African Waterworks might buy land along the principal watercourses, build a series of stone dams across them, clean out the sand between them, and so obtain hundreds of reservoirs for the townships that would certainly be established in their neighbourhood.

Beyond Palachwe (1132 miles) the thorn trees begin to disappear, and leafier woods, which resemble dwarf oak, take their place, though there are few trees higher than twenty feet. The soil is good, however, despite the fact that each dry season the fires destroy the grasses and the loams which are necessary for their nourishment. Most of the stations in this part are mere corrugated-iron cottages, or railway carriages, temporarily lent for the housing of the guards.
Pauperising the Native.

At each halting place since arriving in Bechuanaland, we have been made aware how quickly the Englishman’s generous disposition serves to teach natives to become beggars. Italy, Switzerland, Egypt, have thus suffered great harm. From Taungs to Palachwe, crowds of stalwart and able-bodied natives of both sexes have flocked around the kitchen-car to beg for bread, meat, and kitchen refuse. It is a novel and amusing sight at present, but in the course of time I fancy this practice of patronising beggars will make a callous and offensive breed that will not easily be put off with words.

At Shashi River, 5 p.m., the three special trains lay close together, because of the difficult gradient leading out of the bed of the river. While the engines assisted the trains up the steep, I came across an impromptu presentation of an address by the Mayor of Cape Town to Mr Logan, the caterer of the excursion parties. According to what was said, we were all made to believe that we could not have been better served had the first European caterer undertaken the provisioning, to which no one could make objection, and a duly signed testimonial to that effect was presented to that gentleman. The scene, however, seemed odd at unknown Shashi, and strongly illustrated a racial characteristic for speech-making and presentation of testimonials.
Nearing Bulawayo.

On the morning of November 4 we saw as we looked out of the carriage that the country was a continuation of that of the previous day. It was still as level, apparently, as a billiard table. We were drawing near to Bulawayo—were, in fact, due there about 9 a.m. We had been led to expect a more tropical vegetation, but as yet, though we were only sixty miles off, we saw no signs of it, but rather a return to the thorn bush of the Karroo and Southern Bechuanaland. One variation we noted, the rocky kopje is more frequent. These curious hill-heaps of rock are remnants of the primeval tableland that rose above the present face of the country from 100 to 300 feet. The sight of these curious kopjes deepened the idea that the seat of the “Killer,” Lo Bengula, would be found on a high eminence, protected by a cluster of these kopjes, but we looked long in vain for such a cluster of hills. Even the sight of a lordly tree would be welcomed, for the tame landscape was growing monotonous. The absence of scenery incidents did not diminish our friendly sympathies towards Rhodesia, and we made the most of what was actually visible, the blue sky, the dwarf trees, the low green herbage which dotted the ground in the midst of wide expanses of tawdiness, the burnt grass tussocks, which we knew would in a few days be covered as with a carpet of green. We see the land just before the season changes, and signs of vivifying spring approaching are abundant. A few days ago the first rains set in. The last two nights have witnessed a wonderful exhibition of electric display in the heavens, and severe thunderstorms have followed. In another fortnight it is said the plains will have become like a vast garden.

At thirty-five miles from Bulawayo we came to the Matoppo Siding. The engineers stopped for breakfast at a restaurant and boarding house! which was a grass hut 20 feet long. Near by a diminutive zinc hut was called “General Store.” Several tarpaulins sheltered various heaps of miscellanea. There a Matabele servant of a fur trader informed us that Lo Bengula was still alive, near the Zambesi, happy with abundance of mealies and cattle, and that any white man approaching his hiding-place would be surely killed, but that if any large number of white men went near him, he would again fly.

At the 1335th mile from Cape Town an accident to the special train ahead of us retarded us four hours. The engine, tender, water tank, and bogie car ran off the track. No one was hurt, fortunately, and by 1 p.m. we were all under way again, though the first lunch we were to have eaten together at Bulawayo was necessarily changed to the first dinner.

At 2:30 we were on the alert to catch a first view of Bulawayo, and at 2:55 p.m. a few stray gleams of white, seen through the thorn bush, were pointed out to us as the capital of Matabeleland. We had passed the famous Matoppo Hills to the right of us, but, excepting for their connection with the late war, there was nothing interesting in them. They consist of a series of these rocky kopjes of no great height, lying close together, mere wrecks of the crest of a great land wave, terrible enough when behind each rocky boulder and crevice a rifleman lies hidden, but peaceful now that the war is over, and the white man has made himself an irremovable home in the land.
Sir A. Milner at Bulawayo.

As was said, we entered Bulawayo a few minutes later, and saw the crude beginnings of a city that must, if all goes well, grow to a great distinction. As a new-comer with but an hour or two’s experience of it, I dare not venture upon saying anything more. We heard that the Governor, Sir A. Milner, had already officiated at the ceremony of opening the line, that his speech was not remarkable for any memorable words, that he had given the Victoria Cross to some trooper for gallant conduct in the field. I heard that Sir Alfred had also read a despatch from Mr Chamberlain, which was to the effect that at the opening of the railway to Bulawayo he was anxious to send a message to the settlers assembled to celebrate the event. He sympathised with their troubles, but he was gratified to think that there was a happier future in store for them. The railway would be a stimulus to every form of enterprise, and would effectually bind the north and south together.

In the evening the dinner took place at the Palace Hotel, which is a building that does not deserve such a title, as might be inferred from the haste with which it was constructed. Ten days ago, few believed that it would be in a fit state to receive any guests, but we found it sufficiently advanced to house the 400 who have arrived. Some portions of it, especially the reception room, would be no discredit to the best hotel at the Cape. The accounts of what occurred at the banquet, as described by the local reporters, I do not reproduce here, and refer my reader to the next chapter for what I have gathered of value from personal observation.


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