HENRY-STEYN TREK (1895)
MEMBERS OF THE HENRY-STEYN TREK
John and Emily Henry and children: Tom, Freddie, Trevis.
Johannes Gerhardus F. and Herculina Steyn (my Great grandparents?)
and children: Christoffel, Christian, Theunis, Lucas, Maria.
Johannes and Annie Steyn and children:
Martha, Herculina, Johannes, Anna.
Pieter and Engela Steyn and children: Johannes Annie.
Hendrik and Christiana Steyn and child: Aletta
Hendrik and Sannie Steyn and children: Cornelius and Sannie.
P. Willem and Cornelia Steyn and children: Antonie, Hendrik, Stephanus, Paul, Susanna, Anna, Cornelia, Johannes, Pieter.
Christoffel and Alletta Steyn.
Wentzel and Johanna Coetzer and children: Johannes, Wentzel, Johanna, Annie, Piet, Martha, Willem.
Harm and Johanna Coetzer (my Great grandparents?) and children: Hendrik, Susanna, Jan, Piet, Lettie.
Thomas and Maria Ferreira and children: Willem, Maria, Jan, Thomas, Catharina, Louis.
Johannes and Annie Kloppers and children: Martha, Aletta, Annie, Christoffel, Willem, Johannes, Schalk.
Stephanus and Annie Lomard and children: Annie, Stephanus, Barend.
Cornelius and Catharina Marais and children: Annie, Barend, Catharina, Stephina.
Willem and Hessie Prinsloo and children: Willemina, Hans, Willem, Freek.
Ignatius du Preez
Daniel van der Zandt.
THE HENRY-STEYN TREK (1895)
THE THIRD big Trek and
one which has opened up the most northern part of Gazaland, was
that conducted by Messrs. Henry and Steyn in 1895.
The Trek fever was growing, especially in the Free State where farmers were beginning to realize that their farms were getting smaller and smaller, and where others saw that it was not so easy to obtain land. The idea to move into the “Land of Rhodes” had gripped the Freestaters who by now had lost several hundred emigrants.
In the Kroonstad district various people contemplated trekking to German West Africa, and then again to North West Transvaal, but a decision either way was never made.
The news that farms were available in Rhodesia at the nominal figure of only about £30 caught the imagination of those people who have always grown up with the soil and whose greatest desire was to possess a piece of ground themselves. The news in the press that plentiful and fertile agricultural land was still to be had led some of the local inhabitants to convene a meeting. Here it was decided to appoint a small committee to proceed up to this hinterland of Rhodes and to inspect possible areas of settlement. They were also instructed to take up several farms should they be satisfied with the prospects.
This committee, consisting of John Henry and Johannes G.F. Steyn, took the boat at East London in the winter of 1894 and sailed to Beira. From there they traveled in a river steamboat up the Pungwe River and then by train up to the last stop “Seventy-five!” From there they had to walk or to make use of transport-wagons as far as Chimoyo and the Ruwui River. Here the road to the Moodie’s farm was explained to them and once more they had to travel on foot. The first night the mist arose and they lost their way completely. They wandered around aimlessly and full of fear until one day they stumbled on to the farm of Mr Cripps near Umtali. He gave them directions how to get to the Moodie’s farm along the mail route and sent a native boy as guide.
Two days later they arrived at the kraal of a native chief, Mutambara, who gave them a brand new hut to sleep in, as well as food in two newly carved wooden bowls: in the one, hard-boiled mealie meal and in the other roasted locust.
When they arrived at the Water Fall, Dunbar Moodie said they should move to the extreme south. They thought, however, that an area nearer to the railway line would be more desirable and expressed a wish to settle in the extreme north, past the Martin’s area towards the Umvumvumvu valley. They were granted farms on payment of £30 a piece, and had to be responsible for pegging their own boundaries of the 3000 morgen farm for a married and 1500 for an umarried person. If the farms were too big, they could buy the extra ground, after proper surveying, at one shilling and sixpence per morgen; if they were too small northing more could be done about it, as all farms had to be pegged adjoining one another.
The party was very satisfied, traveled back through the Chimanimani-poort and arrived three days later at Chimoyo from where they journeyed back via Beira to the Free State.
Their report was anxiously awaited by the farmers and others from Kroonstad, and it was decided to start organizing at once so as to move off as soon as it was feasible in the following winter. The Trek would meet formally at Schoemansdrift at the Vaal River on the the May 1895.
Loaded with such diverse items as grass, fruit, seeds, trees, domestic animals, clothing and food for six months, thirteen wagons arrived at the appointed place on this date. From the farthest south was perhaps Mr Thomas I. Ferreira from Tarkastad, whose uncle, Steyn, was one of the delegates. He had come to Cradock and told his relatives what he had discovered, and at least this one family decided to join his party. Thomas Ferreira writes: “My mother was rather sad at our parting, but she told us to load our wagon firstly with Religion, then with Patience, then with Courage and then with Faith, and all would be well.”
At Vaal River a few other wagons joined them so that there were in all 16 wagons and 104 people, about 5000 cattle and about 750 sheep, etc. It was decided to divide the Trek in two parts to facilitate grazing and movement and that Mr Henry would lead one section and Mr J.G. Steyn, acting as general secretary, the other.
Ten more people joined them near Potchefstroom, and so the Trek moved on in the direction of the Crocodile River. It was terribly cold and on one occasion so muddy and sticky that one wagon after the other got stuck. On one occasion they had to use four spans of oxen to pull one of the wagons out. Food supplies were obtained at Rustenburg and from there they had to keep a close watch on the cattle for fear the African would steal some of them. They crossed the Crocodile River and on the road to Palala experienced the first signs of cattle disease (gall-sickness), and many trek-oxen died. One occasion the lions caught four of their horses. What with heat, hook-thorn, thirst and a certain amount of despair, the Trek was heavy-going as far as the Limpopo. Here they met transport-riders and others who encouraged them to go on. The hunters were most interesting, and for about ten days they camped at the Limpopo listening to hunters like Hans Nieman, Jan Terblanche and others. They even arranged a dance on one of the canvas sheets.
The Sunday before trekking through the river, the usual Sunday service was held, and many a heart was sad at the thought of leaving their native country.
The Trek received quite a fright on the road from the Limpopo to Tuli when Thomas Ferreira got lost. He had gone out shooting and after he had killed a kudu, he had no idea which way to go. That evening he found the spot where he had left the wagons that morning. “Suddenly somebody touched my shoulder,” writes Thomas Ferreira, “and asked me if I knew where I was…I got such a shock that I ran wildly into the bush; and till this day I do not know who touched me…..I struck the road again but had no idea which way to go. Fortunately it was north. I ran with the perspiration running down my face. I had only three cartridges left, and all around me I heard the yelping of wild dogs, hyenas and the roaring of lions. That night about one o’clock I heard shot. It was someone sent out along that road to look for me.” It was a case of “all’s well that ends well!”
On the road to Tuli, horse-sickness broke out and killed off most of their horses. At the Nuanetsi, lions caught some of those who were left. At “Sugar Loaf”, a solid, gigantic granite hill, more cattle got ill, and the party was not sure whether they would ever reach Fort Victoria. They were greatly encouraged by the arrival of an invitation from some owners of a mine near this fort to the young people of the party, and by the arrival of two new adventurers, Willem Prinsloo and John Scheffers.
At Fort Victoria – the supply depot of all who traveled to and from South Africa – they took in what supplies they considered necessary, and then moved on to the Sabi. About halfway to this river, most of the members of the Trek developed a kind of dysentery which, however, did not prove too serious.
A few days later a boy, Paul Steyn, was born and the Trek slowed down for a day or two. The only mishap was when the wagon of Cornelius Marais broke down. A few men volunteered to stay behind and do repairs, and while they were away to fetch an axle of a precious wagon skeleton which was discovered there, he tried to jack up his wagon. The wagon toppled down and Marais was pinned to the ground. He and his wife struggled in vain to free his legs, and he was almost dying of pain when a native boy appeared on the scene and helped to pull the poor man out.
The Sabi itself appeared like the Red Sea to them, but after Ferreira, on horseback, had marked a track across, they got through safely, although they had to span two teams in front of some wagons. The condition of these trek-oxen, by this time, was none to good, and at Tanganda a few died – of sheer exhaustion, they thought. With Three Spanberg looming ahead, they were all dubious as to whether they would be able to get across. But by spanning three teams in front of each wagon and forcing all passengers to walk up, there were no incidents. One enormously fat old lady, Sannie Steyn, had to be supported by a girl under each arm and another one in front who pulled at a cloth twisted round the body. A little footstool was carried along to enable her to rest on the journey and then she was duly refreshed with some coffee!
They passed the Ebenhaezer memorial of the Martin Trek and so arrived at the Moodie Settlement towards the end of October. They proceeded in the direction of the Martin Trek and thence to the Myohodi and Elandspunt where Dunbar Moodie had arranged for them to stop. He, together with John Henry, Johannes, Beltsazar and Coenraad Steyn, then went out for a few days to peg the various farms. It was discovered that there was not sufficient land available for the whole party so a number of them went still further northwards into an unknown and unchartered area. The mountains were steep and two span of oxen had to be used regularly. Sannie Steyn had to have her usual escort! At Osaapsnek the chain snapped just as the hind-oxen were pulling the wagon of Hendrik Steyn. The wagon ran backwards and landed at the bottom, crushing every bit of furniture to pieces. The wagon was repaired, and the trek over Osaapsnek continued. Their first view of the lovely range of country stretching before them, inviting occupation, sent a thrill through young and old. The first farm was duly pegged and the others moved on to Paulingnek, where the same mishap occurred as at Osaapsnek – only this time it was Harm Coetzer’s wagon. From there they traveled to Moodiesnek (Moodie’s Pass) a road to Umtali made by the Moodies. For fear the wagons would run backwards again a huge wooden block was fastened at the back in order to stop the wagon from moving backwards. All except one wagon reached the top safely. The block proved most successful.
The farms Weltevrede, Lombardsrust and Johannesrust were pegged. Then the others moved to Thom’s Hope where the rest pegged their farms. Two families moved beyond the Umvumvumvu and discovered that the area there had been occupied. By the summer of 1896 all families had been settled and northern Melsetter occupied.
They had to pay about £15 for the Deeds and about £40 survey costs. Only one farmer, Mr Willem Steyn, sustained a loss when he discovered that 500 morgen of his farm was in Portuguese territory.
For most of them the planting and sowing season was past, and so they had to await the rainy season of 1896 with rather gloomy prospects. It took them a month to complete the distance of 70 miles from Melsetter to Steynsbank – the last farm in the north, and it was realized that communication, even with the older residents further south, was extremely difficult. The first winter gave them ample proof of it. However, through their perseverance, they opened up the new area of North Melsetter; and thus the whole of Gazaland – dream of Moodie, Jameson, and Rhodes – was occupied as British territory.
Other Treks followed the Steyn’s Trek, but they were not, technically, considered Pioneer Treks.
ACCORDING TO Malcolm
Moodie the beginning of the Trek appeared to him like one long
picnic. Everything was new – clothing, shoes, etc., and the wish
uppermost in the minds of the younger members of the Trek was: “May
it last for ever.” They were all full of ambition to see their new
3000 morgen farms, and in that spirit they rejoiced, and danced and
sang all the way up to the Border. “But the world soon started to
change once we were nearing our destination and had to settle
down…. There were bushes and thorns and thistles. The trousers were
torn to pieces and the beautiful dresses hung like rags. The music
slowly died away….and its place was taken by the family Bible…….”
The first two months of 1893 was an experience they could never
forget: torrents of rain came down and malaria was rife.
No sooner had they settled down when the news that the Portuguese were threatening to drive them out of the country reached the small community. The only thing to do was to stand guard on the border, while the Portuguese seemed to be preparing themselves. After a month (February) things quietened down, but for those who accompanied Dunbar Moodie along the border it had meant wet clothes for a whole month (they saw the sun for only two days) and, in many cases, fever. The only daring episode during this time was when Dunbar Moodie and Ernst du Plessis boldly rode to the Portuguese outpost on the Devuli Mountains to bring down the Portuguese flag!
Not one of the Trekkers was disappointed in the country. The climate was mild, the grazing sweet, and the soil soft, red and very fertile. They were all struck by the possibility of using the numerous streams for irrigation purposes. Excellent timber was available in the mountain valleys – especially the “assegai” bush.
They found the Gaza tribes friendly and only too willing to barter their agricultural products for trifles from the white man or woman. They brought maize, kaffir corn, pop corn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, lemons, bananas and even tobacco, and they seemed to have cultivated these even better than did the Free State farmers.
It was hoped that the Chartered Company would make a decent road from the Settlement and that a few police would be stationed in the vicinity. “It is just possible,” Dunbar Moodie wrote, “that with a view to the proximity of the Bandisi gold fields and the expected increase of the population in the settlement a small town might even be started in Gazaland.” The Rhodesia Herald carried a report four months after the beginning of the settlement to the effect that everything was going well. Four new faces had appeared; the natives had reaped their crops and they seemed to have been good. On a recent hunting expedition to the Busi River, the settlers killed, amongst other game, a hippo. A lioness, that was wounded by a rifle set for her by Mr Oberholster, had attacked him, but he was able to shoot her at his fee. “Since their arrival the party had begun to lay out their gardens; and potatoes, onions and other kinds of vegetables were available. All kinds of fruit trees had been planted and had taken root.”
In the meantime Dunbar Moodie and Ernst du Plessis had mapped out the proposed township. A few police actually moved into the district to keep an eye on the situation on the border. One result at least was that some contact was now possible between the settlers and officialdom in far away Salisbury, Victoria and Umtali. A regular weekly postal service between Melsetter and Umtali was inaugurated. “One is inclined to say that all we still need is an Archangel in order to make the place an earthly paradise. We already have a justice of the peace!” was the comment of one of the settlers. Others thought that Dunbar Moodie was a bit of a “fly in the ointment” for he seemed to have appropriated all the official posts (except postmaster) for himself.
During August and September a couple of the men returned to South Africa to recruit more settlers and to fetch their families. Those who came up to inspect the country had included the Swanepoels, Pollet, Strydom and De Wet. Swanepoel and De Wet had asked for 36 farms for their families and friends. Swanepoel alone wanted twelve which he pegged and promised to occupy as soon as he had settled his affairs (he was a rich farmer in the Free State). He left them unoccupied until 1895 and by that time people had realized that it was a friendly but unlawful gesture on the part of Dunbar Moodie to have allowed the two men to peg and lay claim to these farms. Dunbar Moodie wrote several letters to Swanepoel keeping him informed of the position and asking him not to delay occupation too long. He stated, also, that they were beginning to build, that the farms were in good conditions, and also the sheep and goats. They themselves were up to all kinds of tricks….”The trouble with the missionaries had been settled (occupation of one of the farms of M L Swanepoel),” he wrote in a subsequent letter, the farms had been pegged and surveyed, and transfer had been passed….”The world was too lovely for words….The beautiful green trees, the green veld, the lovely water, the flowers and everything one’s heart could wish for…..Wheat, barley, oats seem to do well, the cattle are in prime condition….We had a bit of a joke here yesterday. A Portuguese Commandant arrived here with 12 armed men to take away some natives here in Gazaland, and they had all kinds of nonsense…I went up to them, took all their rifles and swords and chased them out of the country….the scally-wags, they do make me cross!.....”
Gazaland was now beginning to appear “on the map” as a high grassy plateau 4,500 feet above sea level, and described as very healthy. For the few pioneers to this part of the land of Cecil Rhodes it was good news, for reports from the Mashonaland area were not always favourable. It compared favourably with the best in Natal, Swaziland and Zululand, with few marshes and swamps.
“The agriculturist would find everything he desired in the form of soil, crops and grazing,” remarked one visitor. Almost every farm had a high plateau and a low-lying valley; on the former there was good grazing, in the valleys, timber. Wild fruit was plentiful: lemons, loquats, bananas, ‘majantjies’, ‘majobohobo’ – food for man and animal. The indigenous inhabitants seemed to be of a mixed sort – outcasts from the once mighty Gaza race, but showing a little zest for hard work as the rest of their people. Their crops were good, but they possessed no cattle – all probably having been taken by Nganganyana on one of his last raiding expeditions as he moved southwards to Imhambane. Game like buffalo, eland, hartebeest and small buck, hippos, lions and leopards were plentiful – but not so many birds.
A suitable market for disposing of the rich harvests of this area was soon realized. Fort Victoria, 150 miles away was the nearest, but the roads were too bad and the rivers impassable for a long period each year. Perhaps trade could be established with the Portuguese and for this a railway was indispensable. If Umtali was to get preference, it would still be seventy miles from them….However, they continued to scheme and dream….
Gradually the area around Salisbury was all occupied so that more and more people were advised to settle in Gazaland. And when the Moolman-Webster Trek did arrive to strengthen the numbers of the Moodie Settlement it was a day of great rejoicing. The first seeds (maize) had just been sown, light showers had begun to all and the country was looking at its best. Herds of eland, hartebeest, zebra and sable were grazing peacefully on the green grass of the new spring.
During that winter season the settlers had organized hunting expeditions, and on one or two occasions they also went lion hunting. Malcolm Moodie relates how they went out after two lions one afternoon. They shot and skinned the lioness, but the male had disappeared. It was getting dark when they started their homeward trip, they heard the male roaring close behind them. It was too dark to discern anything and the lion seemed to get closer, now roaring to their right, then behind, and the to their left. It was a mad rush back to the “rondavels” or huts where a friendly fire could be lit. That whole night the lion walked round the hut…and they only managed to kill him several days later.
A hippo hunt one day resulted in five hippos being shot by Thomas Moodie and his party in the Busi River. For many it was their first experience, and the hide-and-seek tactics of the hippos in the water provided a whole day’s fun. They had never intended killing all five and it was only the following morning when they discovered the five bodies floating in the water that they realized how many of the shots fired had hit their target. It took them a whole week to skin and cut up those hippos…”And did we enjoy that hippo bacon? You have no idea how much you can eat without any ill effect. And we cut over two hundred whips from one old bull,” concluded Malcolm Moodie.
Thomas Moodie reaslised that it would be disastrous to allow this indiscriminate shooting to continue, and he therefore I imposed restrictions on which and how many animals or game could be shot. This, of course, did not apply to beasts of prey.
So the first year in the new territory slowly cam to an end – with only one note of discord. One of the members of the small community had to leave a farmer’s life “for a golden land; but alas! Not between the wings of two shining and glittering angels, but handcuffed and accompanied by two strong policemen to settle his account at Fort Victoria. He was accused of beating up a donkey….”
Valuable discoveries had been made such as salt deposits in the Sabi Valley, three hot mineral springs (recommended for the crippled, sick and blind), copper mines – also in the Sabi Valley – and a good quality limestone. Old ruins, a little smaller than Zimbabwe, were discovered at Chikwanda near the Busi – “about 37 feet in diameter and 20 feet high with unplastered stones, containing in one place, a big stone pillar about nine feet high, and several other smaller ones on old graves”.
Towards the end of 1893 the British south African Company had still refused to assist the settlers with the cutting of a road to Umtali over the Umvumvumvu and it appeared as if the Portuguese would be reaping the benefit of the settlement. It seemed a pity as so much of the timber could have been used in Mashonaland.
After the rains had begun to fall the crops promised well on all the farms. Lions were still troublesome. Boyce Moodie had killed a prize male on one farm; and on Moolman’s farm no less than ten appeared one day. A hunting party chased them into the gorges and dynamite had to be used to try and get them out. The hunters were not sure which was the most dangerous – the lions or the dynamite. However, they managed to kill two, brining the total for that fortnight up to six.
The new year 1894 began with bright days and clear skies, a pleasant change from the heavy rains of November and December. In January of that year there was an occasion of great rejoicing when the first marriage, that of Thomas Moodie’s daughter, Elsie, took place in Melsetter. The Rev. Wilder had come over from the newly established Mr Silinda Mission to perform the ceremony. There were no less than ten ladies present! A big reception was held, there was target shooting and sport, and the eighteen competitors had a grand time.
G B Dunbar Moodie tried all kinds of experiments with crops and soon discovered that certain strains of tobacco would do well in the district – possibly better than anywhere else in South Africa. As a proof of that he sent ten rolls of his own tobacco crop to Salisbury in April 1894. Further exports to the chamber of Commerce during that month were four hundred pairs of soles and eleven skins. His dream of a tobacco culture did not entirely come true, but certainly inspired many farmers to try their hand at it – some in other districts and some with the culture of cigar leaves.
Indeed the first year was, for the pioneers of this settlement, a rich and eventful one.
But perhaps it was too good to be true. April 1894 saw the turning of the tide. The first tragedy was the sudden death of the pioneer leader Thomas Moodie. When he realized that the British South African Company had no immediate intention of assisting them to make a road to Umtali, he decided to start with the work himself. He was the sort of man who would rather do what has to be done than to wait for somebody else to do it. He took some Africans and they struggled day after day to shorten the 135 miles between them and Umtali. No doubt he exerted himself too much, for he was a man not only with great initiative but also of great strength. The story is told of how Moddie had traveled to the Victoria Falls as a guide to an English hunting party as early as 1882. They had to obtain permission from Lobengula and it was the powerful figure of Thomas Moodie that made Lobengula decide to grant this permission without much ado. He asked Moodie to show him his muscles and then said they looked more like the hips of man than muscles of the arm. In a jovial mood Lobengula had remarked “O! O! you must not shoot the elephants, you must catch them with your hands.”
It was his resoluteness which perhaps made him over-confident. He had not realized that he was not so young any more, and he took it upon himself to roll the huge boulders out of the road. It was while he was busy with this that he had an accident. He did not pay much attention to it, but it led to serious complications and he died shortly afterwards.
A dark cloud settled over this small community. Moodie, a beloved leader imbued with the pioneer spirit from the time when his grandfather had come to Swellendam in 1840 to start an industrial settlement, was there no longer to lead them. In his time he had associated with many great men – amongst others, Paul Kruger, with whom he had been on a hunting expedition – and he feared no man.
“He was a man full of endurance,” Ernst du Plessis relates. “I have never met a man who had so much courage as Thomas Moodie, and I would dare anybody to display as much of that courage as did my friend Tom. For me it was a great privilege to be associated with this marvelous man, and to travel, work and live with him. The memories of what he had to face to make this country liveable will be amongst my happiest recollections. I can only say that if Thomas Moodie had not ‘departed’ so early, Rhodesia and Melsetter would have been a different country to-day.”
A true husband, an intimate father, a faithful friend and an excellent colonist – that was how he was remembered by everyone who knew him. Rhodesia as a new country could ill-afford to lose a man with such capabilities. His experience in the Basuto wars and other military operations, his industrious Scottish nature and his general ability would have fitted him to take full leadership for the Eastern Districts.
It was no wonder those of his friends who cared to remember him, were so shocked at the treatment meted out to his widow and children in this land for which he sacrificed his life.
The rest of that year passed rather gloomily for the Melsetter community. Many new Trekkers arrived, and they brought new life and spirit into the whole of Gazaland. The winter soon passed away. Hunting expeditions were again organized and the newcomers were drawn into the family of settlers. The grass was as green as ever in August – a great wonder to these Free State farmers – the cattle were in good condition and butter, milk and vegetables were plentiful. For all of them it was still a land of high hopes.
I don't know the origines of this text! If you do then please send me what you know thanks ;-) DJ.