Part 1 - Big Game Hunter!

I got my first big rifle when I was 17 years old. It was a .303 Long Lee-Enfield of first war vintage. It was handed to me by the Kasama DC in 1949 with the instructions to shoot two tons of game a week to help feed the workers on the bridge that my father was going to build over the Kalomo river, between Isoka and Tunduma on the Great North Road.

We had arrived at Kasama after travelling in an old 1939 Ford Sedan with my mother and sister from Bulawayo. I was recovering from having been shot in the leg with a shotgun so the prospect of becoming a 'big game hunter' was none too welcome, but proved to be one of the most interesting for a long time.

In those days the 40 mile deep border area between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa had been declared a Rinderpest clearance area and all game was considered vermin. No restrictions.

We drove as instructed from Kasama via Mbesuma and Isoka and headed north to the river. Then we had to drive one mile upstream through the thick bush until we found a 'red peg' on the bank. And that was where the bridge was to be!!

We recruited labour, they appeared as if by magic as soon as we pitched camp, and we set about building a bush house big enough to accommodate my mother and sister who had stayed in Kasama until it was finished. It took about ten days.

We were there for about 9 months and I did provide meat for over 500 workers, many of them women who 'washed' sand for concrete by swilling it around in the water. Rock was broken by hand after being reduced in size by building fires to heat it the having water thrown on it. Primitive.. but it worked. Shuttering timber was cut in the bush and sawn with pitsaws, a man in a pit below and another standing on the log above.

Enough of the construction. The people we met while we were there were some of the characters of the old bush.

Mr Rumsey at Mbesuma ranch had been there for more than twenty years rearing cattle which he and his partner had 'trekked' twice a year down to the 'line of rail' at Broken Hill, over 200 miles South. In the 30's his partner had had a 'dangling' hand licked by a lion while sleeping at the Lua Lua hotel in Kasama.This had left him with a deformed hand, pinched up like a claw.

Frank Rumsey at Mbesuma about 1938 - Photo W V Brelsford - NR Journal

Rumsey looked like a bank clerk but was a hard experienced bush hand. One evening when we were dining there he had a call from one of his workers. He politely excused himself and went out. Half an hour later he returned with apologies. He had just shot his 300th lion. Although in his seventies he had cycled half a mile to his cattle kraal, shot the lion inside, and returned to finish his meal with us!!

Rumsey had a part time 'lodger'. Captain Langham had been for many years Elephant Control Officer in the Luangwa Valley and had hand-drawn maps of a large area with clusters of iether red or blue crosses marked. The red crosses were the Elephant he had shot for the government and the blue ones were his 'private' bag. Captain Langham's problem was that after most of the year in the Luangwa he emerged at the beginning of the rains with his haul of ivory which he sold and then went on a binge until he got DT's and was hospitalised. He had done this for years but Mr Rumsey tried to stop the pattern and allowed him to stay at Mbesuma as long as he stayed off the drink. It worked for a few years but eventually after retiring from the elephant hunting, Langham returned to his old ways and finished up in an old folks home in Ndola.

Another family had a ranch not far from 'our' bridge. The family Jeffries (Jeffrys ?) lived some miles off the GNR along a track which grew over each year and the small wooden bridges were often under water. There were two sons who helped me a lot with their experience all their lives of living and hunting in the bush. The whole family semed to love their remote lives without any of what most people would consider necessary civilised comforts. Radio/ fridges/gas cooking/running water and toilets etc. The sons went off to the copperbelt when they were old enough, but only to earn money to buy implements and farming equipment. I often wonder what happened to such hardy dedicated working folk in all the changes that came later.

At Tunduma on the Tanganyika border was a small rest house run by a Mrs Green, living with her small son. Their life was simply to look after the very few europeans who might want to stay for a night or two. We did stay sometimes when going to Mbeya. I wonder if Mbeya has yet got a railway to go to the Victorian (or German ?) style grand station building.

South of us was the boma at Isoka with its DC and a policeman. At that time he was Harry Arrigoni who seemed to spend most of his time 'working out' with giant logs carved like dumbells. He had magnificent muscles but we found that he could not apply them and at times could hardly support his own weight when faced with things like climbing and carrying things.

Isoka is on a very steep hill from the high plateau above and while we were there a giant Fiat lorry with trailer, many of which had been plying from East Africa to South Africa for years, lost its brakes on the way down and at the bottom struck a 3ft across eucalyptus tree, snapped it off, and cartwheeled to finish up on top of the tree.

We had quite a few visits from the White Father missionaries, Katibunga mission I think and they were wonderful people who gave so much of practical help to the local villagers and were lovely comppanions whenever they visited. Father Empter and Corbeil are the ones I remember best.

That was the area where I got my grounding in bush life. There was so much more to follow and so many more interesting people. Sir Stewart Gore-Browne at Shiwa, also Doctor Glynn and Margaret Scott there, A P Marriot and George Watts at Mpika, The Gamwell sisters, Doctor Trant and others. I've thrown a few names in in the hope that they might bring back some memories of anyone there in those days.


Roy Williams