Part 4 - Shiwa Ngandu

I joined the Shiwa Ngandu Estates as an estate assistant which meant that I had to do anything required of me, presumably what I was capable of doing. It developed into supervising the essential oil distillery, building construction and maintenance, plant and transport maintenance and repairs and general odd job man.

Other items on this site describe the foundation of the estate and Sir Stewart Gore-Browne's place in the history of Northern Rhodesia so I will confine myself to my personal experiences and feelings there

The management was all military. Lt Col. Sir Stewart at the head, his manager was Captain Laurie Crawford and the accountant/administrator was Lieutenant Roy Atkiss. I felt deficient in that I had not been in the army but was quite happy to take on any of the tasks given me.

On the estate, apart from the magnificent 'big house' as it was known, were nice accommodations for the management and I had a 2 room 'quarters' with outside toilet and kitchen. Lighting was by tilley pressure lamps but was very comfortable after what I had had for the previous two years. I was paid about £65 per month but had free milk, meat, butter and vegetables, all produced on the estate. I felt this was the height of luxury.

Also on the estate was a government hospital run by a nursing sister, Margaret Scott, and later a doctor, John Glynn.

The works were organised with strict discipline. A drum call which I still recall every beat of, called all to work at 6am. The workers were assembled at the office and allocated the work for the day.

Five hundred head of cattle were kept to supply manure for the large acreage (I can't remember how many) of orange and lime trees. Several hundred acres of Eucalyptus Citriodora were grown and their leaves were used to distil from them the essential oil which was one of the main income products of the estate. These trees towered above all the indigenous trees and were an imposing sight when coming over the hills approaching Shiwa and viewing the lake, the big house and all the rest for the first time.

There was a blacksmith shop where wonderful wrought iron work was created and all the metalwork for the construction of timber wagons, reminiscent of 'wild west' were built in the carpenters workshop.

All the timber was obtained locally and sawn by circular saws powered by a steam traction engine which had been 'driven' hundreds of miles from the line of rail in the 1930's. The big copper stills to obtain the oils from the eucalyptus and orange blossom also used steam from a big wood fired boiler from a steam engine.

The orange trees were needed so that the Neroli oil from their blossom could be distilled. Even though vast quantities of the blossom were needed for a tiny quantity of oil, the pungent oil distilled from it was a major income. The smell of the tons of orange blossom remains with me to this day, also the citriodora eucalyptus oil. I recently purchased a phial of it and it took my right back to those days at the distillery.

Sir Stewart, commonly known as 'the boss', had a Ford V8 which he loved but he expected it to run in complete silence and still leap into life when he wanted. Fortunately I was familiar with V8 engines and started on the right foot by improving its performance. His driver, Henry Mulenga, was a celebrity in the district as he had been several times to England where he had acted as Sir Stewart's valet. He kept the car immaculate but would not get his hands dirty helping me or doing anything else.

'The Boss' had an African hunter called Kalaka who had shot game for him for many years but unfortunately I never got a chance to go out with him to learn any of his skills. I was kept too busy with estate work. I did however get my hands on one of Sir Stewart's stock of Martini-Henry .5 inch breech-loading rifles. This type of rifle had been used in the boer war and Sir S. had about twenty of them in their cases. He also had a large stock of ammunition for them in sealed containers. The bullets were solid lead and I never fired one at an animal but I found them very effective felling trees about the size of your thigh with two or three shots.

The 'big house' was frequently busy with visits from dignitaries, politicians and ministers many of whom flew into the small airstrip. There was no telephone or radio communications so they just flew low over the airstrip to clear off any cows, sheep or people who were on it, before landing.

In my 18 months there I saw very little of the workings of the big house. There must have been a large staff of cooks cleaners and other staff who kept the place in English country house manner. The few times I was invited to a dinner, usually with the other European estate staff, the doctor and the nursing sister, never any Africans, all proper service was provided, great food served on silver and afterwards the men withdrew for port while the ladies 'powdered their noses'. We ate these meals in a big dining room on the first floor behind the balcony on which was the flagpole.

One lighter occasion was the annual decanting of the port wine which Sir Stewart had delivered in casks each year. Laurie, Roy Atkiss and myself assembled in the cellar to fill the bottles. We were permitted to drink any spillage. I remember going home with a headache.

The house has been well documented but the thing that impressed me apart from all its magnificence and imposing size in that environment was the detail of the many rhinoceros heads in carved wood, stone and ceramics which were visible on staircases, walls, gargoyles etc. All showing the delight Sir Stewart had for his African nickname of chipembele ­ rhinoceros. He certainly lived up to it: large, pugnacious, determined and unstoppable. He was very charming when the occasion required it but the charm soon faded if he was crossed. He was away quite a lot on trips to England and to the Legislative Council and other official trips.

My nicknames were much more ordinary. My first was Tamba ga Nyoka 'bones of the snake' in Bulawayo because of the way my leg bones had re-joined after I had been shot. My next was Bwana ka enda enda meaning 'the bwana who goes and goes' because as I kept on the move so much they never knew where I was going to turn up next. At Shiwa I got the nickname Bwana kanyanta mu n'salu, 'the bwana who steps out in fine clothes' which I think referred to how smart I looked when I went to the big house. There were probably others which I was better off not knowing.

The lake filled the valley surrounded by hills and was very picturesque but I only once was able to enjoy it. Lady Gore-Browne visited once and showed me that she had a small sailing boat there. I could use it whenever I wanted and I did once and then it was removed so that I could not use it again. Lady G-B was very nice. She had been studying and writing the traditional African music and went for long safaris into the surrounding villages but she was not often at Shiwa.

With five hundred head of cattle around we had trouble with lions. On one occasion a lion had killed a cow just beyond the airstrip. I went with Kalaka in the morning and cut flaps in its skin and placed small quantities of strychnine there. I went back in the afternoon with a rifle to keep watch for the lion around sunset when I was told it would most likely return. I wandered up to the carcase and looked around to decide which ant hill to watch from. Suddenly I noticed that the carcase had already been mauled. The lion had been back and I had sauntered through the bush that he could have been lying in. I have never loaded my rifle so quickly. The lion was found dead next day, not far away. Another occasion I heard some scuffling outside my little house in the middle of the night. I slept with the door open and no clothes on. I went out with a torch but could see nothing. In the morning I found that my bare footmarks were over the pugmarks of a lion. I had missed him by minutes.

Generally life at Shiwa was all work and no play but I found the work always interesting and was able to develop new skills to do with machinery, vehicles and building.

There were the brick and tile works, a large 'factory' where all the wonderful shapes had been baked for the construction of the big house and the estate buildings many years before and still produced whatever was needed for maintenance and development.

The sawmill produced all the timber required, from large roofing beams down to quality wood for furniture making.

The dairy had a throughput of cows giving milk from which butter and cheese was made. (I have just remembered when writing that, the cream cheese I used to make myself by filling socks [clean I hope] with seasoned sour milk. It was lovely.)

Sir Stewart's daughter, Lorna, came to Shiwa when she finished university in South Africa and I fell madly in love. There was a secluded swimming pool at the big house which I could use during my free time and when Lorna was there I would do without any lunch and rush up there to have a swim with her between 12 and 1 o'clock. I don't think she was aware of my 'first love' feelings but when it was announced that a fiancé, another military man, Major Harvey, was coming soon for their marriage I was heartbroken.

I had lots to do in the preparations for the wedding as a large number of guests were coming from all corners of the globe, by air and vehicle. Accommodation, food and drink supplies, refurbishment of the chapel in the bid house etc etc.

A grand 'party' was organised at one end of the airstrip and many local dancing and drumming groups brought from nearby villages. It was a big occasion which I was involved in with a heavy heart. I wish I could have enjoyed all the excitement but when it was all over I felt I could not remain at Shiwa and resigned.

I left with a heavy heart. My stay at Shiwa had been wonderful, so many new things and finally a touch of civilisation.

I went from there to Ndola where I could join the 'real world' after three years in the far North but it was far from my last stint 'in the bush'. More of that next time.

Roy Williams