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