Popular Science Monthly/Volume 68/February 1906/With the British Association in South Africa II
|WITH THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION IN SOUTH AFRICA.|
By PROFESSOR ERNEST W. BROWN,
PRETORIA, the capital of the Transvaal, presents the greatest contrast to its ambitious neighbor forty-five miles away. Although it is 4,500 feet above sea level, nearly the average of the rest of the colony, the hills which surround it give the impression of a rather low situation, but it loses nothing from the numerous blue gums, willows and other trees which are to be found everywhere in the city. The chief interest to a visitor naturally arises from its past history and its connection with the last president of the South African Republic. The fine Parliament House and Law courts are imposing beside the many one-storied houses which constitute the greater part of the town; nearby are Kruger's house and the church which he attended. In spite of the fact that Pretoria was down on the program only as an excursion from Johannesburg, its residents were not behind those of other towns in making hospitable arrangements for such as were able to take advantage of them; perhaps the most fully appreciated was a cross country 'Trek' to Mafeking which will presently be described.
A few miles to the north lies the new Premier Diamond mine, a wonderfully rich pipe of yellow, red and blue ground which a short time ago produced the largest stone ever discovered. It is less than three years since the place was bare rolling veld; now there is a hole over seventy acres in extent and forty to sixty feet deep surrounded by machinery and a high barbed-wire fence. The statistics given to us showed that already more than a million carats of diamonds have been taken out and that test borings down to a thousand feet exhibited ground similar to that near the surface. An invitation from the management to lunch and to an inspection of the mine was accepted by at least a hundred and fifty members. It was amusing to be with and to watch the party, guided by Mr. Cullinan, the original discoverer, and his staff, wandering through the diggings and examining the ground, evidently in the hope of discovering another Cullinan diamond; and later crowding round the tables on which the concentrates were spread for examination—the stage where mechanical treatment ends and hand labor begins—and picking out a few small stones. This final process is shortly to be replaced by a mechanical one based on the fact that the diamond seems to be the only stone which will stick to a bed of grease when a pan of 'concentrates' (the remainder after all the earth and lighter material have been washed out) is passed over it with a properly adjusted flow of water.
A cross country trek from Pretoria to Mafeking seemed to offer greater attractions than the 882 miles of rail which separate those places, in spite of the fact that Bloemfontein and Kimberley would thus be omitted. At present there are no rail connections between the two trunk lines going north from De Aar Junction (which lies just south of the Orange River), although Klerksdorp, the terminus of a branch line from Johannesburg, and Mafeking, on the Cape-Bulawayo
The route chosen for the journey to Mafeking by road lay through ISO miles of some of the most fertile districts of the Transvaal and included nights spent at the small towns of Rustenburg, Zeerust and Ottoshoop. Two stage coaches, each capable of carrying eighteen passengers with baggage, and a large ambulance wagon were provided for the accommodation of the party which, with guides and leaders, numbered thirty. These coaches have of course been gradually supplanted by railroads where there was sufficient traffic to justify a regular service, but they are still in use in Rhodesia. As the illustration
luxuriously on Mr. S. Ginsberg's farm as his guests, the camp having been provided by the Royal Engineers, and the next morning wandered over the farm inspecting the experimental growing of tobacco and oranges and an irrigation trench, some two and a half miles long, carried round the side of a hill. Another night we slept on the open veld wrapped in blankets and rugs. Our experience of the hotels at the three towns mentioned above was a favorable one; they have nothing to lose by a comparison with those in places of a similar size in either Europe or America.
The government is carrying on the work of improving the main roads in farming districts by building bridges over the deeper 'drifts' (fords where the rivers can be crossed), by metalling the surfaces, and by digging side trenches to carry off the torrential rains during the wet season. This is in line with the policy of developing the agricultural possibilities of the Transvaal through an increase in the facilities for getting the produce to a market. But the difficulties of raising it are many. The cattle have been nearly exterminated by war and disease; to prevent the spread of the latter in future the farms are being accurately surveyed and surrounded by barbed-wire fences. The raising of crops with any regularity seems to require expensive schemes of irrigation and the construction of dams to store the water, but it is by no means certain that these schemes can be made to pay their cost. Tobacco growing has long been fairly successful in some parts and the leaf finds a ready sale. Some fruits, especially oranges, can be also grown with success where the farmer has sufficient capital to await the time necessary to get a crop, but the cost of transportation prevents export in competition with the fruits produced in other parts of the world. It is well known that a great effort has been made by the government to get the Boers back on their farms, and we saw one example of this in the new houses which have been built near the roofless walls of every old one that we passed. For the Dutch settler is in general the only class which has so far succeeded in extracting a living out of the land, partly owing to his few needs and his content with meager surroundings, but he is in some ways an obstacle to development by his constitutional dislike to any alteration of the methods handed down to him from his ancestors.
On every side were to be seen evidences of the long-continued guerilla warfare; block houses perched on the hills, sometimes in long rows a mile or two apart, at other times in isolated places; an occasional area covered with rusty tin cans showing where a concentration camp had been situated; skeletons of cattle and mules along the roadside; an acre of the whitened bones of oxen, the scene of the destruction of a convoy caught in a trap. Many of the pleasures and troubles of trekking were experienced. The night under the open sky on the veld, various breakdowns and minor accidents, the hot noon suns and cold starlit skies, the clouds of red dust raised by the mules—all combined to give some idea of that fascination for traveling in Africa which has so often been the theme in stories of fact and fiction.
Mafeking has little of interest for the ordinary sightseer and nothing remains of its spectacular siege except a few banks on the flat plain showing where the trenches had been placed. The native 'staadt' contains some five thousand blacks living in huts and houses of sun-baked bricks and plaster, with occasional corrugated iron roofs. The special train only stopped here long enough to gather up those who had come by road from the Transvaal. All the following day was spent in running along over the brown veld, sometimes flat and bare, sometimes covered with thick bush, but generally rolling country dotted with trees and intersected here and there with the dry beds of
streams. At this season of the year the ground has become parched under the hot sun and long coarse dry grass covers the whole face of the country. A tree with a straight trunk is rarely visible and the twisted branches were devoid of foliage except where parasitic growths, frequently species of, showed their bright green stems. All the way from Durban to the end of our ride, grass fires, started by the farmers to clear off the ground before the rains, were visible and often made the nights picturesque as they slowly burned their way in long lines over the plains and hills.
The standard South African railway gauge is forty-two inches, fourteen and a half inches less than the ordinary one. This is probably an economical width for the present needs of the country, but it introduces difficulties in the construction of comfortable sleeping accomodation. The present type of car used on the Cape government railways has a very narrow side corridor from which open compartments, each containing four berths, two upper and two lower, transverse to the length of the car. These berths are rather short for one a little over the average stature, and the lavatory accommodation is somewhat limited. But the dining cars provide excellent meals at two dollars a day and tins in a country into which much of the food is at present imported must be considered very moderate, especially north of De Aar Junction. The new cars on the Natal railways are, however, of a much more roomy and convenient type. It was in special trains made up from these cars that the majority of the members of the association was to spend most of the two weeks following the departure from Johannesburg. The life on board was not uncomfortable, and there was plenty to interest in the views which successively passed before us as we steamed along at fifteen to thirty miles an hour, or in discussions on what we had seen and heard. Then at every stopping place, and these were not infrequent for taking water or coal, the zoologists swarmed from the train with nets and snared every insect within a radius of two hundred yards, and the geologists with their hammers gathered in treasured specimens of rocks. The engineer became skilful in solving the problem of gathering up the passengers and not wasting time in waiting for the laggards, by steaming so slowly out of the way side stations that any one not more than a hundred yards from the train when it started could easily get on board.
Bulawayo, the principal town in Bhodesia, exhibits strongly the large ideas of Cecil Rhodes and his confidence in the future. Laid out in blocks, with streets far wider than one finds even in the most modern towns, its principal buildings in the center near an immense market square, Bulawayo is prepared for development to an extent which seems to be out of proportion to its needs for many years to come. At the present time there are many inconveniences in having the town so widely spread out. and the expense of running it is not small. Except in the center, one can drive along roads with name posts at every corner, but not to be traced otherwise than by wheel tracks in the yellow dusty ground. Bhodes's house, presented by him to the government, is situated on a hill three miles from the town and is connected with it by a perfectly straight and broad road planted with a double avenue of trees. A better method could hardly have been devised for enhancing the dignity of the approach to his residence or for striking a note in his character—the direct route to his objective and a well-marked way for those who should follow in his footsteps.
The poetic side of his nature is shown in his choice of a final resting place. From a point twenty miles along the railway south of Bulawayo a branch line runs towards thehills where he had a large estate. A drive of eight miles from the hotel at the terminus leads into wild scenery along gradually ascending valleys, past large enclosures containing wild animals and through a park which is being continually improved by the planting of trees and all kinds of flora. On either side the road is flanked by hills which seem to have been built up by Titans who piled up rocks and boulders in every conceivable position, perching them on the tops and sides of smooth turtle-back shaped rocks five hundred feet high, or dropping them on the plain and covering them with bushes and trees. As the 'Roof of the World' is approached, the carriages are left and a footpath ascends gradually over smooth rock on to the flat top of one of the highest of the hills—the 'World's View.' On this spot, enclosed by a circle of boulders some fifteen or twenty feet high, is placed the grave dug out of solid rock and covered by a plain slab bearing only the simple inscription, 'Here lie the remains of Cecil Rhodes.' A not unpleasing contrast is afforded by an elaborate monument nearby erected to the memory of Major Wilson and his comrades who fell at the Shangani River on December 4, 1894.
This large estate was owned by Cecil Rhodes and was left by him under the care of the trustees for the benefit of the public, full directions being given in his will for improving the property with the help of funds which he designated for the purpose. One can not travel through Rhodesia or indeed through any part of South Africa without feeling how strongly the ideas of this one man have dominated and still largely determine the development of the country. Whatever we may think of his career, we are forced to admit that the reverence felt for him and his opinions by those who worked with or under him mark him out as a personality of unusual force. He inspired too an enduring belief in the future of Rhodesia, and this in the face of almost every difficulty that a new country has to undergo. Against the condemnation of some of his actions at the bar of public opinion is to be set the opinion of those who knew him and who believe that he acted consistently with a high standard of his own and that at his early death the British Empire, and perhaps the world, lost one who might have achieved a foremost place in the history of nations.
The Victoria Falls on the Zambesi river lie 282 miles to the northwest of Bulawayo. The curious box-like formation into which the water drops with the lip over a mile long and the opposite ground on the same level and not more than 150 yards away, gives unusually fine points of view and permits every part of the falls to be seen. When the water is low, as was the case at the time of our visit, one can see down to the bottom of the chasm 400 feet below; or cross over to the islands above and look down into the depths from the uncovered rocks with the water tumbling down close by. The river leaves the 'box' by
a narrow opening some distance from the middle of the long opposite edge, and pursues its way through a deep gorge which winds to and fro like the strokes of the letter W several times repeated, showing clearly the successive stages by which the river bed has burrowed its way through the country. The 'rain-forest' a thick mass of trees and undergrowth, and the Palm Kloof, a ravine leading down to the bottom of the gorge, are kept moist by the shifting masses of spray. Above the falls, the banks are clothed with tropical vegetation and the long reaches of apparently calm but swiftly flowing water show little of the many hidden dangers which small craft passing along them must avoid. The marvels of nature are perhaps equalled by those of civilization.
Ten years ago not more than thirty white men are known to have visited this spot since its discovery in 1855 by Livingstone, and last year it was connected with Bulawayo by rail. The line has now been carried over the gorge just below the falls by a bridge 650 feet long and 350 feet above the water, finished last spring; it is being continued now to Lake Tanganyika, and had in September reached a point 160 miles from the Falls towards this objective. Perhaps the greatest marvel of all, as Professor Darwin remarked in opening the bridge to passenger traffic on the morning of September 12, was that his speech on that occasion should appear in full in the London afternoon papers of the same day.
Tourists will now find no difficulty in reaching the Falls nor will they need to expect discomfort while staying there. The hotel, about a mile from the principal points of view, supplies food and lodging on much the same scale as those in other parts of Rhodesia. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction on arrival is the absence of any feeling of disappointment, however much one may have heard or read of the beauty and magnitude of the falls, and civilization has so far done nothing to spoil the views. Mr. F. W. Sykes, who has been appointed conservator by the Chartered Company, has constructed paths so that visitors may approach every point of view and enjoy the scenery without the encumbrance of a hired guide. The new bridge rather adds to the effect than otherwise: as one descends to the bottom of the gorge amidst the
should be wholly employed, the spectacle at full flood would not be very seriously affected. The opinions of the residents as to the best time for a visit are divided. Some preferred August and September when the water is low and the air comparatively clear of mist; others recommended January and February for seeing the huge masses of water which then cover nearly the whole width of the lip but which can only be seen in glimpses as the spray shifts about.
On the return to Bulawayo, the east and west coast parties separated, the latter going direct to Cape Town and thence home. The rail journey to Beira on the east coast was broken at Salisbury and Umtali. Both of these towns are situated in or near gold-bearing districts. The region is interesting too to ethnologists on account of the ancient ruins to be found at Zimbabwe and elsewhere, but it was sad to learn that all the later evidence so far obtained has destroyed any connection between Rhodesia and the land of Ophir. The party, now reduced to two hundred, was entertained at Salisbury and Umtali by the residents to lunch; and similar hospitality was shown by the governor, the Portuguese officials and the Mozambique Company at Beira. Our debt of gratitude to these three towns is the greater for the trouble and expense to which the small number of residents had put themselves, although our stay in each had to be limited to only a few hours; there was no chance to make even the small return in our power by giving lectures or by learning, except in conversation, of the development of the districts round these recent settlements.
A few concluding words on Rhodesia must suffice. The details of its administration and development by the British South Africa Chartered Company are to be found in the published reports and circulars of the company. As to its possibilities, I can only give here, with all reserve, my own opinion formed on what I saw in the rapid journey or learnt in several conversations with various officials and others. In its general characteristics, the country does not appear to differ greatly from the Transvaal. But it seems to have rather better advantages. Its soil is perhaps more fertile, its rains more certain and droughts less frequent. The mineral wealth is considerable; there are excellent coal seams, a rich copper mine and, if the present prospects are fulfilled, valuable gold fields. A magnificent river flows through the country, adapted at the Falls to furnish power for all purposes in the driest season and possibly available in the future for irrigation if necessary. An unbounded enthusiasm and belief in its future amongst those who are administering its affairs there are not amongst the smallest of the assets of Rhodesia.
The 'Durham Castle' left Beira on September 17. A brief call of a few hours was made at the low island built of coral on which Mozambique stands. The town is picturesque with its square topped houses and walls washed a bright red, yellow and light blue, the native huts of bamboo thatched with palm leaves, and the numerous palm trees growing everywhere. A stay of a day and a half allowed us to see Mombasa, to make purchases in its native bazaars, and to take a journey by train to Mazeros, fourteen miles up into the country. The town is close to the equator and we saw luxuriant tropical vegetation, cocoanut and other species of palms, and the huge squat trunks of the baobab—a pleasing contrast after our long experience of the driedup veld. Leaving there, eleven days of burning sun and hot stifling nights in the Indian Ocean, across the gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea whose waters one day showed a temperature of 92° Fahrenheit, brought us to Suez. After a week in Egypt necessitated by the block in the Canal, the ship left Port Said for Marseilles where many landed in order to reach England rapidly. The remnant, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar and crossing the Bay of Biscay, disembarked at Southampton on October 24.
The one sad incident which occurred during the tour was the illness and death of Sir William Wharton, at Cape Town, after our departure from Beira. His work and scientific attainments will find a more fitting record elsewhere. Those who had learned to know him as a fellow-traveler can readily understand and sympathize with the sense of loss experienced by his family and many friends. As I revise these lines comes the news of the death in Cambridge of another member of the party which will not be less severely felt, Sir Richard Jebb, perhaps the most distinguished scholar of his day and a leading authority on educational questions. One rarely talked with him without drawing something interesting from his great store of knowledge and he added much to the success of the meeting and the pleasure of the voyages by his presence amongst us.
It is almost impossible to sum up in a few sentences the wealth of impressions received during the five weeks in South Africa and the subsequent brief visits in East and North Africa. A 'gigantic picnic,' as Professor Darwin characterized the tour in one of his speeches, it truly was; but it was also a 'scientific picnic' with wonderful opportunities for profit to those who wished to take advantage of them. The various handbooks, specially prepared for us, on matters connected with the colonies, the arrangements made for seeing everything without waste of time and with the minimum of trouble, the way in which all the people put themselves at our disposal whether for showing the country or for telling what they knew—all helped to make the experience no ordinary one and enabled us to carry away facts and ideas which could hardly have been obtained in a much longer period. To those who are accustomed to travel in Europe and who have money and leisure for four months or more away from home, a visit to South Africa is to be highly recommended. The steamers, while not equipped with the excessive luxuries of the most modern North Atlantic boats, are comfortable and sail over waters which are rarely disturbed by storms or gales. The long distance trains are at least as good as those in Europe, and hotels, accustomed to cater for English people, will be found everywhere. The cost of such an expedition extended
over four months need not exceed fifteen hundred dollars per head, including passage money.
Finally, what should South Africa hope to receive in return from those who have accepted her hospitality? An increased sympathy with her people, a better knowledge of their struggles in developing the resources of the country, and an attempt to put an end to the long career of misrepresentation which has been pursued by many public bodies and private individuals in the mother country, doubtless. But there is more. The colonies are not lands where the agriculturist can simply sow his seed and watch his crops grow; where the rancher can stock his farm and await the increase; where the planter puts in his trees and leaves them until the harvest is ripe; where the miner has only to dig out the gold and grow rich quickly; or where the trader can take his goods and calculate his profits beforehand. Irrigation, and, in many cases, fertilization of the soil, are generally necessary for obtaining a moderate crop; cattle must be protected from the parasites and diseases which carry them off wholesale; the planters must make many experiments to find suitable trees and then discover a market for his fruits; gold digging can only be made to pay by companies with large financial resources employing the most modern scientific methods for the extraction of the metal; and the trader is handicapped by the cost of transportation and the small demand for his goods. These are some of the problems which the colonist asks his visitors with their store of knowledge to help him to solve: he needs every device which science can furnish to enable him to exist. Further, his land has been
lately rent by civil war, and two white races with totally 'different ideals must live side by side working together for the common good: the black races, far outnumbering the settlers, present problems at least as difficult as those we have to deal with in the United States. He asks too for help in building up schemes of education for both black and white, and these schemes must include primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities for the study of the humanities and pure science, and, what is perhaps more important than all for the prosperity of the colonies at the present moment, institutions where elementary and advanced technical education in all its branches can be obtained. If any help is forthcoming towards the solution of these questions, South Africa will feel well repaid for her hospitality and will consider that the visit of the British Association to her shores has not been in vain.