Tag Archives: Rhodesia

Life in a Rhodesian Gold Mine in the 1930s (part 2)

‘…One morning we found we had nothing for breakfast—so Oliver had a bright idea—he tied some dynamite to stones—and then complete with boys—a basin and guns ( for shooting obstreperous crocodiles ) we waded half a mile up the River to a deep pool—sometimes the water coming up to our necks but others just mud and sand!! When we got there Dowie and I were posted behind rocks with guns ready for crocs—and the boys damned the river at one end—and Tozer and Ove got ready to dive in for dead fish—Oliver then threw in his dynamite bombs—bang !!—bang!!—bang!!—But no white tummies of dead fish floated —but after a while we began to wade in –and behold—there were lots of Tiger fishes swimming lazily about as if bedrugged–so Oliver pushed his bowl under them and threw them  onto the rocks—Oh, it was funny, more often than not he fell flat on his face in the mud and water –we must have looked funny sights in wet khaki trousers and the men in dripping shirts —I had a green handkerchief round my topand all the colour came off onto my skin and it wouldn’t even come off with soap and scrubbing brush—so now I am half green !! However, we got five fish and swam our way back to camp and breakfast –by that time it was 11 A.M. So we went without lunch that day!! Oliver and I called each other Dumpledum and Dumpledee because every morning we used to tell each other stories about the nonsence (sic)  land of milk and honey !! And the Three Bears! But in spite of our unconventionality —Oliver insisted on us sticking to the old code of writing “ bread and butter “ letters—So this is my letter to him : written this morning from here . We arrived back last night :–

TO Dumpledum

Dump Mine

Dump ‘ all



(There follows 35 lines of humorous doggerel beginning “ OH ! Dumpledum what did I do ? )….


…’WELL —-WELL—-WELL—we do not always play in this valley—for the men DO work——and thousands of pounds (£!) are at stake—I even take samples of Reef and pan them myself—but today another joy was in store, or I should say, “stable” , for me—I now own a real LIVE RACE HORSE—he only cost £15-0-0, ( which I borrowed and am hoping to pay back when I hear from my Bank-manager)”TURN-ABOUT is his name—he is well known all over Rhodesia and has won lots of races—he is 16-2 in height and a lovely bay—9 years old—–at the moment he is rather sore on his pins because to get here he had to walk 180 miles and had no shoes on—But wait for a weak (sic) or so and there will be no holding him  and Oliver’s newly made aerodrome ( which has not bee passed by the government ) will make a splendid gallop ! Well, my dears I think this letter is about long enough—I ought to pass it on to my secretary to type out ; for I hear from Tozer that you often could not read most of my letters, so you burnt the page and just guessed it !! Oh wait a moment, I have a poem I want you to read too—a real one—a serious one—but don’t cry—for I always laugh with the world !!   Continue reading

An Englishwoman writes home from a Rhodesian goldfield in 1936

Black and white lantern Slide of a Gold Mine. Part of Box 288, British South Africa. Boswell Collection. Slide number 43 Gold mine Date: circa 1890s

Black and white lantern Slide of a Gold Mine. Part of Box 288, British South Africa. Boswell Collection. Slide number 43 Gold mine Date: circa 1890s

During the early years of the twentieth century the goldfields of southern Rhodesia, like those in California in the 1840s, attracted prospectors from all over the world but chiefly from the Commonwealth. The mine at Mahaka, abutting the border with South Africa, was one of the biggest and best known and its history is well documented among official papers. What is less well documented is the experience of the gold diggers from Britain who found themselves camping in hostile territory with no guarantee of success. Among an archive of poems and other material at Jot HQ is an entertaining account by a young woman named Jo, who wrote home to her family on June 26th1936 about her life as a prospector.

Dear Mummie, Uncle Bill, Coo, Tom, Basil, John, Jimmy, Ronnie and the Rest of You !!

It is Sundowner-time 1) , and I am writing this in our little thathed ( sic) hut on he hill in the Mahaka valley—to the tune of the un-ceasing Mill—crushing—crushing on and on, to give men GOLD!!! It sounds good, but oh! Wouldn’t it be lovely to have lots of it in our pockets—little pieces to jingle and say—“ Well—I have the means and the world is MINE—LETS GO !!! “

            But I do not care two hoots at the moment, for my days have lately have been a dream; I suppose by now you have heard of our trekking into Lawley’s Concession 2)—into the wilds of wildest Rhodesia. We started off with the lorry loaded with fifteen black n—–, –picks, shovels, axes, guns, dynamite , windlass ( for going down the mines ), Mealie meal ( boys food)3) petrol, oil—oh, and a hundred and one things , then came Oliver’s Doge vanette—with Oliver driving—me and the head of the mining engineers , old Mr Taylor –at the back balanced Tozer—two other mining engineers—my personal boy ( who’s special job is ME ) –all on top of boxes of Gin, Whiskey, Brandy, Orange and Lemon crush, Beer, Stout and- oh, Ginger ale too—for the Brandy !! Also stacks of food –Guns & Ammunition—WHAT A PARTY !!! We had to make the road as we went along –coming to one empty river-bed, Oliver’s car gave up the ghost —we had to sit for over an hour in the boiling sun until by some stroke of luck someone touched a little gadget and off she started again. During that time Tozer was directing the gang of boys in road making in his best Kaffir—really he is a scream !! —but somehow seems to make the natives understand. He really is getting on splendidly and might have been an old Pioneer !! Continue reading