W. C. (William Charles) Scully.

Reminiscences of a South African pioneer (1st series--Wanderjahre) online

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exactly the same over the whole area.

Assuming that any reliance could be placed on arithmetic, we were
potential capitalists. We began to speculate as to what we would do
with our money. 14,000 apiece was a large sum. I think McCallum decided
to go to Scotland, there to recommence some lawsuit he had been obliged
to drop for want of funds. My own firm intention was to organize an
expedition to the Zambezi not to go "foot-slogging," as I had been
doing in the Low Country, but with properly equipped wagons, the most
modern armament, salted horses and all the rest of it. Well, for one
night, at all events, we enjoyed ourselves. I do not think we slept at

But we never found so much as another half-ounce of gold in those
claims; we had struck the one little "patch" they contained. We hired
more boys, we ran prospecting trenches in every direction, we worked
late and early often carrying the bags of wash down the scarped
footpath ourselves, long after the boys had knocked off. But all was in
vain. Our pound of gold melted like an icicle in the sun. We were, in
local parlance, "bust."


Prospectors start for Swaziland - Rumors as to their fate - MacLean and I
decide to follow them - Precautions against lions - The Crocodile River - The
Boer and the pessimist - Game and honey - Crocodiles - Difficulties in
crossing the river - MacLean nearly drowned in the rapids - I go on alone
First sight of De Kaap - A labyrinth of dongas - I reach Swaziland - Baboons
On the trail of the prospectors - The mystery solved - 'Ntshindeen's Kraal
Swazi hospitality - How I became celebrated - A popular show - Repairing guns
Character of the Swazis - Contempt for money and love of salt - Prospecting
My welcome outstayed - A dangerous crisis - Return to the Crocodile River
The rhinoceros - Our bearers decamp - We abandon our goods - Attacked by
fever - Terror of partridges - Arrival at Mac Mac.

In the early part of 1875 a large party of Australian prospectors
started from Pilgrim's Rest to seek for gold on the north-eastern
borders of Swaziland. They took with them a light wagon which could
easily be taken to pieces and a span of oxen. They were accompanied by
guides. At that time little was known of the country beyond the
boundaries of the Transvaal on its eastern side. Swaziland was, in
fact, an unknown region. But rumor was rife as to fabulously rich
deposits of gold in the tracts lying to the east and south-east of
Lydenburg. There were, needless to say, no maps of the country in
question. But under such circumstances the less known of any given
region, the greater its fascination.

Some six weeks having passed without news of the party, the camp
seethed with wild report as to its fortune. Some maintained that the
Swazis, who were believed to be averse to the opening up of their
country, had wiped out the intruders. More or less circumstantial
details of the supposed massacre were current, but critical examination
proved such to be quite without foundation. Then came wafts of rumor to
the effect that the prospectors had "struck it rich," but were
determined to keep the strike to themselves. My youthful imagination
inclined to the latter view. I had a friend who knew the Swazis well,
and he held it to be unlikely in the last degree that a party of
peaceful prospectors would be molested. Accordingly, I made up my mind
to get on the trail of the adventurers and stick to it until I found

My "mate" at the time was a man whom I will call MacLean. That was not
his name, but it will do as well as if it were. MacLean belonged to an
old Scottish family, and had brought a suit before the House of Lords
in which he claimed a certain peerage to which great estates and many
titles were attached. He failed through being unable to prove the
marriage of one of his ancestors. We had made a small strike of gold on
one of the terraces of the Blyde River, but this was soon worked out,
and we spent most of our gains in pursuing a vanished "lead." After
some hesitation MacLean agreed to accompany me.

Our united means amounted to less than five pounds sterling. This we
invested in flour, tea, strong boots, and other indispensables. We
possessed an old gun a double-barreled fowling-piece that had once been
a flint-lock. The spring driving one hammer was too weak to discharge a
percussion cap, that of the other was just strong enough to cause
detonation on an average twice out of three attempts. We could get no
bullet mould the gun being of an unusual caliber so we used to chop off
chunks of lead and roll them between flat stones until the requisite
degrees of size and rotundity had been attained. By using stones with
the surface slightly roughened we could always reduce the size of the
bullet, but the work of doing so was laborious in the extreme.

We hired two Bapedi boys to carry some of our goods. One was named
Indogozan; I forget the name of the other. They turned out to be lazy
scoundrels, and gave endless trouble by loitering. On weighing our
"swags" at Mac Mac the day we started, Maclean's and mine tipped the
scale at fifty-six pounds each. Those of the boys weighed,
respectively, about fifteen pounds less.

We descended the mountain range at Spitzkop. The trail was easily
found. After entering the Low Country we halted each night at a camping
place of the party we were pursuing, and built our fire on the cold
ashes of their one-time hearth. Occasionally we reached some obstacle
over which no wagon could possibly have been drawn, and where there
were evidences that these practical explorers had taken the vehicle to
pieces and carried it over. Game was not very plentiful; even had it
been so our gun was not of the kind to do much execution. As we
approached the Crocodile River Valley lions began to make themselves
heard at night. MacLean was nervous; I fear it was my habit to trade on
this. It was he who used to collect an immense pile of fuel every
night, and I felt I could turn in and sleep soundly fortified with the
knowledge that the watch-fire would not be left untended.

At the Crocodile River we met with a serious check. There was no drift,
and the stream was still swollen from the summer rains. Drawn up on the
opposite bank was a raft, by means of this the prospectors had crossed.
We camped and considered the situation.

We found two men with a wagon at the river. The owner of the wagon was
an old Boer named Niekerk; he owned a farm in the Lydenburg District,
but spent most of his life wandering about in search of game. Niekerk's
companion was an ex-man-of-war's man named Rawlings, one of the most
ill-tempered and pessimistic beings I have ever met. He was small,
hatchet faced, and foxy in appearance. His face was much disfigured by
a bullet-wound through both jaws received, so he said, in a skirmish
with slavers near Zanzibar. Rawlings's disposition suggested a possible
descent from Mr. Squeers and Mrs. Gummidge.

Niekerk and Rawlings were a strangely assorted couple. They could not
quarrel, for the reason that Niekerk had no English and Rawlings no
Dutch. Niekerk held stoutly to the theory that all Englishmen were mad,
more or less, and excused his companion's peculiarities accordingly. He
had met Rawlings tramping in the Transvaal and given him a lift.
Rawlings was not particular as to locality, having inverted the theory
of Dr. Pangloss, and settled to his own satisfaction that this was the
worst of all possible worlds, he held all places to be more or less
equally vile. So he had followed Niekerk grumblingly down the mountain
pass leading to the Low Country, and had been wasting his pessimism on
the desert air of the Crocodile River Valley for several weeks before
our arrival.

Game was here more plentiful. I borrowed Niekerk's rifle and shot a
waterbuck and several klipspringers. Our camp was surrounded by immense
domes of granite, and each morning the summit of almost every dome was
occupied by several klipspringers. The bearers were much delighted,
they had hated our diet of unvarying askoek. We also found quantities
of honey. Honey-birds were numerous, and ever ready to oblige by
pointing out a bees' nest. The scenery, was very beautiful. To the
north-west towered some of the loftiest peaks of the Drakensberg. The
bare, granite domes around us were almost hemispherical in shape. They
arose out of swamp rooted forest. The vegetation was very rich.

The problem as to how we were to cross the river now became very
pressing indeed. We could not afford to waste any time, as our food
supply was extremely limited. The weather was hot and moist, so we
could not manage to dry any meat; the flies got at it at once. One of
two things had to be done: we had to cross the river within a very few
days or else turn back. And turning back was a thing I had always hated

The river was indeed a formidable obstacle. It showed no signs of
subsiding, for thunderstorms still broke on and behind the mountain
range. In the vicinity where the raft lay the channel was about a
hundred yards wide and was very deep. The current here was sluggish,
but just above was a long and dangerous rapid with many rocks
projecting from the water. On these rocks crocodiles of various sizes
used to bask with half opened jaws. Around the head of each saurian
several little birds would flutter and hop, occasionally entering the
toothed death-trap without the least apparent fear. These birds were
useful in picking parasites from between the monsters' teeth.

One day in exploring the river bank above the rapids in search of a
drift, I walked along the edge of the water immediately at the foot of
a steep sand-dune about fifteen feet in height. The top of this, but I
was unaware of the fact, was occupied by a large number of crocodiles
of all sizes, they ranged from one to about fifteen feet in length.
These took alarm and flung themselves into the water, both in front and
behind me. One cut me across the shin with its tail in passing. I carry
the mark of the cut to this day.

To return to the problem of crossing the river. We had brought with us
some strong, light, hempen rope for the purpose of lowering our swags
down steep and difficult places. This, with infinite labor we unwound,
separating the strands and joining them again lengthwise. The result
was still too short for our purpose, so we sought in the forest for
monkey-ropes. These we crushed, and, after separating and partly drying
the fibers, we twisted the latter into a strong, light cable.

When we judged that our cable, plus the line a was long enough to reach
the other side, we attempted to carry one end of the latter across the
river for the purpose of towing back the raft. Over and over again one
of the bearers and I made the attempt, but when we got about three
parts of the way across, the slow, steady pressure of the current would
fill the bend of the line and sweep us down stream. We had spent most
of the previous day in shooting at crocodiles on the rocks in the
rapid, for the purpose of driving them from the neighborhood. We had
wounded several. On the day of our attempt not a saurian was to be
seen. Nevertheless, I felt extremely nervous. The carcass of one
monster we had wounded afterwards washed up; it measured upwards of
sixteen feet.

After our repeated failures to carry the line across, nothing remained
to be done but to attempt a crossing at the rapids. This we succeeded
in doing, but the attempt nearly cost MacLean his life. He was an
indifferent swimmer. The day was blazing hot. I stripped, but MacLean,
disregarding every one's advice, insisted on swimming in his shirt. We
had to creep slowly from rock to rock, through tumbling water, with an
occasional short swim through a deeper channel. The river was here much
wider than at the scene of our former attempt.

When we were about half-way across MacLean stumbled. As he attempted to
recover his foothold, facing the time down-stream, the current filled
his shirt from behind and carried it over his head. Then he rolled
helplessly down the rapid towards the deep reach. I floundered after,
and succeeded in overtaking him. He was quite exhausted; it was only
with great difficulty that I succeeded in getting him to the bank,
fortunately to that side on which the raft lay.

After a short rest we launched the raft, or, as it turned out to be, a
sort of square, flat bottomed boat, with sides only a few inches deep,
and built of planks. But it was shrunken and gaping from the heat, and
at once filled with water. It was sufficiently buoyant to float when
empty, but would not sustain any weight. We drew it out again; caulking
was out of the question, so we collected dry reeds and tied them into
bundles with grass ropes made on the spot. We fastened these bundles to
the bottom and sides, and launched our galley once more. This time we
propelled her triumphantly, but very slowly, to the other side, where
landing was comparatively easy. We had found in her two rough wooden

I had, by this time, been exposed stark naked to the sun for over five
hours. I felt and no doubt looked like a raw beefsteak. Maclean's foot
had got severely hurt in the course of his adventure, and he was much
bruised and battered.

Accordingly it was decided that I should go on with Indogozan and his
companion, leaving MacLean behind.

So next afternoon the Pessimist and MacLean ferried the two bearers and
me across. The Pessimist bade me a doleful farewell, and suggested that
I should leave any mementos for my friends behind, with instructions as
to their disposal. To comfort him I wrote the names and addresses of my
nearest relations on a leaf torn out of my pocket-book, and gave him
the latter. He was absolutely certain that the prospectors had met
their doom under the Swazi spears, and that a like fate would be mine.

My course lay along a winding pathway until it topped the first ridge,
then it turned abruptly to the left to avoid a swampy hollow. However,
a rhinoceros, startled by my approach, plunged through this hollow,
clearing a pathway through the dense brushwood, so I followed his
tracks and ascended the hill on the other side. Here, as I expected, I
again found the old trail. That rhinoceros saved me a detour of several

Night was now falling; the full moon arose as I stepped forward
briskly; the trail lay clear across the long grass. It led mainly
uphill for about fifteen miles, with occasional undulations. Once I
heard lions roaring in the distance. The bearers begged of me to halt
and allow them to light a fire, but I was so delighted at being safely
across the river that I determined not to stop. However, we eventually
reached the edge of an almost precipitous slope, which fell into a
hollow brimming with dense, snow white mist. A solitary tree stood at
the very edge of the steep; here I decided to camp.

When I awoke next morning I was wet through and chilled to the bone.
The mist was so dense that objects six feet away were almost invisible.
After some difficulty we managed to gather twigs from the tree
sufficient to make a "billy" of tea. The light waxed; a strange and
undefinable sensation thrilled me. I seemed to be near some surprise.
For a considerable time the air was perfectly still. Then, suddenly, a
movement became noticeable; a sudden breeze sang out of the west, and
the mist-shroud rolled away, leaving a perfectly clear atmosphere.

To my dying day I shall never forget the sight that met my gaze. I was
just on the northern verge of the Great Kaap Basin. It is in extent
probably thirty miles long by twenty wide, and is shaped somewhat like
a pear the larger end being scooped out of the mighty mass of the
Drakensberg. At the narrow end the hills dwindled somewhat, but
straight across the widest part of the valley the dark-blue mountains
of Swaziland were piled in abrupt immensity, shimmering through an
opaline medium which I cannot describe as haze, for the atmosphere was
as clear and limpid as a dew-drop. This medium seemed to make the more
distant salient contours miraculously palpable, and to fill every
hollow with richest mystery.

Tier upon mighty tier the Delectable Mountains arose, the higher peaks
shining in the new sunlight. I must have felt like Linnaeus when for
the first time he saw a field of gorse in bloom.

With a glad and hopeful heart I followed the trail in its zigzag course
down the steep mountain-side, which was vocal with the chanting call of
myriads of partridges. Covey after covey flushed around me; the whole
country, far and near, seemed to be alive with them. Before the end of
that trip I got to hate and dread partridges more than any living
thing, but that morning I loved them.

Now arose another difficulty: the bottom of the Kaap Valley, towards
the centre, was a labyrinth of dongas, and the trail, hitherto so
definite, split up into innumerable strands. These crossed and
re-crossed each other bewilderingly, like the fibers of an unraveled
rope. The dongas were both wide and deep; in many instances they were
quite impassable. Occasionally I would find myself on the tip of a
promontory, the sides of which were precipices perhaps several yards
high. These were footed in jungle, which sometimes was quite
impenetrable. However, like Theseus, I eventually managed; to win
through, although no kind Ariadne came to my assistance. But I had
hopelessly lost the trail.

It was dusk when I reached the foothills of the Swaziland mountains.
Far off, as I approached, I could see the twinkling lights at the
kraals on the high ledges. I camped at the foot of a very high, naked
peak of granite, which was almost sheer on the side facing me. This
peak turned out to be densely populated by, baboons. At intervals, all
night long, pandemonium reigned among these brutes. Occasionally a
general fight seemed to take place; then stones would come crashing
down the face of the precipice, sometimes falling in dangerous
proximity to the camp. Once or twice the wrath of the community was
apparently directed against one individual, who would be hunted round
and round the upper zone of the peak. When caught this (presumable)
delinquent's yells of anguish would peal shrilly above the hoarse
chorus of his pursuers' angry voices.

Next morning I struck eastward along the base of the foothills,
searching for the trail. The country was intersected by many pathways,
but none of these showed signs of a wagon having passed. It seemed,
moreover, inconceivable that a vehicle could have ascended such a
lofty, steep mountain range as the one which towered on my right. I
noticed some cattle grazing on a high ledge, so I wended thither. Here
I found three herd-boys, and they gave me the information I was
seeking. The prospectors had ascended the mountains through a valley
still farther to the eastward and had gone on. They had been heard of
very far ahead still going. With somewhat damped enthusiasm I followed.

Well, I kept like a hound on the trail of the prospectors right through
Swaziland. When the trail turned suddenly westward, I threw up the
sponge, for I immediately and correctly inferred what had happened: the
party had given up its quest and returned, taking a course through that
part of the Transvaal known as New Scotland. Their prospecting could
not have amounted to much. I often, long subsequently, wondered as to
what their feelings were when they heard of the discovery of the Sheba
Reef, for they must have walked over almost the very spot.

Sadly, and with chastened feelings, I began to retrace my steps. My two
Bapedi were in constant dread of their lives, for an old and deadly
feud existed between their tribe and the Swazis. They followed me like
my shadow, sometimes in a most embarrassing manner. Having been on my
forward journey hospitably entertained at the kraal of a prominent
induna named 'Ntshindeen, I decided to return there and rest. I felt
half-dead from fatigue and semi-starvation. My clothing was in rags.
The only, supplies I had left were a little meal and some salt.

At 'Ntshindeen's kraal I spent a few halcyon days. For one reason or
another, possibly on account of my extremely youthful appearance, I was
treated with great consideration. A very large hut, the whole inside of
which was lined with the finest basket-work, was given me to occupy. It
was the beginning of the season of green maize; every morning an armful
of luscious cobs was deposited at my door. An immense earthen pot of
honey and a skin milk sack were placed at my disposal. All day long I
would drowse under a tree which stood within a few yards of the hut
door, with Indogozan or his companion waving a bough to keep off the
flies. I only woke up to eat or to smoke. The prospectors were
forgotten; so were MacLean and the Pessimist. I tasted, to the fullest
extent, the sweetness of long-needed rest.

But the evenings were somewhat trying to one of my bashful temperament.
My fame had spread abroad; from distant kraals people flocked to see me
every night. For the one and only, time in my life I knew what it was
to be celebrated.

One very old woman, a "doctor," took me under her patronage. I would
lie near a small fire towards the back of the hut, the two Bapedi
crouching behind me. The old woman, with a sheaf of dry reeds in her
withered hand, would squat on the floor near my head. Then the hut
would fill up with men and women, who would arrange themselves in a
crescent shaped mass, with the front rank lying down, the next
crouching, those farthest from me standing.

The old woman would select a few suitable reeds from the bundle, light
them as a torch, which she held so that I would be illuminated, and
deliver a lecture. All my points would be gone over in detail the
unusual color of my eyes, the whiteness of my skin, and the length of
my hair were the occasion of much comment. By request I would take off
my shirt or pull up a leg of my much tattered trousers. Farther than
this modesty prevented my going. Sometimes a similar ordeal would have
to be gone through several times in the course of an evening.

The only work I did was in the matter of repairing guns, of which, by
the way, the Swazis possessed but very few. I had a knife, the handle
of which contained a screwdriver and various other tools; the condition
of my own gun necessitated the carrying of a nipple wrench. The latter
was a very old instrument; it had sockets graded to fit nipples of
various sizes. The trouble with the Swazi guns was almost invariably
dirt or rust. Some I put right without much difficulty; others were
quite beyond the possibility of repair.

After a somewhat wide experience I can truthfully say that the Swazis,
at the time I knew them, were the finest savages I ever came in contact
with. They were gentlemen in all essentials, they were manly, brave,
and independent. The white race had not yet degraded them by contact
with its corroding fringe.

The following incident will serve to illustrate their courage: Six of
'Ntshindeen's men, armed with nothing but spears and sticks, came upon
a full-grown lion among the foothills through which I had journeyed.
The brute was a well known depredator among the herds. He had, in fact,
given up killing game in favor of the easier pursuit of killing cattle.
He had also killed two herd boys. The six attacked without hesitation.
They slew the lion, but in the struggle three men lost their lives. Two
were killed on the spot; the third had his arm chewed to a pulp. He was
brought back to his kraal, but gangrene at once set in, and he died on
the third day. The other three were badly mauled, but they recovered.

The Swazis knew nothing of money, except that it was supposed to be
worth something in parts remote from their then-isolated land. The
value of cash was gauged according to size; you could get more for a
penny than for a sovereign but not much for either. Gunpowder, lead,
and caps they were, of course, anxious to obtain for even if an
individual did not own a gun, it was always possible to borrow such a

But the thing they valued above all else was salt. Their country
contained no saltpans, and they were cut off from the sea by a strip of
pestiferous jungle, which, moreover, belonged to the Portuguese or was
supposed so to belong. Fortunately I had brought with me a small bag of
salt; it contained about a pound in weight. Men used to come from long
distances to beg for a pinch. As I did not want the bag to be seen, it
was my practice, when salt was asked for, to enter the hut and bring
out a small pinch in my hand. On such occasions the old show-woman

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