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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Pioneer Expedition of 1890

The Pioneer Expedition of 1890.

A scheme for the occupation of Mashonaland was elaborated by Mr. Rhodes early in 1890, whereby a Pioneer Expedition of 200 armed and mounted Europeans, composed of English and South African volunteers, was organised by Major Frank Johnson for the purpose of opening a road into Mashonaland and reaching the objective point, Mount Hampden, and there establishing an administrative centre. This force, commanded by Major Johnson, was strengthened by a body of 500 mounted police, especially raised for the purpose, admirably equipped with arms, mounted and machine-guns, electric light and other appliances; the whole most efficiently commanded by Colonel Pennefather, of the Inniskilling Dragoons.

The expedition had very serious difficulties to contend with it the time—on the west the impis of Lo Bengula; on the south the Boers; on the east and north-east the Portuguese. The position of affairs on several occasions was undoubtedly critical, and it was with difficulty Lo Bengula prevented his matjakas from attacking the expedition.

It is not necessary here to relate at any length the story of this expedition, which attracted much attention at the time, but a few of the main features may be recounted.

The expedition started from the Macloutsie River on the 25th of June, 1890, and in ten weeks' time reached its objective. A march of 450 miles, and a road cut through bush and forest, with difficult rivers to traverse, was accomplished. Four forts were established en route, and drifts across rivers and corduroy bridges made, without any collision having occurred with the Matabele, without a shot being fired, or a life lost. On the 12th of September, 1890, the expedition reached its destination—the present town of Salisbury, the capital of Mashonaland.

Here I ask to be permitted to speak in terms of eulogy of this enterprise, so peaceably and successfully executed, which justly evoked the admiration of the English race, which I do with the less hesitation as I was in no way responsible for the conduct of the undertaking, having merely accompanied it with instruction to report on the expedition, and entrusted with a commission to assume the duties of Administrator on arrival at Mount Hampden.

Before reaching that point, and soon after arriving on the page 87 plateau, I made a detour eastward for the purpose of visiting the Manika country, and, while there, negotiated the treaty, of which an account has been given. I then undertook the office of Administrator.

The successful occupation of Mashonaland and progress made by the pioneers was viewed with great resentment by Portugal. An agreement was concluded in August, 1890 (while the Pioneer Expedition was on its way to Mashonaland) between England and Portugal, by which the eastern limits of the Company's territory were determined, and the course of the Sabi River, from north to south, taken as a boundary. The treaty was never ratified; it was, however, taken as the basis of a modus vivendi, pending further negotiation. Afterwards occurred the trouble with the Portuguese in Manika, which at one time threatened to take a very serious turn, of which the history has already been given.