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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The First Settlement of Mashonaland

The First Settlement of Mashonaland.

The machinery for the administration of the country was soon organized, on a somewhat rough but simple and effective basis. In terms of their contract the pioneers were disbanded, and immediately dispersed in every direction seeking for gold. Most unfortunately the rains, which commenced in December 1890, were exceptionally severe and protracted; the rivers in our rear between the base and the plateau were in flood and impracticable for severa months, thus causing an interruption in the communications. The expeditionary force had taken with it but limited supplies of food, clothing, and mining instruments, it being intended to push in more later on, which, however, was found to be impossible under the circumstances. We had to do our best with native meal, which was not plentiful, and for which we had not sufficient barter-stuff to pay, and the game which was shot. The prospectors in the low valleys, with an insufficiency of suitable clothing, food, and medicines, and poor tent accommodation, contracted malarial fever, from which recovery under the conditions was difficult. The result was much privation and hardship, and many deaths from sickness. As soon as possible after the rains began to abate communications were re-opened, and large quantities of supplies sent into the country, and gradually all the conditions of life in Mashonaland improved. A mission despatched by me to Tete, to procure food supplies, succeeded in bringing in a considerable amount, and proved very useful.

The overcoming of such initial difficulties as were encountered in the first days of Mashonaland was largely due to the co-operation of page 88 Major P. W. Forbes, commanding in Mashonaland during the absence of Colonel Pennefather on duty, and the other officers, and to the pluck and endurance of the men, whether police or pioneers.

The difficulties met with in organising the administration of a territory of the extent now occupied were considerable, especially with the greater number of the settlers dispersed in every direction in an eager search for gold.

Among the first steps taken by me were the formation of a headquarters at Salisbury, the establishment of postal communication, the laying out of townships, the creation of mining districts with Mining Commissioners, the dealing with applications for mining rights and licences, the adjustment of disputes among the settlers, the establishment of hospitals, the preparation and introduction of mining and other laws and regulations, the initiation of a survey, the opening out of roads to the various mining centres, the despatch of missions to native chiefs, the diplomatic action with the Portuguese. It must also be borne in mind that the settlers were naturally very impatient for rapid progress, such as under the then existing conditions of the country was not possible.

Having suffered considerably from the climate in the rainy season of 1890-91 I was invalided home, and resigned my position as Administrator in the autumn of 1891, being succeeded by Dr. L. S. Jameson, the present Administrator.

In 1891 the military police force was disbanded, Colonel Pennefather and the majority of the officers returning to their regiments. Only a few men were retained to act as civil police, quartered at the various magisterial centres. To replace the military police a volunteer force was formed, the present strength of which is about five hundred, under Major Forbes as commanding officer. In addition to the volunteers, every able-bodied man is liable to serve in defence of the country, so that for this purpose a force of about one thousand five hundred men is held to be available.