by Win de Vos


Accidents and Incidents.

The Boston mills were kept extremely busy. Work started at 1 a.m. on Monday morning and continued steadily without a break until mid-night on Saturday. The kaffirs worked only during the day while the Europeans, who went on in shifts, worked day and night.

Mr. Mileman, the superintendent, received a salary of twenty-five pounds per month and a free house. This was considered a princely income at that time.

One day a bucket on the big wheel needed attention. This work of repair fell to the lot of the superintendent, who, forgetting to wipe out the small quantity of cold water which remained in the bucket, poured some boiling lead into it to remedy the trouble. Naturally the lead spluttered and some of it shot up into his eyes. He was taken to Grey's Hospital as soon as possible, but those were not the days of aeroplanes and motor-cars, no, not even of trains in this country, so he suffered dreadfully. For some time it was very doubtful whether he would ever be able to see again. However, after an operation and two or three months of careful attention at the hospital his eyes became better and he recovered his sight.

Two of the kaffir workers at the mills who stand out clearly in Elizabeth's memory were Clout and Jim Crow.

The former who was a very reliable boy was in charge of the circular-saw during the day. While at work one day he had a difference with one of the native boys working under him. He turned to reprimand this workman, but instead, a piercing yell rang out, for Clout's four fingers and thumb with a portion of his hand attached had been cut off by the circular-saw. He was indeed of the Stoic mould as he did not even faint but just turned to Mr. Russell and said: "Baas, tata sandhla same uibopa futi." ("Master, pick up my hand and fasten it on again.") He was given a tumblerful of neat brandy, and to satisfy him the cut-off portion of his hand was placed in position and bound up in roughly constructed splints.

Mr. Russell wanted to send him to Grey's Hospital immediately, but he refused to go without obtaining his father's permission, and, as the latter lived in a kraal some distance away, this caused a delay although a messenger was despatched to him at once.

As Clout was not in a fit state to ride a horse, he was conveyed to Maritzburg in a light wagon which was drawn by oxen as the horses were not trained to harness. This, of course, was a slow way of travelling, in spite of the fact that a boy had been sent ahead on horseback to make arrangements for a fresh team of oxen to be ready at the half-way outspan so that there should not be any unnecessary delay. When Clout reached the hospital he begged and pleaded with the doctors to fix his hand on again, but, on their explaining that this was quite impossible, he became resigned to his fate and evinced no sign of pain while they attended to his wound. Some weeks later, on his return from hospital, he was given a cow and a calf as compensation and was overjoyed.

The other boy, Jim Crow, who was as black as the Ace of Spades with gleaming white teeth, was considered to be truly trustworthy, in fact a real gentleman, though black of skin. The Russell children were very fond of him, as he was always ready to gather wild fruit for them or to boil a kettle of water to make them coffee when they went to play in the forest where he lived. He was always obliging to big and small hence popular.

Mrs. Russell had occasion to go to Maritzburg so Jim Crow, the most trusted servant, drove the wagon. On the return journey they rested the oxen awhile at Kettlefontein, the recognized outspan. When it was time to inspan again, two of the animals were missing and after a fruitless search, in which the driver helped most zealously, Mrs. Russell was forced to return home minus the two oxen. Later on it transpired that the much-trusted Jim had stolen and sold them.

One Friday afternoon he went to a paddock, some distance from the works, where the horses belonging to the Russells and the millhands grazed, and, informing the boy in charge that the Baas wanted the horses, he helped to round up twenty trained animals. These he drove into Maritzburg, and after selling all of them on the early market next morning, he disappeared. On Saturday afternoon the horses were needed for the customary ride, but the boy who had been sent for them brought back the message that Jim had already fetched them the previous afternoon.

A charge was laid against him and two policemen gave chase. It was ascertained later on that one night the hunters and their prey had slept about a mile apart, unconscious of the nearness of each other. The policemen learnt from some natives that Jim Crow, on horseback and leading seven other horses which he had stolen along the way, had been seen heading for the Umzimkulu.

He reached the river just ahead of his pursuers to find it in full flood. He drew out his pocket-knife, slashed through the riems by which the led animals were coupled together, and plunged into the madly rushing torrent which seemed to spell certain death. The seven horses followed the intrepid rider into the swollen stream. The daring fugitive with all the animals actually managed to reach the other side and escape although the policemen fired on them as they struggled in the swirling waters. This, however, was not the last that was seen of Jim, the Gentleman.

Four cousins, Bucknell by name, who had come from Australia to try sheep-farming in South Africa, established two stations, as they were called in those days, one at Fort Nottingham and one at Impendhle. Two of the cousins stayed at each of these stations which were about sixty miles apart. The four men worked in partnership and at certain times would change about, those at Nottingham taking up their abode at Impendhle and vice versa. They thought very highly of the kaffirs and had nothing but praise for them.

Once again the Australians had decided to interchange quarters but on this occasion only one man was to go from each station. The Bucknell who should have arrived at Impendhle did not do so and soon it was realized that he was missing. Enquiries were set afoot and it was ascertained that on his way from Fort Nottingham to Impendhle he had made a detour and had called in at the Boston mills. That night he had slept at a kaffir hut where two native boys had been seen in his company. He had a new revolver and had been seen to show it to the interested boys and to explain to them how it worked. These two kaffirs had been heard to offer to show him a short cut to his destination. The three had started together on their way and that was the last that was ever seen of the Australian.

The police succeeded in arresting the two boys, one was Jim, the Gentleman, and the other was a notorious native called Bob. On being captured the former related how, after they had left the hut, he and the white man had ridden in front and Bob had ridden behind, and how the latter had suddenly shot the Australian with a revolver.

The captives were escorted to Maritzburg where they were to be tried for the murder of the missing man, but one dark night they managed to escape and the police hunted high and low with no result. Some time later Jim was seen in the Pongola Bush, but, as he would not surrender to the armed constables who surrounded his hiding-place, they were compelled to shoot him. That was the end of the eventful career of Jim Crow, the Gentleman. Bob was never captured.

All that was ever found of the murdered Bucknell was one of his socks entangled in a little bush at the top of a precipice. The other three cousins returned to Australia shortly after all this.

A native with a small cotton blanket over one arm was going through the Alborough Forest, which was not far distant from the mills, when he saw a leopard getting ready to leap at him. With great presence of mind and lightning swiftness he wrapped the blanket round his right arm and hand and raised his assegaai ready for action. As the animal sprang he met it with a thrust of his weapon which, entering its mouth and piercing its throat, killed it.

Mr. Alborough bought the skin for a sovereign.

Besides the sawing of wood done by the mills, hand-sawing was carried on in pits. One such pit, worked by S---, a Roman Catholic, and another man, was near the river.

The works were buzzing merrily one brigt, sunny day when suddenly S--- emitted an unearthly yell. Many of the workers rushed to the spot, and the excited sawyer, almost incoherent, explained that his co-worker had had a fit and had fallen into the river.
Men dived and the river was dragged but the man was not found.

At that time there was a very strong prejudice against Roman Catholics, and, as the missing man had never been known to have had a fit before, the mill-hands suspected his mate of foul play and would not associate with him. Mr. Russell did not believe that S--- had had anything to do with his fellow-workman's disappearance, and nothing was ever proved against the Roman Catholic, but his life was made so unbearable by the other workmen that his employer, who was extremely sorry for him, advised him to go away, which he did shortly afterwards.

It was a strange coincidence that the mother of the missing man had lost both her sons by drowning.

One day some tools were missing from the mills. On learning from a couple of natives that these implements were in a certain kraal, Mr. Russell, accompanied by a white policeman, went there to investigate the matter, but on arriving he found that all the boys were away at work and only the maids were at home. He searched one hut while the policeman went into another. The native women attacked the latter and in their fury tore all his clothing to shreds. He was practically naked when he rejoined his companion.

After recovering the tools, the two men rode to within a mile of the village, and here the tattered policeman waited behind some rocks while Mr. Russell went on alone and sent out a change of clothes for him.

The workmen at the mills were mostly bachelors and lived in pairs in little two-roomed shanties. In one such shanty a man named Briggs had been ill for some time and was still very weak when his mess-mate missed him. Briggs did not appear at breakfast, but his pal did not worry about it as he concluded that his partner had probably gone to see some friends, the Shorts, who lived close by. When, however dinner-time came and the sick man was still missing, his mate became uneasy, so he went to the Shorts who informed him that Briggs had had a cup of coffee there early in the morning but had left again immediately afterwards. Briggs' friend, now consumed with anxiety, hurried down to the river and there he found the convalescent lying dead in quite shallow water. His face had been eaten alomst completely away by crabs.

What really happened was never known. It was concluded that he had gone down to the river to have a wash, as was his custom when in good health, and that, being still weak, he had become faint and falling into the water was drowned, although it was so shallow that it only partially covered him.

Dr. Greening, who lived at Maritzburg, had in his possession a chart, which had been given to him by his brother who believed he had discovered gold some distance away from the capital in the Drakensberg Mountains. The doctor on his death-bed gave this map, together with minute instructions as to how to get to the place indicated on it, to his great friend, Mr. Russell, who shortly afterwards set out with two other white men and five natives on a tour of investigation.

When they had passed Champagne Castle and Hellgate they arrived at a place which was one huge mass of stones. There was not a blade of grass to be seen so they had to abandon their horses and proceed on foot. Eventually, after many hardships, this small party of eight reached their destination which they easily recognized from the chart. Close by was a cave, in front of which, scattered about on the ground, were numerous blue stones which greatly resembled turquoise in appearance. Mr. Russell filled a small bag with these and took them back with him.

At the spot shown on the diagram the men found a thick vein of what they believed to be gold and felt fully repaid for all their hardships and deprivations. They joyfully collected samples to take home to be analysed. Imagine their disappointment when the analysis proved their gold to be copper pyrites.

Mr. Russell determined to go back again to carry out further investigations, and Mr. Theophilus Shepstone (later Sir Theophilus Shepstone) who was Secretary for Native Affairs in Natal at the time decided to accompany him.

Elizabeth, who loved an outdoor life and who had been deeply interested in the previous tour, begged to be allowed to go too. After much persuasion, her father reluctantly gave his consent on condition that she should cut off her hair and don boy's clothes to which she agreed only too willingly. She was wild with excitement at the prospect of the trip in spite of the fact that her mother was dreadfully shocked at the idea.

Everything was ready for the start when Mr. Shepstone was unavoidably detained by state affairs so the expedition had to be postponed. Shortly afterwards another attempt was made to set out but he was again detained. Winter set in and the trip was indefinitely postponed on account of the heavy snow on the mountains. In the end it did not take place at all much to the disappointment of Elizabeth.

Not far from Boston a man named Shackleton sold his farm to a certain Captain Sidney who had his own vessel. The latter had a very large house built on this ground and while it was being constructed he sailed for England. On reaching his homeland he advertised for "Incorrigibles," that is the black sheep of aristocratic families, known out here later on as "Remittance men." These he brought out to South Africa in his ship, their relatives having paid him well to do so, as they were only too glad to get rid of them. He took them to the big house he had had built and there he left them to fend for themselves. The poor souls had to carry on as best they could on the farm. Every three months each of them received an allowance from his relatives in England. Some of them made good in the new country but the majority went from bad to worse.

Captain Sidney made two or three more trips of a similar nature by which he benefited very considerably on the financial side.

Mr. Russell forbade his children ever to associate with any of the "Incorrigibles".

Some time after he had sold his farm, Mr. Shackleton decided to return to England, so he called in to say good-bye to the Russells and at the same time asked for the post for his friends in the district, as he thought it a good opportunity to deliver their letters on his round of farewells. After he had been to several homesteads in the neighbourhood he touched in at his old farm to get a fresh horse. He chose a young half-trained animal which he saddled and mounted in the paddock. He was an excellent rider and was in his element when training a young horse. That day, however, he had a dreadful spill. Some kaffirs passing by saw the riderless colt, and on looking about soon discovered Shackleton lying on the ground with his neck dislocated but he was still able to speak.

The Rev. Maber, the English clergyman for the district, was fetched and so was Dr. Otto from Maritzburg. The latter on examining the poor man said nothing could be done for him. He was moved to the nearest dwelling, that of the Incorrigibles, which was not exactly an ideal place for a dying man. He lingered on for eight long days, and was in full possession of his senses all the time, though quite paralysed. The noise of the inmates of the house worried him dreadfully. A week after the accident he passed away. The ship with which he should have sailed took home the news of his death.

On one occasion Mr. Russell wished to buy some horses from the Gibsons who lived about fifty miles away at Mooi River. He decided to take a pack-mule with him but when all was ready for the start the animal lay down on the ground and refused to budge. With the aid of a couple of kaffirs he tried all manner of means to make it rise but the refractory creature lay stubbornly still. Losing all patience, he chastised it severely with his whip, the blows raining down all over its body. This drastic treatment produced a grunt of disgust as the mule turned over on its other side and settled down more obdurately than ever, and, as no further effort could get it up, he decided to proceed on his journey without it.

As he rode away he made a picturesque figure in his long leather riding-boots, which reached up to his thighs and which were fastened to a belt round his waist.

He was enjoying his solitary ride through the beautiful country when he suddenly felt something hit against his leg. It was fortunate that he was wearing a rider's high boots as it was a cobra that had struck him. He jumped off his horse and the snake came at him in all its fury. He struck at the enraged reptile again and again and each time it became more and more infuriated. It was only when the lash of his whip curled round its neck and it became cowed that he was able to kill it.

After the fight he went to his horse to mount but noticed that something was radically wrong with it. The cobra had evidently bitten the animal as it appeared to be dreadfully sick. He put the saddle and the bridle in a tree for safekeeping and proceeded on foot, but as he was still twelve miles from the Gibsons, it was ten o'clock that night before he reached his destination.

Early the following morning a boy was despatched to fetch the saddle, the bridle and the horse if it were still alive. He returned with the rider's equipment and the tail of the horse. The poor animal had died and the wild pigs had had a feast.

Copyright Win de Vos. Put onto the web by Joan Marsh(2002) a great-grand-daughter of ERCameron

Return to main page