How Mutare and Manicaland were seized from the Portuguese

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Before the Pioneers Column had even left Macloutsie from Fort Charter Dr Jameson, Rhodes personal representative, Colquhoun,  Administrator-designate of Mashonaland , accompanied by Selous, Harrison, Campbell and seven BSA policemen, hurried to Chief Mutasa's kraal to seek a concession extending the BSA Company’s influence over Manicaland. This was obtained from Chief Mutasa on 14 September 1890. As P.R. Warhurst explains, Rhodes had heard that the gold reef which he had expected in Mashonaland did not run north-south, but west-east into Manicaland and was determined to secure the area. 

The Portuguese Mozambique Company was considerably annoyed when they heard and tension began to escalate in the area. The Governor of the province of Gorongosa, a Goanese named Manuel Antonio de Souza (Gouveia) and a well-known explorer, Col. Paiva de Andrada had arrived with two hundred armed natives at Chief Mutasa’s (sometimes spelt Umtassa) kraal to force him to change his allegiance. Victor Morier comments in one of his letters: “treaties are easy enough got in these parts with a pair of old breeches.”

Colquhoun had left Lieut. M.D. Graham with four BSA Company policemen at Mutasa’s kraal; but subsequently sent Major Patrick W. Forbes to occupy as much territory as possible. Forbes played for time until Lieut. the Hon. Eustace Fiennes arrived with twenty-five men of A Troop. On 15 November 1890, the Portuguese persuaded Chief Mutasa to renege on his concession; whereupon  Forbes took no more than ten BSA Company Police with him and cautiously entering Mutasa's kraale. He caught the Portuguese by surprise and to their amazement arrested Gouveia and de Andrada , whilst Fiennes with the remainder of their force, dispersed their followers.  The only casualty being Trooper F.D.A. Payne who was knocked out when the pole snapped when he hauled down the Portuguese flag!

Encouraged by his success, Major Forbes with eight men then proceeded to capture as much Portuguese country as possible. They took the fort of Macequece (sometimes called Massi-Kessi, in ancient times known as Chipangura, but now called Manica, 30 kilometres east of Penhalonga) as well as the surrounding area without difficulty. He now had the bit between his teeth and was determined to take all the land to the sea. He wrote to Colquhoun “…we shall secure the north bank of the Pungue (Pungwe River) all the country between the Pungue [River] and Busi [River], and all the necessary seaboard. If I get the treaty with Sencombe (on whose land Beira is) I shall leave Morier with 3 or 4 men at his kraal to occupy under the treaty.” They were in the Pungwe Valley within two days march of the sea when Colquhoun ordered them to return to Macequece. Forbes was bitterly disappointed, but it was just as well, as he and his men were completely exhausted, their boots worn out and Forbes himself suffering from malaria.

This action created popular indignation in Portugal and feelings ran high to avenge the insult against the Portuguese flag. A body of volunteers landed at Beira in February 1891 and marched towards Manicaland. Col. Machado, the Governor of Manica and Sofala, declared martial law and closed Beira to foreigners. Victor Morier was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in 1891 and his first task was to organize the store at Macequece. The storekeeper, Trooper Black, had died “from excessive indulgence in the spirits of wine at the store.” The Portuguese marched on Macequece with a force of over 400 and the BSA Company Police fell back on Chua Hill and the Portuguese re-occupied the fort.

Captain (later Sir Melville) Heyman with thirty five BSA Company Police and fifteen volunteers (including Fairbridge, Tulloch, Palmer, Crawford, MacLachlan, Russell, Pike, Cripps and Maritz) with a seven pounder gun marched on  Macequece, via Penhalonga Valley, from what was then known as the Charter Company Camp at Umtali, a distance of about eighteen miles. The gun-team had great difficulty in getting the seven pounder gun over what is now called the Christmas Pass, which they had to cross, but also swamps, reeds, scrub and heavy timbered country. This laborious task took three days. However, they arrived at their destination and took up a position on Chua hill overlooking Macequece Fort.

Victor Morier was translator and his letters form the basis for this article. He went to Macequece under a flag of truce, but was told they would be driven from Manicaland, unless they withdrew.  Heyman refused to withdraw and next day a party of Portuguese officials arrived saying they had come to negotiate, but Heyman suspected they were spying out his forces and gave instructions to most of his men to hide with the seven pounder gun.  On seeing only a few men about, the Portuguese officers ordered Captain Heyman to leave, as otherwise he would be driven out. Heyman and his force hurriedly made a trench, in the centre of which was the seven pounder gun.

The Portuguese advanced on 11 May 1891 with seven Officers, two hundred European troops and three hundred Angolese troops, in two columns, in their white uniforms. "The effect was picturesque" wrote Mr. Tulloch. At six hundred yards, the Portuguese deployed into a line and opened fire. The seven pounder gun fired back, a very unpleasant surprise to the attackers, but the BSA police and Pioneers delayed their attack, waiting for the enemy to get within range of their Martini-Henry's. The Portuguese did not try and out-flank Heyman’s forces, because he sent fictitious signals to an imaginary force of reinforcements!

After two hours of rapid fire from both sides, the Portuguese troops retreated at the double to their fort; twice the Portuguese officers, who are said to have behaved splendidly, tried to rally their men, beating them with the flats of their swords; but finding it futile, they all three walked slowly away at a funeral pace. Two or three volleys were fired at them, bullets ploughing up the earth around them. It was found afterwards that one, I think Monsieur de Bettincourt, was wounded in the neck rather badly, and another in the arm. They made no sign, however, until just as the rising ground was about to hide them from view, they turned, took off their hats to the English, and strolled slowly back to the fort. Convinced that a large force must be behind Captain Heyman, Masse-Kesse (Macequece) surrendered.'

The seven pounder gun only had sixty shells and all but one had been fired.  As the rear-guard of the Portuguese disappeared into the fort, the gunner, named Finch, said to Heyman, "Let’s see how the old geezer will behave with the last shell" and screwing the gun up to maximum elevation, let fly. That last shell won Manicaland for the British Empire, as it landed slap bang in the middle of the fort. The Portuguese troops yelled "They have got our range" and promptly took to their heels, leaving their Maxim machine guns and luggage behind.

The next day, Heyman unaware of the Portuguese rout, sent a patrol out and found Fort Macequece without its garrison. His gallant band of half-starved policemen and volunteers was not capable of following up the attack, as Fairbridge remarked, "In their state of complete exhaustion they could not have pursued anything swifter than a tortoise!”

On the 15 May 1891 Lieut. Fiennes reached Chimoio to be told by Dr. Knight-Bruce, Bishop of Mashonaland that Major Sapte, military secretary to the British High Commission in South Africa was close behind with orders for the BSA Company to retire. Rhodes was reported to have said “But why didn’t you put Sapte in irons and say he was drunk?” So the crisis ended and any hopes for the Empire to be extended to the coast. Later the Anglo-Portuguese Boundary Commission fixed the present borders.  Victor Morier suffered greatly from malaria, and returned to Britain on leave preparatory to taking up the post of Assistant Commissioner of this Boundary Commission, but died at sea on the return voyage, probably of cerebral malaria.




[i] Col. A.S. Hickman. Men who made Rhodesia. BSA Company. 1960

[ii] P.R.Warhurst. extracts from the South African Letters and Diaries of Victor Morier, 1890 -91 Rhodesiana No 13. 1965

[iii] C.M. Hulley. Memories of Manicaland. C.M. Hulley 1980

[iv] Sister Rose Blennerhasset


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