First treks into Manicaland
One of the earliest groups of trekkers was Laurence van der Byl and his party of twenty five young men who came from the Cape Colony in 1891. They arrived in Salisbury and from there travelled east settling in the Makoni district, at the present day town of Rusape. Temporary huts were built from materials at hand, whilst a search was made for suitable farms. The wet conditions were terrible and most settlers went down with malaria and blackwater. Laurence van der Byl died at M'gopas in 1892, less than a year after arriving, conditions were too hard and many in the group left, although Rusape survived as a town.
After them came Dunbar Moodie's 1892 trek, described under the Chimanimani village section. Members of that trek are listed in Many Treks made Rhodesia by S.P. Olivier, a very interesting and useful book
In 1/893 Johannes Nicolaas Moolman and Joseph Webster trekked together from Fort Victoria and this party eventually reached the Moodie farm at Waterfalls, having had a fierce fight with the Matabele on the way. After two months on his farm Webster went out to shoot lions with an English missionary named Burgin. They were not successful and next morning as they cleaned their guns, Burgin's gun went off and killed Webster. His widow stayed on their farm 'The Meadows' and died at eighty four in Mount Silinda Hospital.
In 1894 the Samuel Gifford trek consisting of thirty four people with ten wagons took place. Most of their oxen died and their servants deserted, but they persisted and finally arrived at the Moodie farm in September 1896. As most of the best farms had already been pegged, they trekked further east into Portuguese territory. It was some years after this that they realised their mistake, and were forced to return. Most of the preferred farms were now taken, so they had to take what they could get.
Another trek began in 1894, headed by Marthinus Jacobus Martin of Fouriesburg in the Orange Free State.
Martin had been attracted by an advertisement which stated that three thousand morgen farms near Macequece were available and travelled to Beira where his group of four were well received by Governor Machado who supplied guides and gave permission to visit Gazaland.
They travelled by the usual route from Beira, by paddle-boat along the Pungwe to Fontesville and from there by narrow gauge railway to Chimoio. After viewing unsuitable low-lying and malarial land, they saw mountains and heard there was a European settlement a few days journey away. The group split up, but were delighted to reunite at the Moodie's farm 'Waterfalls". They received a great welcome as they were related to the Moodie’s! Martin returned to the Free State and met Rhodes, then in Kimberley. Rhodes welcomed the Afrikaans trekkers to Rhodesia, and requested they take their wives and children with them.
It was on the 19th April 1894 that the big trek started and one hundred and four members moved slowly out of Fouriesburg in new wagons, with their servants, and other families joined them en route. Crossing the Limpopo River took a week. One of the trekkers, Hardy, became lost out hunting; that night large fires were lit, lamps hung on trees and shots fired, but without effect. Fortunately a search party found him late next day, he has been sensible enough to remain in one spot and sleep in a tree. But a three year old child was not so fortunate and disappeared one day when the children were playing a little distance from the wagon. For days a frantic search took place, but only a small shoe was found. It was a tremendous wrench to the parents when they had to move without their child.
When the Martin trek party arrived at the Sabi River they were surprised by its width, in places more than one kilometre wide and as usual, the crossing was difficult. Mr. Olwage put all his fowls in a bag on top of the wagon to protect them from the water, but when he reached the far bank found they had all been suffocated. Their salt supply used for preserving meat was lost when water flooded the bed of the wagon.
The mountain road at Three Span Burg (or Jacob’s ladder) was a short pull, but very steep and had been made by the Moodie party in late 1892. It was full of rocks and stones, and so many spans of oxen had to be hooked on to the wagon that by the time the first oxen were nearing the summit, the wagon was only a quarter of the way up! The Martin trek left the Free State in April and arrived at their destination on the 14th October 1894, a journey of seven months, today accomplished by car in several days.
Ernest du Plessis, who arrived with the Moodie Trek pegged his farm “Clearwater”, and then harnessed his span of oxen and returned to the Orange Free State determined to fetch his own trek. His glowing account persuaded many families to return with him, and they made the journey in about four months.
The Ernest Kruger – Bekker trek was the second last Pioneer Trek to Gazaland. Only two families joined them and at Fort Victoria, a Mr. Pretorius persuaded the party to go to Gazaland. They joined parties and followed the Moodie Trek route as far as Waterfalls. Then Pretorius and his son-in-law died of malaria, the rinderpest killed their cattle and almost destitute they were given help by fellow Afrikaners. Bekker, having no money to/ start farming, accepted a contract to cut a road to Beira until he suddenly took ill, collapsed and died.
The last Trek was conducted by John Henry and Johannes Steyn in 1895. After news that farms were available in Rhodesia for only thirty pounds each, they sailed to Beira in 1894, the party travelled the usual way by Pungwe River, then by train to the seventy five mile peg. After this they proceeded on foot, or wagons as far as Chimoio. Here they lost themselves in the mist, and after wandering aimlessly for several days, stumbled on Mr. Cripps' farm near Umtali. He was able to give them further instructions on how to reach Moodie's farm, and provided them with an African guide, so they reached Waterfalls, owned by Dunbar Moodie.
There they were granted farms past the Martin's area towards Umvumvumu valley and on payment of thirty pounds each; they pegged the boundaries for their properties. They returned to the Orange Free State to spread the good news and a trek was immediately organised. They took the advice of previous trekkers, and took with them such items as grass seed, fruit, seeds, trees and domestic animals, five thousand cattle and about seven hundred and fifty sheep, also clothing and food for six months. There were sixteen wagons and one hundred and four people concerned, divided into two sections each led by Henry and Steyn.
Most of the horses died from horse sickness, the few left were eaten by lions by the time they arrived at Fort Victoria. After the usual incidents on the road and crossing the Sabi River these trekkers arrived at the Moodie settlement towards the end of October 1895.
C.M. Hulley’s Memories of Manicaland
S.P. Olivier. Many treks made Rhodesia. H.B. Timmins 1957.