Saturday, 2 June 2012

First Expedition, Rhodesian Schools' Exploration Society, Chimanimani Mountains 1954

By John Shaw

Photo taken by Ted Tucker "Dead Cow Camp" base-camp mid 1954

Names John can remember - L to R Back row
1 unknown Schoolboy from Salisbury
2 " " " "
3 with hat on unknown
4 ? Mueller ? spell UHS
5 Standing with the flag Dr Mostert ?
6 John Ball, at the time General Manager Charter Forest Estates
7 Mrs. Mostert
8 "Jock"? Mostert son of Dr and Mrs
9 John Shaw (with hat on) formerly UHS
10 John Maynard formerly UHS

L to R Front row
School Teacher Mr Gilbert?
Mr Cross ?
Mrs Doreen Tucker (Ted's wife) plus dog

E "Ted" W Champman-Tucker

"Dead Cow Camp" Chimanimani

L to R John Shaw, Dr Mostert ?, Ted Tucker 

John Shaw

Haroni River
General View

A bit of a tall order, to try to recall events which happened nearly sixty years ago, and, of course, we did not think of our doings as being particularly newsworthy or of historical import. However, I will try:

Umtali High School, in the 1950 's was surprisingly "go-ahead" and encouraged a spirit of adventure and leadership among boys and girls which engendered traditions of self-discipline and self-respect, which resulted in a very high respect for everyone else and the world at large.

John S Ball

John Ball was born in Umtali and received his schooling in Rhodesia. After obtaining his Bachelor of Science at Cape Town University he went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar where he read Forestry. He died as a result of a car crash in October 1976.

For twenty years Mr. Ball had collected indigenous orchids repeatedly adding new records to the list of species. He travelled throughout Central Africa and made periodic visits to Kew with his material. He was a keen naturalist who shared with his family and many others his joy of beautiful places. Several orchids and one species of Aloe have been named after him".

There was a group of us who were very privileged to have been taken in hand by Ted Tucker and John Ball.

John, a Rhodes Scholar and Old Borderer was the General Manager of Charter Forest Estates, which was a subsidiary of the BSA Co. and which bought up farms in the Melsetter area, some of which had been settled by members of the Moodie Trek. The interesting thing about those farmers was that they had been very prosperous in earlier days as they produced everything people needed to sustain them, except salt, which they obtained by barter from people who came up from the coast. So, the farms produced wheat and maize, potatoes, all kinds of vegetables, coffee and tea, meat, dairy products, wool, cotton, tobacco, citrus and stone fruit. Gunpowder could be obtained from Melsetter in exchange for farm produce. These farmers had a good life, but they were not in the cash economy. All was well until government decreed that children had to go to school, and that meant boarding school as the farms were too scattered to allow the founding of local schools. 

Now, when children go to boarding school they need uniforms and shoes and they need money for a hair-cut, and money for the fare to town and money to buy all the things children need which are not supplied by the school. So the farming families were forced into the cash economy. Many did not make it, so some lived in real poverty and others moved away. This meant that there were many farms to spare. The BSA Co. saw an opportunity and bought many of the Melsetter farms on which to establish pine-forest plantations. John Ball, as General Manager, lived on one of these farms and greatly benefited from the orchards and bee-hives, the dairy cows, irrigated vegetable gardens and a house which was a bit rustic but had a certain charm and a spectacular view. John had a great sense of adventure and was adept at bush craft, and he lived right next to this wonderful wilderness of the Chimanimani. 

Because of his association with UHS ( his father was on the staff before being transferred to Plumtree) and because of his links with some of the older established families of the Eastern Districts, in particular the Day and Young families, John Ball formed an informal group of UHS pupils who went, on long week-ends, on expeditions to the Chimanimani. This was no mean feat as there was no road then, which went close to the mountains, so all necessities had to be carried in for short trips. I remember one longer trip when we hired donkeys to carry tents and food. Persuading donkeys to trek through the foothills was interesting to say the least. Our group usually comprised: John Ball as leader, organiser and mostly as principle supplier. Alec Young, Rob Day, me, sometimes John Maynard, Bob Heasman, Sandy Steele and Guy Sutcliffe. We trekked over rugged terrain, we swam in rushing rivers and we climbed up and down very steep slopes. We were, in fact the first people for whom there is a record of descending to the bottom of Martins Falls. That was a serious climb, needing ropes for both the descent and the ascent, There is a lovely pool at the bottom, cold but good for a swim.

One long week-end in the Chimanimani, it rained the whole time, so we built a shelter of wild banana trees which kept us reasonably dry during the night, but in the daytime we walked and climbed and swam despite the rain. We found the whole of the Umtali Mountain and Outdoor Club sheltering in a cave near the Harone River. I have often wondered whether they were flooded out as the river rose in the night.

Ted Tucker, who had been known to the Ball family for a very long time and has connections with the Day family, also joined in some of our expeditions.

Ted was, at the time, Chief Government Surveyor, an occupation which took him all over the country, and involved him in many interesting projects, among them the new school at Tiger Kloof and the new Salisbury airport at Kentucky. Rob Day and Alec Young and I were in Salisbury for some reason which I can not remember. Ted had to go out to Kentucky to check on something to do with the plans for the new airport, and we went with him. We had a good look around and Ted pointed out where the runways and buildings would be, then he took us over to the Air Force side, which was already operational. I will always remember making a close inspection of a Spitfire, which I had never seen close-up before.

It was Ted's involvement with some of our Chimanimani expeditions which aroused his interest in forming a national Schools Exploration Society. Ted and Mrs Tucker ( as school boys we never referred to her as Doreen) came on the Society's first expedition to the Chimanimani, and put in a great deal of effort in organising and gathering equipment and liaising with schools. We had participants from UHS, Prince Edward, Allan Wilson and St. Georges. Looking back, I am surprised that there were no girls included in the party, I feel sure that, at least at UHS, there were plenty of girls with a sense of adventure who would have jumped at the chance to come. But, in those days there was a bias against female participation in many activities. I remember, in 1956, making an impassioned plea for Gwebi Agricultural College to be opened to female students. That idea went down with authority like a lead balloon.

John Ball, made all the local arrangements for transport and provisions and chose a site for a base camp for our first expedition. Ted, through his connections with the military, sourced field rations, clothing, bedding and other equipment from the army. A lot of this was under test, so participants had to write reports on the performance of the equipment and its suitability.

So the Expedition started. We engaged donkeys to carry equipment from the nearest road, near Melsetter, to the site chosen for the base camp. Unfortunately a cow had died by the stream which we had to cross, so the site of the base camp became Dead Cow Camp, a name which I understand is still used. The base camp had the luxury of tents, to house the Tuckers and Dr and Mrs Mostert. Dr Mostert was, at the time, the superintendent of the Leper Colony near Fort Victoria. He came on the expedition in case we needed any medical care. Mrs Mostert and Mrs. Tucker played a very important role ensuring that all the basic necessities were available, thus relieving John Ball from his responsibilities as camp manager, so he was able to actively lead the the expedition. I had left UHS the previous year and after a short stint as a Learner Assistant on a tobacco farm near Wedza, went to Natal University at Pietermaritzburg. But that is another story. My job on the expedition was as general factotum, doing anything which was required to be done. I do remember constructing the toilet for the base camp. This involved a hole in the ground, a screen of poles supporting leafy branches and an up-turned tea chest, on the bottom (now the top) of which I cut a round hole. Someone had had the foresight to bring a toilet seat, complete with lid, which I fastened on top of the tea chest, and voila, we had the civilised amenity.

The participants were assigned roles appropriate to their abilities and interests, so some made a topographic survey of the area, some studied the geology, botany, entomology and the birds and animals found in the Chimanimani. All had to be properly recorded and reports written on the findings. Some of these were very good indeed and became worthy additions to the scientific knowledge of the area. A feature which I will always remember was the M'tseretsere. This was a pool of water about 3 feet in diameter which appeared to have a depth of 18 inches. But that was misleading because if you took a stick, 8 feet in length, and pushed it into the pool, it would penetrate at least 6 feet. It seemed that the sides of the pool sloped down into the middle so that the pool was, in fact conical. The appearance of only shallow depth was because there was very fine white silt suspended in the water by a current which came up from depth. An interesting phenomenon.

We established a forward camp for the expeditioneers near the headwaters of the Harone River. Then Ted Tucker and I set off to verify the military maps which had been made from arial surveys. It looked like an easy walk. The contour lines were quite far apart on the map, so the fall would not be very steep. We planned to follow the river down to where there was a farm, Tilbury Estate. We thought we would reach the bottom in about six hours, so we took minimal rations and only the clothing we were wearing. Those maps were totally wrong. (I still have them). The first mile or so was easy going, but gradually the grade became steeper. Eventually we found ourselves clambering down the sides of a gorge which became sheer cliffs lower down. By late afternoon we realised that we would not get through before nightfall, so we scraped reasonably level places on which to lie down. We had a bar of chocolate left, so we shared half of that for our supper, leaving the rest for the next day. It was a cold night with no warm clothing, so sleep did not come easily. It was too dangerous to light a fire, and anyway there was little firewood on the grassy slopes.

Next day, we continued our journey, rationing out the chocolate to last the day. It was slow going as we had to descend some sheer cliffs without benefit of ropes, so we had to be very careful. Late in the afternoon we reached the river bank and followed a path which seemed to be well used. Just on dark, the path ended at what was obviously a crossing place in the river. The river was a rushing torrent and too dangerous to cross unaided in the gathering gloom. But there were lights of a village on the other side. We called out loudly and at last heard an answering call. Eventually a man and a girl made their way across on stepping stones which were under water. The man led Ted and the girl took my hand and we all crossed the river. Without their help we would never have made it across the river. I have always been grateful to that girl, and have wondered what became of her. At the village we were told that there was a white man camped not far away and we were shown the path to follow. Very soon we saw a bright light and stumbled towards it. We found that the light came from a pressure lamp on the back of a truck, all made up for camping. Then we noticed a man with a rifle pointing in our direction. It took a while to explain that we did not have evil intent so he could put his rifle down. 

The man was an artist who had found an interesting place with many views to paint. He, very kindly, took us to Tilbury where we could make a phone call to Melsetter and the message was passed on to the base camp, that we were safe. We were made welcome at Tilbury and next day we were taken to within walking distance of base camp. That was the day the expedition was to end, so we repacked everything and all dispersed to wherever we were going.

Footnote of interest.

The sequel to that was that John Ball and I travelled to Gungunyana ( near Mount Selinda) to join the Clarkson family and my parents and others on a journey to Sofala. We went through Espungabera and down the escarpment, crossing the Busi River. The road was, to say the least, primitive, so it took 2 days to traverse the 250 miles to Sofala. Interestingly, we were met at Sofala by Hugh Squire and his sister, Lucy. Hugh was a Conservation Officer and Lucy was a Nurse. That was when John Ball met Lucy Squire. They later married and, so far as I know they had children. It would be interesting to know what the children are doing now. They must have had a wonderful childhood with such excellent parents. 

The Shaw family had a connection with the Squire family because my father was, at one time, Rector of the parish of Bagendon in Gloucestershire which was quite close to Rencombe, where Hugh and Lucy's father was Rector. I recall that we had goats for a milk supply, but we did not have a billy goat, so Dad used to take our nanny goats to Rencombe to meet the Squire billy when required. 

A funny thing about recollections is that, the more you remember, the more comes out of memory, so it is difficult to know where to stop. However, that is probably enough for now.

It may elicit enquiries. If so I will try to provide answers. Thanks to Anne for inserting the photos. She is much more of a computer fundi than I am. Some may be curious as to how Anne and I came to be married. That is another story which I will relate if anyone is interested.

All the best,


Quote from "Rhodesian Senior Schools 1892 - 1979" by I. P. MacLaren

page 318 

"In April 1953, the conference of The Rhodesia Teachers' Association passed a resolution that a Schools'Exploration Society should be formed. A committee comprising E W Champman-Tucker, (First President and National Chairman), A H Siemers, P G S Gilbert, K Coates-Palgrave (who became an authority on indigenous trees. His family published a couple of very valuable books on the subject), G Whittle, J Hathaway and B Soames was set up and formally established the first Rhodesian Schools' Exploration Society". 


"Since its establishment the Society has not lost sight of its object of encouraging among senior schoolboys in Rhodesian schools the spirit of adventure, self-reliance, self-discipline, friendship and leadership through the organisation of expeditions or explorations." 


" After a few years, interest in the movement waned in areas outside Matabeland and apart from small sporadic expeditions from both Mashonaland and the Midlands, the main impetus came from the Matabeland Branch. Notable among those people from Matabeland who played a leading part in the Rhodesian Schools' Exploration Society were Mr. H A B Simons (National Chairman for many years. Mr C R Cooke. Mr R G Stephens. Mr. P A Jousse, Mr J Wood and Mr. G Harwood. Over the years there were of course dozens of other people who played an important part in the affairs of the Society and but for whose enthusiasm and dedication the Society would not have achieved its outstanding record. 

In the early sixties an effort was made to establish a branch in Northern Rhodesia. An expedition comprising half Northern Rhodesian boys and half Southern Rhodesian boys and leaders were organised to Seheke in Barotseland. During the mid-sixties Mashonaland, once again, started playing a leading role in the work of the Schools' Exploration Society, mainly based on the excellent expeditions of Prince Edward School. During this period the main Mashonaland leaders were N A Tatham, G S Morgan, P F de Bruijn (Headboy of UHS +/- 1945 and later Headmaster of Churchill Boys High School in Salisbury) and A H Siemens present National Chairman." 

Quote page 322 "Since 1975, the security situation and the security commitments of leaders have made it impossible to mount any major expeditions, but the society is poised to resume its activities as soon as the situation in the country returns to normal". 

Anne Comments - there were many expeditions organised all over the country in fact up to forty expeditions to all parts of Rhodesia and three outside the borders. Some listed were Kariba Dam, Sabi, Lundi, Chimamimani, Matopos etc and the Zambezi valley into Barotseland. Eddy we would be quite happy to photo copy the full section out of the Rhodesian Senior Schools Book for you and post it a.s.a.p. It does make for interesting reading. Eddy, note Rob Day is my brother and he and John were best friends at school. 

End of Article

Thanks to John and Anne for sharing their memories and photographs with ORAFs.

No financial gain is intended from recording these memories of Rhodesia on the Our Rhodesian Heritage website or the distribution to those subscribed to the said newsletters

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Hope you enjoyed the read.

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At 14 June 2012 at 15:58 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

I was directed to the above article by a family member and enjoyed reading it. I write to offer some more information about John and Lucy Ball’s children.

John and Lucy Ball did indeed have children: Tessa, Rawdon, Howard, Tempe and Sheila (born in that order, if I am not mistaken). All but Tessa married and have children of their own. Howard and his wife and three children live in England, as does Tessa. Rawdon lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife and youngest of four children, having lived for many years in Botswana. The first and third children are married and live in Cape Town and Perth respectively. Tempe married my late father’s brother, Doug van de Ruit, and they live in Chimanimani (where my father and his brothers grew up). They have three children, the oldest of whom was married in December of 2011 at Bridal Veil Falls in Chimanimani. She and her husband now live in Harare, and her two siblings are at the University of Cape Town. Sheila married Trevor Cox and they have four children, all at Peterhouse and Springvale schools. They live near Juliasdale, and it is only recently that I have got to know them.

Having grown up in Chimanimani my father was keen to show us the splendour of the area, and we did many trips into the mountains as we were growing up. I continue to explore the area as often as possible and have been fortunate to lead several hikes showing the mountains off to visitors. My uncle Doug probably knows the area better than anyone still hiking there, and we have benefitted from his knowledge and experience on many of our expeditions. I am in the early stages of compiling a map of the mountains for hikers, including the Mozambican ranges, and would be happy to share this when complete. Tucker’s Map of 1953-69 is among several originals I am using for research.

Feel free to pass this email on to John Shaw and anyone else who is connected and may be interested. I could also put him in contact with Doug and his father Hennie van de Ruit, my grandfather, both still living in Chimanimani.

Thank you for the interesting read.

Kind regards
Graham van de Ruit

At 14 May 2013 at 14:28 , Blogger * said...

I am writing a memoir of my father's childhood in Rhodesia and after an idle google search, this blog came up. My grandfather was Hugh Squire (not Squires), my father his Son, Bertie Squire, and my cousins are the Ball families - children of Tessa, Rawdon, Tempe, Howard and Shelia. Thank you so much for this fascinating read about some of my family Heritage! Please do not hesitate to contact me should you want further information,
Warmest regards,
Peggy Squire

At 11 January 2016 at 17:05 , Blogger Anna Mostert said...


It is Dr Mostert (my Granddad in the pictures and my dad "Jock" Mostert in the first picture. Thanks for a lovely article.

Best Regards,
Anna Mostert


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