We put to sea on the 18th of October, and, again touching at Johanna, obtained a crew of Johanna men and some oxen, and sailed for the Zambesi; but our fuel failing before we reached it, and the wind being contrary, we ran into Quillimane for wood.
Quillimane must have been built solely for the sake of carrying on the slave-trade, for no man in his senses would ever have dreamed of placing a village on such a low, muddy, fever-haunted, and mosquito-swarming site, had it not been for the facilities it afforded for slaving. The bar may at springs and floods be easily crossed by sailing-vessels, but, being far from the land, it is always dangerous for boats. Slaves, under the name of “free emigrants,” have gone by thousands from Quillimane, during the last six years, to the ports a little to the south, particularly to Massangano. Some excellent brick-houses still stand in the place, and the owners are generous and hospitable: among them our good friend, Colonel Nunez. His disinterested kindness to us and to all our countrymen can never be forgotten. He is a noble example of what energy and uprightness may accomplish even here. He came out as a cabin-boy, and, without a single friend to help him, he has persevered in an honourable course until he is the richest man on the East Coast. When Dr. Livingstone came down the Zambesi in 1856, Colonel Nunez was the chief of the only four honourable, trustworthy men in the country. But while he has risen a whole herd has sunk, making loud lamentations, through puffs of cigar-smoke, over negro laziness; they might add, their own.
All agricultural enterprise is virtually discouraged by Quillimane Government. A man must purchase a permit from the Governor, when he wishes to visit his country farm; and this tax, in a country where labour is unpopular, causes the farms to be almost entirely left in the hands of a head slave, who makes returns to his master as interest or honesty prompts him. A passport must also be bought whenever a man wishes to go up the river to Mazaro, Senna, or Tette, or even to reside for a month at Quillimane. With a soil and a climate well suited for the growth of the cane, abundance of slave labour, and water communication to any market in the world, they have never made their own sugar. All they use is imported from Bombay. “The people of Quillimane have no enterprise,” said a young European Portuguese, “they do nothing, and are always wasting their time in suffering, or in recovering from fever.”
We entered the Zambesi about the end of November and found it unusually low, so we did not get up to Shupanga till the 19th of December. The friends of our Mazaro men, who had now become good sailors and very attentive servants, turned out and gave them a hearty welcome back from the perils of the sea: they had begun to fear that they would never return. We hired them at a sixteen-yard piece of cloth a month — about ten shillings’ worth, the Portuguese market-price of the cloth being then sevenpence halfpenny a yard — and paid them five pieces each, for four-and-a-half months’ work. A merchant at the same time paid other Mazaro men three pieces for seven months, and they were with him in the interior. If the merchants do not prosper, it is not because labour is dear, but because it is scarce, and because they are so eager on every occasion to sell the workmen out of the country. Our men had also received quantities of good clothes from the sailors of the “Pioneer” and of the “Orestes,” and were now regarded by their neighbours and by themselves as men of importance. Never before had they possessed so much wealth: they believed that they might settle in life, being now of sufficient standing to warrant their entering the married state; and a wife and a hut were among their first investments. Sixteen yards were paid to the wife’s parents, and a hut cost four yards. We should have liked to have kept them in the ship, for they were well-behaved and had learned a great deal of the work required. Though they would not themselves go again, they engaged others for us; and brought twice as many as we could take, of their brothers and cousins, who were eager to join the ship and go with us up the Shire, or anywhere else. They all agreed to take half-pay until they too had learned to work; and we found no scarcity of labour, though all that could be exported is now out of the country.
There had been a drought of unusual severity during the past season in the country between Lupata and Kebrabasa, and it had extended north-east to the Manganja highlands. All the Tette slaves, except a very few household ones, had been driven away by hunger, and were now far off in the woods, and wherever wild fruit, or the prospect of obtaining anything whatever to keep the breath of life in them, was to be found. Their masters were said never to expect to see them again. There have been two years of great hunger at Tette since we have been in the country, and a famine like the present prevailed in 1854, when thousands died of starvation. If men like the Cape farmers owned this country, their energy and enterprise would soon render the crops independent of rain. There being plenty of slope or fall, the land could be easily irrigated from the Zambesi and its tributary streams. A Portuguese colony can never prosper: it is used as a penal settlement, and everything must be done military fashion. “What do I care for this country?” said the most enterprising of the Tette merchants, “all I want is to make money as soon possible, and then go to Bombay and enjoy it.” All business at Tette was now suspended. Carriers could not be found to take the goods into the interior, and the merchants could barely obtain food for their own families. At Mazaro more rain had fallen, and a tolerable crop followed. The people of Shupanga were collecting and drying different wild fruits, nearly all of which are far from palatable to a European taste. The root of a small creeper called “bise” is dug up and eaten. In appearance it is not unlike the small white sweet potato, and has a little of the flavour of our potato. It would be very good, if it were only a little larger. From another tuber, called “ulanga,” very good starch can be made. A few miles from Shupanga there is an abundance of large game, but the people here, though fond enough of meat, are not a hunting race, and seldom kill any.
The Shire having risen, we steamed off on the 10th of January, 1863, with the “Lady Nyassa” in tow. It was not long before we came upon the ravages of the notorious Mariano. The survivors of a small hamlet, at the foot of Morambala, were in a state of starvation, having lost their food by one of his marauding parties. The women were in the fields collecting insects, roots, wild fruits, and whatever could be eaten, in order to drag on their lives, if possible, till the next crop should be ripe. Two canoes passed us, that had been robbed by Mariano’s band of everything they had in them; the owners were gathering palm-nuts for their subsistence. They wore palm-leaf aprons, as the robbers had stripped them of their clothing and ornaments. Dead bodies floated past us daily, and in the mornings the paddles had to be cleared of corpses, caught by the floats during the night. For scores of miles the entire population of the valley was swept away by this scourge Mariano, who is again, as he was before, the great Portuguese slave-agent. It made the heart ache to see the widespread desolation; the river-banks, once so populous, all silent; the villages burned down, and an oppressive stillness reigning where formerly crowds of eager sellers appeared with the various products of their industry. Here and there might be seen on the bank a small dreary deserted shed, where had sat, day after day, a starving fisherman, until the rising waters drove the fish from their wonted haunts, and left him to die. Tingane had been defeated; his people had been killed, kidnapped, and forced to flee from their villages. There were a few wretched survivors in a village above the Ruo; but the majority of the population was dead. The sight and smell of dead bodies was everywhere. Many skeletons lay beside the path, where in their weakness they had fallen and expired. Ghastly living forms of boys and girls, with dull dead eyes, were crouching beside some of the huts. A few more miserable days of their terrible hunger, and they would be with the dead.
Oppressed with the shocking scenes around, we visited the Bishop’s grave; and though it matters little where a good Christian’s ashes rest, yet it was with sadness that we thought over the hopes which had clustered around him, as he left the classic grounds of Cambridge, all now buried in this wild place. How it would have torn his kindly heart to witness the sights we now were forced to see!
In giving vent to the natural feelings of regret, that a man so eminently endowed and learned, as was Bishop Mackenzie, should have been so soon cut off, some have expressed an opinion that it was wrong to use an instrument so valuable MERELY to convert the heathen. If the attempt is to be made at all, it is “penny wise and pound foolish” to employ any but the very best men, and those who are specially educated for the work. An ordinary clergyman, however well suited for a parish, will not, without special training, make a Missionary; and as to their comparative usefulness, it is like that of the man who builds an hospital, as compared with that of the surgeon who in after years only administers for a time the remedies which the founder had provided in perpetuity. Had the Bishop succeeded in introducing Christianity, his converts might have been few, but they would have formed a continuous roll for all time to come.
The Shire fell two feet, before we reached the shallow crossing where we had formerly such difficulty, and we had now two ships to take up. A hippopotamus was shot two miles above a bank on which the ship lay a fortnight: it floated in three hours. As the boat was towing it down, the crocodiles were attracted by the dead beast, and several shots had to be fired to keep them off. The bullet had not entered the brain of the animal, but driven a splinter of bone into it. A little moisture with some gas issued from the wound, and this was all that could tell the crocodiles down the stream of a dead hippopotamus; and yet they came up from miles below. Their sense of smell must be as acute as their hearing; both are quite extraordinary. Dozens fed on the meat we left. Our Krooman, Jumbo, used to assert that the crocodile never eats fresh meat, but always keeps it till it is high and tender — and the stronger it smells the better he likes it. There seems to be some truth in this. They can swallow but small pieces at a time, and find it difficult to tear fresh meat. In the act of swallowing, which is like that of a dog, the head is raised out of the water. We tried to catch some, and one was soon hooked; it required half-a-dozen hands to haul him up the river, and the shark-hook straightened, and he got away. A large iron hook was next made, but, as the creatures could not swallow it, their jaws soon pressed it straight — and our crocodile-fishing was a failure. As one might expect — from the power even of a salmon — the tug of a crocodile was terribly strong.
The corpse of a boy floated past the ship; a monstrous crocodile rushed at it with the speed of a greyhound, caught it and shook it, as a terrier dog does a rat. Others dashed at the prey, each with his powerful tail causing the water to churn and froth, as he furiously tore off a piece. In a few seconds it was all gone. The sight was frightful to behold. The Shire swarmed with crocodiles; we counted sixty-seven of these repulsive reptiles on a single bank, but they are not as fierce as they are in some rivers. “Crocodiles,” says Captain Tuckey, “are so plentiful in the Congo, near the rapids, and so frequently carry off the women, who at daylight go down to the river for water, that, while they are filling their calabashes, one of the party is usually employed in throwing large stones into the water outside.” Here, either a calabash on a long pole is used in drawing water, or a fence is planted. The natives eat the crocodile, but to us the idea of tasting the musky-scented, fishy-looking flesh carried the idea of cannibalism. Humboldt remarks, that in South America the alligators of some rivers are more dangerous than in others. Alligators differ from crocodiles in the fourth or canine tooth going into a hole or socket in the upper jaw, while in the crocodile it fits into a notch. The forefoot of the crocodile has five toes not webbed, the hindfoot has four toes which are webbed; in the alligator the web is altogether wanting. They are so much alike that they would no doubt breed together.
One of the crocodiles which was shot had a piece snapped off the end of his tail, another had lost a forefoot in fighting; we saw actual leeches between the teeth, such as are mentioned by Herodotus, but we never witnessed the plover picking them out. Their greater fierceness in one part of the country than another is doubtless owing to a scarcity of fish; in fact, Captain Tuckey says, of that part of the Congo, mentioned above, “There are no fish here but catfish,” and we found that the lake crocodiles, living in clear water, and with plenty of fish, scarcely ever attacked man. The Shire teems with fish of many different kinds. The only time, as already remarked, when its crocodiles are particularly to be dreaded, is when the river is in flood. Then the fish are driven from their usual haunts, and no game comes down to the river to drink, water being abundant in pools inland. Hunger now impels the crocodile to lie in wait for the women who come to draw water, and on the Zambesi numbers are carried off every year. The danger is not so great at other seasons; though it is never safe to bathe, or to stoop to drink, where one cannot see the bottom, especially in the evening. One of the Makololo ran down in the dusk of the river; and, as he was busy tossing the water to his mouth with his hand, in the manner peculiar to the natives, a crocodile rose suddenly from the bottom, and caught him by the hand. The limb of a tree was fortunately within reach, and he had presence of mind to lay hold of it. Both tugged and pulled; the crocodile for his dinner, and the man for dear life. For a time it appeared doubtful whether a dinner or a life was to be sacrificed; but the man held on, and the monster let the hand go, leaving the deep marks of his ugly teeth in it.
During our detention, in expectation of the permanent rise of the river in March, Dr. Kirk and Mr. C. Livingstone collected numbers of the wading-birds of the marshes — and made pleasant additions to our salted provisions, in geese, ducks, and hippopotamus flesh. One of the comb or knob-nosed geese, on being strangled in order to have its skin preserved without injury, continued to breathe audibly by the broken humerus, or wing-bone, and other means had to be adopted to put it out of pain. This was as if a man on the gallows were to continue to breathe by a broken armbone, and afforded us an illustration of the fact, that in birds, the vital air penetrates every part of the interior of their bodies. The breath passes through and round about the lungs — bathes the surfaces of the viscera, and enters the cavities of the bones; it even penetrates into some spaces between the muscles of the neck — and thus not only is the most perfect oxygenation of the blood secured, but, the temperature of the blood being very high, the air in every part is rarefied, and the great lightness and vigour provided for, that the habits of birds require. Several birds were found by Dr. Kirk to have marrow in the tibiae, though these bones are generally described as hollow.
During the period of our detention on the shallow part of the river in March, Mr. Thornton came up to us from Shupanga: he had, as before narrated, left the Expedition in 1859, and joined Baron van der Decken, in the journey to Kilimanjaro, when, by an ascent of the mountain to the height of 8000 feet, it was first proved to be covered with perpetual snow, and the previous information respecting it, given by the Church of England Missionaries, Krapf and Rebman, confirmed. It is now well known that the Baron subsequently ascended the Kilimanjaro to 14,000 feet, and ascertained its highest peak to be at least 20,000 feet above the sea. Mr. Thornton made the map of the first journey, at Shupanga, from materials collected when with the Baron; and when that work was accomplished, followed us. He was then directed to examine geologically the Cataract district, but not to expose himself to contact with the Ajawa until the feelings of that tribe should be ascertained.
The members of Bishop Mackenzie’s party, on the loss of their head, fell back from Magomero on the highlands, to Chibisa’s, in the low-lying Shire Valley; and Thornton, finding them suffering from want of animal food, kindly volunteered to go across thence to Tette, and bring a supply of goats and sheep. We were not aware of this step, to which the generosity of his nature prompted him, till two days after he had started. In addition to securing supplies for the Universities’ Mission, he brought some for the Expedition, and took bearings, by which he hoped to connect his former work at Tette with the mountains in the Shire district. The toil of this journey was too much for his strength, as with the addition of great scarcity of water, it had been for that of Dr. Kirk and Rae, and he returned in a sadly haggard and exhausted condition; diarrhoea supervened, and that ended in dysentery and fever, which terminated fatally on the 21st of April, 1863. He received the unremitting attentions of Dr. Kirk, and Dr. Meller, surgeon of the “Pioneer,” during the fortnight of his illness; and as he had suffered very little from fever, or any other disease, in Africa, we had entertained strong hopes that his youth and unimpaired constitution would have carried him through. During the night of the 20th his mind wandered so much, that we could not ascertain his last wishes; and on the morning of the 21st, to our great sorrow, he died. He was buried on the 22nd, near a large tree on the right bank of the Shire, about five hundred yards from the lowest of the Murchison Cataracts — and close to a rivulet, at which the “Lady Nyassa” and “Pioneer” lay.
No words can convey an adequate idea of the scene of widespread desolation which the once pleasant Shire Valley now presented. Instead of smiling villages and crowds of people coming with things for sale, scarcely a soul was to be seen; and, when by chance one lighted on a native, his frame bore the impress of hunger, and his countenance the look of a cringing broken-spiritedness. A drought had visited the land after the slave-hunting panic swept over it. Had it been possible to conceive the thorough depopulation which had ensued, we should have avoided coming up the river. Large masses of the people had fled down to the Shire, only anxious to get the river between them and their enemies. Most of the food had been left behind; and famine and starvation had cut off so many, that the remainder were too few to bury the dead. The corpses we saw floating down the river were only a remnant of those that had perished, whom their friends, from weakness, could not bury, nor over-gorged crocodiles devour. It is true that famine caused a great portion of this waste of human life: but the slave-trade must be deemed the chief agent in the ruin, because, as we were informed, in former droughts all the people flocked from the hills down to the marshes, which are capable of yielding crops of maize in less than three months, at any time of the year, and now they were afraid to do so. A few, encouraged by the Mission in the attempt to cultivate, had their little patches robbed as successive swarms of fugitives came from the hills. Who can blame these outcasts from house and home for stealing to save their wretched lives, or wonder that the owners protected the little all, on which their own lives depended, with club and spear? We were informed by Mr. Waller of the dreadful blight which had befallen the once smiling Shire Valley. His words, though strong, failed to impress us with the reality. In fact, they were received, as some may accept our own, as tinged with exaggeration; but when our eyes beheld the last mere driblets of this cup of woe, we for the first time felt that the enormous wrongs inflicted on our fellow-men by slaving are beyond exaggeration.
Wherever we took a walk, human skeletons were seen in every direction, and it was painfully interesting to observe the different postures in which the poor wretches had breathed their last. A whole heap had been thrown down a slope behind a village, where the fugitives often crossed the river from the east; and in one hut of the same village no fewer than twenty drums had been collected, probably the ferryman’s fees. Many had ended their misery under shady trees — others under projecting crags in the hills — while others lay in their huts, with closed doors, which when opened disclosed the mouldering corpse with the poor rags round the loins — the skull fallen off the pillow — the little skeleton of the child, that had perished first, rolled up in a mat between two large skeletons. The sight of this desert, but eighteen months ago a well peopled valley, now literally strewn with human bones, forced the conviction upon us, that the destruction of human life in the middle passage, however great, constitutes but a small portion of the waste, and made us feel that unless the slave-trade — that monster iniquity, which has so long brooded over Africa — is put down, lawful commerce cannot be established.
We believed that, if it were possible to get a steamer upon the Lake, we could by her means put a check on the slavers from the East Coast; and aid more effectually still in the suppression of the slave-trade, by introducing, by way of the Rovuma, a lawful traffic in ivory. We therefore unscrewed the “Lady Nyassa” at a rivulet about five hundred yards below the first cataract, and began to make a road over the thirty-five or forty miles of land portage, by which to carry her up piecemeal. After mature consideration, we could not imagine a more noble work of benevolence, than thus to introduce light and liberty into a quarter of this fair earth, which human lust has converted into the nearest possible resemblance of what we conceive the infernal regions to be — and we sacrificed much of our private resources as an offering for the promotion of so good a cause.
The chief part of the labour of road-making consisted in cutting down trees and removing stones. The country being covered with open forest, a small tree had to be cut about every fifty or sixty yards. The land near the river was so very much intersected by ravines, that search had to be made, a mile from its banks, for more level ground. Experienced Hottentot drivers would have taken Cape wagons without any other trouble than that of occasionally cutting down a tree. No tsetse infested this district, and the cattle brought from Johanna flourished on the abundant pasture. The first half-mile of road led up, by a gradual slope, to an altitude of two hundred feet above the ship, and a sensible difference of climate was felt even there. For the remainder of the distance the height increased — till, at the uppermost cataract, we were more than 1200 feet above the sea. The country here, having recovered from the effects of the drought, was bright with young green woodland, and mountains of the same refreshing hue. But the absence of the crowds, which had attended us as we carried up the boat, when the women followed us for miles with fine meal, vegetables, and fat fowls for sale, and the boys were ever ready for a little job — and the oppressive stillness bore heavily on our spirits. The Portuguese of Tette had very effectually removed our labourers. Not an ounce of fresh provisions could be obtained, except what could be shot, and even the food for our native crew had to be brought one hundred and fifty miles from the Zambesi.
The diet of salt provisions and preserved meats without vegetables, with the depression of spirits caused by seeing how effectually a few wretched convicts, aided by the connivance of officials, of whom better might have been hoped, could counteract our best efforts, and turn intended good to certain evil, brought on attacks of dysentery, which went the round of the Expedition — and, Dr. Kirk and Charles Livingstone having suffered most severely, it was deemed advisable that they should go home. This measure was necessary, though much to the regret of all — for having done so much, they were naturally anxious to be present, when, by the establishing ourselves on the Lake, all our efforts should be crowned with success. After it had been decided that these two officers, and all the whites who could be spared, should be sent down to the sea for a passage to England, Dr. Livingstone was seized in May with a severe attack of dysentery, which continued for a month, and reduced him to a shadow. Dr. Kirk kindly remained in attendance till the worst was passed. The parting took place on the 19th of May.
After a few miles of road were completed, and the oxen broken in, we resolved to try and render ourselves independent of the south for fresh provisions, by going in a boat up the Shire, above the Cataracts, to the tribes at the foot of Lake Nyassa, who were still untouched by the Ajawa invasion. In furtherance of this plan Dr. Livingstone and Mr. Rae determined to walk up to examine, and, if need be, mend the boat which had been left two seasons previously hung up to the limb of a large shady tree, before attempting to carry another past the Cataracts. The “Pioneer,” which was to be left in charge of our active and most trustworthy gunner, Mr. Edward D. Young, R.N., was thoroughly roofed over with euphorbia branches and grass, so as completely to protect her decks from the sun: she also received daily a due amount of man-of-war scrubbing and washing; and, besides having everything put in shipshape fashion, was every evening swung out into the middle of the river, for the sake of the greater amount of air which circulated there. In addition to their daily routine work of the ship, the three stokers, one sailor, and one carpenter — now our complement — were encouraged to hunt for guinea-fowl, which in June, when the water inland is dried up, come in large flocks to the river’s banks, and roost on the trees at night. Everything that can be done to keep mind and body employed tends to prevent fever.
While we were employed in these operations, some of the poor starved people about had been in the habit of crossing the river, and reaping the self-sown mapira, in the old gardens of their countrymen. In the afternoon of the 9th, a canoe came floating down empty, and shortly after a woman was seen swimming near the other side, which was about two hundred yards distant from us. Our native crew manned the boat, and rescued her; when brought on board, she was found to have an arrow-head, eight or ten inches long, in her back, below the ribs, and slanting up through the diaphragm and left lung, towards the heart — she had been shot from behind when stooping. Air was coming out of the wound, and, there being but an inch of the barbed arrow-head visible, it was thought better not to run the risk of her dying under the operation necessary for its removal; so we carried her up to her own hut. One of her relatives was less scrupulous, for he cut out the arrow and part of the lung. Mr. Young sent her occasionally portions of native corn, and strange to say found that she not only became well, but stout. The constitution of these people seems to have a wonderful power of self-repair — and it could be no slight privation which had cut off the many thousands that we saw dead around us.
We regretted that, in consequence of Dr. Meller having now sole medical charge, we could not have his company in our projected trip; but he found employment in botany and natural history, after the annual sickly season of March, April, and May was over; and his constant presence was not so much required at the ship. Later in the year, when he could be well spared, he went down the river to take up an appointment he had been offered in Madagascar; but unfortunately was so severely tried by illness while detained at the coast, that for nearly two years he was not able to turn his abilities as a naturalist to account by proceeding to that island. We have no doubt but he will yet distinguish himself in that untrodden field.
On the 16th of June we started for the Upper Cataracts, with a mule-cart, our road lying a distance of a mile west from the river. We saw many of the deserted dwellings of the people who formerly came to us; and were very much struck by the extent of land under cultivation, though that, compared with the whole country, is very small. Large patches of mapira continued to grow — as it is said it does from the roots for three years. The mapira was mixed with tall bushes of the Congo-bean, castor-oil plants, and cotton. The largest patch of this kind we paced, and found it to be six hundred and thirty paces on one side — the rest were from one acre to three, and many not more than one-third of an acre. The cotton — of very superior quality — was now dropping off the bushes, to be left to rot — there was no one to gather what would have been of so much value in Lancashire. The huts, in the different villages we entered, were standing quite perfect. The mortars for pounding corn — the stones for grinding it — the water and beer pots — the empty corn-safes and kitchen utensils, were all untouched; and most of the doors were shut, as if the starving owners had gone out to wander in search of roots or fruits in the forest, and had never returned. When opened, several huts revealed a ghastly sight of human skeletons. Some were seen in such unnatural positions, as to give the idea that they had expired in a faint, when trying to reach something to allay the gnawings of hunger.
We took several of the men as far as the Mukuru–Madse for the sake of the change of air and for occupation, and also to secure for the ships a supply of buffalo meat — as those animals were reported to be in abundance on that stream. But though it was evident from the tracks that the report was true, it was impossible to get a glimpse of them. The grass being taller than we were, and pretty thickly planted, they always knew of our approach before we saw them. And the first intimation we had of their being near was the sound they made in rushing over the stones, breaking the branches, and knocking their horns against each other. Once, when seeking a ford for the cart, at sunrise, we saw a herd slowly wending up the hill-side from the water. Sending for a rifle, and stalking with intense eagerness for a fat beefsteak, instead of our usual fare of salted provisions, we got so near that we could hear the bulls uttering their hoarse deep low, but could see nothing except the mass of yellow grass in front; suddenly the buffalo-birds sounded their alarm-whistle, and away dashed the troop, and we got sight of neither birds nor beasts. This would be no country for a sportsman except when the grass is short. The animals are wary, from the dread they have of the poisoned arrows. Those of the natives who do hunt are deeply imbued with the hunting spirit, and follow the game with a stealthy perseverance and cunning, quite extraordinary. The arrow making no noise, the herd is followed up until the poison takes effect, and the wounded animal falls out. It is then patiently watched till it drops — a portion of meat round the wound is cut away, and all the rest eaten.
Poisoned arrows are made in two pieces. An iron barb is firmly fastened to one end of a small wand of wood, ten inches or a foot long, the other end of which, fined down to a long point, is nicely fitted, though not otherwise secured, in the hollow of the reed, which forms the arrow shaft. The wood immediately below the iron head is smeared with the poison. When the arrow is shot into an animal, the reed either falls to the ground at once, or is very soon brushed off by the bushes; but the iron barb and poisoned upper part of the wood remain in the wound. If made in one piece, the arrow would often be torn out, head and all, by the long shaft catching in the underwood, or striking against trees. The poison used here, and called kombi, is obtained from a species of strophanthus, and is very virulent. Dr. Kirk found by an accidental experiment on himself that it acts by lowering the pulse. In using his tooth-brush, which had been in a pocket containing a little of the poison, he noticed a bitter taste, but attributed it to his having sometimes used, the handle in taking quinine. Though the quantity was small, it immediately showed its power by lowering his pulse which at the time had been raised by a cold, and next day he was perfectly restored. Not much can be inferred from a single case of this kind, but it is possible that the kombi may turn out a valuable remedy; and as Professor Sharpey has conducted a series of experiments with this substance, we look with interest for the results. An alkaloid has been obtained from it similar to strychnine. There is no doubt that all kinds of wild animals die from the effects of poisoned arrows, except the elephant and hippopotamus. The amount of poison that this little weapon can convey into their systems being too small to kill those huge beasts, the hunters resort to the beam trap instead.
Another kind of poison was met with on Lake Nyassa, which was said to be used exclusively for killing men. It was put on small wooden arrow-heads, and carefully protected by a piece of maize-leaf tied round it. It caused numbness of the tongue when the smallest particle was tasted. The Bushmen of the northern part of the Kalahari were seen applying the entrails of a small caterpillar which they termed ‘Nga to their arrows. This venom was declared to be so powerful in producing delirium, that a man in dying returned in imagination to a state of infancy, and would call for his mother’s breast. Lions when shot with it are said to perish in agonies. The poisonous ingredient in this case may be derived from the plant on which the caterpillar feeds. It is difficult to conceive by what sort of experiments the properties of these poisons, known for generations, were proved. Probably the animal instincts, which have become so obtuse by civilization, that children in England eat the berries of the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) without suspicion, were in the early uncivilized state much more keen. In some points instinct is still retained among savages. It is related that in the celebrated voyage of the French navigator, Bougainville, a young lady, who had assumed the male attire, performed all the hard duties incident to the calling of a common sailor; and, even as servant to the geologist, carried a bag of stones and specimens over hills and dales without a complaint, and without having her sex suspected by her associates; but on landing among the savages of one of the South Sea Islands, she was instantly recognized as a female. They began to show their impressions in a way that compelled her to confess her sex, and throw herself on the protection of the commander, which of course was granted. In like manner, the earlier portions of the human family may have had their instincts as to plants more highly developed than any of their descendants — if indeed much more knowledge than we usually suppose be not the effect of direct revelation from above.
The Mukuru–Madse has a deep rocky bed. The water is generally about four feet deep, and fifteen or twenty yards broad. Before reaching it, we passed five or six gullies; but beyond it the country, for two or three miles from the river, was comparatively smooth. The long grass was overrunning all the native paths, and one species (sanu), which has a sharp barbed seed a quarter of an inch in length, enters every pore of woollen clothing and highly irritates the skin. From its hard, sharp point a series of minute barbs are laid back, and give the seed a hold wherever it enters: the slightest touch gives it an entering motion, and the little hooks prevent its working out. These seeds are so abundant in some spots, that the inside of the stocking becomes worse than the roughest hair shirt. It is, however, an excellent self-sower, and fine fodder; it rises to the height of common meadow-grass in England, and would be a capital plant for spreading over a new country not so abundantly supplied with grasses as this is.
We have sometimes noticed two or three leaves together pierced through by these seeds, and thus made, as it were, into wings to carry them to any soil suited to their growth.
We always follow the native paths, though they are generally not more than fifteen inches broad, and so often have deep little holes in them, made for the purpose of setting traps for small animals, and are so much obscured by the long grass, that one has to keep one’s eyes on the ground more than is pleasant. In spite, however, of all drawbacks, it is vastly more easy to travel on these tracks than to go straight over uncultivated ground, or virgin forest. A path usually leads to some village, though sometimes it turns out to be a mere game track leading nowhere.
In going north, we came into a part called Mpemba where Chibisa was owned as chief, but the people did not know that he had been assassinated by the Portuguese Terera. A great deal of grain was lying round the hut, where we spent the night. Very large numbers of turtledoves feasted undisturbed on the tall stalked mapira ears, and we easily secured plenty of fine fat guinea-fowls — now allowed to feed leisurely in the deserted gardens. The reason assigned for all this listless improvidence was “There are no women to grind the corn — all are dead.”
The cotton patches in all cases seemed to have been so well cared for, and kept so free of weeds formerly, that, though now untended, but few weeds had sprung up; and the bushes were thus preserved in the annual grass burnings. Many baobab-trees grow in different spots, and the few people seen were using the white pulp found between the seeds to make a pleasant subacid drink.
On passing Malango, near the uppermost cataract, not a soul was to be seen; but, as we rested opposite a beautiful tree-covered island, the merry voices of children at play fell on our ears — the parents had fled thither for protection from the slave-hunting Ajawa, still urged on by the occasional visits of the Portuguese agents from Tette. The Ajawa, instead of passing below the Cataracts, now avoided us, and crossed over to the east side near to the tree on which we had hung the boat. Those of the Manganja, to whom we could make ourselves known, readily came to us; but the majority had lost all confidence in themselves, in each other, and in every one else. The boat had been burned about three months previously, and the Manganja were very anxious that we should believe that this had been the act of the Ajawa; but on scanning the spot we saw that it was more likely to have caught fire in the grass-burning of the country. Had we intended to be so long in returning to it, we should have hoisted it bottom upwards; for, as it was, it is probable that a quantity of dried leaves lay inside, and a spark ignited the whole. All the trees within fifty yards were scorched and killed, and the nails, iron, and copper sheathing, all lay undisturbed beneath. Had the Ajawa done the deed, they would have taken away the copper and iron.
Our hopes of rendering ourselves independent of the south for provisions, by means of this boat, being thus disappointed, we turned back with the intention of carrying another up to the same spot; and, in order to find level ground for this, we passed across from the Shire at Malango to the upper part of the stream Lesungwe. A fine, active, intelligent fellow, called Pekila, guided us, and was remarkable as almost the only one of the population left with any spirit in him. The depressing effect which the slave-hunting scourge has upon the native mind, though little to be wondered at, is sad, very sad to witness. Musical instruments, mats, pillows, mortars for pounding meal, were lying about unused, and becoming the prey of the white ants. With all their little comforts destroyed, the survivors were thrown still further back into barbarism.
It is of little importance perhaps to any but travellers to notice that in occupying one night a well-built hut, which had been shut up for some time, the air inside at once gave us a chill, and an attack of fever; both of which vanished when the place was well-ventilated by means of a fire. We have frequently observed that lighting a fire early in the mornings, even in the hottest time of the year, gives freshness to the whole house, and removes that feeling of closeness and langour, which a hot climate induces.
On the night of the 1st July, 1863, several loud peals of thunder awoke us; the moon was shining brightly, and not a cloud to be seen. All the natives remarked on the clearness of the sky at the time, and next morning said, “We thought it was God” (Morungo).
On arriving at the ship on the 2nd July, we found a despatch from Earl Russell, containing instructions for the withdrawal of the Expedition. The devastation caused by slave-hunting and famine lay all around. The labour had been as completely swept away from the Great Shire Valley, as it had been from the Zambesi, wherever Portuguese intrigue or power extended. The continual forays of Mariano had spread ruin and desolation on our south-east as far as Mount Clarendon.
While this was going on in our rear, the Tette slave-hunters from the West had stimulated the Ajawa to sweep all the Manganja off the hills on our East; and slaving parties for this purpose were still passing the Shire above the Cataracts. In addition to the confession of the Governor of Tette, of an intention to go on with this slaving in accordance with the counsel of his elder brother at Mosambique, we had reason to believe that slavery went on under the eye of his Excellency, the Governor–General himself; and this was subsequently corroborated by our recognizing two women at Mosambique who had lived within a hundred yards of the Mission-station at Magomero. They were well known to our attendants, and had formed a part of a gang of several hundreds taken to Mosambique by the Ajawa at the very time when his Excellency was entertaining English officers with anti-slavery palavers. To any one who understands how minute the information is, which Portuguese governors possess by means of their own slaves, and through gossiping traders who seek to curry their favour, it is idle to assert that all this slaving goes on without their approval and connivance.
If more had been wanted to prove the hopelessness of producing any change in the system which has prevailed ever since our allies, the Portuguese, entered the country, we had it in the impunity with which the freebooter, Terera, who had murdered Chibisa, was allowed to carry on his forays. Belchoir, another marauder, had been checked, but was still allowed to make war, as they term slave-hunting.
Mr. Horace Waller was living for some five months on Mount Morambala, a position from which the whole process of the slave-trade, and depopulation of the country around could be well noted. The mountain overlooks the Shire, the beautiful meanderings of which are distinctly seen, on clear days, for thirty miles. This river was for some time supposed to be closed against Mariano, who, as a mere matter of form, was declared a rebel against the Portuguese flag. When, however, it became no longer possible to keep up the sham, the river was thrown open to him; and Mr. Waller has seen in a single day from fifteen to twenty canoes of different sizes going down, laden with slaves, to the Portuguese settlements from the so-called rebel camp. These cargoes were composed entirely of women and children. For three months this traffic was incessant, and at last, so completely was the mask thrown off, that one of the officials came to pay a visit to Bishop Tozer on another part of the same mountain, and, combining business with pleasure, collected payment for some canoe work done for the Missionary party, and with this purchased slaves from the rebels, who had only to be hailed from the bank of the river. When he had concluded the bargain he trotted the slaves out for inspection in Mr. Waller’s presence. This official, Senhor Mesquita, was the only officer who could be forced to live at the Kongone. From certain circumstances in his life, he had fallen under the power of the local Government; all the other Custom-house officers refused to go to Kongone, so here poor Mesquita must live on a miserable pittance — must live, and perhaps slave, sorely against his will. His name is not brought forward with a view of throwing any odium on his character. The disinterested kindness which he showed to Dr. Meller, and others, forbids that he should be mentioned by us with anything like unkindness.
Under all these considerations, with the fact that we had not found the Rovuma so favourable for navigation at the time of our visit as we expected, it was impossible not to coincide in the wisdom of our withdrawal; but we deeply regretted that we had ever given credit to the Portuguese Government for any desire to ameliorate the condition of the African race; for, with half the labour and expense anywhere else, we should have made an indelible mark of improvement on a section of the Continent. Viewing Portuguese statesmen in the light of the laws they have passed for the suppression of slavery and the slave-trade, and by the standard of the high character of our own public men, it cannot be considered weakness to have believed in the sincerity of the anxiety to aid our enterprise, professed by the Lisbon Ministry. We hoped to benefit both Portuguese and Africans by introducing free-trade and Christianity. Our allies, unfortunately, cannot see the slightest benefit in any measure that does not imply raising themselves up by thrusting others down. The official paper of the Lisbon Government has since let us know “that their policy was directed to frustrating the grasping designs of the British Government to the dominion of Eastern Africa.” We, who were on the spot, and behind the scenes, knew that feelings of private benevolence had the chief share in the operations undertaken for introducing the reign of peace and good will on the Lakes and central regions, which for ages have been the abodes of violence and bloodshed. But that great change was not to be accomplished. The narrow-minded would ascribe all that was attempted to the grasping propensity of the English. But the motives that actuate many in England, both in public and private life, are much more noble than the world gives them credit for.
Seeing, then, that we were not yet arrived at “the good time coming,” and that it was quite impossible to take the “Pioneer” down to the sea till the floods of December, we made arrangements to screw the “Lady Nyassa” together; and, in order to improve the time intervening, we resolved to carry a boat past the Cataracts a second time, sail along the eastern shore of the Lake, and round the northern end, and also collect data by which to verify the information collected by Colonel Rigby, that the 19,000 slaves, who go through the Custom-house of Zanzibar annually, are chiefly drawn from Lake Nyassa and the Valley of the Shire.
Our party consisted of twenty natives, some of whom were Johanna men, and were supposed to be capable of managing the six oxen which drew the small wagon with a boat on it. A team of twelve Cape oxen, with a Hottentot driver and leader, would have taken the wagon over the country we had to pass through with the greatest ease; but no sooner did we get beyond the part of the road already made, than our drivers encountered obstructions in the way of trees and gullies, which it would have been a waste of time to have overcome by felling timber and hauling out the wagon by block and tackle purchases. The Ajawa and Manganja settled at Chibisa’s were therefore sent for, and they took the boat on their shoulders and carried it briskly, in a few days, past all the Cataracts except one; then coming to a comparatively still reach of the river, they took advantage of it to haul her up a couple of miles. The Makololo had her then entirely in charge; for, being accustomed to rapids in their own country, no better boatmen could be desired. The river here is very narrow, and even in what are called still places, the current is very strong, and often obliged them to haul the boat along by the reeds on the banks, or to hand a tow-rope ashore. The reeds are full of cowitch (Dolichos pruriens), the pods of which are covered with what looks a fine velvety down, but is in reality a multitude of fine prickles, which go in by the million, and caused an itching and stinging in the naked bodies of those who were pulling the tow-rope, that made them wriggle as if stung by a whole bed of nettles. Those on board required to be men of ready resource with oars and punting-poles, and such they were. But, nevertheless, they found, after attempting to pass by a rock, round which the water rushed in whirls, that the wiser plan would be to take the boat ashore, and carry her past the last Cataract. When this was reported, the carriers were called from the various shady trees under which they had taken refuge from the sun. This was midwinter, but the sun is always hot by day here, though the nights are cold. Five Zambesi men, who had been all their lives accustomed to great heavy canoes — the chief recommendation of which is said to be, that they can be run against a rock with the full force of the current without injury — were very desirous to show how much better they could manage our boat than the Makololo; three jumped into her when our backs were turned, and two hauled her up a little way; the tide caught her bow, we heard a shout of distress, the rope was out of their hands in a moment, and there she was, bottom upwards; a turn or two in an eddy, and away she went, like an arrow, down the Cataracts. One of the men in swimming ashore saved a rifle. The whole party ran with all their might along the bank, but never more did we see our boat.
The five performers in this catastrophe approached with penitential looks. They had nothing to say, nor had we. They bent down slowly, and touched our feet with both hands. “Ku kuata moendo”—“to catch the foot”— is their way of asking forgiveness. It was so like what we have seen a little child do — try to bring a dish unbidden to its papa, and letting it fall, burst into a cry of distress — that they were only sentenced to go back to the ship, get provisions, and, in the ensuing journey on foot, carry as much as they could, and thus make up for the loss of the boat.
It was excessively annoying to lose all this property, and be deprived of the means of doing the work proposed, on the east and north of the Lake; but it would have been like crying over spilt milk to do otherwise now than make the best use we could of our legs. The men were sent back to the ship for provisions, cloth, and beads; and while they are gone, we may say a little of the Cataracts which proved so fatal to our boating plan.
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