South Africa, Tasmania, Australia, New Zealand
December 27th, 1890
Newcastle, South Africa
My Beloved Angee,
I have just had a repeat of my 180 miles coach drive and am very thankful to have reached this place in safety after all the peril of the journey. Your welcome letter of Nov. 27th is to hand this morning and it is always a cheer to my heart to receive one from you if it is a little task for your dear hand to write the same. The Xmas just past is the first I ever spent in a coach and as it will interest you to hear about the varied experiences gone through I will relate them. My business in the Transvaal being finished I felt it would be well to get back here as quickly as possible, so I retired to rest at Johannesburg on the evening of the 24th feeling that if the morning was fine I would commence the journey at any rate thinking it possible that being Xmas day I might have plenty of room in the coach. At 4am I rose and found the weather fine and I was much refreshed with the night's rest and got to the coach office about a 1/4 to 5 and instead of being an odd fellow as I had expected found about 9 others who in their cleverness had all thought as I had, so we had a good laugh at each other and made the best of it. At 5 we were "all aboard" and our fresh "span" of horses were soon trotting away at a good pace. The morning opened out well for us – it would be difficult to describe the softness and freshness of the climate, so that at our second stop at about 7.30 we found in an iron shanty of a place on the side of a hill called an hotel a good breakfast prepared and the early ride and mountain air had certainly prepared our stomachs for it and I need hardly say that we thoroughly enjoyed it. The "menu" was not bad for such an out of the way spot. Porridge – salmon rissoles, kipper herrings &c. We were beginning to feel comfortable and I soon got some conversation with the 5 others in the inside of the coach. Among them was a young couple with a little boy about 3 years old going to Durban for a holiday – a Mr & Mrs Jameson – I gave the boy a biscuit after a while, whereupon Mr Jamieson enquired of it whether it was Huntley and Palmer and on hearing that it was Peek Freans he said his wife knew a gentleman who once travelled for that firm very well called Harvey and I soon found that Mrs Jamieson knew all the family very well and indeed was cousin to them. Her maiden name was Taylor and I have often heard the Harris's speak of them and she had heard Fred Harris especially often speak of me. She appears a nice lady and knew several Barnstaple and Ilfracombe people. We were of course mutually interested in thus meeting each other – we stopped at Heidleberg for about half an hour and I had received permission to break my journey there if I pleased but felt inclined to go on now that I had found such a nice company. A few days fine weather had dried up the tracks so that they were not so slushy to drive over as on my first trip. At one of our stops in the morning a Kaffir brought two large branches of a willow tree and several bunches of flowers with which our coach was decorated – the wheelers also having coloured rosettes of ribbons on their heads and as though this were not enough the poor fellow had a bag with a lot of apples which he threw into our laps laughing and exulting that it was Xmas day. The ride up to 1 o'clock was very enjoyable and our stopping place about that time, a sort of farm house, we found a good dinner spread for us and we were ready to do it justice. As fine and as tender a turkey as could be, ornamented one side of the table with nice vegetables. Being asked to carve I did not wait long in filling the post feeling equal to the occasion and managed to get a start myself after helping 6 or 7 before the first came for a second helping. It was unexpected by us and we did enjoy our dinner even without any pudding in the place of which was a nice marmalade tart which made very good aftering[?]. Thus far our journey was very pleasant but on the track that lay before us floods and rain had fallen for several days making the road as bad as it could well be and soon after our start we were simply being dragged through the slush and mud half up to our axles – I remembered this portion of it on my ride up and now it was much worse, our progress therefore was slow and the humps and bumps we were all getting and the constant fear of an upset or getting stuck made it anything but comfortable. The rivers and creeks were swollen but we were able to ford them all until about 4 when we came to one not to be passed as we had the others. Two things at this moment were in our favour – it was still day light and it was not raining. We had to clear out of the coach and stand and walk in the soft clay up to our ankles, carrying all we could of our baggage in our hands and in this way to crawl down to the edge of the river helping one another in making some slippery descents. Our horses and harness were all taken down too with the mails and the baggage – a cart (not a coach) awaited us on the other side of the river. A boat requiring a Kaffir to be continually bailing the water out with a bucket was the only thing we had to get across and the prospect on the other side was anything but bright I assure you. The harness from our span of ten horses covered with mud and all of a heap was put into the boat with some of our baggage and taken across and landed in the mud. In three turns we all got across but it was a pitiable sight to see our luggage lying in the slush and one lady the wife of [a] barrister in Johannesburg was carrying a new bonnet down to Durban in an ordinary draper's box which she saw on the mud with a bag of mails thrown on top of it. To get up over the bank was a serious job for us – it was a climb over black mud and one had to surrender any thought of care for your clothes. Well we plodded away until nearly to the top when it became necessary to form a "mutual keep up the hill Society Limited", "1 at a time and no bustle" as Betty Glover said. The operation was not very unlike my climb up the pyramid in Egypt – only not so extensive fortunately – two on the top holding the ladies hands and two behind to push was the manner of the movement and in this way we all reached land with the help of some Kaffirs. We were objects indeed but all thankful to have got across. Now the poor horses had to get over and this we watched with much interest. With only a little leather strap around their head and all free from one another they were led down to the water's edge and whipped and driven into the river and swam across to the other side. No one guiding or being with them. They are accustomed to this it appears and certainly did it very cleverly. Poor creatures. It was wonderful to see them facing the difficulties on the opposite side slipping about and now to get possession of the horses again was a very critical moment. Several men went to the spot and once or twice a few of the horses took the water again so that the men had to steal down in a very coaxing way and at length got hold of them once more and after about 2½ hours delay they were insparred[?] to our cart and we made another start – while all this was going on there were 3 bullock waggons went across, each having a span of 30 bullocks, about one half of which would be swimming at one moment while those whose feet had touched the ground could pull at the same time. It was a wonderful picture shewing us the difficulties of transport in South Africa. We soon began to feel weary and tired the ladies especially and instead of reaching Standertan[?] at 7 did not arrive until after 10, hungry, tired and rather cold. The manager of the hotel began shouting to the servants to get us some food and we soon perceived that most of them the manager especially were more or less drunk and began apologising because it was Xmas day. We all made short work of the meal and got to our places for laying down as quickly as possible – they were sober enough however to ask us to pay for our dinner and bed before hand – the price for which was 6/ including coffee in the morning. At 3.30am the bugle was sounding its call for us to which we all promptly responded. I had only partly undressed so that it did not take long and then we looked about, I with a candle to find the coffee but in vain, not a servant was up or at any rate I could not find one. We were very near the Vaal River at Standerton and the deeply interesting question for us now was could we cross it? Or should we be obliged to take the pontoon again as on the journey up. It was dark too and the thought of being on that river was anything but pleasant. At last we came to the edge of it and our driver said he should risk it and crack went the whip and in plunged our ten horses and we were soon in the midst of a swiftly flowing river. The water did not actually reach our feet but could not have been far from the bottom of our carriage and it was no small pressure taken from our nerves to find ourselves safely through. At 8 four hours after our start we were quite ready for breakfast tinned salmon, tinned beef and fried eggs, not bad fare for desolate regions where farmers are living on the finest land and in the finest climate in the world but are too lazy to cultivate a yard of it except for their own bare necessities. Floods of rain had fallen since I passed over the road a fortnight ago, but ten good horses are capable of pulling and so we got through all our difficulties and bumping and arrived here safely a little before 7 last night. Lazarus was at the door on the lookout for master altho' I had not informed him of the date of my return but "he felt in his heart that I should be home about Xmas day." If ever a night's rest was sweet to a mortal in this world it was to me last night and through mercy I awoke this morning as fresh and as well as I ever did in my life. I shall not soon forget the Xmas and following day of 1890. D.V. I purpose staying here 2 or 3 days, then Pietermaritzburg for a few days on my way to Durban where I take steamer for Madagascar &c. on Jan. 15th. One peculiar sight in S. Africa is the sight of carcasses of horses and of bullocks which have fallen sick and died on the road and their flesh consumed by large vultures. We passed some of these yesterday and so near that their immense size struck us. It is said that if they see and they appear to discern this a sick bullock in a span that they will follow and hover about for hours before the poor creature is actually outspanned and left to perish. Then when it drops and dies they stand around it for about two days before they commence devouring the carcass. You cannot travel many miles without passing a carcase of a beast, very often your nose gives indication of their presence before the eye has seen it. "Where the carcass is there will the eagles be gathered together". It is a marvel to every one where they come from, but they are soon gathered wherever a carcass may be found.
I hope my little S. African travels will not weary you – one reason I have had for writing them is that Arundel and Harry might know and appreciate the comforts surrounding their path at home and while it may be of interest to read my little story I assure you there is no romance in it while you are actually passing through these things I have related. There were many places in the Transvaal and Orange Free State I might have visited for business but the taste I have had is enough for me and hence I am thankful to touch the railway once more. How I have stood it and been preserved in health in the midst of it has surprised me as it may others if they knew how many birthdays I have in the tender mercy of God had in this world but do not think it has a charm for me for it has not. I take it up cheerfully as in the path the Lord has been pleased to lead me and to sustain me in. If it were a question of what is pleasant to myself the next steamer to England would find me a passenger by it.
Newcastle, Dec 28th
Have had a few days rest here and have been very comfortable. The weather continues wet and stormy scarcely a day passing without a thunder storm. We purpose moving on to P'Maritzburg this evening and after a day or two there move on to Durban. Shall be sorry to leave the cool of these parts for the heat of Durban but there is no help for it. It is so comfortable when you can wear some clothing. Lazarus has had a good holiday here during my absence but seems glad to have me back again and is quite ready to move on. I received a nice letter from Henry by the last mail also one from Mr Rubie. It makes my heart very sad when I think of all that has happened in England and must now be felt in every part of the world but I only see the front of all the wretched one sided work J.B.S.[?] has been sowing for many years. Mr Rubie is not satisfied with what he sees certain brethren disposed to press. Thank God for His word where all is so simple and where alone power is found to build up while man's miserable interpretations and heresies can only break down as they have ever done even with gifts from an ascended Christ but not exercised for the edification of the church but to make themselves the centre of a "certain line" of truth they have a fancy for. God preserve and bless you my dear Angee and keep us as His Redeemed ones for the little while we are in the ruin – soon very soon He will come according to His word and we shall know then the full blessedness of being gathered to Him one company – His Bride – not to admire our own beauty or garments but Himself the gracious Giver of all good and who is Good. Well may it be said – O taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that trusteth in Him. I was thinking and enjoying yesterday the thought of how to taste of His goodness rested upon the Apostle John's heart when he exclaimed "unto Him that loveth us and washed us from sin in His own Blood and hath made us kings and Priests unto God and His Father. Unto Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, amen." How beautiful to see that it begins with His love and goes on with His blood for the washing from our sins and then what we are made as Kings and Priests unto God and His Father. This has struck me as being very sweet and precious that in this blessed priestly service it is to His Father – we know it is through grace our Father too, but His own blessed relationship to God as the son of His Love is introduced and this our highest service in worship and praise and thanksgiving is linked in our souls with His relationship to the Father – His Father. Then for our poor hearts to relieve themselves in the exclamation Unto Him be glory and not that only, but dominion and that not for a term but for ever and ever, Amen!
With much love to dear Arundel and Harry and Emma, all the dear children and all our loved ones at Barnstaple and Ilfracombe whose love sent from time to time I am thankful for and with much to your dear self believe me my beloved wife – being very affectionate Husband.