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The Journal of the Rhodesia Study Circle - Issue No. 80

1972, Tales of a District Officer:
    v.22, no. 4 (80), p. 55–6 

After the formal business of the A.G.M. the members present had the pleasure of listening to reminiscences by Gervas Clay of some of his time as a District Officer in Northern Rhodesia.  He also produced a number of documents and pamphlets about Northern Rhodesia including a copy of his book on Lewanika, the Litunga of Barotseland.

He commenced his talk by telling us that he had spent 34 years in the administration of Northern Rhodesia from 1930 when he arrived in Livingstone at the time the Falls Bridge was being widened.  In order to get to his district he proceeded through Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi, which boasted of one white man, which was where he left the railway; he then went in a lorry to Mpika and then on to Luwingu which was his station.  As personnel there was one official and his wife, one recruiting agent and a few missionaries.

The mail was brought from Kasama once a week by the "scarlet runners" (Africans dressed in scarlet tunics and shorts).  They took five days to cover 126 miles and cross four rivers and the mail arrived on a Sunday and had to be dealt with on the same day.  The Post Office at Luwingu was opened in 1907 with Nthn. Rhodesia as its cancellation.  We were told various tales of his going by dug-out canoe on the lake and the various tours and duties that were necessary as a District Officer.

After two years Gervas was sent to Mpika to which he travelled by mail lorry over poor earth roads, the potholes being so bad that one was in the possession of a cormorant!

After Mpika and a home leave in England, he was sent to Mankoya which was reached by proceeding up the Zambezi River by barge for 17 days to Mungu [Mongu].  Having visited at Nalolo where the Paramount Chief's aunt reigned as Queen, and waiting for three weeks in Mongu they then proceeded 130 miles east which took five days, to Mankoya, the path to which was very sandy.  At the age of 26 Gervas was in charge of an area the size of Switzerland and 30,000 to 40,000 Africans, three missionaries and one Storekeeper, and for three years he received his mail once a week.  Later on leave he married and proceeded from Sesheke to Mankoya and in order to obtain the taxes from the Africans, who were then short of work owing to the slump, it was decided that one month's labour spent on making the road from Lusaka to Mongu would be accepted in lieu.  It was reckoned that the last mail runners were used in Northern Rhodesia in 1937/38 and thereafter the mail was taken by lorry, and later by aeroplane.

It was amusing to hear that the 1938 Postal Regulations prohibited the conveyance by sample post of single unworn boots, wedding cake and ostrich feathers and that Eau de Cologne was not to be sent to Basutoland.

Another story of philatelic interest was an account of how fines imposed by Magistrates and Native Commissioners were used to buy stamps which were then stuck on the case records and cancelled with an official stamp in purple ink.  Mr. Clay had seen some of these records where the stamps had been cut out at a later date and it was likely that someone had cleaned them up and put a post mark on then for sale to philatelists.

In spite of pleas to continue Gervas stopped at this point and was thanked on behalf of the members present by Geoff Lovejoy who hoped that in the future we would hear more of his fascinating story.



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