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A Story of Travel from Scotland to Livingstonia, Malawi in 1924

NOTE: This is part of a document by Ronald Rodger CASEBY, who is the son of Williamina (Minnie) Caseby and Rev. Alexander Caseby. It is part of a series of answers to questions to Minnie by school children who had seen her story on ROOTSWEB. Rev. Alexander Caseby was a Scottish missionary serving in Livinstonia, Malawi from 1919 to 1933. Minnie traveled to Livingstonia to marry him and her recollections shed interesting light on life in Malawi in the 20’s.

The complete text of all 42 answers can be found at Minnie’s Answers

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Minnie's 42 answers.

By Williamina (Minnie) CASEBY (nee MACFARLANE), born 26/05/1901.Answers as discussed with,  and written by, Ronald (Ronnie) Rodger CASEBY, (BA Hons. OU, DMS, PGCE, etc.,) from early 1994, and constantly updated to 11/04/2001.

INTRODUCTION:

A photograph of Minnie and Ronnie, her youngest son, on Mother's Day in May 1998 in her Rooms at Stonehaven, Scotland. Her favourite picture of her beloved late husband Sandy is just visible by Minnie's left shoulder. The photo was taken by Cyril, another son.

AFRICA:

7. Mrs.. CASEBY, how did you meet your husband and what made you decide to follow him to Africa?

The terrible WW1 ended on 11/11/1918 and soon the troops began returning home to take up jobs and restart their lives. Many remained in the Army for life, some were demobbed immediately, and others were kept on for longer just to help wind the forces down slowly. Still helping with that winding down for the Army from Dundee was Alexander CASEBY, from Balmullo, the nearest village to my home at Dron. I had been cycling to and from work in Cupar with David and Angus, two of his brothers and I knew of him. I had seen Sandy in church on a few occasions and had heard him read some of his poetry, pray and read the Bible in Church but I was never introduced to him.

I had boyfriends. They were just that to me, boys who were my friends and who would take me to dances in local village halls. Some of them wanted me to take them more seriously, and so they would bring chocolates to my mother which she liked. None of those boys made any impression on my affections. I just enjoyed their company. I did not think that Sandy noticed me at all for he was a most popular and personable young man who did not seem to have his mind on girl friends so much as his plans to beome a Missionary. He was academically gifted, and talented. I thought that Sandy was not the sort to want a simple and poorly educated lass like me for a wife.

Sandy was very handsome in his uniform and was a Corporal in the Royal Field Artillery. Over a few weeks Sandy had organised a collection in our Parish, and a festive presentation event for a local lad who was to be demobbed at the end of March 1919. (Sorry, I cannot remember the heroes name.) This young man had won the Military Medal during WW1 for very brave actions and had been badly injured in the process. A "Hunter" pocket watch was bought, and inscribed, with the proceeds. The timepiece was presented to him at a Social Evening and Dance in Cynicus Castle, near to Balmullo.

Most of the local young people from several nearby villages attended to enjoy the fun. We played Whist at the beginning of the evening. Much to my surprise I won first prize. That was the only time I have ever won at a card game in public. Martin Anderson, or Cynicus, was a Dundee Artist and Cartoonist of printed postcard fame. He had built and owned the Castle. This famous and humble man awarded the prizes for the Games. Sandy was on the top table for he was delegated to make the speech praising his comrade in arms and do the watch presentation.

When I went up for my "top score" prize on 19/03/1919 I was resplendent in a smart dress that I had made. After I was given my prize (I cannot remember what it was) by Mr.. Anderson. I also had to shake hands with Sandy. He had lovely hands. He gazed into my eyes, and smiled at me, as he said appropriate words which I never heard, and handed me the prize.

That was when Sandy first noticed me. The sound of his gentle voice, his long glance and grin, made me tingle all over, feel weak in the legs, and at the knees. I felt hot all over and I was sure that I would faint. All I could do was to take the gift, and utter some confused words of thanks. Then I blunder my way back to my seat, and boyfriend, with a very flushed face, tears welling in my eyes, a great big grin on my face, and a heart pounding so hard, fast, and loud, that I thought everyone could hear it.

Then there was the pocket watch presentation to the soldier followed by dancing and then group games. Sandy could not dance but he loved the parlour games and joined my team. It was during this games activity that Sandy asked if he could escort me home afterwards to Dron. I hated having to refuse him for my father had already arranged for someone to escort me and my boyfriend to my home. I could not sleep that night for thinking about Sandy and how I might have lost him, but God had other plans.

Next day I had a letter from Sandy which was delivered by Angus, his younger brother, who cycled daily with me, and Meg, my younger sister, to Cupar where we all worked. In the note Sandy asked me to meet him.

Soon our romance developed for I already knew that I was hopelessly in love with him. He was equally in love with me and had just been too shy and too busy to speak to me earlier. Sandy had thought that a lovely young lady like me could never see anything attractive about a man like him, or one who would be in tune with his future Missionary plans.

David, one of Sandy older brothers, and quite a lad for the girls, had tried to date me several times before I met his younger brother. I had politely refused each time. Now I had no eye. or feelings, for him, or any man else, because I had instantly fallen in love with handsome Sandy. Many months later, Sandy told me an amusing event. David and he were out on a cycle tour of Fife with a group of old school friends. Some of the friends congratulated Sandy on capturing my heart. That was the fist time David learned we were courting. He became so angry that I had turned him down for Sandy that he threw his expensive new bicycle over a hedge that hid a rocky stream some 25 feet below. The machine was so badly damaged that David could not continue the ride, and had to walk several miles home carrying his broken bicycle.

"When Sandy first began calling at my home in late March 1919 my mother complained when he left that he was the only one of my would be suitors who called on me, and did not bring her a box of chocolates, or some other luxury. My mother understood why there were no costly presents for her when she found out that Sandy was not well-off. The reason being that he had cashed in his lifelong WW1 Disablement Pension for five hundred pounds sterling to pay for his own further education and training in Theology, Missionary, Agricultural and Horticultural subjects at Colleges in Edinburgh. Our United Free Church had accepted Sandy for training as a Missionary in Africa on the condition that he paid for his own education costs. Sandy so wanted to fulfil the promise he had made to Rev. Crighton, our Minister, at the age of 11 years to go to Africa in the sick clerics place that he was spending all his money to make the dream a reality. After this she became his great admirer, and supporter for my hand in marriage. Not that any other lad had a chance of marrying me for my soul told me that God had made us for each other, from the beginning of time, to be husband and wife.

Therefore, the answer to your question is that I knew from soon after I met Sandy that his work would mean him, and his future wife,  living in
Nyasaland (now Malawi), Central Africa. We became Engaged on 21/031922.  That was the day we exchanged rings. Sandy always insisted on giving me gifts on the 19th March each year thereafter for he said he had proposed and I had accepted on that date, and the ring giving was a detail. Sandy also said that the evening of 19/03/1919 was the anniversary of him having fallen in love with me at first sight at a Cynicus Castle function. All our lives since we have just split the difference, and agreed to use 20/03/1922 as the date of our Engagement.

My parents cottage at Dron, Fife, was set beside an orange gold sandstone bridge running over the main St. Andrews and North East of Scotland railway line. It was on the centre of that bridge that Sandy knelt down in the cinders, proposed to me, and I accepted on 19/03/1922. The beauty of the stone colour was hidden by a film of dirt from the smoke of the coal-burning engines that passed underneath. On the evening of our happiest of days Sandy inscribed our intertwined initials into one of the coping stones in the middle of the bridge to mark the spot where I said "Yes" to being his wife. He used a long rusty hand made iron nail that just happened to be on the ground.

My five sons knew this "secret of the bridge at Dron" story and loved it. It was a much demanded bedtime tale when they were toddlers. Later in their lives each of my sons made a point of following this tradition on Dron bridge in the presence of their fiancÚ. When each newly engaged couple added their intertwined initials to the coping stones they would also clean out every other set of begrimed initials. The amazing thing is that there was always a big rusty nail somewhere in the cinders covering the road to do the inscribing, and cleaning, of initials.

In 1976, because my husband and I were becoming too crippled to go to see the bridge, Ronnie (you know him as Ron) created and drew a design onto a blank tapestry cloth. It incorporated all our family initials as they appeared to be carved into the stone of the bridge. I stitched in appropriate colours, and Sandy framed it for me. The last to complete this bridge carving family tradition was Ronnie when he became engaged to Eveline on 25/06/1989. Eveline's Engagement ring had a Sapphire stone in it to mark the fact that Sandy and I had just celebrated our 65th, or Sapphire, Wedding Anniversary.

My parents Cottage at Dron has been enlarged, and modernised, since 1990, by people who have no idea of the love tokens, or their history, scratched into the once again begrimed bridge coping next to their home.

The "Dron Bridge Tapestry" with the family initials I worked into it in 1976 hangs near to me in my room at Clashfarquhar House, Stonehaven, Scotland Each time I look at it I relive lovely memories of my Engagement Day delight in 1922. I cannot see its details, as I approach my 100th Birthday. That does not matter for they are also imprinted on my mind, and engraved on my heart."

Sandy and I and our families had planed our marriage for late 1924 to fit in with Sandy's first furlough (a short holiday back at home after about every two years of service in Africa). An unfortunate set of circumstance in Africa suddenly speeded everything up. The Rev. Archibald BURNETT, one of the Missionaries, his wife and his family became seriously ill, one after the other, with malaria. Their serious state called for immediate hospital treatment in the town of Zomba and then repatriation to Scotland for specialist treatment. Sandy, as the only Missionary already in Nyasaland, was instantly appointed to take over all his predecessors responsibilities without any thorough induction to the major parts of the job.

As a consequence our wedding was brought forward to 30th April, 1924, at Livingstonia. This meant that I would have to travel to Central Africa by myself instead of being married at Logie and Gauldry United Free Church (UFC) by my own minister, and with all my family and friends around me as originally planned. On arrival in Livingstonia, I was to be married amongst strangers by the Right Reverend Dr. Robert Laws. Dr., Laws was not only successor to the late world renowned explorer Dr. David Livingston in Nyasaland, but also then current Moderator of the whole U.F.C., i.e. the top man!

At first many things about this new arrangement worried my parents. I thought it was their fear of savages or wild animals or snakes attacking me, or of accidents whilst travelling, or maybe of catching terrible illnesses and dying in a foreign land. We talked through all of these fears with John, Sandy's father, our Minister and folks who had been abroad and my parents then became happier but still something seemed to worry them. Finally, they admitted difficulty in accepting that their grandchildren would be black! They were concerned that our offspring would look out of place when we eventually brought them home to Scotland. They believed that my children would become the butts of cruel jokes by neighbour's children. It made them happy to discover that they were mistaken and that any children Sandy and I had in Africa would still be white!

8. Can you tell us about your journey from Scotland to Africa?

In 1924 I travelled the 32 miles from Dron to Leith, near Edinburgh, Scotland by train and Ferry over the Firth of Forth (the furthest journey made on my own and in my life to date). I stayed overnight with Mr.. James RODGER, one of Sandy's many uncles, and his family at Portobello, just outside Edinburgh. Next day they saw me and my luggage onto a train from Waverly Railway Station Edinburgh, which took me 600 miles due south to the Port of Southampton with all of its wonderful large buildings, gigantic luxury ocean liners, wealthy people in fine clothes and the dockside piers and berths bustling with every sort of activity.

In Southampton I boarded a steam powered ship which took me to Capetown, South Africa. So far, this was the easiest, most comfortable and least frightening part of my whole journey although the sea became very choppy as we sailed through the Bay of Biscay, and the climate increasingly warmer and more humid before and after the Equator.

Then there was a long slow, airless and stuffy journey through miles of scrub-like desert country to Beira in an open windowed train with hard wooden seats. The train was mainly filled with local people, animals and goods being traded. Our progress was so slow at times that the passengers just jumped on or off where they pleased. At other times the train would stop to let animals, like a herd of elephants, finish crossing the track, or to wait for a lion to awaken from a snooze between the rails, or to scare other creatures from the roadway with many blasts from the steam whistle. Sometimes the rail route took the passengers over deep ravines on the flimsiest looking wooden bridges. At these times a large part of either side of my carriage were hanging over the edge of just great empty space. On other stages the wagons would clatter and wind up, and round, a wisp of track dynamited and chiselled from the rocky hillside. All the while the engine would be chug-chugging and desperately puff-puff-puffing, and the wheels screeching, as if the climb was too much for the load on board. On one side the scene would be miles of scrub land and rivers in spate with just a wall of threatening sharp rock to be seen out of the other side. As the train continued on it drunken progress it would lurch from side to side to bang the stone face and loosen a little landslide of debris.

The train used a wood burning boiler to boil the water that made the steam which drove its huge wheels. Because of the heat and the demanding driving conditions our procession had to stop more frequently after the tougher sections to be filled with water and reloaded with logs. At many of these scheduled stops local tribesmen and women were waiting with all manner of fruit, vegetables, prepared foods, drinks, bone trinkets, wooden carvings, metal bangles and pets in wickerwork cages for sale or barter. The train was like a sort of slow moving always-open busy supermarket at times.

I still think and marvelled at the bravery and courage of the Engineers and workmen who had built that amazing railway, and of those who died or were injured in its making sofar from home. Those who had died in the track building were commemorated by track-side stone cairns surmounted with a metal crosses stamped with their names and details, or so I was told. I lost count of the number as there appeared to be so many.

By way of relief, an overwhelming change of pace came next by way of an exciting boat trip across the fast moving Zambezi which was normally about six miles wide and meandering. When I crossed this river was having its annual flood. This meant that it was over 100 miles wider than usual, fast flowing, swarming with swimming snakes, and wading creatures, crocodiles after an easy meal, and large lumps of log that had to pushed aside by sailors with long poles to avoid damaging, or overturning, the small ferry. It was something of a welcome relief to be safely on firm ground again and to see my luggage safely loaded.

The security I felt on land meant that my wedding journey continued with a long sweaty, dusty and bumpy ride in a rickety, poorly sprung ancient looking motor car over rocky dirt-track rutted roads to Blantyre. As with the train there were problems with wildlife crossing the road, or just lying on it, or walking on it in herds. These had to be waited for or chased off with much honking. The "honks" were made this time by the driver squeezing the big rubber bulb attached to the great brass bugle shaped horn. The driver also had a powerful elephant rifle to use against any creature which might attack us. Unusually, none did and I was quite pleased about this.

There were no prepared stopping places on the road and so if anyone needed the toilet the driver would stop near a clump of scrub and spindly trees and shout; "Men's to the left, Women's to the right and watch out for the snakes and things"!

The second last stage was for me to sail in small steamer boat called the "Ilala" up Lake Nyasa (the lake is as long as the length of England) to Florence Bay. The little ship was used by the natives living along the shores to transport almost everything from place to place as it was the easiest and most convenient means of transport. Inside the ship it was like a sweat-box and very smelly and the toilets were primitive and disgusting. On the crowded deck, and shaded from the sun by a canvas awning it was most pleasant. It was also cool because of the wind from the lake and the forward movement of the ship.

Luckily, the lake was smooth for in future I was to see it in a very rough and nasty state. Just before we anchored we passed an island, Crocodile Island, that was covered with crocodiles basking in the sun and swimming in the surrounding water looking for food thrown from the ship, such as scraps from the Galley. There were also many graceful Sea-Eagles swooping to catch the flotsam or to lift fish from the water.

My stop was at Florence Bay. This natural harbour, such as it was, was very shallow causing the steamer to anchor well off shore. I had to scramble down a rope net over the side of the steamer and travel ashore in a local rowing boat. Lake Nyasa's edge is quite steeply shelving on the shore at Florence Bay. To prevent me and my fine clothes from being soaked two Africans who were up to their armpits in water carried me ashore from their boat above their heads, like a sack of flour, and stood me safely on the shore. I thought what an unceremonious way for a bride to arrive at her wedding, but more was to come. I did not realise that I was being afforded first class treatment!

The final stage of my first and most memorable was up a rough 3,000 foot high 11 mile long winding mountain side road with many hairpin bends. It was made even scarier for me as I was transported seated in a wobbly one bicycle wheeled bush-cart (Manchilla) pulled by two men, one at the front the other at the back holding its protruding shafts, up to Livingstonia Mission Station.

For most of my ride upward I kept my eyes shut for the fall over the side of the track looked dreadfully steep and rocky. The bush-car contraption was locally called, continually lurched forwards, then backwards, or tipped side to side as the two "carriers and pushers" stumbled and tripped on the lose stone and pitted surface in their bare feet! Because of its height, breezes and trees I was relieved to find that Livingstonia was much cooler place than any I had encountered so far.

For various interesting reasons which can read about in "Going with God" my trip from Dron to Livingstonia in 1924 was done in the record time of 27 days (26 days if the one day from Dron to an overnight stay with relatives Edinburgh is not counted). Today aeroplanes and modern roads and reliable vehicles have cut the journey to about 27 hours!

I can also tell you that it was the most exciting and wonderful journey in my whole life. One that I can relive over and over again it in my minds eyes with great enjoyment, just by thinking of it.

The Phelps Stoke second American Commission "adopted" me on my way from Capetown when they heard I was to be married in Livingstonia to a Scottish Missionary. This team were on their way to Livinstonia with a film crew to discover how the Scottish Missionaries were training and educating the local Africans to take over the running of the vast enterprise that was the Nyasaland Mission.

Not only did the Commission film our wedding but the two Negro leaders offered to sign our Marriage Certificate as Witnesses. They were Dr. Jesse JONES and Dr. James Kegwera AGGREY. I know little else about Dr. JONES who never spoke of his upbringing, or of family in America. I did enjoying his cheerful and learned company for many travelling days, and dancing with him after my Wedding.

Dr. AGGREY told me more personal details in our many conversations. He told me that he was a Nigerian Prince who was sent to study in America. There he fell in love and married a fellow student from an influential white family and consequently suffered a lot of hatred and abuse because his intermarriage. He said that despite the resentment he decided to settled in America, teach at a University, raise a family, and to encourage Afro-Americans to gain a formal education and protest against segregation.

Some years later I was sad to read that Dr. AGGREY had died in an America Hospital after undergoing a minor operation and in unexplained circumstances. I also understand that the example, life, and work of Dr. AGGREY were one of the great inspirations for the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther KING. Although Dr. KING was assassinated in 1968 his activities helped to end segregation, and other forms of discrimination against Afro-Americans.

In 1972, when Ronnie learned from me that a film had been made of our wedding by the Phelps Stoke cameramen he tried to trace its whereabouts. All his efforts to trace the film proved fruitless. By 1991 he learned from the American Embassy in London that, if it still existed, it could have been transferred to the Malcolm X Museum and Archive in New York. He wrote several letters to the Museum up to 1996 without even having a reply. I would have loved to have seen that 1924 film, sadly it was not meant to be. But it may still exist.

9. What was your life like in Africa?

All the cooking, housework and child care was done by the African staff on the Mission Station as part of their education and training. My main task was to help my husband with all his work, especially with the educational and social work with the African women, such as Sewing Circles, Baby Care, Diet, Hygiene Demonstrations, and Health Care for Lepers.

Daily life was generally very challenging, busy, exciting, faith enriching, satisfying, stimulating and personally rewarding. Every improvement the Missionaries were able to bring about brought new happiness to some Africans and a better life to all living around us, especially in times of famine, or drought.

You also might like to know that because of the heat it was best to start work from 6-00 a.m. or earlier when the temperature was low, rest in shade from the terrible midday heat, and then work again in the cooler evenings.

We had many journeys to make for Sandy was responsible for an area of land the size of Lincolnshire. For comfort such trips had mostly to be done overnight with armed guides for protection and many African porters to carry everything needed. Most of the time we neither saw, nor met, other white people, yet we always felt we were in safe company with the Africans.

My life was also worrisome at times, mainly because of the illnesses that were constantly keeping us Europeans unwell, despite our immunisations and the medicines had to take daily to keep sickness away.

Until the swamps by the Lakeside were drained some years later, and the Mosquitoes etc., controlled by regular and organised poisoning squads, the area remained a deadly and unhealthy place for Europeans. The Missionary Graveyard bore sad proof of this for whole British families lay buried there.

Recurrent severe Malaria, and finally life threatening Cerebral Malaria eventually made it impossible for Sandy to survive if he remained in Nyasaland and so he was invalided home to Scotland by 1931.

10. What are your favourite memories of Africa?

My first memory of Livingstonia was of being taken ashore like a sack of flour as already described. What I did not mention there was that Sandy, Dr. LAWS, many other Missionaries, and hundreds of locals who were singing and whooping for joy and dancing with happiness. I wanted to be somewhere quiet with Sandy. The dignitaries wanted to make speeches of welcome to me and to the Stokes-Phelps Commissioners and their party.

Dr. LAWS finished his hearty welcome by saying words I cannot forget, "To all who come for a little and to the ONE who comes to stay". The Rev. MANDA, Rev. MKANDAWEIRI made long and well meaning complimentary speeches of welcome, all about my beauty and many talents. Uriah CHIRWA who was then assisting Sandy, and had who had worked with and been the friend of many Scottish Missionaries for over fifty years, made the shortest speech of all. He address Sandy in front of the assembled mass and said in perfect English, but with the broadest and thickest Aberdonian accent; "Bwana, you have brought us a brave and braw lass".

Sandy recorded what happened next in his Diary for 1924 where he scribbled; "It was a large cavalcade that moved up the mountain side, eleven miles, 3,000 feet, to the accompaniment of song and radiant joy". My impressions from the bush-car chair were slightly different, as you have already read!

My lasting memories are of happy, appreciative, keen to learn hard working Africans. This was how they could be when they were treated like human beings. This was not always the case for some white people who lived there seemed only too anxious to exploit the country and its people to increase their own wealth.

My Africans had languages, skills, culture, and art forms that were very different, and as old, and just as developed and as clever as anything in Europe. Most of their history, music, dancing, art, craft, and domestic skills were handed down orally, and with practical tuition from father to son, and from mother to daughter. It gave me joy to work with them, see them grow in confidence as they revelled in learning new skills. It delighted me to watch their new Christian faith drive out ignorant fear and superstition, and generally encourage improvements to their way of life, i.e. education, diet, dress, health, hygiene.

 

ENDS. Copyright, Ronald Rodger CASEBY, Chichester, 09/04/2001. Email: Ronald_Caseby@msn.com