Rhodesian Place Names


The old strip road near Figtree en route to Plumtree
photo by Walter Zucchini

Latitude 20 23' S, Longitude 28 19' E, Altitude 1382 m (4,560 ft), Rainfall 521 mm (21 in)

Figtree, 37 km from Bulawayo on the railway to the south is an important cattle farming area where the Connelly brothers, Joe and Redmund, have established one of the best known Hereford herds in Southern Africa.

The Place was named after an excellent specimen of a wild fig tree (Fiscus scraba) which was a well known landmark and was the place where, before the occupation, missionaries, hunters, traders and others had to await the permission of the king to enter his domain.

The area was first surveyed by Maxwell Edwards, but he had to return to Bulawayo when the rebellion broke out in 1896. On his way to safety, he was attacked by a detachment of Matabele, but he managed to evade being captured and put to certain death.

When the telegraph line from the south was being constructed, arrangements were made by Captain Norris Newman, who was Reuter's correspondent in Bulawayo, to send his telegrams to the telegraph head. He also catered for private telegrams, for which he charged according to the distance the telegram had to be taken to the telegraph head. He made special stamps for the purpose for which three values of $1, 50c and 25c were used. The reduced charge operated from the Figtree Camp, but when the lines were thus far, the Government introduced a similar service at a charge of lOc, whereupon Capt. Newman discontinued his scheme.

The Anglican Church opened Cyrene mission near Figtree in 1939. It was a bold experiment in native education. The director of the mission was the Rev. Edward Patterson, who had previously served with Bishop Paget, Archbishop of Central Africa, when he was still a priest in Benoni in the Transvaal. The Rev. Patterson had a special talent in art and set about developing the African talents in arts and crafts, a task in which he was singularly successful, and he demonstrated the African's natural ability in wood carving. The work was so successful that an exhibition of Cyrene art was held in London during 1949, and another in 1954 - an exhibition which did much to bring the Rhodesian African Art to the attention of the outside world.

The American Salvation Army also operate an educational scheme called the ‘Usher Institute' at Leighwood near Figtree. It was named after J. Usher, a pre-pioneer who was trading at Lobengula's kraal at the time of the latter's defeat in 1893.

Before the Rebellion, another trader named W. H. Dawes had a store near Figtree at Mabukutwani, on the banks of the Umgenin River, but which he had to vacate during the troubles. He subsequently joined the police and for many years was stationed at Mphoengs on the Bechuanaland (now Botswana) border. After his retirement, he purchased Glamorgan farrm where he lived until his death.

F. R. Barnes, who was Postmaster of Bulawayo during the period 1910-1921 retired on his farm at Figtree, but he was perhaps best known for his exploits during the Mashonaland Rebellion of 1896, when, as a member of the Mashonaland Volunteers, he was detailed to patrol and repair the telegraph line between Salisbury and Marandellas which was constantly being interrupted by the rebels.

At first, Figtree consisted of nothing more than a store, post office and police station. Not more than six Europeans were living on the station. The storekeeper, John Strike, also took in lodgers, but was unco-operative towards the British South Africa Company's servants and the Postmaster, John Collyer, who later became Postmaster-General had to share a mess with the troopers. All buildings were of the wattle and daub variety, with a tarpaulin provided to give additional protection for the post office apparatus. Although these huts were cool in summer and cosy in winter, they lacked any comforts. The windows were formed of calico stretched over wooden frames, and the bath water was heated in paraffin tins over an outside fire. Hurricane lamps were used, and most of the furniture was made from paraffin boxes, a practice which continued in Rhodesia for many years. When these boxes were discarded by the fuel companies in favour of the more conventional pumps, it was a sad day for Rhodesia's amateur carpenters.

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Most of the information on this page is extracted from the books :
"Avondale to Zimbabwe" written and published by R. Cherer Smith ISBN 0-7974-0313-2 and
"Tabex Encyclopedia Zimbabwe" Quest Publishing ISBN 0-908306-04-0
with additional notes and photographs by the webmaster and other contributors as acknowledged.