BackgroundThe early days
Shiwa Ng'andu was the inspiration of Stewart Gore-Browne. Born in England in 1883, Gore-Browne first came to Africa in 1902, at the tail end of the Boer War, and later returned in 1911 as a member of the Anglo-Belgian Congo Boundary Commission. On his way back to England, in 1914, one of his carriers guided him north towards Tanzania, passing beside Shiwa Ng'andu, the 'Lake of the Royal Crocodiles'. He intended to settle in Northern Rhodesia, so he negotiated with the local chief to buy the land around the lake – and then, after World War I, he returned to establish himself by the lake. He borrowed money from his beloved Aunt Ethel, and began to build Shiwa.
Gore-Browne was uncomfortable with the colonial attitude towards the African people. He was determined to establish a utopian state, and in his hands Shiwa grew into a vast enterprise with schools and a hospital run with benevolent paternalism. By 1925, Shiwa Ng'andu was employing 1,800 local people.
Gore-Browne passed on skills to them, and together they built neat workers' cottages with tile roofs, as well as bridges and workshops and finally a magnificent manor house, set atop a hill overlooking the lake. Anything that could not be made locally was transported on the heads and backs of porters, along the arduous route from the nearest town, Ndola. At that time it took three weeks to reach Shiwa from Ndola: 70 miles on foot or horseback to the Luapula River, followed by a boat through the Bangweulu wetlands, and a further ten-day walk from the Chambeshi River to Shiwa.
The heavy English-style furniture was made out of local wood; the large gilt-framed portraits and paintings, silver ornaments, and an entire library of books came from England. Everything came together to create an English country mansion in the heart of Africa – a testament to the determination with which Gore-Browne pursued his vision.
In 1927, when he was 44, Gore-Browne met and married Lorna Goldman, the 'ravishing' 18-year-old daughter of his first love, Lorna Bosworth-Smith. She came to Shiwa, threw herself into her husband's projects, and the estate and its inhabitants prospered. Gore-Browne built a distillery for the essential oils that he hoped to make into a profitable local industry. (Given Shiwa's remote location, the estate's produce had to be easily transportable: a non-perishable, valuable commodity of low bulk.) He had several failures, trying roses, geraniums, eucalyptus, peppermint and lemon grass with no success. Eventually, he succeeded with citrus fruit, which flourished and brought a good income into the estate… until a tristezia virus killed off the fruit trees. This hit the estate hard, forcing Gore-Browne to turn to more conventional, less profitable, agriculture.
Regrettably, the stresses of the estate and Gore-Browne's constant travelling took a toll on his marriage; it resulted in his separation from Lorna, who had found it difficult spending such a great deal of time alone at Shiwa with their two daughters, Lorna and Angela. Lady Lorna returned to live in London in 1945. She came back to Shiwa once, in 1958, and then never again. Even in England she would rarely speak of Shiwa; in December 2001 she died, aged 93.
By this time, Gore-Browne had become a rare, political figure in Northern Rhodesia: an aristocratic Englishman, with excellent connections in London, who commanded respect both in the colonial administration and from the African people. He had been elected to Northern Rhodesia's Legislative Council as early as 1935, and was the first member of it to argue that real concessions were needed to African demands for more autonomy. He was impatient with the rule of the Colonial Office, and resented the loss of huge amounts of revenue through taxation paid to Britain, and 'royalties' paid to the British South Africa Company.
He was knighted by George VI and became mentor to Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, who, in 1966, appointed him the first ever Grand Officer of the Companion of the Order of Freedom, the highest honour ever bestowed on a white man in Zambia. He died, an octogenarian, in 1967, and today I believe that he remains the only white man in Africa to have been given a full state funeral. He is buried on a hill overlooking the lake at Shiwa – an honour only bestowed on the Bemba chiefs. In the words of Kaunda, 'He was born an Englishman and died a Zambian. Perhaps if Africa had more like him, the transition from colonial rule to independence would have been less traumatic.'
A highly readable and very successful historical account of the life and times of Stewart Gore-Browne and Shiwa Ng'andu was published in 1999: The Africa House. See Further Reading, though note that reservations have been expressed by the family about some of the finer historical details in this book.After Sir Stewart
On his death, the estate at Shiwa passed to his daughter Lorna and her husband, John Harvey, and their four children Penny, Charlie, Mark and David. However, without the lucrative essential oils, both the manor house and the estate proved difficult to maintain. John and his wife Lorna were both murdered near Lusaka in 1992. The incident has never had a satisfactory investigation.
On John and Lorna's death, the estate passed on to three of Gore-Browne's grandchildren. Initially David took over its management, and by 1995 there were moves to turn the manor house into a museum. Finally, in 2000, Charlie Harvey, Sir Stewart Gore-Browne's grandson, bought the estate from his siblings and now runs it with his wife, Jo.Shiwa reinvented
Until Charlie and Jo took over, the picture here was one of an ancient country estate that was gradually slipping back into the African bush. However, this slide was arrested in 2001 when the couple literally moved their farm from Chisamba, just north of Lusaka. With them came 34 families who had worked with them on the farm in Chisamba, and had elected to move also. Together they brought endless farm equipment, 800 cattle, 600 sheep, 500 assorted wild game animals, eight horses, five cats and five dogs. It was a massive undertaking: 750km by road or, for the livestock, three days on the railway followed by ten days trekking through the bush.
Soon the house became a hum of activity, with builders and renovators raising much dust and gradually restoring Shiwa's past glory. I last visited Shiwa in 2003, some eight years after I'd first been there, and the transformation was startling and impressive. The stranglehold of a slow, tropical decay had been arrested by sheer determination – and the whole feeling of the place had changed.
Before 2001, Shiwa's only real story – and the only reason to visit – was its history: Gore-Browne and the estate's past glories. Shiwa had been reduced to a curious anachronism in the African bush. In contrast now, Shiwa's history is just that: history. A visit here today will look at the past, but also explore the present: Shiwa's people, its animals and its environment – and how these are developing and changing.
At one point during my last stay here, in 2003, I saw a young carpenter working to make one of the internal windows over the courtyard. He was doing a good job, clearly deep in concentration. I asked him if he had also made some of the freshly painted windows on the outside of the house. 'No,' he replied, without pausing, 'my grandfather made those.'
So by all means come to Shiwa to wonder at its past, and the story of Sir Stewart; but expect to leave enthralled by the present – and intrigued by the apparently seamless continuity between the two.
Shiwa todayThe manor house
As you approach from the main road, the rectangular cottages built for farm workers come into view first, their whitewashed walls and tiled roofs saying more of England than of Africa. Then a red-brick gate-house appears, perhaps of Italian design. An old clock-tower rises above its tiled roof, and through its main arch is a long straight avenue, bordered by eucalyptus, leading to the stately manor house.
Climbing up, the avenue leads through typically English gardens – designed on several levels with bougainvillea, frangipani, jacaranda and neatly arranged cypresses. These gardens have been restored with beautiful flowers and well-maintained lawns.
Above the front door is a small carving of a black rhino's head: a reminder that Gore-Browne had earned the local nickname of Chipembele, black rhino. At the centre of the manor is the square tiled Tuscan courtyard, surrounded by arches, overlooking windows and a red tiled roof. Climbing one of the cold, stone-slab staircases brings you into an English manor house, lined with old paintings and its wooden floors covered with old rugs.
Much of the old heavy wooden furniture remains here, including the sturdy chests; together with muskets and all manner of memorabilia, including pictures of old relatives and regiments. Two frames with certificates face each other. One is from King George VI, granting 'our trusty and well-beloved Stewart Gore-Browne, esq' the degree, title, honour and dignity of Knight Bachelor. Opposite, President Kaunda appoints 'my trusted, well-beloved Sir Stewart Gore-Browne' as a Grand Officer of the Companion of the Order of Freedom, second division – it is dated 1966.
The library remains the manor's heart, with three huge walls of books, floor-to-ceiling, which tell of Gore-Browne's interests – Frouede's History of England in at least a dozen volumes, Policy and Arms by Colonel Repington and The Genesis of War by the Right Honourable H H Asquith. His wife was very keen on poetry: there is a classic collection of works by Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, Eliot and others. Gore-Browne left behind a wealth of diaries and personal papers, and much work is in progress cataloguing and archiving these. Central to the room is a grand fireplace, surmounted by the Latin inscription: Ille terrarum mihi super omnes anculus ridet – This corner of the earth, above all others, smiles on me.
It's now possible to stay in the manor house; see Where to stay
for details.Shiwa estate
The working estate here extends to include a farm, a well stocked game-ranch, a lake, stables and all the support necessary for almost total self-sufficiency – directly employing up to about 200 people at any one time. It covers just over 100km2 of land, and encompasses the domestic livestock, including about 1,200 cattle, 900 sheep, 20 pigs and 12 goats for milk (imported from the USA). Three years after the move, the game farm has expanded to about 1,500 large animals, and these are being added to all the time to improve the bloodlines of the existing herds, and increase the numbers. Shiwa's stables have about 17 horses, of which only 11 are regularly used for riding.
There are a few crops grown, but these are used largely to feed the people on the farm and the livestock. The farm's staff are encouraged to have their own plots on which most grow vegetables and maize.
Aside from the agriculture, the estate's hospital has been brought back to life, thanks in part to grants from the British and German embassies – whilst smaller grants have enabled it to complete a very good maternity ward.
When a place like Shiwa is clearly successful, and 'on the rise,' it can attract donor funding for many projects – from health to education to general welfare. So, for example, there are plans to look at the possibility of building a new school here, and even an expanded agricultural college.