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Ranching in Southern Rhodesia

Hereford cattle have proved over and over again to be the best in the world when it comes to ranching. Drought conditions, arduous journeys across barren lands in search of food and water, harsh climatic conditions and diseases are shrugged off by these cattle.

Among those profoundly aware of this resilience was my maternal grandfather Charles Spearman Jobling, among the first to import the breed into Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and one of the most successful cattle breeders in the country in the early 1900s.

Born in February 1876 at Bywell Hall Farm, Bywell St Peter, Northumberland, Jobling went to Southern Rhodesia aged 17. He served in the 1896 Rebellion (indigenous Shona and Ndebele tribes staged unsuccessful revolts against Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company), before taking up farming. In 1903 he bought a 1,000 acre farm in the Umgusa Valley lying some 60 kilometres from the nearest town of Bulawayo in the Matabeleland province. He named the farm Dovenby. His father Thomas Henry Jobling (his mother was Marcia Margaret formerly Chisholm) shipped a pedigree Hereford bull and some cows out to him in 1905, and so he built up his herd.

CS Jobling is leaning on the wall next to Molly

In 1917 he was the first winner of the Bulawayo Agricultural Society’s 1,000 Guinea Floating Trophy, which he won again for the following two years. This cup was awarded for the best bull on show, of any breed and any age, and bulls from Great Britain, America, the Union of South Africa and Southern and Northern Rhodesia competed.

He also received The Hereford Herd Book Society of Great Britain Challenge Cup for the “Best Group of 5 Hereford Cattle Bred in South Africa, exhibited at the Bulawayo Show” in 1919 and 1920.

In February 1918 he wrote to The Hereford Herd Book Society of Great Britain and the following year this letter was published. He stated: "It is now 13 years since I bought my first Hereford bull for grading purposes, and eight years since I started a pedigree herd. I would not feel justified in saying that the breed, or in fact any breed, was more suitable than others for Rhodesia : because it is a big country, with very widely varying conditions, types of country, class of herbage, etc. But I am justified in saying that so far as my personal experience goes I have had no reason to regret adopting the breed; nor should I be willing to supersede it by any other to-day.”

Having been brought up in the Shorthorn country of northern England he admitted he had inherited a prejudice in favour of the Shorthorn but emphasised: “Over 20 years' Rhodesian experience has convinced me that only in very favoured spots will the Shorthorn do here,” and that was not because there was anything wrong with that breed, rather because the country required “something hardier, more of a rustler, an animal that can make good use of only moderate fare”.
"I believe that in these districts the Hereford compares favourably with any breed, and I have proved his ability to respond readily to feed if it is desired to produce finished beef.”

He refuted claims at that time relating to the value of red markings around Herefords’ eyes as constituting a protection against eye diseases. “I find that colour has no bearing on susceptibility or otherwise. I find it attacks a jet black native animal as readily as any.”

"There is no doubt there is a prejudice here against Herefords, based, I think, on their colour. I feel sure that when they are better known, it will disappear, as has happened in other countries."

Matabeleland was always recognised as good cattle country, but wherever you were, farming in southern Africa was tough. One of the biggest threats to survival was malaria, for which there were no prophylactics, according to my grandmother Gladys Louise Moriarty (known to all as “Molly”), whom Charles married in 1926 and who survived Charles for more than 50 years. “We always had quinine on the farm and heavily dosed people with it, kept them in bed and they seemed to get all right again,” she said.

Born in London in 1897, Molly went out to Southern Rhodesia in August 1919 to work as a ‘land-girl’ on a farm called Donnington, owned by the Downes family. It lay some 15 miles by ox-wagon from Lydiate railway siding, and from here it was about 60 kilometres to the capital city of Salisbury (now Harare).

A shy and genteel lady, she went out to Africa initially as the governess for Captain Roger Edward Downes and family, who treated her very kindly. She was soon weaned off domestic duties to work full time on the farm. During her eight years here she managed the cattle, sheep, labour, tobacco seed beds, ran the dairy – and at times still looked after the couple’s four children.

Molly’s first impression of Africa was how lucky the natives and their piccanins (children) were, sitting in the sun outside their mud huts in space and freedom, compared with the misery of the poor in England. She arrived to a bare, unfinished farmhouse (the First World War had ceased all development) with no ceilings and shared a bedroom with three of the children. Eventually a traditional African wattle-and-daub thatched hut complete with cow-dung floor was built for her slightly away from the main house. Despite the omnipresent malarial mosquitoes, insects of all description and having to walk, in the dark, to the long-drop (a lavatory with a hole in the ground) stationed at the bottom of the garden, she was happy with her lot.

She found that everybody had the farm at heart, with little time for fun and socialising. “All we thought of was working on it, trying to improve it,” she said. It was always a struggle to make ends meet. They made everything they could - marmalade, bread, yeast, soap, candles and beer. “The beer we used to make from mealies (corn), with a few dried hops in it. To my mind, filthy stuff, but the men seemed to like it all right,” recalled Molly.

They kept a few pigs too. “Pig-killing day was quite a day. The boy killed it and brought it in. I used to make sausages and brawn, pork pies, and cut up hams and cure them (very badly of course) just by sticking brine in with a syringe.”

Molly’s main task was to build up a good cattle herd. There was a small mixed herd on the farm which included Afrikander, Friesland, native zebu cattle and cross-bred Herefords. “The latter were what we were trying to build up into a better sort of herd, and to do this of course we had to get decent bulls.” And so she met Charles Spearman Jobling, who would send her bulls when the farm could afford to buy them.

There was a lot of work attached to the cattle alone. Dipping was a “tremendous hoo-ha every week, shouting, pushing and crowding, poking each other and tearing each other with their horns”, she said. “There was so much trouble caused by these long horns, which used to make sores on the cattle into which screw-worm invaded. This had to be dug out, and bisulphide was put into the wound.”

“We also had to build what we called a race to put the cattle through so that we could de-horn them. All these things, except the dipping, I used to do myself, also castrating the young calves to turn them into ‘tollies’ (oxen) for use for ploughing later on,” she said.

The cattle roamed wherever they could find grass, and Molly often went on foot to see that all was well. Sometimes she was away all day and initially got lost, but soon learned to find her way back by the sun.

She had to deal with many a difficult calving and recalled relieving a bloated cow which had eating a poisonous root. Using a trocar she “somehow” managed to puncture the animal in the right place but it was “a terrifying sort of thing to have to do, knowing nothing about it. I could never say ‘oh I can’t do that’  - if something had to be done you jolly well had to go and do it somehow, even if one killed the particular animal that one was trying to help in the process.”

Which she did do dosing a black-headed Persian sheep for wire-worm. “I botched the whole thing. I must have put the medicine bottle under the tongue or something. There was an awful silence and the poor thing fell down at my feet, dead. In some way I had choked it. It was rather horrible.”

Downes also tried tobacco. “Neither of us knew anything about it, we just learned as we went along. Neither did many of the other people in the district,” she said. They had to hire about 100 extra workers, who would “frighten the life” out of her as they “just had loin cloths and carried spears, and wore beards and things like that”.

“Of course they couldn’t speak a word of my language and I couldn’t speak one of theirs, so it was a little bit difficult getting them on to the jobs, especially the tobacco seed beds which had to be prepared. One had to do it by mime or by gesticulation. In the end we seemed to get it done all right. Anyone who grows tobacco knows that it is a long, weary business.”

She left the Downes’ farm after Charles proposed, and they married in Newhaven register office in England in September 1926. (He was divorced.) They returned by boat to Cape Town, bought a car and drove it to Dovenby during a bad drought. “Along the sides of the road one would now and again come across a dead sheep or cow smothered in flies. I shall never forget the heat and the tremendous relief when the evening came and the sun went down.”

The beef cattle industry in Southern Rhodesia at this time struggled to secure a place in a world market dominated by a few large cold storage companies, particularly from Argentina. Throughout these years the country faced indifference from such companies. Only Liebigs, primarily involved in meat extract requiring low-grade cattle, were interested in operating in Southern Rhodesia.

Although the meat industry here had some advantages it also suffered from lack of capital, inadequate transport, the poor beef quality of indigenous cattle and disease.
Jobling was prominent in many farming associations and became involved in politics. He was elected to the Second Legislative Assembly in 1929 and joined the Reform Party in 1933, which won the next election. Godfrey Martin Huggins became Prime Minister, while Jobling was appointed Minister of Agriculture.

He was much sought after as a speaker, especially to explain a controversial Maize Control Act – this legislation discouraged the export market in order to give all producers a share of the local market, with the balance to go for export. It was not a popular piece of legislation - once during a debate in the House, a woman threw a potato at him according to Molly!

His work meant much to him, and while touring the country speaking to concerned farmers he contracted pneumonia, from which he died, in 1934 aged 57. After a state funeral in Salisbury the body was taken by gun carriage to a burial place on unconsecrated ground. At the graveside Huggins gave a moving farewell oration. “Jobling did not belong to any recognised denomination; he believed that when he died he entered into a state of everlasting sleep; he believed that each individual should work out the life that had been given to him to the best of his ability and to be as useful to his fellow man as came within the compass of his attainment. His creed may be summarised as ‘Do as you would be done by’,” he said.

“His work for the agricultural community of this Colony stands supreme; it was not begun when he became Minister of Agriculture, but long before in agricultural organisations and as a member of the House. His firm stand for improving conditions of land purchase was probably the most striking single-handed effort in the annals of our Parliament. That he should have been able to force this upon the unwilling attention of the government of the day is a tribute to his constructive genius and his determination.”
Huggins describing him as determined yet reasonable and happy “as long as he was with real farmers who appreciated the land for what the land would and could do when treated properly.”

“Many men are energetic, many men are determined, but few there are who combine as he did these qualities with the bright spark of a broad and far-seeing intelligence. Thus he added greatly to the strength, value and prestige of the party I have the honour to lead, and the party’s loss is the country’s loss.”
“May his great example stimulate others of his calibre and fibre to come forward to help their country. To me at the moment he seems irreplaceable but it is good for all of us on frequent occasions to remember that none of us are irreplaceable, however high an opinion we may have of our own importance and worth.”

Molly and their little girl Jennifer continued to run Dovenby but eventually it all became too much and, as prices were low due to The Great Depression, the farm, herd, house and library were sold for £3,500.


See Cheryl's article in the Hereford Breed Journal (320kB)