Zambia: Shiwa N'gandu
Issue 4
Deep in the hear of the Zambian bush is a stately English home falling victim to high maintenance costs. Could tourism help to revive its former glory.

To The Manor Born

Deep in the heart of the Zambian bush is a stately English home falling victim to high maintenance costs. Could tourism help to revive its former glory? Story by Chris McIntyre.

I know of a manor house, deep in the forests of Zambia. Once an aristocratic vision of how Africa might have been, now, as it crumbles, it speaks of how the continent is. It wasn't designed for visitors, but you can journey there, as I did, on the TAZARA railway.

When Stewart Gore-Browne first arrived at Shiwa N'gandu - the "Lake of the Royal Crocodiles" - as part of a military commission to survey Northern Rhodesia, in 1911, he instantly fell in love with it and returned after the 1st World War to buy it.

As I approached, the bush around me grew less wild. Bridges lifted the track above passing streams. Slate roofs emerged from the lush vegetation, crowning whitewashed rectangular cottages. It was the height of the dry season, yet there was a luxuriance all around. I began to appreciate Gore-Brown's vision.

Independent travellers are rare here. David Harvey emerged from an incongruous red-brick office and, despite not knowing me, I was invited to breakfast. Leading me under an old clock-tower, we started up a long straight avenue of eucalyptus towards the stately manor house, high on the hill. Either side were landscaped gardens: neatly arranged herbaceous borders, bougainvillea, frangipani and fragrant cypresses.

Gore-Browne had been appalled by the attitude to blacks in South Africa. Here at Shiwa he wanted to create a utopian mini-state, free from prejudice. By 1925, this little England was a hive of activity, employing 1,800 people. Together they built cottages, bridges, workshops, a school and a dispensary.

Soon we stood in a courtyard, surrounded by arches, overlooked by windows and red tiled roofs. David explained how anything that could not be made locally was transported by porters, as Gore-Browne spared nothing to pursue his vision.

Given the remote location, Gore-Browne realised that Shiwa had to produce an easily transportable, valuable commodity of low bulk. So he built a distillery for essential oils. After several failures "trying to grow roses, peppermint and lemon grass amongst others", he found success with citrus. The estate prospered and brought in a good income.

In 1927, Gore-Browne married Lorna - a "ravishing" 19-year old from England. In 1935 he was elected to the country's Legislative Council, and was one of the first to argue for more autonomy from the United Kingdom.

Gore-Browne was a rare figure in Northern Rhodesia: an aristocratic Englishman, respected by British and Zambian alike. Across Shiwa's corridors, beside sturdy chests and muskets, two certificates faced each other. One, from King George VI, granted "our trusty and well-beloved Stewart Gore-Browne, Esq." the degree, title, honour and dignity of Knight Bachelor. Opposite, President Kaunda appointed "my trusted, well-beloved Sir Stewart Gore-Browne" as a Grand Officer of the Companion Order of Freedom, second division.

Disaster struck when a virus killed off the trees in the 1950's, and forced the estate to turn to more conventional, less profitable, agriculture. When Sir Stuart died in 1967, he was given a state funeral and buried 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".

Lady Lorna returned to London, and has never again seen Shiwa. "It would break her heart," said David. The estate passed to their daughter Lorna, and thence to David and Mark, Gore-Browne's grandsons. But despite many successes, there is not enough income to maintain such a house.

David now runs the farm, but lives down the hill, by the lake. Looking around, that luxuriant vegetation seems to speed the manor's decline, ageing it by centuries in just 70 years. Slowly it is being reclaimed by the African bush, slowly reverting to that verdant valley with which Gore-Browne had fallen in love.

Chris McIntyre is the author of Bradt Publications' Guide To Zambia.

Published in Travel Africa Edition Four: Summer 1998. Text is subject to Worldwide Copyright (c)

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