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TOPIC: Henry Hoste - a founder of Rhodesia

Henry Hoste - a founder of Rhodesia 1 month 4 days ago #61216

  • djb
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Pictures courtesy of Morton and Eden

BSACM undated (2) Mashonaland 1890, Rhodesia 1896 (Capt. Hoste, H.F. - Pioneers)

Captain Henry Francis Hoste (1853-1936) was born on 17 June 1853 at Stanhoe Rectory, West Norfolk, the son of Reverend James Hoste. Born into a family with strong naval links (his great uncle was Admiral Sir William Hoste), he received his education at Haileybury, but failed his Royal Navy examinations owing to ‘ a difference of opinion between himself and Her Majesty’s examiners’ and so joined the Merchant Navy instead. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to the Tea Clipper Kaisow (of Alexander Rodger, Glasgow) on 19 January 1869, taking part in that year’s ‘tea race’ from Fuzhou to London, in which she performed creditably. He served in this capacity for 3 years, before undertaking work aboard the R.M.S. Teuton, ferrying passengers up and down the eastern coast of Africa. He served aboard mailships of this type for the next seven or eight years, sailing to England and back to Africa, all the while developing his knowledge of the seas, ports and coastlines.

In July 1877, however, he was asked to assist with a Foreign Office expedition into the African interior, led by the explorer Captain James Frederic Elton, Vice Consul of Zanzibar (as recorded in N. S. Davies’ introduction to the book ‘ Gold Fever’ ). The expedition into what is now Malawi was sent to suppress the slave trading which was rife there at the time. It was during this time that Hoste first met Herbert Rhodes (the brother of Cecil Rhodes), who was also part of the expedition. Hoste himself was given the task of serving as Navigator on board the launch Ilala, which steamed northwards up Lake Nyasa, hunting game along the way and meeting with local chiefs and leaders. The exploration and circumnavigation of the lake was achieved, as was the aim to reduce slaving amongst the various chiefs, but the return voyage overland to Zanzibar proved to be full of danger, disease and hardship.

Travelling through areas of warring tribes, all the carriers deserted them, and the expedition was ravaged by fever and disease (possibly Tetanus, or similar), from which Hoste narrowly recovered, but which sadly caused the death of Elton. Returning to England, Hoste obtained his first command shortly before his 30th Birthday, and was later taken on as skipper of the steam yacht Wanderer. He was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience travel aboard the first submarine, the Nordenveldt, soon afterwards being appointed Commodore of the Union Company aboard the mailship Trojan.

It was while commanding this ship that he met with Cecil John Rhodes in August 1889, with whom he discussed the occupation of Mashonaland. During the course of the trip, he asked Hoste to lead one of the troops of the Pioneer Company. Accepting the challenge, he resigned his commission as Commodore, and was duly commissioned as Captain of ‘B’ Troop of the Pioneer Column, becoming known as ‘Skipper’ on account of his years spent at sea. The twelve officers and ninety rank and file leading the Column north, with ‘B’ company and Hoste at its head, crossed the Shashe River at the recently established Fort Tuli on 6 July 1890 - making Hoste, according to his account, the first man of the expedition to ‘officially’ enter into Matabeleland. Travelling in advance of the column they began to cut a path into the new territory, as Hoste describes in ‘Gold Fever’:

“Our modus operandi was, one man of each half section dismounted and chopped while the other rode, led his mate’s horse and carried his rifle. When the man who was chopping got tired they swapped jobs. In this way we got along fairly well, and though the trees were all mopane, which is the hardest wood in Africa, we had cleared five miles of road by sunset...then we formed a zareba of thorn bushes for protection in case of sudden attack. At one end we placed our wagon, and at the other the water cart... Jameson, Selous, Dr. Litchfield, Beal, who was my subaltern, and I slept at the wagon end, also close to our horses.”



Just over a month later, all the while cutting a path and remaining wary of parties of Matabele scouts, Hoste and his men emerged from the jungle on 14 August, just beyond the head of Providential Pass, and selected it for the site of a new fort, owing to its commanding views and strategic location. This would become Fort Victoria, the first settlement in what would become Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Continuing onwards towards their intended destination, they established the site of Fort Charter on 3 September, and on 11 September 1890 they moved into open country near the Makabusi River, twelve miles south of Mount Hampden, as Hoste described: “It was finally decided to halt between the kopje called Mashonas Harari, and the Makabusi River. There we would build the fort, which was to be named after the Marquis of Salisbury, then Prime Minister of England.” The column itself followed the next day, thus marking the formal establishment of the new settlement – Salisbury. ‘Skipper’ Hoste had been placed in command of the planned flag ceremony and parade, and he set about making arrangements.

“I awoke at dawn next day, September 13th, and suddenly remembered that there was no flag-staff to hoist the flag on. Jumping out of bed I roused Biscoe, who, like myself, was an ex sailor. We got hold of an axe and went to the nearest clump of trees where we picked out a nice straight pole. While I was chopping it down ‘Reveille’ sounded, so Biscoe went back to camp and fetched along two or three sailor men... When they arrived I had the tree down. After trimming it we carried our mast along, rigged signal halyards and stays on it and erected it in the middle of the fort that was to be. At 10.00am we paraded in front of this rough flag-staff...In a small group at the foot of the flagstaff stood our Commanding Officers, Colonel Pennefather, with his young A.D.C., Sidney Shepstone and Sir John Willoughby. Biscoe, with the flag rolled under his arm, stood smartly to attention as Canon Balfour...stepped forward to give a short address and an extempore prayer. When he finished, the bugles sounded ‘The Royal Salute’, we presented arms and Biscoe solemnly and slowly hoisted the flag. That function over, Mashonaland was now a part of the British Empire...”

The Fort was practically finished by 27 September, and the Pioneer Column was finally disbanded on 30 September 1890. Within a matter of hours, most of the men began to form themselves into small syndicates and scattered all over the country prospecting for gold, each quite certain they would make a fortune. Skipper and his brother Derick, along with his friend Biscoe formed the syndicate ‘Hoste Brothers and Biscoe’ with the express purpose of finding gold and “making a pile.” Their assets comprised 5 horses, a wagon, a span of oxen and supplies for 3 months. They agreed Derick would go to Hartley Hills which were full of “ancient workings” and reputed to be fabulously rich in gold. Biscoe would investigate the Mazoe valley, there were rumours of good looking quartz and gold in the sands of the river. Sir John Willoughby asked to join their syndicate but they were not particularly keen, until they heard he had a wagon and some tools, all useful and rare at the time. Despite their enthusiasm, they failed to discover a proper workable seam of gold, and in the meantime, trouble was brewing to the east, in Manicaland, under Chief Mtassa, close to the Portuguese sphere of influence emanating from the settlement at Beira. Asked to return to service, ‘Skipper’ Hoste returned in November that year along with his friend and associate Biscoe, carrying with them a number of dispatches to Captain Forbes, who intended to march upon Beira and to pacify the troubled area. This punitive expedition ended with the capture of the Portuguese Colonel D’Andrada and the fort at Mecequece, with the march upon Beira called off at the last moment. The Fort at Mecequce was left under the command of Hoste, who was temporarily appointed Governor of Manica and Sofala, with a garrison comprising of Biscoe, one sergeant and four men, who kept a considerably larger number of Portuguese soldiers prisoner until the tense negotiations had been concluded.

Returning to a life of gold prospecting once again, some years later Hoste returned to service one final time as a Major with the Salisbury Field Force during the Matabele uprising in early 1896. In 1897 he returned to England and married Florence Eugene Clark, who was previously engaged to Hoste’s brother William Derick Hoste (a former merchant seaman and fellow Pioneer Trooper in ‘B’ Company), who had died of Blackwater fever in the Hartley Hills in 1893. The couple later travelled to Bulawayo on the very first train opened to the public on the new line from Kimberley, travelling onwards to Salisbury on the Zeederberg mule coach, taking over a week. Now established in the area, they returned to a life of gold mining and prospecting.

Hoste eventually settled at Essexvale, trading gold prospecting for work in cattle inspection. After an exciting and varied life, ‘Skipper’ Hoste died at Mazoe in January 1936. A street (Skipper Hoste Drive) remains named in his honour in modern-day Harare, Zimbabwe.

David Biggins
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David Biggins
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