It is often said that truth is more exciting than fiction. This biography certainly lives up to that statement. The more I read about Stewart Gore-Browne, the subject of this biography, the more the whole story seemed to move in the realm of fantasy. Gore-Browne, at the age of sixteen, had a dream: it was to build a magnificent house and become a country squire. In the back of his diary he drew the detailed plans of what the house should look like. At the age of twenty-eight he accepted the offer of a job with the Border Commission to go to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) - though he had no idea where it was. As the work on the border was nearing completion he heard that the British South Africa Company was making land available at low cost to white settlers in Northern Rhodesia. He said goodbye to the Border Commission and set out with some porters to find some suitable land and a place to build his dream home. When he came across Shiwa Ngandu he knew instantly he had found the place. He purchased 10,000 acres of land near the beautiful silver lake that had stopped him in his tracks.
The largest tribe in Northern Rhodesia was the Bemba. Gore-Browne had got to know them and admire them, and he learned their language, during the time they'd been used as porters with the Border Commission. His plans, however, had to be put on hold due to the First World War but after six years he returned (as a retired Lieutenant Colonel) to set about building his estate. What he achieved was truly remarkable. He hired local people from the Bemba tribe, and using only an army building manual as his book of reference, he trained them to be builders (making bricks from local mud), carpenters (even to the extent that they could copy items of furniture from pictures in books), and blacksmiths. He taught a select few to be butlers, waiters and servants within the house that was completed in 1932. The estate not only included his 'dream house' but a school, a hospital, a chapel, a post office and cottages for his workers. He shipped items such as paintings, cutlery, crockery, and various other articles from England. Gore-Browne was prescient enough to see that the future of travel to African lay with the use of aircraft, so he built a runway for them to land at Shiwa Ngandu.
He was a strange man. He always liked to dress to perfection and insisted on wearing his monocle. He loved the Bemba and was always very kind to them, but he also beat anyone who failed to please him through laziness or inefficiency. Yet, when in 1946, he was having a celebratory drink with the Bemba in a crowded mud hut - an African beer club - and three white policemen burst in waving their truncheons, ready to set about the Bemba for what they called 'illegal drinking' he stood up and challenged them, telling them it was no longer illegal for natives to sell beer. The sergeant retorted that they didn't have a licence, but by now Gore-Browne had lost his patience with the arrogance and offensive language and replied that, "While you are stuffing your fat faces with beer and chicken and slurping your whisky sodas, they are surviving on one bowl of watery porridge." One of the other officers recognised Gore-Browne and they eventually withdrew with their tails between their legs. Gore-Browne's attitude to the native African was way ahead of his time. He firmly believed they should be able to rule themselves.
Gore-Browne always opened his house to visitors, indeed, he thrived on them. He loved formal dinners. His staff were dressed as waiters in western style clothes and he delighted in the amazement of his guests when they appeared to serve table. But what amazed his guests more was that Gore-Browne always insisted, after the waiters had served his guests wine, they serve themselves and drink it in the room before they departed. In addition to this he often had Africans as guests at his table, and they were treated exactly the same as the whites. Such an attitude to 'the blacks' could be seen nowhere else in Northern Rhodesia.
When he died Kenneth Kaunda (whom Gore-Browne had known from a young man, and a protégé) the first President of Zambia, gave him a State funeral, the only white ever to have been given that honour.
A magnificent book!...Continua