Big Changes


Dorothy & Gervas Hughes, 1949, standing in front of the Melrose farm house verandah which was always covered with Golden Shower (Pyrostegia venesta).

Big Changes

In 1947 Gervas sold his transport business and became a full time farmer. Retaining his ranch properties, he bought Melrose, a fenced, fertile, arable, red soil farm of 1214 hectares and moved into the Melrose house.

Big Changes

The house was situated eight kilometres west of Hunters Road Railway Station and the main highway, favourably placed to access markets. The farm mainly grew maize but also produced grain: sorghum, cotton, sunflowers, peanuts, potatoes, and bean crops.

The area’s average annual rainfall of 650 millimetres, mostly falling during the summer, was usually sufficient to grow crops. No irrigation was practiced being considered too expensive at that time. If the rains failed part way through the growing season, the crops were made into silage, a drought reserve cattle feed. The silage pits were sealed with a layer of soil and silage would remain preserved for ten years if not opened.

In the summers Gervas made large quantities of velvet bean and grass hay, built into stacks for additional winter feed. His well bred Afrikander cattle would normally manage on the veld grasses throughout the year. Being careful not to overgraze his land, he also made sure that sufficient watering points were placed throughout the farms, ensuring maximum use of the available grazing. Gervas proved to be an excellent farmer and was elected chairman of the local Farmers Committee, a position he held for many years.

Towards the end of the year, Gervas visited England.  Finally, he asked Dorothy Crowther-Smith, the women who had fallen in love with him as a young man recovering from polio twenty years before, to marry him.  She accepted.  They became engaged. Dorothy needed three months to settle her English affairs and secure suitable tenants for her dairy farm before she ventured out to Africa.

Meanwhile life had settled down nicely for Tim, and the letter received at boarding school at Cecil John Rhodes to say that he would have a step-mother called Dorothy, was very worrying.  Some of the boys at school assured him that all step-mothers were evil and cruel to children.

Dorothy arrived the following March.  She and Gervas were married at the Salisbury Cathedral by the old friend of the family, Bishop Edward Paget. His wife Rosemary gave plenty of encouragement as she could see that Dorothy would be a wonderful wife for Gervas.  Angela, at school in Salisbury, was invited to the wedding, but the Principal of her school boarding house would not allow her to attend!

Gervas and Dorothy drove home in the old Chevrolet truck to Melrose farm.

She was soon shown the ranching properties: Greenham, Giraffe and Glen Arrock, all with resident African employees, supplemented by labour from Melrose, for cattle dipping and fencing.

Soon she met the children whom she adored, never having any of her own.  Tim loved Dorothy from the start.  For Angela it was not so easy, as nobody could replace their mother, Barbara, killed in a horse riding accident in 1942.

Many Thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia for the  picture and the excerpts from his unpublished manuscript  Matambega and Son written in the 1980’s.



  • Graeme

    Reply Reply May 11, 2013


    Thank you for the opportunity to read up on the wonderful history of this part of the world. Although not a true Que Que native, I grew up on Central Estates near Mvuma in the 80s/90s and spent much of my childhood fishing on the Sebakwe and Munyati rivers. I had many friends who farmed in Que Que and am therefore familiar with many of the farms/places you mention.

    I to this day, cherish the incredible childhood I was privileged to enjoy on a farm in the Midlands. However talking to the older generations it seemed even more exciting in the times you recount. I found your Sanyati expedition entry very interesting as I have spent some time on this river and plan a walk/kayak trip from its source soon.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 12, 2013

      Graeme, I so glad you are enjoying the blog. As you see from the entires my father did a weekly afternoon clinic at Umniati Power Station and I used to accompany him often…wonderful memories of unspoilt times. I see from the Google map that the Sanyati is still wild country, no real road to the Gorge past the Copper Queen (at the confluence of the Umniati and Umfuli Rivers. Keep me posted on your adventure. Go well. Stay well.

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