Ambition and Imagination Taking Shape

Sequestered in his tent on the edge of the haunted forest, cold, scratched and tired, bundled up in his sleeping bag, Edgar Whitehead designed his country house with ambition and imagination by lantern light.

Ambition and Imagination Taking Shape
Witchwood Taking Shape. Edgar Whitehead on the Left.

Once the rock had been collected he hired a stonemason, McAlister, to do the work while he was busy clearing the land to plant his orchard: 400 apples, 150 pears, 150 plums, 75 peaches, 50 apricots, 50 cherries, 25 quinces and 25 mulberries--just for a start.

The house made slow progress. McAlister was not in his best form because, although isolated from the liquor store, he was availing himself of the local native beer made from rapoko. He had been engaged for the job so the cost was not affected by the delays. The over-riding worry was that the rains would break early, so Edgar put a prohibition on the compound brew to get the house finished, much to the annoyance of the natives.

By September, 1931 the veranda pillars went up and the house was ready for the big roof timbering and the gable above the front door. Some of the beams he cut down in the forest weighed three quarters of a ton. The going was rough but by harnessing a couple of oxen and with the help of 6 boys the beams were brought down and installed. Next would come the thatching.

There were new pullet houses to build for the 500 chickens with 3 more incubators soon to hatch out. Rats, snakes, hawks, eagles, mongoose and servals were a constant threat. Notoriously, genets could get through a one inch hole and wipe out a whole flock.

His cattle began to improve with better grazing. Screw worm trouble reared its head, but foot and mouth disease, although a very mild form, was prevalent, but had not come his way yet, but was the real worry.  The danger was that it might become chronic in which case Rhodesian export of about 70,000 head/annum would stop until the country got a canning factory.

Inexplicably, the area was overrun with lions.  Edgar’s Dutch neighbors down below him lost 5 donkeys and some cows, but bagged two full grown lions and a lioness so didn’t do too badly. Another bordering neighbor lost a cow.

Several more lions were seen. One of Edgar’s boys returning from Umtali about dusk was confronted with a lion in his path. He claimed he said “shoo” very loudly, threw a stick at it and it withdrew into the bush growling loudly. He ran for his life! He complained the next day that he could not work because he had taken all the skin off his legs between his knees where they had knocked together as he ran.

Luckily the lions did not visit Witchwood.  But he had no illusions, leopards were bold. I’ll tell you a Witchwood leopard story in the coming weeks…

Umzimtuti Series

Check out both books on Amazon


The historical novel Whitewashed Jacarandas and its sequel Full of Possibilities are both available on Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

These books are inspired by Diana's family's experiences in small town Southern Rhodesia after WWII.

Dr. Sunny Rubenstein and his Gentile wife, Mavourneen, along with various town characters lay bare the racial arrogance of the times, paternalistic idealism, Zionist fervor and anti-Semitism, the proper place of a wife, modernization versus hard-won ways of doing things, and treatment of endemic disease versus investment in public health. It's a roller coaster read.


  • Material excerpted from Full of Possibilities. Originally sourced from Sir Edgar Whitehead's Unpublished Memoirs, Rhodes House, Bodleian Library, Oxford University.
  • Photo credit: Sir Edgar Whitehead's Unpublished Photograph Albums, Rhodes House, Bodleian Library, Oxford University.