All that Glitters is not Gold

Conversion to Russian Orthodoxy or conscription into the Russian Army were the only ways out of the ghettoes of the Pale of Settlement in Lithuania. Either one was out of the question for Joseph Schattil.

All that Glitters is not Gold
Outspan--A Cape-cart on the Ayrshire Road North of Salisbury 1902

A young man, he longed for freedom, and prosperity described in letters from ‘landslite’ in ‘Dorem’ Africa.

The London Jewish Chronicle praise of Rhodes’ British South Africa Company’s motto of ‘Justice, Freedom, and Commerce’ reached his shtetl. Oppressed European Jews would enjoy full rights which were denied them in the Russian Empire and other countries, including Kruger’s Transvaal Republic under the Grontwet.

Joseph landed in Capetown in 1897 and headed north by rail with fellow travelers, Harry Sussman and Moses Sill, to Mafeking. Rhodes’ rail was being pushed ahead at all speed 300 miles north towards Bulawayo because the rinderpest epidemic had killed all the draft animals. The starving Matabele, whose remnant cattle had been incomprehensibly segregated and slaughtered, rose in revolt. Undeterred, Harry, Moses and Joseph walked the last 200 miles to Bulawayo.

Harry and Moses moved on to Northern Rhodesia, but Joseph stayed on. He loved the warm climate after the cold of Lithuania, the clear blue sky, the flaxen grass, the flat topped trees, the plethora of animals.  He never shot for sport, as was the fashion, only for the pot.

Mines were opening up everywhere, but were often disappointing. He moved from one mining concession trading store to another before he met and married Dina Masinter, newly out from Lithuania in 1907. They traded at and called home the Jumbo Mine, then the Eiffel Blue, the Gothic, the Lonely, the Queens Mines.

 Their family grew, if not their fortunes. The roads were dirt tracks at best, but mostly native footpaths trampled in the long grass. For most of the year, if they fell in the river, they got out and dusted themselves off.  But in the rainy season, the drifts were often flooded, cutting them off from town.

Joseph had a great horse named Pompey. But one day, galloping through one of Rhodesia’s iconic afternoon thunderstorms to Bulawayo from the Lonely Mine, Pompey was struck by lightening and died instantly. Joseph was thrown onto a rocky outcrop but recovered consciousness. Battered and bruised, he managed to walk into town. Other than the horse, the only permanent casualty was his gold Hunter watch, which had melted! Many years later he sold it when the price of gold went up.

 After the Great War, Joseph’s horse Custard died of horse sickness.  It was time to sell the remaining horse along with the buggy. He bought a Model T Ford instead. Then Dina was struck down with the Spanish Flu. Avoiding the hospital, he moved the family to a hotel in Bulawayo. The Jewish community there rallied to their cause, bringing a relay of meals to the door until she recovered.

On the move again, he sold his Model T (his total capital) and moved the family to Wankie Colliery. The Lowveld weather did not agree with Joseph. Soon they left for Lithuania to visit his mother and mother-in-law.

Happy to return, in 1929, Sherwood Starr Mine, outside Que Que, was a new discovery. There were no ancient workings and it had not been discovered by early prospectors. But it promised to be big.

Joseph secured the concession store rights to it.  He loved prospecting and on Sundays with Dina and the five children he'd tramp around the bush with a prospector’s hammer, sample bag and…a shot gun just in case. Four years of prospecting yielded the Golden Snake Mine. He developed this claim before he put it up for sale. Rumor has it he turned down an offer of £10,000, deciding to have it assayed first instead. The reports were poor. The mine closed.  He sold the business at Sherwood Starr Mine and moved yet again to Bulawayo.

Moving from pillar to post, hoping for a bonanza, the copper and gold Alaska Mine looked like a winner, but the bottom dropped out of the copper market in the Great Depression and the mine closed. Joseph and his family were on the move yet again!

By chance, visiting his brother Jacob in Johannesburg, they found a 150 oz. alluvial nugget of gold worth about £600 to keep the creditors at bay.

 On return to Rhodesia, he bought the store at Que Que Limeworks—a modest proposition, but luck was really with him this time. Hard work, in hard times, never giving up, Joseph Schattil had kept his family intact. Here, his little store thrived.

What’s more, the convenient discovery of iron in the adjacent hills morphed into the government owned Rhodesian Iron and Steel Corporation (RISCO). Joseph never looked back. His son Ralph and later his son-in-law Ronnie Samson joined him in the concession store in the adjourning township of Torwood. 

Joseph died at age 74, in 1950. But the business continued there for several years before Ralph and Ronnie built two new stores, one in Redcliff which Ralph ran and one in the African township which Ronnie ran.

Umzimtuti Series

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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.

The 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.


  • Gillian Midgen (nee Schattil) for direction to Childhood Reminiscences of an Early Settler’s Daughter by Esme Newfield published in
  • Article by Alexander Schattil with comments by Leslie Comaroff courtesy of Lynette Hirschowitz (nee Samson).
  • Majuta by Barry Kosim
  • Original photo Colin Weyer Cape-cart on the Ayrshire Road north of Salisbury 1902