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The Trek to Rhodesia

The Van Der Byle Trek
April 1891 to November 1891

In 1890, Cecil John Rhodes sponsored and financed an agricultural trek to Mashonaland. It was led by Pieter Lourens van der Byl, an ex M.P. of the Cape Colony. They were to get 3000 acres after 2 years. In the meantime they would be paid 2 shillings a day and fed for 6 months after which they would live off the settlement until two years were up.

Twenty five men were selected from the Stellenbosch and Eerste River area of the Cape Colony. The original names were Pieter Lourens van der Byl, Myburgh, Weir Faure, Jones, H. Burmester, G. Burmester, McEwan, McHugh, Solomon Wagner, Stegman, Moodie, van Niekirk, Brown, Gllbey, Thomson, Voss, Wright, Steenveld, Paul van der Byl, Hugh Williams, William Fischer. Richard Fischer had run away from home aged 19, and was working as an assistant to an auctioneer in Johannesburg and joined the trek there.

The trek was made up as follows:
1 leader, 23 white men, 4 cape boys, 6 blacks, 80 Oxen, 5 Ox Wagons, 9 Mules, 2 Snow,White Horses.(Both died in the Bechuanaland Protectorate.)

They had to bring:
Stretcher bed, blankets, kettle, grid iron, 1 pan, tin mug, cups, enamel plates, 3 knives, 3 spoons, tobacco, matches, 6 trousers, 2 jackets, 12 shirts, (6 flannel, 6 cotton), 4 prs, boots, 2 prs. veldskoens, 2 prs. garters, 12 socks, 2 felt hats, 1 straw hat, musical, instruments, 2 caps, 3 bars soap needles, pins thread, buttons, linen, cloth for patching, vegetable seeds, books, camp chair.

Cricket and football were to be encouraged as well as pet dogs.

They traveled as far as Vryburg by train. Then by wagon via Joannesburg to Fort Tuli which they reached in August. After crossing the Tokwe and Lundi Rivers they arrived at Fort Victoria on 15th October. They then decided to settle north of Fort Victoria at INYATZIZI or INYATZITZE when Jameson suggested they move on to an area between the Mangwende kraal and Makoni kraal.

Little is known about the trek from Fort Victoria to Fort Charter other than they must have travelled down the SELOUS ROAD which crosses the Macheke on Nyamera Farm (Ben Gilpin) and continued to Headlands Farm and then on to MONA farm. An off shoot from this road leads down to FISCHERSVALE.

They arrived on the 11th November 1891 at what is now known as MONA farm and set up their settlement on the banks of the Matinidza river, a tributary of the Chimbe river.

Thirty three huts were built but disaster struck when Pieter Lourens van der Byl died, aged 61 years having been at the settlement for less than five months. As the cortege was approaching the grave, a tremendous and simultaneous clap of thunder and bolt of lightening caused them to drop his coffin. After the rebellion and with the railway line being built, a substantial monument was erected at van der Byl’s grave with the following memorial plaque:

“To the memory of Pieter Lourens van der Byl formerly of WELMOED, EERSTE RIVIER, CAPE COLONY. Born 18 April 1831. Died 30 March 1892.

He was a warm friend, a trusted companion and the most unselfish of men ever ready to devote his time and trouble to the services of others. A true South African and firmly attached to all the traditions of the race from which he sprang. He was at the same time a British Citizen in the largest and best sense of the word and devoted the last years of his life to the task of extending by peaceful settlement the boundary of civilization in that South Africa which he loved so well.

Erected in affection and remembrance by his brother Adrian and son Gerard.”
{We will visit this tomorrow}

The trekkers dispersed for three reasons:
1. Loss of their leader and Malaria.
2. Rhodes and Jameson concerned at the cost of the whole enterprise ordered an inquiry and found “not more than three out of the twenty do any work at all and ordered those who had not moved away to divide up the wagons and farming equipment and take up farming on their own account.”
3. Later settlers were granted 3000 acres on arrival and did not have to wait two years.

The Fischer brothers took up land and named it Fischersvale, while Hugh Williams, the remaining settler stayed at Mona as the Post Master.

Williams’ letters and diary preserved in the Archives are the most valuable source of information about the settlement.
He was Post Master from 1891 - 1895 and died in 1922.

The Fischer brothers paid a quitrent of.t6.4.0. per year. They survived the rebellion of 1896. Of William we do not know where he was, but Richard ran from Fischersvale to the laager at Headlands, not the Headlands of today, but at Edenvale, then known as Headlands.

After the rebellion, William moved to Nedziwa.
An area of land between the Macheke river and the Chimbe river, either side of Selous Road was pegged by the Survey Dept., (plan DG630) and called the Lawrencedale Block, including a special block for Lourens van der Byl, which he called Helensvale, at the Macheke river end, and a further grant for Settlement which became Mona in 1894. In between were 26 farms, numbered but not named. Willoughbeys Mining and Ranching Co. acquired these farms in 1901. They made no use of the Lawrencedale block, They were sold off and it is recorded that H.C. Fischer bought No. 1 for £1526 and No. 2 for £1231, while W.F.Fischer bought No. 5 for £2563 in 1952.

Richard Fischer wanted to leave Fischersvale because of malaria and was granted Coldstream by the B.S.A.Co. in 1911. Wakefield was not in the Lawrencedale block and was acquired in 1916 for two blankets and a bottle of whiskey. Farming started in 1922 by Rijk and Chris Fischer.


  • Many Treks made Rhodesia
  • Avondale to Zimbabwe
  • Eastern Route Post Offices
  • National Archives
  • Hugh Williams’ Diaries
  • Heritage Journal No.9 1990

Richard Fischer’s Diary: 26th February 1906 - August 1907 It has now been identified to have been written in 1907 as he was in San Francisco a year after the earthquake. He went to Canada to see if it was worth emigrating there. In the Okauagan Valley, he visited a farm called Coldstream and named his farm after it.

Klein Bottlelary 1758:
Granted to the Fischers as Free Burghers in 1758 and still occupied by Daniel and Ruth Fischer. It is in the Stellenbosch area on the Krom Rhee road to Kuils river. Of note are two cannon barrels from Kannon Kop used to signal that ships had arrived in Table Bay.

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