The Africa House.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Review
 
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By Christina Lamb [pounds]12.99 Viking ISBN 0-670-87727-1

Christina Lamb's story is of a very different type of white settler to those of the Happy Valley. Stewart Gore-Brown was a military man, seconded to the Anglo-Belgian Border Commission, determining the boundaries between Northern Rhodesia (now Namibia) and the Belgian Congo (now DRC).

On Good Friday 1914, during this sojourn in central southern Africa, he came across Lake Shiwa Ngandu (Lake of the Royal Crocodiles in the local Bemba dialect). Roughly two hundred miles south of Lake Tanganyika in present day Zambia, the lake struck Gore-Brown as an ideal location for the grand house he had dreamed of building for himself since a schoolboy. He later wrote "it was all so magical that I felt I had entered upon a fairy kingdom".

He was undaunted by the challenge that to reach Shiwa Nganda from the nearest railhead at Ndola involved 400 arduous miles, on foot and by canoe. After World War One, he bought 23,000 acres of the land around the lake under a scheme to promote settlement in the colony. He then set about building a 40-room mansion in the middle of Africa.

The logistics were extraordinary. The task involved the porterage of the basic tools and building equipment to cut timber and make bricks, plus all household effects that a English gentleman was deemed to require. Forty porters carried crates of china and cutlery, curtains and bedlinen, mirrors, chandeliers, basins, baths and oil paintings. A large library of books and sufficient quantities of whiskey, vintage port, champagne and fine wines were also included. No doubt Gore-Brown's military experience was pivotal to the project. He built his house which still stands today, even if it is abandoned and dilapidated.

Gore-Brown was a meticulous man; and kept extensive records, diaries and photographs of the project's development. He was also a prodigious letter writer. When Christina Lamb, on a chance visit to the house, came across a trunk full of fading papers, it was to provide much of the material for this biography. The picture that emerges is of a complex and perhaps lonely man. Certainly, his personal relationships were unconventional. Since childhood he had been closer to his mother's sister, Aunt Ethel, than his own mother. He corresponded with her on an almost daily basis. On his visits to England he would stay with her and her husband, and dreamed of the day when she would visit Shiwa Ngandu. She eventually visited the...

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