William Shaw and the ox-wagon

Many early writers describe ox wagon travel as tranquil, but Wesleyan missionary, William Shaw, did not find it so. He found it noisy, but amusing. Extracts from his letters and journals in Never a Young Man, compiled by Celia Sadler, state: “The African wagons, covered with white sail-cloth tilts, were each drawn by 12 or 14 oxen, urged on by stalwart Dutch colonists in rather primitive attire, or by tawny Hottentots with hardly any attire at all.” He added that the noise made by the incessant cracking of huge whips and the unsophisticated, unintelligible jargon was wondrous and amusing to English minds and ears. Also, he and his party were not “experienced in the African way of packing a wagon” and this almost ended in disaster. The driver told them to repack. “The Dutch driver, got his message across rather graphically by putting his hands on each side of his head, exclaiming: ‘Break neck, break neck,’ and indicating this would happen if the load remained as it was. This was sufficient to cause our descent and immediate action. Eventually the wagon went forth with great noise and almost ran down the bank of the river. We trembled for our goods and were thankful we were no longer in the vehicle ourselves,” said Rev Shaw.


© Rose’s Roundup,December 2011 (No 215)

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