By Kate Tyndall
Deep in the remote African bush country of northern Zambia lies Shiwa,
a sprawling 40-roomed English manor house complete with chapel, pool,
tennis court and terraced gardens, a monument to one man's African
dream, home now to dust motes, termites and the encroaching vegetation.
Born when Victoria was still England's queen, Stewart Gore-Browne
built Shiwa for a woman who never lived there, his dashing aunt, Ethel
Locke King, 19 years his senior and for whom he cherished a lifelong,
though unrequited and only tacitly acknowledged passion.
It was presided over by another, Lorna Goldman, 25 years his junior,
whom he married as a young girl of 19. This Lorna, whom he referred
to privately in his diary as Lorna II, was the orphaned daughter of
his first love, Lorna Bosworth Smith. She had married another suitor
when Gore-Browne tarried in declaring his feelings for her. His wife
eventually left him, and he was never able to entice his beloved aunt
to come live at Shiwa, but Gore-Browne's romance with the house and
the land on which it was built never faltered. It was a passion that
lasted unabated for over half a century.
Christina Lamb, a foreign affairs correspondent for London's Sunday
Times, first came upon Shiwa in 1996 in the company of Gore-Browne's
grandson, Mark Harvey, a safari guide in Zambia, who told her a strange
tale of a proper Victorian who built a manor house in the bush, complete
with servants in livery of the owner's specific design, cocktails
on the lawn and formal dress for dinner every evening.
He offered to take her to see the abandoned home. At the end of a
13-hour drive from Zambia's capital, Lusaka, Ms. Lamb recounts, Harvey
drove through a typical English village, complete with signposted
village store, post office, estate office, gate house and clocktower,
the latter carved with the date 1920. Further along were red brick
cottages, then a steep drive bordered with Italian cypress leading
to the house.
Ms. Lamb was stunned by her first sight of the three-story, pink-bricked
mansion, with its line of arches supporting a first floor terrace,
set between the granite hills and the lake. "In all my travels
in ten years as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Asia and South
America," she wrote, "I had never seen anything like it."
Ms. Lamb's passion to tell the story of Gore-Browne's Africa house
equals his own to build it.
That first afternoon, she and Harvey went through the crumbling manor,
everywhere, from the clocktower down to the carved posters of Gore-Browne's
bed, embellished by the owner's device, a rhino. Gore-Browne himself
was known throughout the region as Chipembele, the Bemba word for
rhinoceros, for his hot temper.
As she walked through room after room, still full of furniture, much
of it built by workers on the estate, and saw crystal chandeliers,
Meissen plates, a pink and gold Spode china tea service, oil portraits,
photographs and a massive library of leather-bound volumes, it felt
to her, Ms. Lamb later wrote, that "Shiwa Ngandu seemed to symbolize
the arrogance, paternalism, vision and sheer bloody-mindedness of
British Colonials in Africa."
The real story was much more complicated and the author does it justice
in the telling. Given complete access to Gore-Browne's letters and
diaries by his heirs " he was a compulsive diarist and maintained
a prodigious correspondence — Ms. Lamb tells a cracking good
tale in "The Africa House," deftly blending one man's story
into the wider political context surrounding the birth of an independent
Zambia and the death throes of British colonialism.
After an unexceptional career as an army officer, Gore-Browne was
offered a chance to go to Northern Rhodesia in 1911 as a surveyor
with the Anglo-Belgian Boundary Commission, a group charged with plotting
the border between the Belgian Congo and British Northern Rhodesia.
He accepted the job, not knowing where exactly Northern Rhodesia was.
In his three years with the border commission, Gore-Browne came to
love the vast country, still so largely unexplored, and its people,
and realized he wanted to make his home there.
After his work with the border commission was done, he set out looking
for a piece of land to buy on which to build his home, when he found
out the British South Africa Company was selling land in Northern
Rhodesia at bargain rates to lure white settlers. In Africa, he realized
his modest means would allow him to live like a king and fulfill his
dream of building a country manor, like his aunt's home, Brooklands,
where he had spent so many happy hours as a boy.
When Gore-Browne first came upon the area overlooking Shiwa Ngandu,
a body of water the local Bemba people called the Lake of the Royal
Crocodiles, he knew he had found the site for his Africa house. He
bought 10,000 acres of land for two shillings an acre and set out
to build it. Gore-Browne was not fazed by tales of the lake's man-eating
crocodiles — one of which had made a meal of Scottish missionary
David Livingstone's little dog Chitane, on the explorer's last journey
to find the headwaters of the Nile — nor did he worry about
the predatory leopards or any of the other wild life that was so abundant
around the water.
Later he wrote of his first sight of Shiwa Ngandu: "It was all
so magical that I felt I had entered a fairy kingdom." Born in
1883, Gore-Browne was a conventionally raised and educated Englishman,
with all the aspirations, entitlements and prejudices of his class
and time. Yet he was and remained an independent thinker, who often
criticized, in word and in print, Britain's paternalist attitude toward
and treatment of the Africans.
Though he spent most of his life recreating a feudal haven in the
African bush, Gore-Browne ended up renouncing his British citizenship
for that of his adopted homeland and advocating for the Africans right
to rule themselves. He lived to see an independent Zambia. He built
a school, hospital and later, an airstrip at Shiwa, and at one time
was the largest employer in that part of what was then Northern Rhodesia.
After Gore-Browne's first sight of Shiwa Ngandu, he had to put aside
plans to build his African dream house to return to England and join
the war effort. He was not to see Shiwa again for six years. In 1920,
the retired Lt. Col. Gore-Browne returned to Shiwa, this time with
a caravan of porters and oxen bringing all the equipment he would
need to start building his house.
Equipped with an army building manual, he employed hundreds of natives
to make bricks, dig drains, plow and sow crops. He built a distillery
to process essential oils for the perfume trade, determined that Shiwa
would eventually be self-sufficient. The house was finally completed
in 1932. His teenage bride, whom he married on a trip back to England
and brought to Shiwa in 1927, became adept at helping him run the
However, his African dream was not so easily shared, and the pair
gradually grew apart as Gore-Browne began to spend more time away
from Shiwa engaged in politics and Lorna spent more and more time
in England with the couple's two young daughters.
In 1935 Gore-Browne was asked to stand for the legislative council
elections in Lusaka as the representative for the Northern Province.
He agreed, though with reservations, writing to his aunt that he had
little patience with his 600 constituents' "anti-native views."
He was duly elected, and for the next 30 years, spent much of his
time working for the native interests and the creation of an independent
When Gore-Browne died in 1967 at the age of 84, news of his death
covered the front and editorial pages of the Times of Zambia, and
his one-time protege, Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, who had grown
up in the village near Shiwa, ordered a state funeral. Gore-Browne
was also honored with a chief's burial, the only white man in Central
Africa to have received both. He is buried on the hilltop above Shiwa
Ngandu, beneath a simple headstone bearing the inscription Chipembele,
the name his neighbor Africans had given him.
In an afterward to "The Africa House," first published in
England in 1999, Ms. Lamb writes that Gore-Browne's oldest grandson
Charles and his wife have taken over Shiwa, buying out the interests
of the other grandchildren, and are slowly restoring it. There could
be no finer memorial for the man who once wrote: "If I can only
leave a beautiful home for the girls and a better country for all
my people at Shiwa, then it will all have been worth something."
Kate Tyndall is a Washington, DC writer.