Smitheman Expedition


William Selkirk’s adventures in central Africa were part of what is known as the Smitheman Expedition, led by Frank Smitheman. I have been able to track down three references to this expedition which I append below.

First is a background account of the exploitation of mineral rights in Zambia by Juliette Bridgette Milner-Thornton, an Australian scholar with a Zambian ancestry, one of  whose ancestors was on  the Smitheman Expedition. She gives an excellent  background account of the scramble for mineral concessions in central Africa.

This is followed by a description of Fort Elwes, a temporary Fort built by the Smitheman expedition  and then abandoned, but it is now clearly on the tourist trail at least for the very adventurous tourist. WS mentions that he stayed there, though it was obviously already built by the time of his visit.

And finally there is a brief note on Frank Smitheman himself and his subsequent role in the Boer War.


The Long Shadow of the British Empire

By Juliette  Bridgette  Milner Thornton

 White Men’s Visitations


Milner-Thornton2In 1851 the Scottish missionary Dr David Livingstone arrived in what is now present-day Zambia. Livingstone then travelled through the country till he grew ill and subsequently died in in 1873. A number of traders and missionaries followed in Livingston’s footsteps . . .  The colonisation of Northern Rhodesia was a chequered venture of treaties and counter treaties: Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (BSAC) sent out its ‘treaty hunters’ Frank Elliott Lochner, Alfred Sharpe and Joseph Thompson. These men were sent out to Northern Rhodesia in the late 1880s by the BSAC under instruction to negotiate treaties with African rulers in the region. They promised African potentates British “protection” in exchange for BSAC’s rights to their land and mineral wealth in their respective principalities.

Hunters, traders, and prospectors followed in the footsteps of the BSAC treaty hunters. My great-grandfather Sidney Spencer Kachola Broomfield first entered Northwest Rhodesia in 1896 as a prospector with the Frank Smitheman expedition. . . In 1890 Colliard played a key role in assisting Frank Elliott Lochner, the BSAC representative gain the Barotse Concession from Lewanika, the King of the Barotses in Zambia’s Western Province. ..  In fact Lochner was a representative of the BSAC and had no authority or legal jurisdiction to make treaties on behalf of her Majesty’s government.

Lochner in particular promised to pay Lowanka money and provide him with British protection in exchange for all mineral rights in his kingdom. The BSAC never met either commitment – indeed it was unable to,  as its agents did not represent Queen Victoria’s government, but rather Rhodes’ private enterprise. Lochner was reprimanded for unlawfully using the Queen’s name to negotiate treaties in Northern Rhodesia.

Nonetheless the British government acknowledged BSAC’s Royal Charter over the territory together with the company’s claims on all land and mineral rights. In 1899, Fort  Jameson became the capital of North Eastern Rhodesia; prior to this, the territory had been administered by Sir Harry Johnston, the British Consul in neighbouring British Central Africa. For the next 10 years the BSAC governed North Eastern Rhodesia and North-Western Rhodesia as separate administrations. The former was administered by officials from Fort Jameson, and the latter by BSAC officials in Livingston. In 1911 the two territories were united and renamed Northern Rhodesia which was governed by the BSAC from the territory’s new capital, Livingston. In 1924 the British government took over the governments of Northern Rhodesia as a British protectorate. On October 24, 1964, Northern Rhodesia was granted independence from Great Britain, thus becoming the independent state of Zambia.

Fort Elwes

From the website  , which appears to be an official tourist organisation


This fort lies near Zaire border some forty kilometres north east of Mkushi. The track leading to it from Mkushi Boma is in an extremely poor condition and enquiries concerning the state of the road should be made in Mkushi before the journey is attempted. Four-wheel drive vehicles are essential.

Fort Elwes was built in 1896-97 by a party of European prospectors sent out by Rhodesian Concessions Limited to search for alluvial gold and other minerals in the Muchinga Escarpment and adjacent country lying to the west of the Luangwa Valley. At this time British forces were planning an attack on Mpenzeni’s Ngoni near the modern Chipata and it was feared that the Ngoni might be driven westwards into the prospectors’ area. The fort was erected by Frank Smitheman to provide a refuge for his party in case of such an eventuality.

Fort Elwes is sited at an altitude of some 1,600 metres above sea level on a pass through the Irumi Hills into Shaba. It is a rectangular structure of massive dry-stone walls almost two metres thick in places and originally over three metres high. There were abutments at each corner and a raised walkway along the inside of the walls. The only original entrance was an underground passage under the wall. Remains of internal structures of pole and dagga are still visible.

Being overlooked by hills, the fort could not be held against an enemy armed with modern weapons but would prove virtually impregnable against spearmen or archers.

Rhodesian Concessions withdrew their prospectors in 1898 and the fort was then abandoned. The origin of the name ‘Elwes’ is not known.

A magnificent view may be obtained from the site.




Frank Smitheman

SMITHEMAN, FRANK JAMES, Captain, was born at Witney, Oxon, 16 June 1872. He was educated at Witney; became a hunter, and explorer, and served in the South African War, 1900-2, as Captain in the Rhodesian Horse; took Despatches through the Boer lines into Mafeking; was mentioned in Despatches three times; received the Queen’s Medal and four clasps, the King’s Medal and two clasps, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order [London Gazette, 19 April 1901]: “Frank James Smitheman, Captain, Rhodesian Horse. In recognition of services during the operations in South Africa”.

The Insignia, etc, were sent to the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, and presented to him there. He became Lieutenant of the BFF, and was attached to the Scouts, MRF, during the Matabele Rebellion, 1906 (Medal).

Captain Smitheman became DAAG, Army Headquarters, South Africa. He was fond of polo and big game shooting.

Source: DSO recipients (VC and DSO Book)



On to Consulting Engineer

 14th March 2014