A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography
Cape Town to Rhodesia
My mission experience began in Africa at the age of four weeks. Travelling by train at the age of four weeks is not unusual, but a journey of some 2000 miles from Cape Town to Rhodesia in 1931 took five or more days and was quite an adventure. My mother used to recall how she and Dad made the hot and dirty "trek" on the coal-burning steam train - to take up their first mission appointment at Inyazura Mission, in what was then Rhodesia, taking with them their precious firstborn, scarcely a month old.
However, one could even say that I was "born" a missionary, since my parents and my grandfather, M. P. Robison, were all engaged in mission service.
Helderberg College celebrated its centenary in 1993, having, with its predecessors, Claremont Union College and Spion Kop College, served Southern Africa for one hundred years.
When the College was moved from Natal to Somerset West, near Cape Town, M. P. Robison was appointed the first principal of the new College.
Descended on my father's side, from the British settlers who came to South Africa in 1820 and with an American mother, I can quip that I have this in common with Winston Churchill - a British father and American mother.
Grandfather Buckley had at one time been a transport rider, carrying goods from Port Elizabeth to the advancing rail head, as the railway made its slow progress from Cape Town toward Rhodesia (a part of Cecil Rhodes' dream of the Cape-to-Cairo line). When the rail reached Mafeking, he sold his mule team and bought a farm a few miles from the town. He played the cello and was a pious man. Solely from his study of the Bible, he decided that the seventh day was the Sabbath. Though unaware that there were other Sabbath-keepers in the world, he and his family commenced observing Saturday as Sabbath.
My father, Robert Arthur Buckley, was born in 1901, during the South African Anglo-Boer War. His family was in the town of Mafeking during the famous siege and Lord Baden Powell, who later founded the Boy Scouts, was the commander of the British troops in Mafeking. I have a "grandmother" clock that he presented to my grandparents "in appreciation of hospitality to the British soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War of 1898-1902." At one stage during the siege, when food was scarce, an African man mysteriously appeared with a sack of grain and said that he had been told to give it to "Buckley ". My grandparents never knew who had brought the precious grain which saw them through the siege - they thought maybe he was an angel!
Growing up in the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer war, when feelings still ran high and there was a lot of animosity between those of English and of French or Dutch descent, Dad was always fiercely proud of his British ancestry. He was often called "rooi-nek" ("red neck") by the Afrikaners. This was a derogatory term, which they originally gave to the fair British soldiers who became severely sunburned under the scorching African sun.
At Spion Kop College in Natal, Dad met my mother, Doris, aged 20, who had recently arrived from America. Her father, Milton Robison (or "M.P." as he was usually known) had been a teacher at Union College before coming as a teacher to Spion Kop and within a few years he was asked to be the first principal of Helderberg College, near Cape Town. His brother, "J.I", was the first principal of La Sierra College and also came out as a missionary to South Africa. He was later a Vice President of the General Conference.
The Robisons can trace their family tree back to a Jeems Robbertz (later known as James Robinson) who was born in England in 1686. There have been name changes from Robbertz to Robertsen, via Robeson and Robinson to Robison. Jeems Robbertz, went from England to Holland and then to USA, the "land of promise," early in the 18th century.
Milton Porter Robison, my grandfather, who was commonly known as A M P@ , was born in 1882 in Humphrey, Nebraska. His grandfather, Isaac Abraham Robison, married Lavinia van der Mark, who was descended from a Frenchman, Gaspord Colet de Rapelje, who had to flee to Holland for his Protestant religious beliefs, in 1549.
In 1906, M P. married Lily Fay Goode, who was from Glendale, California. Her ancestors came from England, Scotland, Wales and Holland. Professor Samuel Finlay Breese Morse, inventor of the Morse code, appears in her family tree.
After their wedding in 1928, my parents lived at Spion Kop College, where Dad was farm manager. When Mom was expecting me, she travelled down to Helderberg College to be with her parents, and so I saw the light of day, in January 1931, in a little hospital in Somerset West, about 40 miles from Cape Town. I sometimes wondered if the fact that I was delivered with the use of obstetrical forceps may have contributed to my interest in Obstetrics.
It was at this time that my parents had a call to Rhodesia and that is how I came to be making the long journey from the Cape to Umtali, in Rhodesia, at the age of only four weeks.
Inyazura Mission Station was established in 1910 by M.C.Sturdevant near the northeastern border of Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia. Pr. C. Robinson, who was the mission director at this time, met the new missionaries at Umtali station. For Mom, after only a few years in Africa, this was a rather frightening experience. She vividly remembered the ride in the Model-T Ford, through the six-foot high "elephant grass" to the Mission. It was this mission which was to receive world-wide publicity when a family of British Adventist missionaries was murdered in 1981, during the fighting prior to the independence of that country.
The first two years of my life were spent at Inyazura, which obviously, I do not remember, but I have heard many stories about those years. I am sure most days were filled with the hum-drum activities of running a school and church, but the stories of leopards, wild pigs and snakes remain in the mind.
Wild pigs used to cause severe damage to the maize fields of the African farmers who lived near the mission. On one occasion, Dad agreed to go out at night to shoot these destructive animals, which can inflict severe injuries with their fearsome tusks. Just as he shot the sow, he was attacked from the other side by the boar! There was great rejoicing that both the wild pigs had been killed - and he was unharmed. Several times, one or more of the dogs was ripped open by the sharp upward-curving tusks and the faithful animals would lie quietly as they were being "sewn-up" without anaesthesia, seeming to understand that they were being helped.
A number of marauding leopards were shot on the mission and two of their skins were used as floor rugs in my boyhood home. One story, that Mother loved to tell, concerned a time Dad was away on safari and a leopard took one of our dogs from the front verandah. As the leopard had been "treed" by the other dogs, the help of the local trader was enlisted. When he arrived he was rather the worse for drink. Mother, worried that he might only wound the leopard, which would then possibly attack him, gave Dad's gun to a trusted "house-boy", with instructions to shoot at the same time as the trader. There were two shots but only one bullet hole in the leopard skin - they were never sure which gun the bullet came from!
Malaria was an ever-present danger and our family did not escape. In those days, quinine was the only remedy. I am told I suffered repeated attacks of the fever, in spite of the usual precautions of not being taken out at night and sleeping under a mosquito net. Finally, the doctor said, "If you don't want to bury this child here, you had better move to a more healthy climate!" So, at the age of two years, our family left Rhodesia and made the long train journey back to Cape Town, where Dad was principal of the Good Hope College for two years.