A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography

by Robert M Buckley


1. Cape to Rhodesia
2. Good Hope and
 Emmanuel Mission
3. Mission Life
4. Early Schooling
5. Further Schooling
6. Medical School
7. Trip to Malawi
8. Malamulo Hospital
9. Eventful 1953/4
10. To Lesotho
11. Kanye & Kalahari
12. Yuka Hospital
13. London & Kenya
14. Kenya & Uganda
15. Walking the Valley
16. Further Studies
17. Kendu & Nairobi
18. Hong Kong
19. England & Norway
20. Maluti - Again
21. Retirement
22. Move to South Africa
Kalahari Diary



Diary kept by Dr Robert M Buckley, on his first trip from Kanye Hospital into the Kalahari Desert.

Some explanations:-

1. This was my first trip to the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, as we had only arrived in March and the itinerary was governed by suggestions from the "old-timers." It was winter-time hot by day and cold at night.

2. Our second child, John, was born less than 2 weeks previously - hardly an ideal time to be away for 15 days.

3. On these trips we had to be totally self-sufficient. Food, water, petrol, spares, medicine and camping equipment all had to be carried on the truck. If you forgot something, you had to improvise or do without.

4. Kalahari "roads" were just tracks through the sand.

5. Kanye Hospital is just outside the border of the Kalahari. Tshane, Lokwabe, Hukuntsi and Lehututu are about 220 miles from Kanye but all within 8 -10 miles of each other, in a sort of diamond shape. The other places are on the access road. "Pans" are basically dried up lakes and so a vehicle can usually get up a fair speed on them, which provides a welcome breeze.

6. Animal names may be confusing. "Bok" = "buck" and can be singular or plural.

7. Names of countries are the old ones - e.g. Bechuanaland and Nyasa..

8. Some references e.g. to "lorry boy" would not be politically correct now. They are the terms in current use at the time.

Wednesday, July 17, 1957

After various delays, such as buying a new axe and an extra blanket for Ramesu, the "lorry boy", we finally left Kanye at 10 a.m. Had about 7 stops due to bits of metal and water in the petrol filter. Saw a small herd of hartebees and a larger one of springbok. Also a small herd of gemsbok - beautiful sight! Numerous ostrich, duiker and steenbok.

Passed Kue at 12, and Mahukane shop at 1:00. Stopped for lunch about 2, but as food was all packed away, had date loaf and water.

Arrived at Kakia about 7 p.m. Notified the chief of our arrival. Will sleep in the hut reserved for the doctor. Weather not too cold.

Have covered 116 miles today and we are weary. Road is very bumpy I have blisters on my back from rubbing on back of seat as truck bounces up and down and from side to side to avoid trees.


Up early. Left Kakia at 8:30 and arrived at Kokong at 11:30. "Most desolate spot on earth!" - in my opinion. The Indian trader, has a tame springbuck. Saw his sick wife and promised to send her medicine when we have unpacked our boxes.

Went shooting with Ramesu. Wounded a springbuck and followed him for about 3 miles but no sign of him dropping. Will have to ask Police to shoot something for the workers.

Ploughed through heavy sand but did not get stuck and no trouble with the truck. Covered about 112 miles. Crossed numerous "pans" where one can make better time on the hard surface. Saw silver-backed jackals and gemsbok on one pan. Also some lion spoor but not Leo himself. Sat on back for good part of the day to rest my back. Arrived at Tshane about 7:30 and were warmly welcomed by the Police, who called out the prisoners to help us unload.

Friday, Tshane

After breakfast, Edward Bimbo, crack-shot Damara of the Bechuanaland Police, went out with us to shoot some meat for the boys. Saw lion spoor but no buck. Took along 2 prisoners and collected a load of wood for the police. After lunch, took another track and Bimbo shot two springbok.

At Tshane, we live in the government camp, where our "quarters" consist of separate huts for - sleeping, eating, cooking and bathing, as well as a lavatory. I had a much needed and greatly enjoyed bath. (The prisoners heated the water in drums and poured it into the coffin-like tin bath. They had to take the bath outside afterwards to empty it!)

Watched the herdsmen watering their animals, drawing water from 20 ft wells near the pan, using buckets attached to leather thongs. They poured the water into troughs made of hollowed-out tree trunks. (Probably very much the way it was done in Abrahams time.)

Slept in pyjamas and between sheets for first time since leaving.


Got up later today. After breakfast, gave the Sgt-Major some Signs to read and distribute to his men. Invited some of the police families to our meeting. Exter, the Nyasa dispenser, took the church service, held in the Clinic building. He was hampered by the lack of a translator.

After lunch, I visited the Indian trader and distributed literature. (The Indians seem willing to discuss religion, but I dont know how to approach them. I must find out if there are any Voice of Prophecy lessons for Moslems.) We had another meeting at 4 - about 10 attended.

Sunday, 21st Still at Tshane .

We had our first clinic today. Saw about 50 patients, of whom 6 were Indians. Bimbos wife interpreted for me. Sengologa is the local dialect a corruption of Tswana but more guttural. (E.g. "Ke kwago" means "I am ill here.")

At lunch-time, two farmers in a pick-up passed through, on their way from Pretoria to South-west Africa. Good luck to them!

In p.m. made a "house call" to see the chief. Poor old man senile, blind, uraemic, hypertensive and miserable. Sent him some medicine.

I had hoped to get to ride a police camel, but was too late.


Last day at Tshane. Only saw ten patients this a.m. Wind was blowing quite hard. Collected 3 guineas (3.3.0) from the Indian trader for Harvest Ingathering.

In p.m. had an urgent call to see the son of the trader at Lokwabe 8 miles away through heavy sand. The boy was having an unusual type of fits, which I thought were possibly hysterical. Advised they see a specialist and wrote a referral letter. (As they would have to pass Kanye hospital on the way, I wrote a letter for them to deliver to Lilian.)

I have been having endless trouble with the pressure lamp, and thought I had fixed it this evening. It burned beautifully but only for ten minutes!

Had my second bath of the trip. (Im getting bored with this place!)


We packed up and left about 10 for Hukuntsi. We had one halt due to dirty petrol. This place is more desolate and deserted than Tshane.

Had clinic in the Treasury building, with the local chief for interpreter. Saw 47 patients, mostly VD and pellagra. Im am getting to understand most of what patients are saying now.

Will sleep tonight in a hut loaned by the chief, which belonged to his daughter. I hope it doesnt have any insect "inhabitants"! My helpers will sleep in the Treasury hut, by the medicines. Beckford, the Nyasa driver and cook, left his washing on the line at Tshane I told him he would have to collect it on our way home! He was not very happy.


Saw a few patients this a.m. and then packed up and left Hukuntsi. We are now at Lehututu. (This is the name of a large bird.)

This is the place Dr Jack Hay held a six week effort, the last time he was out in the Kalahari. Pastor Banyatsang helped with the effort and stayed on to follow up the interest. I pitched my tent in the front of his yard. I am sitting in the tent now and the rain is pattering on the canvas. Put petrol in the famous lamp and it is giving a bright light.

Lehututu is a much larger and more compact village than any I have seen on this trip. The chief is a young man, who is rather timid and bashful. He has accepted our message but his uncle, who belongs to another denomination, opposes him.

It seems that the uncle has a major say in the running of the village.

We had worship in Banyatsangs house, followed by a song-service.

Went to visit the Indian trader, and he promised me 5 for H.I. although business is bad on account of the foot-and-mouth disease. Actually, there is no F&M here, but the government have imposed a ban on selling cattle, sheep or goats and these are the livelihood of the local people.

Thursday -25th

Rain petered out in the night. Had a "basin-bath" this am. No patients until 11:30 and then was busy until lunchtime. Had boiled cabbage for lunch, as well as left-over curry and rice from yesterday. I felt as if Id swallowed a pound of lead! (Moral - Dont eat left-overs!) Felt better when I had got rid of the "lunch."

Made another unsuccessful trip to get meat for the "boys". Only managed to get the truck stuck in the sand!

After supper, we walked over to the Chiefs place, where we had worship in the yard, around the fire.

In a weeks time, we should be on the last lap of our way home.


Still at Lehututu. It was colder last night.

Saw a few patients today.

Beckford baked some lovely bread in the oven of the Indian traders wife.

Had bath in a basin nice to feel clean again.

In the evening, the "boys" and I had a long discussion around the campfire.


Pr Banyatsang conducted Sabbath School and church service in the school building. The floor had just been plastered with cow manure on Friday, so they had moved out all the benches and we each had to bring his own chair. The chief and four other men attended, as well as about ten women and older girls.

In the afternoon, I went for a walk to see the "football field," which was slightly more level and less sandy than the surrounding countryside. They were having a celebration in honour of a man who had shot 2 lions. One man, representing the lion, had a lion skin over his head and back. The spectators beat him with sticks and fired blank cartridges at him.

After supper and sunset worship , we broke camp, packed up and left at 8 p.m. (I bought a lion skin from the trader.)

Stopped at Tshane to see a patient (and for Beckford to collect his washing!) Also arranged for medicine to be sent to the chiefs uncle at Lehututu.

Had a trouble-free trip to Khang, which we reached at 12:30 a.m. Saw spring-hares, duiker and a porcupine on the way, but nothing exciting, except for a group of Bushmen camping on a pan.


Slept on the front porch of Indian traders shop. Ate breakfast in the shop, after Exter and I had walked over to introduce ourselves to the chief.

We had the clinic in the store-room of the shop, among the hides and pelts. (Quite an aroma!) Exter dispensed medicines in a tent in the yard. The patients came slowly. I saw 35, including 4 Bushmen, who had unpronounceable names, such as Xhama Xlabe (the "X" being a click.)

Just at lunch-time, they brought in an old woman who could not pass urine (probably due to a benign pelvic tumour). We did not have a catheter in our medical boxes, so what to do? We improvised, using the plastic tube from my ballpoint pen, sterilized in Dettol. The patient improved and walked out. We will take her with us, back to the hospital, as she needs an operation.

Had worship on the porch of the shop, where we have set up our stretchers. Traders wife gave me some curried chicken and chapatis. Weather is getting colder.


Was cold on the shop porch in the night. A cold breeze this morning but it warmed up later.

Saw 15 patients. Left at 2 pm after a hasty lunch. Had to stop on the way to pick up a patient. We now have the following passengers - Pr. Banyatsang, Martha - a girl of 17 who is going to work at Kanye, the old woman for operation, two women with TB. and a young man who had signed up to work on the S.A. gold mines, but was left behind by their truck.

We got stuck in the sand and had to use small tree branches and clumps of grass to give traction to the lorry wheels.

Shot two springbok, with one bullet! We nearly left the second one. I have only 8 bullets left.

Had to stop to dismantle carburettor as bits of dirt had caused flooding.

We arrived at Kokong about 7 pm. (Name should really be "Gokong", which is the Tswana name for a wildebeest or gnu).

Had supper with the trader - more curried chicken and chapatis! Again slept on the front porch and it is cold!


We saw 21 patients today but took only 3.10. 0. In clinic money. Examinations were done on the front porch, with a sail strung up to afford some privacy. Exter dispensed in the "skin store room" where there are skins, pelts and hides of every type.

I left my lion skin to be tanned. (I collected it on my next trip and we had it as a floor covering for some years, until our dog pulled off its tail!)

Treated the traders father and he seems better this evening. Had lunch and supper with the traders family - soup and rice for lunch and supper, as yesterday.

I was intrigued by the charcoal brazier, which consisted of a paraffin tin with many holes, filled with burning wood until it is full of red-hot coals. This is left in the house all night. (Why dont they get carbon monoxide poisoning?)

We sat around the brazier and had a long discussion about religion.


Only saw 9 patients this morning but collected 10 for H.I.

Left for Kakia about 2 pm and shot a springbuck on the way. Only have 2 bullets left. I jokingly said that I have to keep those in case we see a lion!

I am back in the same hut I was two weeks ago, on the way out. Am convinced that it is not necessary to stay so long in each place.

Chief of Kakia is away and his upstart son is in charge. The local school is closed as there is an outbreak of measles among the children.

Thursday - August 1 - i.e.15 days after starting.

Saw about 30 patients today. Saw many cases of measles. The parents thought we should give the children free treatment, as they attend a "government" school. It has been a miserable, windy day.

Filled up the water tanks in case of a breakdown on the way.

Left Kakia about 4 pm and stopped at 6 for supper - sitting in the middle of the "road" (i.e. tracks in the sand) watching a beautiful sunset. On the way we saw baboons, ostrich, and buck. After dark we saw a leopard and later a kudu ewe.

We made good time and got home at 11:30 to find that all is well. Lilian does not like my famous moustache which I have been care fully growing while away.

John has grown and gained weight while I have been away.

It is wonderful to be home again and lovely to have a proper bath. Theres no place like home!