David Birmingham:

Wagon Technology, Transport and Long-distance Communication
in Angola 1885-1908

David Birmingham

In the 1820s a wagon train drawn by oxen and/or horses left Switzerland to cross the Alps, the Austrian plains, the Carpathians, and the Ukrain to set up a Swiss colony which lasted more than a century on the shores of the Black Sea. In the 1830s several hundred Dutch-speaking farmers loaded their wives and children and possessions on to 24-ox wagons and drove them through the Karoo and the Kalahari in search of freedom from British rule. In the 1850 great trains of wagons set off from beyond Chicago across the great American plains and eventually reached the Pacific coast of Oregon. In the 1890s all these things came together when a Swiss wagon engineer became the local purchasing agent for the great Chicago wagon-building firm of Studebaker and supplied wagons and wagon repairs on credit to the Boers who had crossed the Thirstlands to reach the Angolan plateau. His name was Chatelain and his wagon workshop was at Kalukembe. The paper addresses, inter alia, the question of the relative cost effectiveness of ox-wagons and columns of human porters - some of them slaves - during the rubber boom in Angola with comparisons on cost, time, insurance, safety and reliability. The wagons were also used to transport copper aire for setting up the overland telegraph wires, though Chatelain said that runners could often carry messages more quickly and reliably than the wire service. The wagons were also used to supply the railway builders - though Portuguese army officers claimed that head-porters were faster and more efficient than the embryonic and heavily subsidised first railways.

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