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                  Joseph Schattil 

    by Alexander Schattil, with comments by Leslie Comaroff

    Not much is known of the early life of Joseph Schattil. He was born in
    Lithuania, then part of Imperial Russia, on 14 February 1876 and emigrated to South Africa at an early age.

    He arrived in Rhodesia at the pioneer town of Bulawayo in 1897. He
    traveled from Cape Town by train to Mafeking with two countrymen: Harry Sussman and Moses Grill. (Leslie points out that Harry Sussman went on to acquire the Woolworth's franchise in South Africa).                   
    (click on image of family to enlarge)

    At that time, the railroad to the North had only been constructed as       
    far as Mafeking and a mule wagon coach service connected the railroad to Bulawayo. It appears that Joseph and his companions could not afford the coach fares so they completed their journey to Bulawayo on foot.

    Mafeking was about 200 miles from Bulawayo and they walked among the
    African bush which then teemed with wild animals and hostile tribesmen. They followed the coach road and there must have been travelers in the same position as themselves. It must have been in the dry season so it would seem that they arrived in Bulawayo about May or June, 1897.

    Joseph remained in the new country of Rhodesia, but Harry Sussman and
    Moses Grill later moved on to the adjoining colony of Northern Rhodesia where they became successful businessmen. Bulawayo was a typical frontier town with many saloons and hotels catering to the needs of the locals and new arrivals. Gold mining was the main activity in those early days and large and small mines were opening all over the country. Joseph must have gone into business opening up trading stores in the mines. In 1907 he surfaced in Salisbury where he met and later married Dina Masinter, a recent arrival from Russia. They established themselves at Mazoe, then a mining camp about 20 miles from Salisbury.

    Ralph was born in Salisbury in 1908 and shortly thereafter the family moved to the Lonely Mine, a newly established gold mine situated in dense bush country about 40
    miles from Bulawayo. The area was isolated as the connecting roads were little better than  well defined tracks and the many rivers between the Lonely Mine and Bulawayo had no bridges and could only be crossed at fords called "drifts."

    When the rivers came down in flood, as they frequently did during the rainy season, the little mining camp would be completely cut off from the rest of the country
    until the floods subsided. Between 1909 and 1911, Lena and Alexander were born in Bulawayo. Before 1914, Dina took her three children on a voyage to England to see relatives. Their visit was cut short by the imminent outbreak of War in 1914 and she returned accompanied by a governess to help look after and bring up the children. By this time the family had moved to the Eiffel Blue Mine near Gatooma where Joseph operated a business in partnership with brothers Jacob and Victor.

    click on image of the family circa 1920  to enlarge


    Joseph had earlier been in partnership with Julius and Jacob, but it is not certain when and where they carried on business. It is at this time that the spelling of the
    name surfaced as "Schattil" as has already been described.

    Julius left Rhodesia and settled in the U.S.A. and Jacob later joined
    Joseph in partnership with Victor at the Eiffel Blue Mine.

    Around 1916, Joseph acquired his first motor car; a Model T Ford. This
    was when the primary means of transport was by horse and cart. Joseph had owned a pair of horses: "Custard" and "Bob." Custard died of horse sickness and Joseph decided it was time to modernize and travel by motorcar as he disposed of the surviving horse and sold his carriage.

    The Eiffel Blue Mine closed down around 1916 and Joseph moved to the
    Queens Mine some 20 miles from Bulawayo where he operated a trading store. Ida had been  born in Salisbury in 1914 before the family left the Eiffel Blue Mine.

    When the Eiffel Blue partnership came to an end, Victor returned to South Africa and became an hotelier and Jacob traded in the Battlefields mining area near Gatooma in 1922. When Joseph and his family were at the Queen's Mine, Rhodesia was struck by the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1918 and Dina caught a bad attack of the flu. Joseph closed the business and took the family into Bulawayo where they remained until Dina recovered.

    (Leslie says that they stayed at a hotel in Bulawayo, rather than putting Dina in a hospital because the hospitals were filled and the risk of contagion was greater there.
    During her recovery, people from the large and active Jewish community in Bulawayo delivered food to Dina. Leslie remembers how children of friends would drop off food, including tureens of soup, at the hotel for family members to bring to Dina. This way, the messengers would not be exposed to the influenza germs.)

    Joseph was soon in business again, this time at the Wankie Colliery which was in a low lying area and an extremely hot part of the country. When he moved to Wankie,
    Joseph sold his Model T Ford which then represented his total capital. The business prospered  and in 1922 he sold out for health reasons (Leslie says that Ralph developed a fever in that hot climate) and decided to take the family on a holiday overseas to Lithuania to see his mother, Miriam and Dina's mother, Malka.

    When the family returned to Rhodesia in 1922, Joseph was soon back in business after acquiring the trading rights at the Sherwood Starr Mine which was a new discovery  in the Que Que district and he remained there until 1926. He then became involved once again in prospecting and he was soon developing the Golden Snake claims near the Sherwood Starr Mine. Shafts were built under Jacob's supervision and the property was offered for sale. It is believed he was offered 10,000 for the mine but the offer was turned down. Thereafter, he arranged for the Goldfields Co. in
    Bulawayo to take a sampling option over the mine and it sent a mining engineer to report on the property and take samples of the ore. However, the report and samples
    were unsatisfactory and no deal eventuated.

    During the visit of the Goldfields engineer, an exciting incident occurred which severely tested the nerves of young Alexander, then 14 years old. Joseph, Jacob and the
    mining engineer were down a shaft some 150 feet deep examining the ore body and taking samples. The shaft was timbered and access was by means of a large bucket attached to a steel rope connected to a windlass operated by an African worker who immediately curled up and went to sleep.

    Young Alexander kept watch at the shaft head with a loaded shotgun on
    the lookout for snakes in the mine timbers as the area was notorious for the deadly black mamba, one of the world's most venomous snakes. Sure enough, a black snake soon crawled out of the shaft and made its way to the sleeping African. Alexander could not call out in case he disturbed the sleeping man. (Leslie explains that if a person moves, the snake will strike.) He had to wait and see what the snake
    would do. It crawled over the sleeping African and appeared again on the opposite side of the shaft.

    At this stage, Alexander had a clear field of fire and discharged both barrels of the shotgun at the snake, which was blown up into a thousand pieces, most of which fell
    down the shaft onto the three men below. Loud bellows came from them demanding what was going on and soon thereafter they were hauled up to the surface. When Alexander described what had taken place, Joseph asked "Was it necessary to use two cartridges to kill the snake? Wouldn't one have been enough?"

    (Snake-shooting seems to run in the family as Leslie tells it. She says that one day her daughter Bernice saw a snake crawl out from behind a settee in Joseph's house
    and he picked up a gun and shot the snake.)

    After the failure of the Golden Snake venture, Joseph sold the business at the Sherwood Starr Mine and moved to Bulawayo. In the meantime, the last of his five
    children, Esther (Esme) was born at Gwelo in December, 1926.

    Joseph's fortunes did not prosper and he moved from one mine to another
    hoping that one of them would turn out to be a bonanza. In 1929 it seemed that his luck was about to turn when he opened a business at the Alaska Mine in the Sinoia district. This was a promising copper and gold mine but the bottom dropped out of the copper market as the Great Depression of the 1930s set in. The mine closed and Joseph was on the move again.

    From 1931 to 1938 he was trading on a number of small mines in the Que
    Que District. Joseph had a stroke of luck around 1938 when he and his brother Jacob found a nugget of gold of 150 oz. in a river bed. This realized about 600 and helped keep creditors at bay. In 1938 he bought the store at the Que Que Limeworks when his fortunes started to improve again. The Limeworks turned into the Rhodesian Iron and Steel Corporation when deposits of iron ore were discovered
    nearby.

    Joseph remained at the Limeworks until his death in 1950. By this time he had seen his little shop turn into a thriving business which was cared for by his widow and family.

    Before concluding this biographical note, there is a story about Joseph which is worth recounting. When he lived at the Lonely Mine, he used to ride a horse to Bulawayo
    to transact his business. On one occasion, he was riding a horse called "Pompey" when he rode into a storm. The horse was struck by lightening and died instantaneously but Joseph escaped relatively unscathed except for a gold Hunter watch which he was wearing at the time. The watch was damaged beyond
    repair and was sold many years later when the price of gold began
    escalating.

    The incident was reported in the "Bulawayo Chronicle" at the time and was repeated in a section of the paper "25 Years Ago." At that time (1936) Alexander was working in the Tax Office in Bulawayo and he showed the article to an accountant who was in his
    office. To his surprise, the accountant exclaimed that he had sold the horse "Pompey" to Joseph Schattil and he remembered the incident.

    The long arm of coincidence!


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