The Gate of Paradise Pass

Early view of the shop

In about 1898 he came to South Africa and taught/coached rugby at Bishops. This was too tame for him, so he went to try his hand on the Diamond Diggings at Lichtenberg, where he did not have much luck. He decided to join the B.S.A.P. in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), where he said he did not do much police work, as he played rugby most of the time.

At the outbreak of the Boer War, he returned and joined the Dorset Regiment and served throughout the war. At the end of the war, he went to Maseru to visit his brother, Reginald, who had joined the Colonial Service and had been sent to Basutoland as Government Secretary.
Merwyn was fascinated by the country and spent months riding around the country, shooting for the pot, as he went along. One of the places he camped at, was Malealea. He fell in love with the place and decided to open a Trading Station there. He had to return to England to get permission, and was assisted by some of his school companions, who were by now in high places. On returning to Malealea he started in a tent, first building the store and sheds and then starting on the house, which was built of cut stone and under thatch. A swimming pool, covered by thatch, was also built, and a tennis court. As Merwyn was a fanatic for bridge and billiards he had a billiard table brought to Malealea by ox-wagon, as were all the building materials. The big verandah had all his shooting trophies on the walls. Many also hung in the Bloemfontein and Rand Clubs. The lounge and billiard rooms were wood panelled. The lounge was a replica of the lounge at Binghams Melcon Dorset, which was the family house, when his father retired from Harrow.

He was well established, when the 1914 – 1918 war broke out. He returned to England and again joined the Dorset Regiment, who he served with throughout the war. He developed “Trench Leg”, which was a problem for the rest of his life. After the war he returned to Malealea and in 1919 got married. These were golden years. Trade flourished and they used to go on shooting safaris in Rhodesia, Caprivi Strip and the Zambezi Valley, – on one occasion, taking Basotho Ponies with them. They also had frequent trips to England to visit his family. They entertained a lot at Malealea and used to ride to Qaba to play tennis with his great friend, Jarvis. Merwyn’s wife had a cheetah as a pet, but it had a depressing effect on trade, so was given to the Johannesburg Zoo!!!
The depression years nearly put Malealea out of business, but a Johannesburg friend gave Merwyn 12,000 pound bond to tide him over. many of the local Basotho had credit to buy food during this period and they never forgot “MOFANA” for this. He was called “MOFANA”, because when he first arrived he spoke “Fanagalo”. Later he spoke Sesotho fluently.

The war years brought prosperity, which continued to his death in 1951. During the war R.A.F. pupil pilots were entertained at Malealea. Pay for serving Basotho in the army was paid out to local families at Malealea. Merwyn arranged that on this day the R.A.F. sent a plane over Malealea to do a few acrobatics and Victory Rolls. At the end of the war, he had name plates made with the name and rank number of all the Basotho, who had fallen in the war. Oak trees from Malealea were planted at the police camp in Maseru and the idea was that each oak tree would have one of the name plates nailed to it.
During and after the war he had two partners, first Scholl, then Crooks. He also had The Falls Store at Maletsunyane, but sold this to Frasers at the end of the war. All supplies went up by pack horse and the mohair, wool and wheat used to come to Malealea in big pack pony trains, and then he classed, graded and sent it off by transport to Rail Head Wepener.

During the last years of Mervyn’s life, he used to spend the winter months on the Zambezi at a Shooting Lodge he built. He had rondavels and a motor boat called “Queen Elizabeth”. At this stage his one car was called “George” and the other “Elizabeth”. He used to go up to Johannesburg for a week just to play Bridge.

All his life he had a passion for road-making and had to make the road from the “Gates of Paradise” to Malealea, to get building supplies to Malealea. In his latter years he used to set off with labourers, spades, picks and wheelbarrows to repair the road. One corner was known as “Tickey Draai” and another as “Sixpenny Draai”. The original wording at the “neck” as he called it, was: “Wayfarer Pause Behold The Gates of Paradise”. He always did this when he came home to Malealea.

His other passion was letter writing. He used to write to “The Friend” newspaper in Bloemfontein entitled “Basutoland from within”, which covered every subject from Incorporation in the Union to strip roads for Basutoland on the Rhodesian Model.

During the Royal Visit the King and Queen were to have visited Malealea, but only the rest of the Royal Party came for a luncheon. The well known BBC announcer Wynfred Vaughn Thomas gave a report of the visit in one of his BBC reports. Mervyn attended all the functions in Maseru and he proudly wore his war medals at the Ex Service Mens Parade. The King stopped to speak to him and said, “I see you served in the SA War, as well as 1914-1918”. To which Mervyn replied, “No Your Majesty, not the SA War, I served in the Boer War”. A cousin of Mervyn’s was one of the Ladies in Waiting to the Queen, so he got a few `behind the scenes’ stories of the tour.

Mervyn died suddenly in January 1950 and was buried in the garden, by the Bishop of Basutoland. He had no headstone as Malealea is his memorial.