Read any of our local histories and you are bound to come across the name Percy Fitzpatrick and the story of his life. A transport rider made famous for his jounreys and his beloved companion, Fitzpatrick is a part of our legacy. His last trip was one of legendary status and a story you might enjoy.

A bit of background information to keep in mind is that transport riders of the day usually tried to get as many trips in before the rainy season came.  They tried to avoid trips in the rainy season as the threat of malaria, tsetse flies and flooded rivers would often end in oxen getting sick and dying, the transport rider getting malaria, or even a wagon getting bogged down in mud or washed away in the flood.

Although it was a reckless decision, Percy Fitzpatrick was enticed by the good transport rates and decided to take one last trip.

At the time a new road, Pettigrew Road, was just completed, which would make his trip considerably shorter and if he travelled through the “Fly Belt” at night he felt confident he would be fine.  By the time they reached Low’s Creek, the cattle were tired and hungry and since the area had lush vegetation and water, he decided to rest the cattle and let them have their fill of water and food.

It was only much later that he noticed his cattle were swishing their tails and then he realised they were been bitten by the dreaded tsetse fly.  Later that night he moved them to higher ground and quickly onto Delagoa Bay.

Here the rains had not come and it was extremely hard going through the dusty land which covered man and beast in suffocating dust.  Because it was late in the season and no rain had fallen, every creek or usual watering hole had become a muddy hole with no water.  His fly bitten oxen were now getting weaker by the day and some of them had already died.  Worn out and disheartened, Fitzpatrick pushed on with his quickly diminishing team.

One night, while outspanned, the rain came with vengeance, turning dry river beds into raging rivers and dusty roads into mud.  Most of the oxen either died there or simply could not carry on, so he decided to load the goods from one of his four wagons onto the other three and push forward.  After trying to get his oxen over a hill, he decided to cut his losses and leave one wagon there as his oxen were just too weak.  Between the Kaap and Crocodile rivers, Fitzpatrick outspanned once more.

Now down to only twenty oxen, the following day he pushed them to cross a river that was chest high but by the afternoon there were thunderclouds building rapidly and so just before the rain pelted down they tied the remaining wagon to a large tree.

After a night of rain, they found the wagon still tied to the tree but now party underwater.  There was nothing to do but wait for the water to subside enough to drag it out the river.  With spent oxen and four more drifts to get through, they stumbled into Fig Tree Creek.  Here he was forced to abandon another two of his wagons on the road.

Percy Fitzpatrick had taken a chance on this trip and lost.  With only three oxen he limped into Barberton.  Those three oxen died in the next few days and that was truly his last drive as a transport rider.

Learn more about Nelspruit’s fascinating history when you visit Nelspruit Lodge. We have a number of gorgeous rooms available for holiday makers and business people alike. Contact us today to book a room.

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