This film is held by the BFI (ID: 25211).


A fictional children's film recalling the journey of trekkers in 1892 from the Transvaal to the Mashomba Valley in Mashonaland. Along their journey, the families are attacked by the Matabeles, before a friendly tribe comes to their rescue, and they are able to begin a new and peaceful life in Rhodesia.

A young boy (Dick Martin) sits with his father and begins writing the story of their journey to Mashomba. Beginning eight months earlier, Dick and his father are shown mining unsuccessfully for gold. After their boiler breaks, it is decided that they should move on and start farming in new Rhodesia. Meanwhile, Mrs Martin's sister and brother in law have arrived with their family from England. Dick's father convinces them and others that they should all set forth for Mashomba, led by Sam, who is originally from Mashonaland. The film also follows two other untrustworthy settlers, Hargreaves and Young, who have already set off to Rhodesia in pursuit of gold. The Martins' journey to Mashomba by covered wagon is shown - spotting wildlife, cutting down trees, kids washing and having a haircut, crossing crocodile infested waters. Meanwhile Hargreaves and Young, in their quest for gold, bribe the Chief of the Matabele tribe with guns. After a Matabele spy kills one of the travelling group, the trekkers decide that they must ambush the Matabele, while Dick must transport all of the wagons across the valley. Realising their error, Young and Hargreaves are killed as they attempt to confront the Matabele. The Matabele are finally chased off by 'Sam's people' - the locals of Mashonaland. The film concludes with shots of the Mashomba valley, as the trekkers triumphantly reach their final destination and begin their new life.



To-Day’s Cinema began its review of Trek to Mashomba by explaining that ‘this G.B. Instructional Production, filmed in Africa, is designed purely as entertainment for children’ (To-Day’s Cinema, 17 April 1951, 10). The film was produced for Children’s Entertainment Films (C.E.F.), which ran from 1944 until September 1950, and which predominantly produced films that would play for children in Arthur Rank’s Gaumont and Odeon cinema clubs.

Mary Field, the head of C.E.F., explained that Trek to Mashomba, their second costume film, was ‘the first children’s film to deal with the subject of the great Dominions and was an experiment in overseas production’. C.E.F. financed other productions in Africa – for example Basuto Boy (1947), Pen Pictures from Rhodesia (1948) and The Mystery of the Snakeskin Belt (1948) – but Mary Field acknowledged that, despite their international credentials and their availability through the overseas distributors of the Rank Organization, the C.E.F. films ‘made practically no headway in the U.S.A. or the Dominions’. Field did note that Trek to Mashomba was sent out for a ‘special viewing at the Golden Jubilee of Rhodesia’, but it ‘was not well received because “Everyone expected a cowboy film” – and were disappointed’ (Field, 1952, 106-7).

The English reviewers were not especially enthused either. To-Day’s Cinema called it ‘an acceptable offering whose chief asset is the authentic African setting, which forms an agreeably fresh background to a series of rather familiar adventures’. The review noted the climax, in which the settlers must ‘fight it out with a tribe of hostile natives’ (To-Day’s Cinema, 17 April 1951, 10). Monthly Film Bulletin complained that the film ‘shows little of the problem and way of life of the trekkers’, concluding that ‘it is one of the poorer films of this type’ (MFB, May 1951, 270).

The film was written by Mary Cathcart Borer, who wrote extensively for children. Her films were often adapted into children’s novels, and this appears to have been the case with Trek to Mashomba. In 1951 she published Distant Hills, which was described as ‘a breathtaking tale of pioneering days in Africa, of a search for gold and of a long trek that brought a happy ending’ (Children’s Newspaper, 15 December 1951, 4).



The formal structure of Trek to Mashomba follows a number of other Children’s Entertainment Films. Introduced by a British boy, who is writing a story – much like Pen Pictures from Rhodesia – the film clearly outlines its narrative techniques to the audience, as the boy’s father suggests ‘why don’t you begin with a map just to make it clear where everything is’. The film presents a central child protagonist, assuming adult responsibilities – ‘Now it all depended on Dick’ – and encourages the audience to identify with this boy.

Mary Field, in considering the overseas productions of C.E.F., argued that ‘our audiences were ready to find pleasure in the screen company of children from other lands… to identify themselves with film children of other nations whom they recognize as human beings like themselves’ (Field, 1952, 155). However, while other C.E.F. films set in Africa – for example Basuto Boy – may present an African protagonist, in Trek to Mashomba the audience is positioned alongside the British families and in direct opposition to the local Africans, as the Matabele kill one of the British travellers.

Indeed when the British ambush the Matabele, the camera is alongside the British, as they fire at the Africans below. The Matabele are presented as an inherently savage group – ‘once the Matabele had these modern rifles they would be a danger to anyone within reach’ – in contrast to the Europeans, who are offering a family prayer when they are first attacked. These clear racial divisions are apparent even with the corrupt white men, Hargreaves and Young, as they ultimately recognise that their loyalty must be defined in racial terms – ‘we can’t let these devils attack white people. Come on let’s stop them’. This depiction of an inherently dangerous Matabele enemy, nearly 60 years after the first Matabele War, serves as part of a very traditional narrative of British imperial expansion, colonial adventure and racial division. While a more liberal imperialism was propagated after the War, Trek to Mashomba illustrates the continuance of Victorian modes of imperialism, celebrating conquest and expansion, within British popular culture.

There are other more sympathetic African characters, but they are again depicted in ways that are consistent with a racist politics. First, there are the child-like, loyal subjects – for example the African ‘boy’ who says ‘yes, Boss. I take letter to boss Martin’ – and the comic fools, exemplified by the man who accidentally destroys the boiler and then hides in his tent. The most prominent African character is Sam – not listed in the credits – who is again defined purely in relation to the British characters. Sam ‘begged’ his father to help defeat the Matabele as they had ‘attacked Europeans’. This again privileges the Europeans, and this is further evident in the battle scene, as the two African groups fight in combat on the ground while the British men shoot from above.

The representation of Sam and the loyal Africans relies on assumptions about racial hierarchies, popularly held by many of the British. For example, the African chief is said to have ‘asked the witchdoctor what they should do’, while another African character ‘says he can make rain’. This British representation of the Africans – racially defined as different from, and subservient to, the Europeans – endorses the film’s traditional colonial history. The film offers an absolute celebration of British exploration and conquest. For example, when the Matabele cross into Mashonaland, the European states indignantly ‘but that’s Rhodes country – not his at all’. The initial voiceover further illustrates that this is a celebration of a traditional, unchallenged colonial history, as the commentator states that ‘this is a story of British achievement, of British men and woman, boys and girls who opened up unknown parts of the world’.

Tom Rice (June 2008)


Works Cited

‘Trek to Mashomba’, Cine-Technician, November/December 1952, 132.

Children’s Newspaper, 15 December 1951, 4.

Field, Mary, Good Company:The Story of the Children’s Entertainment Film Movement in Great Britain, 1943-1950 (London : Longmans Green and Co., 1952).

‘Trek to Mashomba’, Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1951, 270.

‘Trek to Mashomba’, To-Day’s Cinema, 17 April 1951, 10.




Technical Data

Running Time:
56 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
5500 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain





Production Organisations