Merwyn Bosworth Smith, founder of Malealea Trading Store, was born at Harrow School, England in 1878. His father was Assistant Master there for 37 years. Merwyn had five brothers and three sisters. All his brothers were educated at Harrow, but Merwyn went to Rugby, where he excelled at rugby and athletics. He was also a brilliant scholar, writing Latin prose at 14 years old. On leaving school he went to Oxford University.
In about 1898 he came to South Africa and taught and 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. Malealea was one of the places he camped at. 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, which 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 the couple used to go on shooting safaris in Rhodesia, the 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 Merwyn’s 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 a 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 nameplates 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 nameplates nailed to it.
During and after the war he had two partners, first Scholl, and 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 packhorse 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 motorboat 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. Malealea was left in trust to his son, Anthony, but his partner, Crooks, had an option to purchase under the partnership agreement. After a long and expensive court action in the Supreme Court, it was ruled that the Trust Deed was not valid, because it had not been initialled on one page and Crooks exercised his option to purchase.
Soon after Crooks moved into the big house from the cottage, the big house burnt down. There is only a birdbath, built out of stone, with ANNO VIC, chiselled around the top, which remains from the original house. Mervyn had this birdbath built at the end of the war "Year of Victory".
Mervyn always maintained that the first thing a person saw, when visiting a Trading Station in Basutoland, was the "Long Drop or Kleinhuisie". He built his, hidden away inside the bank below the house and had a beautiful view of the Thaba Putsoa range of mountains to gaze upon, in complete privacy. It has now been restored.
Many tales were told by government officials, police and tourists who used to stay at Malealea before trekking into the mountains. They all enjoyed great hospitality at Malealea and if they played bridge and billiards, even more so. Snooker was only tolerated for ladies. The leather bound billiard scorebooks also stand as a diary for important happenings, such as bomb raids over Germany, the invasion, visits by important people etc.
Stories about Mervyn begin with how he used to ride to Maseru of Mafeteng on a pony to play rugby, with an alarm clock tied around his neck, which he would set for half hours ahead, in case he dozed off and could wake up to check if the pony was still on course. He is reputed to have galloped down the gorge into the Ribaneng River, and that path was always known as "Mervyn's Ladder".
After a wild party in Bloemfontein, Mervyn and his friends decided to go back to Malealea to continue the party. A stranger they had met came along as well. In the car he was lolling to one side, then to the other side. No one took any notice of him as they thought he was drunk. On arrival it was found he was DEAD!!! A wake lasting a few days was held and he lay inside on the billiard table and was duly buried under the cherry trees. Mervyn always referred to the grave as "The Stranger's Grave".
An extract from Kate Cretchley’s version of the stranger’s death: " I doubt it was the fact that the hitchhiker was DOA when Mervyn and his pals reached the mountain station of Malealea after a fairly lively weekend in Bloemfontein. I also doubt that it caused much of a headache when they stowed the old guy under the snooker table and went ahead with the intended game. However, it must have been a bit annoying to have been awoken by the scream of the early rising housemaid who found the old boy rather difficult to rouse, even when the best Malealea coffee was offered. A wake was held lasting some several days to see the dear departed on his way to the pearly gates, during which time he lay in state on the snooker table, and the grave of this total stranger still can be seen not twenty yards away from that of old Mervyn Smith who, out of the kindness of his heart, brought the old man to die in peace and tranquillity of Malealea, over fifty years ago.”
Mervyn and his friend, Kenneth Nolan, were also known to have ridden through the Wepener Hotel on their "trusting steeds”.
From trading station to lodge
Keith Jandrell bought Malealea in 1961 from Norman Crooks. Various managers lived at Malealea operating the trading station. An airstrip was built at Malealea and the Jandrell family visited Malealea regularly for weekends and holidays.
Mick & Di Jones bought Malealea in December, 1986. The idea was to start a very casual lodge and continue with the Trading Station. The Trading Station burnt down on 6th March, 1987 due to a gas deep freeze. As the floors, walls & ceilings were all wood, the shop went up in flames within minutes. Mick was awakened in the early hours of the morning with a comment by the night watchman: "There seems to be a small problem at the shop!!!"
An enormous steel structure was erected for the Trading Station - (nicknamed by Simon Fourie, The Malealea Emporium). Over the years the Trading Station has declined and the lodge has grown from 10 to 60 beds. The shop was made smaller and the space was used to build bacpackers accommodation, a games room, a dining room and kitchen. Over the years, Nick King, an Australian friend, after driving overland trips from London to Harare, spent a couple of months at Malealea renovating the lodge.