In the beginning of Chapter Four of King Solomon's Mines we are given the distance travelled:

Now I do not propose to narrate at full length all the incidents of our long travel up to Sitanda's Kraal, near the junction of the Lukanga and Kalukwe Rivers, a journey of more than a thousand miles from Durban, the last three hundred or so of which we had to make on foot, owing to the frequent presence of the dreadful "tsetse" fly, whose bite is fatal to all animals except donkeys and men.

(My emphasis)

In the very next paragraph we are told how long it took to travel this distance:

We left Durban at the end of January, and it was in the second week of May that we camped near Sitanda's Kraal.

However, at the end of Chapter Three we were given the speed that the oxen could travel at:

Then I bought a beautiful team of twenty salted Zulu oxen, which I had kept my eye on for a year or two. Sixteen oxen are the usual number for a team, but I took four extra to allow for casualties. These Zulu cattle are small and light, not more than half the size of the Africander oxen, which are generally used for transport purposes; but they will live where the Africanders would starve, and with a moderate load can make five miles a day better going, being quicker and not so liable to become foot-sore.

(My emphasis)

These facts seem inconsistent. Even if we liberally interpret "the end of January" to include a full week of January, and "the second week of May" to be the end of two full weeks, the entire period would only be 110 or 111 days (7 days in January + 28/29 days in February + 31 days in March + 30 days in April + 14 days in May). At a speed of 5 miles per day, though, it would take 200 days to traverse 1,000 miles.

Now it was stated in the first passage cited that the last 300 miles would be travelled on foot, in which case it is possible that they could cover much more ground than the oxen could. But even so, it should still take 140 days to travel the 700 miles with the oxen, so there is at least a full month unaccounted for.

How can this be reconciled?

  • 3
    Guessing, there may be a difference between distance-traversed and straight-line distance. Also, if the path is unformed there may be some exploration needed and some backtracking.
    – Criggie
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 19:36
  • 4
    @Criggie Shouldn't that make it take longer, rather than shorter?
    – Alex
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 19:37
  • 1
    A little common sense: normal walking speed for a person is 3 to 4 miles per hour. Now imagine how slow this trek would have had to be to make only 5 miles per day!
    – Thomas
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


The phrase "can make five miles a day better going." does not refer to the absolute speed of the "Zulu cattle". It is saying that they can go five miles further a day than the "Africanders" can. We would first need to know the speed of the "Africanders" to be able to estimate the speed of the "Zulu".

Nonetheless your calculations are admirable.

  • 6
    An ox cart can travel at around 3 miles per hour, so with a maximum of perhaps five hours of travel time per day (with time to make camp, eat, forage, rest, etc) that makes 15 miles per day, making an additional five per day significant.
    – J...
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 12:28
  • To cover 1,000 miles in 100 days, or thereabouts, you only need to travel 10 miles each day. An ox cart, moving at a tepid 3 miles an hour, could cover 10 miles in a little over 3 hours. It really is stretching credulity to suggest that it would take 100 days. If you travel for 8 hours a day (in, say, two blocks of 4 hours each) at 3 miles an hour, you cover almost 25 miles a day. At that speed you are travelling 100 miles in 4 days, hence 1,000 miles in 40 days, at the slowest possible speed (Oxen speed, not the faster Africanders). What's all this rubbish about 110 days?
    – Ed999
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 15:52
  • @Ed999 The 110 days is pretty much explicitly stated in the story (late-January to May). It is also stated to be "more than 1,000 miles", no indication of exactly how much more. And the last 300 were on foot due to the tsetse flies, so presumably slower than normal for that stretch. Commented May 3, 2021 at 19:16
  • 2
    @Ed999 "If you travel for 8 hours a day (in, say, two blocks of 4 hours each) at 3 miles an hour, you cover almost 25 miles a day." That's possible for humans, but many other animals have less stamina than humans do, and can't travel for as many hours per day. This is why cavalry travels about as fast as infantry over long distances: horses are faster, but have less stamina.
    – nick012000
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 3:08
  • @Ed999 an ox-cart might be able to make 3 mph on a dirt road, even a rough one, or on smooth open ground, but achieving an average 3mph forward speed despite backtracks, difficult sections (e.g. stream crossings), rocky inclines, dense vegetation etc. is unlikely. Even your 8 hours/day may be optimistic as they need to set up and strike camp, find water, and probably hunt food. I can do 20+mph on my bike on a flat road, but that doesn't mean I can do 160 miles in 8 hours even on good road; it takes me more like 14 hours.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 12:00

In addition to the other answer, the text claims that only 300 is by foot, so maybe the slower speed (relative, as described in the accepted answer) does not apply for the other methods of transportation.

  • Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. Your answer points something out that the others have overlooked, but you could considerably improve it by adding reasonable speeds for sailing, to check whether the numbers add up.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 7:33
  • Not a lot of sailing between Durban, South Africa and Zambia. Couldn't find the exact location as described on Google Maps (Lukanga Swamp is shown but not the Kalukwe River), but at worst, the most water they'd be crossing on a land journey would be Lake Kariba, only 5-20 miles across depending on where you go, and it's probably easier to go around. Unless they sailed up the coast to somewhere in Mozambique before trekking inland, in which case you're still looking at ~600 miles at a minimum on land. Commented May 4, 2021 at 13:43

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