Although Fort Lister and its history is described in several travel guides, including sometimes some directions, the fort is difficult to find. Even many locals do not know how to get there. While visiting relatives in Malawi, we went to the Phalombe region with two sets of GPS coordinates; one based on an opensource map indicating the alleged location of Fort Lister, and one based on an old overview of British post offices in Central Africa. Neither turned out to be correct. With the help of a few women who were chopping wood in the forest, we were able to locate the remains of Fort Lister.
Please note that the indicated parking lot might not be accessible for most cars. The hike from the parking lot to the fort takes about half an hour. Be prepared, especially in the rain season, to cross the Phalombe river by jumping from one stone to the next.
From "Biodiversity and Conservation of Mchese Mountain" by Jonathan Timberlake et al. (2009):
According to Johnston (1897) in his account of the early days of British Central Africa, the British Central Africa Protectorate and the adjacent areas under the British South Africa Company were in the process of being divided into administrative divisions around 1893 as part of the consolidation of British control of this part of Africa. At this time a "troublesome" chief called Matipwiri was mounting raids in the Mulanje area, and it was decided to build a defensive fort – Fort Lister – between Mts Mulanje and Mchese. The idea of a fort at this locality had first been suggested by the then Consul, Mr Hawes, in 1886, and again later by Harry Johnston himself. Finally, Fort Lister, named after Sir Villiers Lister of the British Foreign Office, was constructed in 1893 [...], along with Fort Anderson which was situated south of Mt Mulanje.
Construction of the fort, under Captain C.E. Johnson, was apparently welcomed by the local Nyanja people who were being raided by to Yao from the north and east as part of the slave trade, but, unsurprisingly, not by the Yao themselves under Chief Nyaserera. This resulted in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Capt. Johnson, apparently at a temporary house at the fort site. Subsequently there was also rebellion from another Yao chief, Chief Mkanda, who then burnt down a Scotch Mission station in the area before being chased into the "crags and precipices" of Mt Mulanje and defeated. It is interesting to note that at this time nearly all the soldiers used by the British were Sikhs from the Indian Army, brought over from India as an embryonic police force.
Before this period, the Fort Lister Gap was a favoured slave caravan route into Mozambique and the coast beyond, and siting a defensive fort at a vantage point here (presumably the area was then less well wooded than it is now) gave wide view over the Phalombe plains to the west and the plains in what is now Mozambique to the east. Fort Lister in its heyday served as the base for the local District Officer (Stuart-Mogg 2002) and had an armoury, a Post Office and some houses [...].
There is mentioning of two graves. One belonging to Gilbert Stevenson, a cousin of the well-known Scottish author Robin Louis Stevenson (and grandson of the engineer who built the Bell Rock Lighthouse), and one belonging to Gilbert Hunter. There seems to be a third grave in between two marked graves. Based on the shape of the graves, the marker of Hunter's grave might be at the wrong grave...