Natalobatrachus bonebergi, the Natal diving frog, Boneberg’s frog, or Kloof frog, is a small- to medium-sized frog in the family Pyxicephalidae, endemic to South Africa. Its natural habitats are temperate forests and rivers. It is threatened by habitat loss.
Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine (1862–1940) traveled in Southern Africa in 1908 and 1909, collecting, studying, breeding and sketching butterflies. Between 1890 and 1940 she traveled to sixty countries on six continents. She died on a path on Mount St. Benedict in Trinidad; it is said she had a butterfly net in her hand. Whattaway to go! Doing what you love.
Sure, traveling in South Africa, Rhodesia and Mocambique in 1908 doesn’t really count as ‘exploring’ – she was taken places by train and coach and guided by locals, but she’s my first lady ‘explorer’ and . . . butterflies. Instead of blasting away at a big furry creature with a large blunderbuss, she would stand and watch a butterfly ‘flying rapidly from one plant to another on the hillside, evidently with a view to finding the proper food plant whereon to oviposite; so we stood quite still and watched her and it was not long before, having selected the sapling of a kind of Acacia (Brachstegia appendiculata) she paused, and apparently laid an egg and then flew right away out of sight. But there was her egg alright, a bright green Charaxes ovum.’
Around age 27 she suffered a humiliating love loss she never fully recovered from; At about the same time her uncle died and left her an inheritance that made her independently wealthy. Fountaine’s first annual share of her new fortune was spent on a cycling tour of France and Switzerland with her sister Rachel, using Cook’s Tourist Handbook. In Switzerland Fountaine rediscovered her childhood love of butterfly collecting.
Her first serious collection trip was to Syria and Palestine in 1901 where she hired a Syrian interpreter and guide, Khalil Neimy with whom she quickly formed a close personal bond who became her constant traveling companion. Neimy was a Greek Orthodox Syrian, born of Greek parents in Cairo in 1877; educated by American missionaries, he had lived in Wisconsin for four years. He subsequently became her constant and helpful companion – she called him ‘Bersa’ – despite it soon becoming apparent that he had a wife in Damascus. Thus started an affectionate relationship which would survive twenty seven years of turbulence, ending only with Khalil’s death aged fifty from fever in 1928.
Their first extensive trip was in 1903 to Asia Minor and they returned to Constantinople with just under 1000 butterflies. In old Natal in 1908 she mentions collecting in Durban, Eshowe (where she mentions collecting with Bersa, so he accompanied her to South Africa), PMB, Kimber’s Bush in the Dargle, Donnybrook, Jolivet, and Umzinto. In old Transvaal I only found mention of Barberton.
After the war Fountaine set off on her last extensive entomological journey with Khalil, in the Philippines. A full account was written up for The Entomologist and was referenced by conservation workers fifty years later. Fountaine, now in her mid-sixties, continued on to West and East Africa, Indo-China, Hong Kong, the Malay States, Brazil, the West Indies and finally Trinidad. Only putting the occasional note into The Entomologist, she focused on her watercolours and collecting. Khalil died in 1928 and Fountaine continued alone, surviving her lover and confiding in her diary that her only source of comfort was her caterpillars.
Biographies – In various ways most of the bumph written about Fountaine after her diaries were opened in 1978 has unjustifiably downplayed her valuable contribution to entomology and exaggerated her supposed ‘unconventional’ love life. Her real sins, one suspects, were: – Having a partner who was not an Englishman, or at least European; and – Having the means to travel independently and make all her own decisions.
Tony Irwin, Senior Curator of Natural History, announced the existence of the diaries found inside the tin trunk she left to be opened in 1978 and became the first to promote Fountaine’s romantic life above her entomological work. Irwin described Fountaine’s Lepidoptera collection as ‘not outstanding’ – read about it here and be amazed at his misrepresentation – and declared that ‘Margaret Fountaine, the intrepid lady lepidopterist, who traveled more widely than any other entomologist before or since, was a girl in love. Her passions crippled by Victorian morals, she sought refuge in the pursuit of butterflies and to this she devoted her whole adult life.’
W. F. Cater, an assistant editor of the Sunday Times, edited the diaries into two volumes for the popular market in 1980 and 1986, was even more unfairly and unjustifiably lurid – Lepidopterists, he said, classified her as a ‘useful collector, perhaps a great one, but not a great scientist’ without stating which lepidopterists these were! He goes on: ‘She was apparently in the same category as a collector of men.’ To justify his slur, he mentions that her diaries tell us these actual refutations of his characterisation, ‘for instance, that on an entomological trip to Sicily in 1896, at the age of 34, she refused to kiss the son of a hotel keeper, left a fellow traveler pleading outside her locked door, washed her neck, ears, cheeks and eyes after the unwelcome kisses of a professor and reclined in the arms of a butterfly hunter on a hillside without yielding her honor.’ Cater’s personal preference for tales of passion and travel, apparently led him to ignore most of Fountaine’s passages concerning her life’s passion and work collecting, breeding and displaying butterflies, and her scientific papers in the prestige journal Entomologist from 1897 to 1938! Cater would never have done this to a male figure; and probably would not have done it had Fountaine’s lifelong partner not been an ‘ethnic’, a Syrian, a ‘dragoman’ – i.e. not white.
A more recent biography by the travel writer Natascha Scott-Stokes results in a similar portrayal to that offered by Cater; she feels the need to refer to Fountaine as an ‘obscure lady amateur.’ Like Cater, Scott-Stokes is writing for a popular audience and in both cases Fountaine’s entomological achievements are undermined by the need to entertain. Both marginalize Fountaine’s scientific work in favour of their own prejudice and bent; Cater in favour of her romantic ventures; Scott-Stokes in favour of her globetrotting lifestyle.
Fountaine’s contemporary Norman Riley, wrote in 1940: ‘Her great passion, however, was collecting butterflies, an interest which she first developed about 1883, and which from then onwards led her every year further and further afield in search of material for her collection.’
Fountaine had the courage of an explorer, the passion of a collector, the eye of an artist, the patience of a researcher and the precision of a scientist. Her sketch books are filled with exquisite and informative watercolors and sketches of caterpillars, all meticulously labeled. In order to capture perfect specimens of butterflies, she would collect eggs and caterpillars and raise them herself, so as to avoid damaging the fragile insects with butterfly nets. Her collection which she named the Fountaine-Neimy Collection, giving due credit to her partner, numbered 23 270 butterflies and caterpillars in the end.
The last entry of her diaries was made on July 10, 1939. She packed the journals in a black box with a note stipulating that the box not be opened until April 15, 1978, exactly 100 years after the first entry was made. A letter to posterity she left with the diaries read, ‘To the reader – maybe yet unborn – I leave this record of the wild and fearless life of one who never “grew up” and who enjoyed greatly and suffered much.’ – ME Fountaine (more here)
The best place to get a good balanced perspective of Margaret Fountaine’s fascinating and full life is ‘A Lepidopterist Remembered’ by Sophie Waring, curator of modern collections at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. I have quoted extensively from her paper here, thus revealing my prejudice in favour of giving credit where it’s due!
Jess is my spotter in the game reserves. ‘Dad What’s That?’ she’ll say time and again. And it’s always something interesting. Once she said ‘Dad What’s That?’ and I peered and peered and eventually saw it after she’d told me exactly where to look – a snake in a tree as we were driving past! That’s amazing.
Walking to breakfast in Tembe we had Jess bringing up the rear as Aitch, Tom and I strolled ahead. ‘Dad What’s That?’ she said.
Today she called me out to the porch. This time she said ‘Dad There’s a Snake.’
In forty one days of lockdown I had taken the car out two or three times. Yesterday I took the car out three or four times! Once to fetch Ziggy with the shopping from the nearby PnP; once to take Ziggy to the taxi rank where she headed off to work at her call centre; once to fetch a parcel from Sheila, delivered just up the road; and once to get out of the way of the plumber who came to replace our burst geyser!
Then today we had a visitor, one of only three all lockdown. The first two I had immediately shooed off the premises: Rasta and Thandi, well-meaning, but sorry, no visitors! Just cos our gate slides open doesn’t mean you can stroll in. But this was our housekeeper Cecilia Shozi, and she had come to fetch her ID card which she had left here over 41 days ago when I sent her home to her girls before lockdown. We weren’t expecting her, it was a surprise call, so thank goodness the place was looking presentable. Ziggy had cleaned the kitchen; I had mopped the floor, swept the patio and tidied my office; and Jess had swept the TV room and lounge; So when I served her tea on the patio she couldn’t laugh at us and tell us how we cannot live without her! Even though that’s true.
Such activity! I had to lie down a while once they’d all left.
Aitch needed a break and Barbara Jeff, LindiLou and Robbie agreed to have the kids on their Umvoti Villa farm. So off we went to a luxury stay in the Cathedral Peak Hotel. The breast cancer had spread to liver and bones and the treatments she opted for were severe. Here was a break from the punishing rounds of chemo. October 2010.
Trish went on some short walks. I went on a few longer ones and some bike rides.
Play the Warsaw Concerto, demanded 99yr-old Louise at Mom’s retirement home today. Ooh, says Mom – eight years younger and has always respected her elders – I used to play it, but I don’t think I could play it now. You go right back to the piano now and try! ordered Louise.
Mom says she’s a real character. She had just finished playing ‘I Love Paris in the Springtime’ to the assembled mass of old bullets. Probably half a dozen of them.
How did the Warsaw Concerto go? I ask. Ta ta da da DUH! says Mom.
Here it is:
Who’s it by? I ask. Addinsell she says. Ay double dee and ends in double ell. I think it ends in double ell. I check: Of course it does. Richard Addinsell. Written for the 1941 British film Dangerous Moonlight, which is about the Polish struggle against the 1939 invasion by Nazi Germany.
In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow, Chris Bester, was one of ‘Die Kanaries – Vrystaatse Jeugkoor.’ Fame! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at the kanaries! OK, maybe not.
One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there – here! in Harrismith, city of song and laughter – to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.
We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, Std 9, Std 9 & Std 10. Strong as an ox.
People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.
Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said ‘Nice enough, but no range.’ So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some kind of mistake. Tender-rigging, maybe?
The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours to sing for our province and the rejection cut us deep.
It became mine & Gabba‘s standing joke over the decades that followed.
Decades later research has uncovered what Septimus was looking for. If only we had known! Here’s the criteria they were looking for in aspiring choristers in the late 60’s:
We may have scored E’s and F’s on most, but on 18.104.22.168 Intelligence and Dedication we surely got an A? Also, if we’d known the choirmaster had ‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies,’ we’d have practiced that shit.
izilwane – (wild) animal/s. Phinda game reserve started as Phinda Izilwane – the return of the animals. We’ve been missing our monthly jaunts up to Zululand. Jessie asked yesterday ‘Dad, when can we go to Mfolosi again?’
One consolation: I have been added to the whatsapp groups that share sightings in Mkhuze and in Hluhluwe-Mfolosi reserves. Now the reserves are closed they’re sharing past pictures. Beautiful.
She’s reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. ‘I can’t follow the plot but I’m enjoying the descriptions of the Thames, the muddy banks, the river traffic . . ‘
Apparently there’s a Miss Haversham in the book – she was let down by her to-be on the day of her wedding – she stayed in her room – kept her wedding dress on – ate the wedding food. Mom says Annie called someone in Harrismith ‘Miss Haversham’ but can’t remember who. She had wild hair. I suggested Mrs Fitzgerald, but she couldn’t remember her.
She had a fall on her walk with her friend Barbara yesterday, but ‘went down gracefully and haven’t got a single bruise. I just lay down gently on the tarmac and waited till two ladies on the staff came out to help me to my feet.’ She hadn’t thought of the obvious, so I had to point it out: ‘Mom, they’ll all think you’d been drinking!’ That amused her.
After the fall the 91yr-old dear skipped her piano session, but today she got back to her usual schedule, and played before all three meals. She has found a few new songs to play, she says.
She told her friends the joke I had told her about the Las Vegas strip club that had a sign out for the lockdown period: ‘Clothed till 30 April.’ Says they enjoyed the joke. Asked if I had been to that strip club when I went to Vegas! I said ‘Ma-a! I went to see Petula Clark sing.’ She couldn’t remember who Petula Clark was! Wow! Those cells must have been blitzed in one of her TIA’s. It’ll come back to her. I’ll sing ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway Darling’ and she’ll be wow’d. She’ll also remember Petula always kept her clothes on.
As she does every time, she asked, ‘How are Jessie and Tommy? Send them my love’ (two of her grandchildren, 22 and 18 – my kids).
Optometric colleagues and classmates from way back in 1977, Di Fotherby, Ray Schoeman, Terry Saks, Pete Brauer and I met at Zena Jacobson’s lovely home in Sandton a while back – 16 Feb – and how very fortuitous that turned out to be, as we have been a great support group for each other during lockdown!
One day talk on our whatsapp group turned to books, and the Schoemans showed their fascinating collection, plus one item of huge envy-producing – and real – value:
Here’s a close-up of the pièce de résistance! –
Signed by All Three Goons!
They also have two of Milligan’s many books:
And another prize collection:
. . and another:
There’s more – it’s an amazing library; Wilbur Smith and Bryce Courtenay novels; medical books, cookbooks, etc