While I’m talking about explorers, I’ll try and be careful about calling them discoverers or claiming they ‘discovered’ anything. Usually wherever they went they were met by friendly local people who helped them amazingly generously. Often they would simply not have been able to explore without this help. They were guided to water and told about and shown the places, animals and plants of the regions by knowledgeable locals and then guided back to their ships. Would they have done so if they knew what was coming next!?
Here’s a fascinating map: Land actually discovered by European explorers:
Cartographer Bill Rankin calls it ‘Ice and Islands, Mainly!’ As far as land mass goes, these islands cover 0,14% of the world’s landmass.
I often think ‘I wonder what it was like here before we spoilt it’ as I travel around Southern Africa. I especially would love to have seen the open grasslands, one of the habitats we have changed the most. So whenever I can I read the early explorers’ accounts with great interest and a pinch of salt. Here’s short pen-sketch number two: Another Swede.
Anders Sparrman (1748 – 1820) – was a Swedish botanist, naturalist and abolitionist – and another of ‘the seventeen apostles’ of Carl Linnaeus.
He sailed for the Cape of Good Hope in January 1772 to take up a post as a tutor. When Captain Cook arrived there later in the HMS Resolution at the start of his second voyage, Sparrman was taken on as assistant naturalist to Johann and Georg Foster. After the voyage he returned to Cape Town in July 1775 and practiced medicine, earning enough to finance a nine-month journey to the eastern Cape. Traveling by horse and ox wagon and accompanied by a local guide, the young Daniel F. Immelman, he first went to the warm spring at present Caledon, where he ‘took the waters’ and collected for about a month. He then continued towards Mossel Bay and via Attaquas Kloof, near Robinson Pass to the Little Karoo, following the Langkloof eastwards to Algoa Bay. The furthest point they reached was on the Great Fish River near Cookhouse. His excavation of a stone mound in the Eastern Cape has been described as the first archaeological excavation in southern Africa.
His account of his travels in South Africa was published in English in 1785 as ‘A voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, towards the Antarctic polar circle, and round the world: But chiefly into the country of the Hottentots and Caffres, from the year 1772 to 1776.’ (2 volumes). It is regarded as the first personal account of extensive travels in the settled parts of the Cape of Good Hope and the first fairly accurate account of the territory and its natural history. He spoke of the local people having ‘a great quantity of cattle, and seemed to live very happily in their way. As soon as ever they had taken their cattle up from pasture they milked them; an occupation they intermixed with singing and dancing. We seldom see such happiness and contentment as seems to be indicated by this festive custom, in a handful of people totally uncultivated, in the midst of a perfect desert. . . we were received by them with a friendly simplicity and homely freedom, which by no means lessened them in our thoughts as men. They presented us with milk, and danced at our request; at the same time giving us to understand, that our fame, as being a singular people with plaited hair, as well as flower-collectors and viper-catchers, had reached them long before our arrival.’
He described much fauna and flora, including the aardwolf, the Greater Honeyguide, the African buffalo and the Essenhout tree which he named Ekebergia capensis after his sponsor Ekeberg.
Other naturalists named this bream and this grasshopper after him:
Sparrman was regarded as a competent and likeable person during his years of scientific activity, clever and steady, though a little prim. According to Per Wastberg, a lifelong admirer – who admittedly may have invented some of Sparrman’s traits in his ‘biographical novel’ – Sparrman adored life and the richness of nature and saw happiness in the native African population who lived in harmony with their surroundings. He saw how slavery was destroying the African people and – out of sync with his era – he was a staunch abolitionist, attending and speaking at Wilberforce’s London forums. He avoided the populist travelogues of the day which aimed to entertain people by promoting deceits such as the ‘savagery’ of the natives.
Despite his groundbreaking achievements scientifically, he died in poverty, a physician to the poor, forgotten and maligned by his peers and society.
The ole man’s first visit to South West Africa was by train in 1939. The trip cost six pounds return. His father being a railway man, he probably got a good family-rate deal. He would have ‘entrained’ here. where Oupa worked:
. . crossed all of South Africa to Upington, then passed through Keetmanshoop, Rehoboth and Windhoek:
.. and arrived at his destination station: Okahandja. The last stretch on a narrow gauge line.
He remembers a lovely wooden dining car, wooden tables, wooden carriage walls. Maybe like this?
His destination was his uncle and aunt’s farms. His aunt Isabel and her husband Theunis van Solms farmed on Engadien or Engadine. They did a lot of hunting.
The farms were clustered east of Okahandja – about fifty miles east, he says.
One farm called Nooi Bremen – Was originally owned by a German Count someone – a scion of the Staedtler pencil family and fortune. Or was it the Faber-Castell pencil family? They had more counts.
Daantjie’s farm Uitkyk – original name Onjombojarapati (meant ‘giraffe fell in a hole’)
Sarel’s farm Hartbeesteich – he left his father (or got kicked off the farm?) when he couldn’t stand the abuse any longer. Was sent away with nothing, but rounded up 600 cattle and drove them off to a widow’s farm near the village of Hochveld, 70 miles ENE of Okahandja, where he farmed for her and with her. When she died he bought the farm. Hartbeesteich. ‘teich’ = German for pan.
Japie’s farm was a dry farm; he drilled eighteen holes but never struck water. Dad can’t remember ithe name of the farm.
When Aitch said ‘Come with me to Brasil’ in 1988 I shouted ‘Hell, yes!’ over my shoulder as I rushed off to a bookstore to buy a book on the birds of Brasil.
There wasn’t one. I asked everywhere and searched everywhere, but no luck. Then I asked Hardy Wilson, who reached up to one of the many shelves in the library in his lovely home in Hollander Crescent and brought down his only copy of Aves Brasileiras and said ‘You can use this.’ I think he said it was the only field guide to Brazilian birds that he knew of and that it was out of print. Something along those lines, anyway. Wow! Are you sure? I asked. ‘Sure. Go. Enjoy.’
In Rio de Janeiro we found another copy – a hardcover. When we got back I offered Hardy his choice of either, in case the soft cover had sentimental value, but he preferred the hardcover, so I still have Hardy’s soft cover book Aves Brasileiras.
Using it made us realise how lucky we were in South Africa to have Roberts and Newmans field guides. I thought the book was probably Brasil’s first, but today I found this post by Bob Montgomerie of the American Ornithological Society’s History of Ornithology site. That’s what reminded me of Hardy’s book and his generosity thirty years ago.
Bob Montgomerie: The first work of this genre (“Birds of – name of a country”) to be published was probably Georg Marcgraf’s section on birds, Qui agit de Avibus, in Piso’s Historia Naturalis Brasiliae published in 1648. Several other books about birds were published in the 16th and 17th centuries but this is the only one I could find that was specifically about the birds of a particular country or region, at least as indicated by the title. Marcgraf’s bird section is a masterpiece that was THE authority on South American birds for the next two centuries. Even the paintings are pretty good given the quality of bird art in books by his contemporaries, and each species gets a separate account. Unfortunately for most scientists today, Marcgraf’s work is in Latin and relatively inaccessible.
Well, Hardy’s book was in Portuguese, and relatively inaccessible to us! But without it we would have been lost.
I found a pic of Hardy on the History site with Jane Bedford and a chap dressed funny. Jane has appeared in one of my stories before, in another world, long ago.
Aitch took me to Brasil. She had done well as usual in her sales for Scherag and so off we went. First a flight to Manaus in Amazonas province, then a long drive eastward along the Amazon River towards a lake just off the river, then by ferry to a pousada on Silves Island.
We weren’t married, but I was on my best behaviour and just watched as the bachelors (actual and temporary) in the party would trumpet every night ‘TooDooDoot TooDoo’ “we’re going fox-hunting!” they would announce at dinner and troop out with huge grins on their dials.
I stuck to feathered birds like oropendolas, huge toads, caymans and a fresh, very sad ocelot skin the lodge staff had proudly recently shot! Aaargh!
Then we headed way south to the coast, to Angra dos Reis – the Cove of Kings. A booze yacht trip to the islands and beaches and swimming. One night Aitch felt ill and announced she’d go to bed early, I must go to supper alone. Yes!? I said. Sure, she said. Enjoy yourself. Ha HAAA! I was off – after dressing in my warrior fox-hunting regalia. At supper I tooted the fox-hunting horn with the best of them and announced my newfound freedom. We were off.
We found a bar with a wonderful barman. He gave you anything you wanted and all you had to do was scribble your name! It was first-class. Another round! I’d yell and we’d throw down another marvelous caipirinha and fling the glass over our shoulder. No! No! said the barman, grabbing his broom and sweeping up the pieces. MORE BEER! I’d yell, getting into my stride now.
Of course, I can handle my liquor but some of the guys were less capable. In fact, they dropped me twice on the way back to my chalet. And once there they just propped me up against the door, knocked and ran away. So Aitch found me closely inspecting the door mat and mumbling how I’d have to have a word with them about their service.
She says she dragged me into the shower and ran the cold water full blast and threw me into bed but of course that could all be rumours I don’t know I wasn’t there.
I got up early and made breakfast, feeling sprightly. And where were all the culprits? Nowhere to be seen. All indisposed, it was said. That’s what drinking too much will get you. We checked out that day and I was made to pay a bill a metre long with some complete stranger’s signature on all the slips. A signature that got less and less of something until it was just a short downward line with what looked like drool on it. I just paid. Rumours were going around and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I was there as merely spouse-of, so I had to behave.
On to Rio! To the Copacabana! I was sure there’d be some licenced premises there too. There were! Aitch turned thirty high up on the roof of our hotel, with her colleagues giving her a huge festive bash. We had a banner made to string above the bar “THIRTY! and UNMARRIED!” it said. We had a roaring party that had the hotel guests below us wanting us to hush and the favela okes on the hills above us wanting to join in!
pousada – Lodge or Inn
Angra dos Reis – cove – or inlet or creek – of kings
caipirinha – wonderful cold drink; refreshing; then tiptoes around behind you and taps you on the shoulder
favela – informal housing; shacks on the steep hill slopes