I have not been this excited about a book since Tramp Royal, by Tim Couzens. Well, Trader Horn’s Ivory Coast and then Tramp Royal.
My own The First Safari by Ian Glenn just arrived and it’s beautifully made; a real old-fashioned book, hard cover complete with elegant dust jacket, map, real paper – dry matt, not glossy – and full of fascinating detective work on the trail of its subject, Francois Levaillant, explorer of the unknown-to-Europe (well-known, of course, to the people who lived there!) interior of the Cape Colony back in 1781.
I’ve only just started but already I have had to rush to report: I have a little thing about how a lot of these guys wrote how they went here and they went there and they shot a bloubok; and how often – almost always – they were actually taken there by local people with local knowledge. Their routes, their water holes, their finding animals for food and animals, birds, reptiles and plants for specimens was mostly done by and thanks to people who lived there. These local people weren’t ‘exploring’, they were earning a living as guides. Another huge reason to take along a host of local people – getting back safely! Not getting lost.
So here’s what I learn in Chapter 1: Far from an intrepid lone explorer, Levaillant actually had plenty of assistance on the quiet: A wealthy collector in Holland sponsored him, put him in touch with the VOC (Dutch East India Company) ‘fiskaal’ – like a magistrate – Willem Boers. Boers obtained the release of a prisoner jailed for murdering a Khoi woman. This man knew his way around and could act as a guide and helper for Levaillant.
This prisoner’s name? Swanepoel!
A criminal ancestor of mine lucked out and got to go on an amazing adventure.
(John) Thomas Baines (1820–1875) – was an English artist and explorer of British colonial southern Africa and Australia. He was most famous for his beautiful paintings – especially of ‘Baines Baobabs’ and the mighty Falls, Mosi oa Tunya.
Apprenticed to a coach painter at an early age, he left England aged 22 for South Africa aboard the ‘Olivia,’ captained by a family friend. He worked for a while in Cape Town as a scenic and portrait artist, then as an official war artist for the British Army during the so-called Eighth Frontier War against the Xhosas.
In 1858 Baines accompanied the maniac David Livingstone on a disastrous trip along the Zambezi River, from which he was dismissed by the irrational Livingstone after a disagreement with Livingstone’s brother.
From 1861 to 1862 Baines and ivory trader James Chapman undertook an epic expedition to South West Africa. Starting in ‘Walvisch Bay,’ they crossed the Namib Desert, then the Kalahari to Lake Ngami, over the Boteti and Tamalakhane rivers, and then on eastwards to the Zambezi river, on which they were paddled downstream by local boatman to where they could view the falls. If you tried that with even the best 4X4 today without using any roads you would have an epic journey and it would be an amazing achievement. As always – and as still – they were guided by locals:
This was the first expedition during which extensive use was made of both photography and painting, and in addition both men kept journals in which, amongst other things, they commented on their own and each other’s practice. This makes their accounts, Chapman’s Travels in the Interior of South Africa(1868) and Baines’ Explorations in South-West Africa. Being an account of a journey in the years 1861 and 1862 from Walvisch bay, on the western coast, to lake Ngami and the Victoria falls (1864), especially interesting. They provide a rare account of different perspectives on the same trip.
On the way they camped under the now famous ‘Baines Baobabs’ on Nxai Pan in Botswana:
Baines gives a delightful description of the tribulations of the artist at his easel in Africa: ‘Another hindrance is the annoyance caused to the painter by the incessant persecutions of the tsetse (fly). At the moment perhaps when one requires the utmost steadiness and delicacy of hand, a dozen of these little pests take advantage of his stillness, and simultaneously plunge their predatory lancets into the neck, wrists and the tenderest parts of the body.’
In 1869 Baines led one of the first gold prospecting expeditions to Mashonaland between the Gweru and Hunyani rivers. He was given permission by King Lobengula, leader of the Matabele nation in what became Rhodesia, then Zimbabwe. He later traveled in Natal and witnessed the coronation of Cetshwayo.
Thomas Baines never achieved financial security. He died in poverty in Durban in 1875 of dysentery, at the age of 55 while writing up his latest expeditions. He is buried in West Street Cemetery. A generous eulogy was read in London at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society by its President, Sir Henry Rawlinson.
Baines wrote another book in 1871: Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life, Travel & Exploration by Baines and Lord. My kind of book! I’ll blog about it separately, as I’m pleased to see he acknowledges a prior book which I could not resist buying: Galton’s book – 1st edition 1855
It’s a helluva dilemma! Rose has given him R200 for watering her orchids. He can’t keep it, but she won’t take it back. He’s offered a number of times, but she just refuses! What on EARTH can he do?!
Just Keep It, says his Idiot Son. Can you believe it? How can I just keep it? I don’t want it, I just watered her plants. And she was grateful and she wanted to give you R200, so just say Thank You and keep it, repeats the I.S. How can I do that? Well, didn’t you say she underpaid you by R100 000 for the house and you should have held out for your price? Just say Thank You and keep it. Mumble mumble.
And anyway, he has another YUGE dilemma: He has four gate remotes that he won’t need when he leaves and they have four cars and they could use them. But he can’t just give it to them! Do I think he can sell them to them? He thinks he’s going to ask them to pay for them. Just give the remotes to them when you leave, says the Idiot Son. What! Do I know what they’re worth!? Yes, nothing once you leave here and valuable to them. Keep the R200 and give them the remotes. That way you have both done a kind deed to each other, which is a good thing as Rose is still going to be a very influential force in your life at Azalea Retirement home.
Remember: You did not sell your house to Joe Soap. You sold to a person who is in charge where you are going. Keep the R200 and give her the remotes as a gift. This gaans aan for a few weeks. He keeps asking and he keeps getting the same dumb advice from I.S. = NOT the advice he’s looking for. You’d think a son of his would have more common sense.
He revs up his ‘remote dilemma’ again today so I say I told you what I think you should do. What? I repeat it. Oh, yes, he says. But I can’t. She finally took back her R200 last night.
The Big One, but David Livingstone (1813-1873) – is not my kind of explorer. He certainly explored, but he didn’t study. My kind of explorer searched for knowledge of the local fauna and flora, found new birds, new frogs, new bugs and new plants. One of them wrote he explored ‘in pursuit of knowledge,’ but Livingstone was in pursuit of something else. He was focused on ‘Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation’ – euphemism, I think, for ‘Conquest.’ Rather than ‘exploring,’ he was very much ‘on his own mission!’ Livingstone fans, be prepared to be annoyed!
In 1840, while studying medicine in London, Livingstone met missionary Robert Moffatt, on leave from Kuruman a missionary outpost in South Africa, north of the !Gariep River. He was excited by Moffat’s vision of expanding missionary work northwards, and he was also influenced by arguments that the African slave trade might be destroyed through the influence of ‘legitimate trade’ – trade by England rather than trade by the Arabs? – and the spread of Christianity.
His first journey on arrival was from Port Elizabeth to Kuruman by ox wagon, guided by three local men: ‘I enjoy African Travel; the complete freedom of stopping where I want, lighting a fire to cook when I am hungry. The novelty of sleeping under the stars in thinly populated country makes a complete break from my cramped and regulated past existence in Scotland.’
In his missionary work, Livingstone perhaps displayed varying degrees of missionary zeal:
– He was obliged to leave his first mission at Mabotsa in Botswana in 1845 after irreconcilable differences emerged between him and his fellow missionary, Rogers Edwards, and because the Bakgatla were ‘proving indifferent to the Gospel.’ |Maybe they were asking Why?
– He abandoned Chonuane, his next mission, in 1847
because of drought and the proximity of the Boers and his desire ‘to
move on to the regions beyond.’
– At Kolobeng mission Livingstone ‘converted’ Chief Sechele, but only a few months later Sechele ‘lapsed’ – came to his senses? What exactly is wrong with my own belief system? he may reasonably have asked himself? Livingstone left Kolobeng, convinced that the best long-term chance for successful evangelising was to explore Africa in advance of European commercial interest and other missionaries by mapping and navigating its rivers which might then become ‘highways’ into the interior. In other words, he thought his best missionary work would be to stop doing missionary work?
Maybe they were thinking:
Livingstone was, to put it mildly, not easy to get along with. Expedition members recorded that Livingstone was an inept leader incapable of managing a large-scale project. He was also said to be secretive, self-righteous and moody, and could not tolerate criticism, all of which severely strained the expedition and which led to his physician John Kirk writing in 1862, “I can come to no other conclusion than that Dr Livingstone is out of his mind and a most unsafe leader.”
So bugger them, he often traveled alone. Well, ‘alone’ colonist-style:-
He traveled north and west, alone, with 27 African guides and warriors loaned by the chief of the Kololo in the Linyanti / Makololo region. They reached the Atlantic after profound difficulties and near-death from fever, then returned to Linyanti / Makololo. Then, alone, with 114 men loaned by the same chief, he set off east down the Zambezi. On this leg he was shown the magnificent Mosi-oa-Tunya, a waterfall local people knew and called by a beautiful name – which he re-named some arbitrary name without consulting them (I know, I’m being hard on the poor man – not).
He successfully reached the Indian Ocean, having mapped most of the course of the Zambezi river, becoming the first – oh no, hang on! – the fourth person to record an ocean-to-ocean crossing of south-central Africa.
local traders had crossed from Angola to
Portuguese traders had already penetrated to
the middle of the continent from both sides;
two Arab traders crossed the continent from
Zanzibar to Benguela;
The British press, of course, saw it otherwise. An early example of fake news, which made Livingstone famous. He was first, as non-British accomplishments were little known or cared about, or cared for, by the British press.** Jingo!
After this, Livingstone moved north, out of my southern African interest area for this series of amateur articles on explorers, so we’ll let him go. There’s lots more one can read about him and his sainthood (or the British jingo equivalent). He died in Zambia at 60, of fever and dysentery, regretting he hadn’t spent more time with his kids.
** Here’s an example – ‘Livingstone’s subsequent explorations took him far from the Victoria Falls, and he never saw them again. Following Livingstone’s visit to the Falls, and that of William Baldwin in 1860, ‘a few Boar hunters are known to have visited the Falls in 1861 but it is known that only one, Martinus Swartz, survived the return journey.’ – So let’s just say Thomas Baines was third to reach the falls, shall we, old chap?
Andrew Smith (1797-1872) – British army surgeon, traveler, collector, author, committee man and naturalist. As a boy he was apprenticed part-time to a medical doctor while studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
Sent to the Cape Colony in 1821, he was stationed in Grahamstown until the middle of 1825. During these years he made a study of the natural history of the frontier region and the customs of the Xhosa people. After visiting Smith, Cape governor Lord Charles Somerset created the South African Museum in the building of the South African Library, and appointed Smith as its superintendent. He solicited specimens for the museum and published lists of donations in the Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser. Soon he also published the first and only installment of A descriptive catalogue of the South African Museum in which he described the mammals on exhibition. A separate pamphlet provided Instructions for preparing and preserving the different objects of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. In December 1826 the Cape of Good Hope Horticultural Society was formed, with Smith as joint secretary. So, in charge of growing the dagga plants. Kidding!
In 1828 Smith went to the north-west border of the colony to investigate conflicts among the various groups of people living in the region. The political nature of the mission was disguised by presenting it as a scientific expedition, consisting of Smith and some locals to guide him. He reached the Olifants River, the copper deposits of Namaqualand, the Orange River, which he explored to its mouth, and returned to Cape Town.
The first general scientific society in southern Africa, the South African Institution, was then founded in Cape Town. Smith was elected as joint secretary and served as joint vice-president (ha! maybe there is something to my dagga theory!?). They appointed P. Jules Verreaux and launched the subcontinent’s first scientific journal, The South African Quarterly Journal. Smith wrote on birds, on ‘Observations relative to the origin and history of the Bushmen’, and on ‘Contributions to the natural history of South Africa, etc.’ He later wrote a series of ten articles under the title ‘An epitome of African zoology’, in an effort to promote the study of natural history in the colony.
In December 1831 Smith was sent on another diplomatic mission combined with a scientific expedition, this time to visit the Zulu chief Dingane and report on the nature of his country. The party went via Port Elizabeth, then to the vicinity of Umtata, then down to the coast near present Port St Johns. They reached Port Natal (now Durban) in March 1832. There Smith met H.F. Fynn, who accompanied him to Dingane’s kraal. He was the first well-known collector to investigate the birdlife of coastal Natal, where he found many new species. In an interview with the Grahamstown Journal upon his return he described the fertility of Natal and its potential for settlement. This praise was noted by men who became the ‘Voortrekkers’ who sarie’d voort and settled in Natal during 1837-1838.
The Cape of Good Hope Association for Exploring Central Africa was established to organise a scientific expedition into central southern Africa, to be financed by public subscription. Smith was elected joint chairman (kidding! – he was chosen as the leader of the expedition). They went to Lesotho and visited chief Moshoeshoe; then to Kuruman, from where the missionary Robert Moffat accompanied them to the kraal of the Matabele king, Mzilikazi, near Zeerust. On they trekked, eastwards along the southern slopes of the Magaliesberg to Hartebeestpoort, then northwards to the tropic of Capricorn. The expedition returned to Cape Town in February 1836 with a huge collection of natural history specimens and drawings. Smith published his Report of the Expedition for Exploring Central Africa.
Around this time Smith met the young geologist Charles Darwin when the second voyage of the Beagle touched at the Cape. Darwin corresponded with Smith about how the large animals in South Africa lived on sparse vegetation, showing that a lack of luxuriant vegetation did not explain the extinction of the giant creatures whose fossils Darwin had found in South America. Darwin frequently mentioned Dr. Smith in his writings, and sponsored the Doctor to gain membership of the Royal Society in 1857 despite the Doctor fighting with a nurse at the time (see below).
Smith was ordered to return to England. He took his private collections and the expedition’s collections with him. After exhibiting the latter in London for a year they were sold and the proceeds paid to the Association that had financed the expedition. In his spare time, he wrote a monumental and authoritative work, Illustrations of the zoology of South Africa, published in five volumes in 1849. It contained descriptions and coloured plates of the mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes by Smith, and the invertebrates, mainly beetles and marine crabs, by S.W. Macleay. Many of their new species have stood the test of time. This established Smith’s reputation as ‘the father of South African zoology’. Among others he described 64 taxa including 24 snakes and 37 lizards, the most by any author of this group, and 79 species of South African birds, again the most by any author.
In 1843 Smith married his housekeeper Ellen Henderson and that same year was elected a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. In his career, he became director-general of the Army Medical Department.
Following huge losses of soldiers during the Crimean War (1853-1856) he became involved in a bitter controversy with Florence Nightingale, who had quite rightly criticised the poor treatment soldiers got from military medical men, the horrid lack of cleanliness, never mind sterility, and the generally inadequate medical arrangements for the campaign. Although he was (predictably, it’s the military and the ‘gentlemen officers’ thing!) exonerated from blame, Smith probably realised Florence was actually right, as he then persuaded the government to build the first fully adequate military hospital and training school for military medical officers near Southampton; about that time, Nightingale also started the Nightingale Training School for nurses and midwives, in London.
Smith, now Sir Andrew Smith KCB, resigned his post in May 1858 and began writing an ambitious work on the ethnography of the whole continent of Africa. He presented thousands of specimens from his personal natural history collection to his alma mater the University of Edinburgh. Then, following the death of his wife towards the end of 1864 he lost interest in his writing project and spent the last years of his life as a recluse.
The Cape shoveler and Karoo thrush still carry his name.
I have ‘explored Africa’ by being flown in a Cessna by a local pilot, picked up in a Toyota by a local guide and cooked for by a local chef, so whilst all our explorers were shown around by locals, when the ‘locals’ are actually officials of the colony and they’re taking you to established towns and government posts, its not exploring. It’s a visit from head office.
John Barrow (1764–1848) – was an English statesman, historian, author, organiser of Arctic expeditions and artist – he painted the picture above, Cape Town ca1800. He started in life as superintending clerk of an iron foundry at Liverpool and afterwards, in his twenties, taught mathematics at a private school in Greenwich.
So Barrow was not really an explorer of the Cape. He traversed known territory accompanied by officials in 1797 when he accompanied Lord Macartney, Governor of the Cape Colony, as his private secretary, in his important and delicate mission to ‘settle the government of the newly acquired colony’ of the Cape of Good Hope. This is not like Burchell in a wagon. This is more like politicians on a guided tour. Still, he wrote a book and drew a map.
His 1806 book had the catchy title of ‘Travels into the interior of Southern Africa in which are described the character and conditions of the Dutch colonists of the Cape of Good Hope, and of the several tribes of natives beyond its limits the natural history of such subjects as occurred in the animal, mineral and vegetable kingdoms and the geography of the southern extremity of Africa comprehending also a topographical and statistical sketch of the Cape Colony with an inquiry into its importance as a naval and military station as a commercial emporium and as an imperial possession.’ A real page-turner.
Barrow was tasked to ‘reconcile the Boer settlers and the native Black population,’ and ‘report on the country in the interior.’ On his return from his journey, in the course of which he visited ‘all parts of the colony’ – not – he was appointed auditor-general of public accounts. My real explorers would have told them where to shove that job.
He now decided to settle in South Africa, married local botanical artist Anna Maria Truter, and in 1800 bought a house in Cape Town. But the surrender of the colony to the Dutch at the peace of Amiens in 1802 upset this plan and they left for England.
During his travels through South Africa, Barrow compiled copious notes and sketches of the countryside he was traversing. The outcome of his journeys was a map which was the first published modern map of the southern parts of the Cape Colony. And a poor one. Especially to real explorers! William John Burchell said so, and probably paid a hefty price for his outspokenness and candour: ‘As to the miserable thing called a map, which has been prefixed to Mr. Barrow’s quarto, I perfectly agree with Professor Lichtenstein, that it is so defective that it can seldom be found of any use.’He was speaking truth to power and we all now where THAT gets you!
Barrow didn’t explore, but he sure sent others to explore! As second secretary to the British Admiralty for thirty years beginning 1816, he sent elite teams to charter ‘large areas of the Arctic, discover the North Magnetic Pole, search for the North West passage, be the first to see volcanoes in the Antarctic, cross the Sahara to find Timbuktu and the mouth of the Niger.’
He also wrote Mutiny On The Bounty, except he titled it ‘The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of H.M.S. Bounty: Its Cause and Consequences.’
Barrow, now Sir John Barrow, 1st Baronet, FRS, FRGS, retired from public life in 1845 and devoted himself to writing a history of the modern Arctic voyages of discovery, as well as his autobiography, published in 1847. He died suddenly on 23 November 1848, leaving his wife Anna Maria Truter, four sons and two daughters, one of whom, Johanna, had married the artist Robert Batty.
These extracts from Fergus Fleming’s book shows that even when sending others to explore, Barrow was not what you would call a brilliant explorer!
After the Napoleonic wars, Barrow launched the most ambitious program of exploration the world has ever seen. For the next thirty years, his handpicked teams of elite naval officers scoured the globe on a mission to fill the blanks that littered the atlases of the day.
From the first disastrous trip down the Congo, in search of the Niger River, Barrow maintained his resolve in the face of continuous catastrophes. His explorers often died, and they struggled under minuscule budgets.
1816: Barrow’s first mission sends a crew up the Congo in search of the mouth of the Niger River. Within 200 miles yellow fever wipes out most of the crew; when the survivors turn around their African guides flee into the bush, stealing most of their supplies. None of the officers survive and only a few crew members limp back to England. The mission is a total failure, setting an unfortunate precedent for the missions to follow.
1819-1822: The legendary John Franklin takes his first overland mission to map Canada’s northern coastline. They run out of food and are driven to eating lichen from rocks, mice, and even their shoes, which are roasted or boiled before being devoured. Some of the men resort to cannibalism.
1825: Gordon Laing, the indomitable African explorer and dreadful
poet, crosses the Sahara in search of Timbuctoo, rumored to be a
wondrous city of learning and commerce. Attacked by Tuareg tribesmen, he
covers 400 miles strapped to the back of a camel with numerous saber
cuts, a fractured jawbone, a musket ball in the hip, three broken
fingers, and a slashed wrist. He eventually finds Timbuctoo, which turns
out to be nothing more than a squalid huddle of mud houses. Laing is
murdered by Tuaregs on his way back and his body is never discovered.
1830: Richard and John Lander take up the intrepid task of following the Niger to its mouth. Along the way they are forced to bribe tribal leaders to let them continue, abducted by pirates and delivered into slavery, bought by a drunken chief who sets them free to sail away with a foul-mouthed British captain who desperately needs healthy crew members. They return to England in 1831, having discovered the mouth of the Niger, only to receive the cold shoulder from Barrow, who had long argued that the Niger ended elsewhere and was displeased to have his beliefs disproven. Nasty.