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Explorers 13. Chapman

James Chapman (1831-1872) – our first South African-born explorer, hunter, trader and photographer. Enough Swedes, Scots and Frogs, here’s a homeboy! Again, if you want really accurate history, you’ve stumbled on the wrong place – but check the sources!

A son of James Chapman and Elizabeth Greeff of Malmesbury, he was educated in Cape Town and left for Durban when 14 years old. He was appointed as chief clerk in the Native Affairs Department in 1848. Liewe blksem, Native Affairs even then! 124 years later when I matriculated you could still work for the Native Affairs Dept! We’re lucky the ANC didn’t institute a Dept of Umlungu Affairs in 1994.

A year later he settled in Potchefstroom, where he became one of the first storekeepers. Shortly after, in 1852, he ventured across the mighty Limpopo River and into Bamangwato country, where one of the sons of the Bamangwato chief guided him to the (truly mighty) Chobe River. Early the following year they took him to the Zambezi River to within 70 miles of the Big Falls – the one with the Smoke that Thunders. He would have beaten David Livingstone to their discovery. But closies don’t count. He turned back.

By 1854 he had teamed up with Samuel H. Edwards and launched an expedition to Lake Ngami (we once paddled into Ngami), after which he trekked through the territory between Northern Bechuanaland and the Zambesi. An easygoing man, he was able to get on with the Bushman / San hunters of the semi-desert interior and spent long periods in their company, obtaining valuable help from them. Like I always say, our ‘intrepid explorers’ were actually just tourists being shown around by local guides! Returning to Ngami, he traveled north to the Okavango River, crossing Damaraland and reaching Walvis Bay. Here he busied himself with cattle-trading in Damaraland, before setting out on a long expedition with his brother Henry and Thomas Baines. He traveled from December 1860 to September 1864. Now THAT’S an expedition-length trip!

Their aim was to explore the Zambesi from the Victoria Falls down to its delta, with a view to testing its navigability. However, these plans were bedeviled by sickness and misfortune. They did reach the Zambesi, but did not get to explore the mouth. On 23 July 1862 they reached the Falls – Mosi oa Tunya. Yes, Mosi-oa-Tunya, not another English queen’s name! Hell, even Harrismith OFS had a ‘Lake Victoria’ – gimme a break!

Chapman’s attempt at exploring the Zambesi ruined his health and exhausted his finances. He returned to Cape Town in 1864, dispirited and fever-stricken. The expedition was notable since it was the first time that a stereoscopic camera had been used to record its progress. Chapman’s photos did not come out well though, even according to Chapman himself. The negatives were of a rather poor quality, and when they reached the famous waterfall he failed to get any photos at all. This reminded me of one Jonathan Taylor, a more recent ‘photographic explorer’ and his failure to capture a key moment on an expedition.

Chapman describes the Falls: ‘. . . immediately before you, a large body of water, stealing at first with rapid and snake-like undulations over the hard and slippery rock, at length leaping at an angle of thirty degrees, then forty-five degrees, for more than one hundred yards, and then, with the impetus its rapid descent has given it, bounding bodily fifteen or twenty feet clear of the rock, and falling with thundering report into the dark and boiling chasm beneath, seeming, by it’s velocity, so to entrance the nervous spectator that he fancies himself being involuntarily drawn into the stream, and by some invisible spell tempted to fling himself headlong into it and join in its gambols;Wow! and Bliksem! ‘ . . but anon he recovers himself with a nervous start and draws back a pace or two, gazing in awe and wonder upon the stream as it goes leaping wildly and with delirious bound over huge rocks. It is a scene of wild sublimity.’

As they clambered about the Falls on the wet cliff edges, Chapman wrote: ‘It was necessary to proceed farther to obtain a more extended view. One look for me is enough, but my nerves are sorely tired by Baines, who finding everywhere new beauties for his pencil, must needs drags me along to the very edge, he gazing with delight, I with terror, down into the lowest depths of the chasm.’

Baines painted, his brush and easel working where Chapman’s camera didn’t:

Sir George Grey had commissioned Chapman to capture live animals and to compile glossaries of the Bantu languages. He kept diaries throughout his journeys, but his Travels in the Interior of South Africa appeared only in 1868, shortly before his death. Chapman also traveled at times with Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton and Swede CJ Andersson.

He tried farming on the banks of the Swakop river around 1864, but he says the Nama-Ovaherero War interfered with that venture – a timeline says a treaty was signed in 1870 between the Nama and the Herero after a prolonged period of war between the two communities. He then lived at various places in South Africa, later returned as a trader and hunter to old South West Africa after that treaty, then died at Du Toit’s Pan near Kimberley in 1872, aged 40 years.

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wikipedia; tothevictoriafalls; christies to buy expensive paintings; namibia timeline;

Some of Chapman’s photographs are apparently at the Africana Museum in Johannesburg, but so far I haven’t found any.

Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Life, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 12. Baines

(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:

– pommy tourists being ferried downstream towards the falls by Makololo boatmen –
– the falls from the west –
– the falls from the east –

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:

– beaut pic from thelawofadventures.com –

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.’

– elephant at the falls –

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.

– crossing a drift in Natal –
– lots of chasing – black rhino –
– lots of killing – white rhino
– lots of killing –

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.

– Zambezi river at Tete village –
– lion family –

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Jane Carruthers; Jane Carruthers again; His art 1. 2. 3. ; britannica.com brief biography; wikipedia;

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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

Africa, Travel Africa

Explorers 11. Livingstone

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?

– Livingstone preaching the gospel to bemused Africans. Like other missionaries of the era he had a low success rate and is credited with only a single successful brainwash –

Maybe they were thinking:

colonists arrive

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).

– Makololo bottom centre – see our – guided – visit there

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 Mozambique;
  • 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.

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Read more then – there are endless sources including critics and apologists! Just on ‘Livingstone and Stanley’ there are over 1766 books! They are both saints, they are both devils. Depends who wrote about them; wikipedia; London School of Economics LSE blog – Yvonne Kabombwe; 15 interesting things; BBC History; LSE blog Imperial Obsessions conference – Joanna Lewis; livingstoneonline.org; Livingstone’s uncensored diary; Stanley: A fake rascal;

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** 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?

Africa, Birds & Birding, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 10. Smith

Here’s another real explorer!

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.

– Illustrations by Charles Davison Bell & GH Ford –
– map, plate , portrait and title page –

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.

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The Cape shoveler and Karoo thrush still carry his name.

– spatula smithii and turdus smithii –

wikipedia and http://www.oiseaux-birds.com; Jane Carruthers’article; Biographical Database of SA Scientists; Undiscovered Scotland article; S2A3 biographies of SA Scientists; vanriebeecksociety; biodiversitylibrary;

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sarie’d voort – I imagine them sallying forth singing sarie marais

KCB – Knight Commander, Order of the Bath; I wonder if Florence Nightingale organised that he got this – after her accusations of unsanitary conditions under his watch!? Kidding!

Africa, Books, Travel Africa

sort-of Explorer 9. Barrow

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.

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Barrow’s Book; wikipedia; geni.com; portrait; ; read ‘Barrow’s Boys’, by Fergus Fleming; Arctic exploration;

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.

No explorer, Barrow.

Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 8. Burchell

I’m exploring the explorers who were lucky enough to see ‘Africa In The Earlies.’ Before the anthropocene. Before plastic. This guy is one of the best. I mean, just look at his wagon! It even beats my kombi! And my 1975 Bushman Tracker1 Off-Road trailer!

William John Burchell (1781-1863) – naturalist and explorer, was the son of a botanist and proprietor of Fulham Nursery, London. At the exceptionally young age of 23 he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London on the basis of his reputation as a botanist.

Two years later he became the (English) East India Company’s naturalist on the island of St Helena. One of his tasks was to develop a botanic garden where plants from the Far East could recover on their way to England. He did botanical surveys of the island, collected and sketched its flora, studied its geology, and collected insects. In 1810, following interference in his plans for the development of the botanic garden by a new acting governor, he resigned his post and sailed for the Cape.

There, he collected plants in Cape Town and on trips to Tulbagh and Caledon. He learned some Dutch and made preparations for traveling, including having a wagon made to his specifications.

It had to accommodate fifty scientific reference books, his flute, his drawing materials, his bed, his specimen boxes, his work desk, rifles and ammunition, a medicine kit, and items like snuff and beads to give as gifts. He ‘painted his wagon’ on the trail – this impressive picture, he wrote, took him twenty seven days to complete, in total 120 hours of work! I think it’s superb! MY kind of picture!

– find the muscadel, the geometric tortoise and his telescope –
– and I’m going to get me a bigger book box! – look at his! –

In June 1811 he left for Klaarwater (now Griquatown) in the company of some missionaries, whose station he would use as a base. From there he traveled with Khoi guides for almost four years and 7000 km. Burchell was a humanist who firmly believed that ‘the good and worthy of every nation are equally our countrymen … and equally claim our hospitality and friendship.’ It is likely that this ethic explains why he was so well received by the local inhabitants on his southern African travels.

Personable and unassuming, he wrote eloquently of his love for South Africa. He learned to speak some Dutch while in Cape Town, and spoke it to his Hottentot companions, Speelman and Juli. He was immensely talented: he could draw and paint; he could play several musical instruments; he had an understanding of science, in particular flora and fauna.

Perhaps his most enduring legacy is this map of his travels. It not only follows his route carefully but is annotated, showing intriguing details of places he named, animals he first came across, and people he met. The map reflects local Hottentot or Dutch names – he was always respectful of names already given to places, and never replaced them with Eurocentric ones, like other explorers did. ‘Victoria this, Victoria that’!! For instance, he referred to the Orange River as the !Gariep River, the original Hottentot name.

First he went on short trips from Klaarwater to present Schmidts Drift on the Vaal River and to the Asbestos Mountains. He then travelled to Graaff-Reinet and back, following a route through areas not previously explored botanically. His next trip took him to Dithakong, north-east of Kuruman, and further north into the country of the Thlaping as far as the present Heuningvlei, and back again. In January 1813 he traveled to Graaff-Reinet, and from there to Grahamstown and to his most easterly point at the mouth of the Fish River. He then slowly returned to Cape Town through the coastal districts, arriving in April 1815.

Although Burchell traveled mainly through regions of the Colony that had been visited before, his descriptions were more accurate and comprehensive than those of other travelers, and – unlike some others! – his enjoyment and appreciation was obvious: ‘Nothing but breathing the air of Africa and actually walking through it and beholding its inhabitants can communicate those gratifying and literally indescribable sensations… and … a scene … which may be highly instructive for a contemplative mind …

He collected 63 000 natural history specimens, most of them plants, seeds and bulbs, and 56 fungi and 90 lichens; but also skins, skeletons, birds, insects and fish. It was probably the largest natural history collection ever to have been made by one person in Africa and contained many new species. His notes on these specimens were accurate and detailed and included not only exact localities of species, but also the distribution of plants in the areas he passed through.

– Burchell’s collections – showing 6 of his 63 000 things! –

He made some 500 valuable sketches depicting landscapes, botanical and zoological specimens, and portraits of native inhabitants. He was a versatile scholar and some think the greatest naturalist that South Africa has known.

Burchell left the Cape in August 1815. During the following years he wrote the first description of the square-lipped rhinoceros, and prepared his major travel journal for publication. Travels in the interior of southern Africa appeared in two volumes, and included accurate and painstaking descriptions of his explorations up to Dithakong, plus a large and detailed map of the region up to 24 degrees south and as far east as the Keiskamma River.

– detail on map – including exact location verified by sextant –

Unfortunately the third and last volume of this classic work was never published and his diaries relating to the later period are missing.

Burchell was a courageous and resourceful person with a penetrating intellect. His plant collection went to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. He donated 43 of his animal skins to the British Museum but only seven were stuffed. He visited the Museum a few years later to find his precious skins ruined by maggots and moths. The rest of his records went to Oxford University. Sadly, he reacted rashly to this treatment and resented some of the criticism he received, thereafter largely withdrawing from most public interaction. By the age of 82, he was a disillusioned recluse. After an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by gunshot, he hanged himself in a garden shed.

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After his death his sister presented Burchell’s botanical collections, drawings and manuscripts to the herbarium of Kew Gardens, while his insect and bird material was given to the University Museum at Oxford. He was a perfectionist, and his catalogue of this collection was a model of careful work. In addition to the birds described as new in his Travels, others were described by W. Jardine and other ornithologists. He provided some of the first descriptions of freshwater fishes from South Africa in his Travels, namely those of the small mouth yellowfish and the sharptooth catfish. He is commemorated in the names of several species, including Burchell’s zebra, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Burchell’s Coucal, and the plant genus Burchellia.

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s23a.org; Oxford University Museum of Natural History; Following in Burchell’s Tracks – magic by Lucille Davie; Blog on Burchell; Cape History by Lynne Thompson; For the best info on Burchell, read Susan Buchanan’s book; Roger Stewart and Brian Warner have written a very interesting biographical sketch;

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Explorers 7. Wahlberg

Johan August Wahlberg (1810 – 1856) was another Swedish naturalist and explorer. He traveled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, especially in Natal and South West Africa, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden.

The journals of his travels are generally brief and objective (and I haven’t been able to find them yet! So I know little about him, even though his name is honoured in many species – moths, lizards, birds, plants, etc), and his portrayal of people he met is usually reliable and unprejudiced.

Wahlberg’s elephants – in Namibia? –

Wahlberg is commemorated in Wahlberg’s Eagle, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and the beautiful little bush squeaker frog Arthroleptis wahlbergi. That’s my pic on top of one of the little squeakers; fully grown, he’s the size of your top finger digit. This one lives in our garden in Westville.

– Wahlberg’s eagle and bat –

‘Sport’ in those days consisted of shooting as much as possible for the tally, the ‘bag.’ These pale chaps ran amuck, trying to score a century, even though cricket was only 240 years old in 1838.

His diary in Natal: 23 August – near Umgeni river: (shot) 1 Ichneumon taenianotus (a mongoose); 1 Boschbock; 1 red-buck (red duiker?); 1 birds.

‘I was so intent on the bucks that the fall of darkness took me (by) surprise. I lost the path and so entangled myself in the thickets that I sure that I should have to pass the night in the woods. I shot six alarm-shots. I was glad to hear them answered by regular salvos from the village. Flayed the boschbock and left the carcase in the wood.’

31 August – near Umkamas river: ‘Continued hunting hippopotamus; no luck. In the evening, accompanied only by one Hottentot Bastard we came sufficiently near to hippopotamus. Two bullets went whistling at the same moment, and found their mark in the head of a young sea-cow. She came to the surface several times, spouting blood high in the air. An adult now appeared; once again our shots sounded as one; it showed the whole of its body above water, dived, a strong furrow appeared in the water, moved rapidly towards the shore, and soon the whole body of the monster was visible above the surface, in form and attitude like a gigantic pig. With incredible swiftness it hurled itself once more into the stream, and rose several times in succession, each time spouting blood. Darkness fell and we were forced to return.’

1st September – ‘We looked in vain for the hippopotamus.’

2nd – ‘Saw numerous buffalo but was unable to get near them. Clouds of locusts darken the sky. We go further afield to a smaller stream.’

3rd – ‘Lying in wait for the buffalo. Hear them approaching at full gallop through the bushes. Climb an acacia. Give the first bull a bullet, which makes him fall back upon his hind-quarters. He gets to his legs again and escapes.’

Well, at least this time Africa got its revenge! Wahlberg was killed by a wounded elephant while exploring along the Thamalakane river about 10 km northwest of Maun just south of the Okavango Delta in today´s Botswana.

– Dear Museum, I have a white rhino skeleton for you. Signed Johan August –
– books based on Wahlberg’s journals and letters –
– he was the first to collect the red-headed weaver, near Thabazimbi –

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wikipedia; van riebeeck society; alchetron.com; aviation demography unit;