A new and beautifully illustrated bird book, entitled Levaillant’s Legacy – a history of South African Ornithology, has just been released. Written by emeritus professor W Roy Siegfried, it pays tribute to the French author, François Levaillant, a noted ornithologist, explorer, naturalist and zoological collector, who visited South Africa in the 1780s. He described many new bird species, and several are named in his honour. He was among the first to use colour plates as illustrations. Opposed to the binomial nomenclature introduced by Linnaeus he preferred instead to use descriptive French names such as the bataleur (tight-rope walker). Levaillant’s Legacy is not intended as a complete and comprehensive report, says Professor Siegfried. It details the chronology and geographical locations of a variety of species and discusses their development and evolution in South African ornithology. This book represents a breakthrough in ornithological publications, say the publishers, because up until now ornithology in South Africa has been treated as a collection of dates, names, places and events. Only a limited number of this 124-page, soft-covered book, featuring 158 illustrations, mostly in full colour, and costing R335, plus p&p, have been printed by Print Matters Heritage.


In his extensive travels through the wilds of South Africa the jaunty, dashing 18th century explorer, François Levaillant not only studied and named birds, but met the locals, fell in love, collected trophies, dined on exotic dishes and hunted big game. He kept a rooster as an alarm clock and a tame Chacma baboon, Kees, as a travelling companion, security guard, food taster and jester, as he wandered through territories considered dangerous and hostile. As part of his legacy he carved his name in a cave on the West Coast, states a SA tourism website. It says there was a festive air in the streets of Cape Town on December 18, 1781, as the young Surinam-born French explorer made ready to depart inland on a mission sponsored Jacob Temminck, a wealthy Hollander and treasurer of the Dutch East India Company. His two well-equipped wagons were packed with more travelling goods than the locals had seen before. On the day of his departure Lavaillant wore an ostrich feather in his hat as he checked his “gypsy train” of wagons which contained specimen drawers, guns, gunpowder, an elaborate kitchen setup, a dressing box, tents and tools as well as great deal of brandy, beads and tobacco for barter. Levaillant is considered as South Africa’s first leisure tourist. He was the first white man to fearlessly immerse himself in the wonders of South Africa’s vast landscapes, wealth of wildlife and social habits of its people. He picked up enough Khoikhoi to converse with indigenous people and delight in their stories. He became infatuated with Narina, a young Gonaqua woman in the Kok Kraal, and named the rare Narina Trogon bird for her. He hunted, performed on-the-road taxidermy and returned to France with extensive records. He “branded” South Africa as one of the most fascinatingly exotic destinations in the world. Ironically enough, after all his illustrious travels, Levaillant died a pauper in 1824.


Prince Albert’s Gay and Jordi van Hasselt have won the prestigious Miyuki Keori Mohair Grand Champion Trophy for the second year in a row. It was presented to them by Kiyoshi Okumura, president of the Miyuki Keori Company at a function at the World Mohair Headquarters in Port Elizabeth recently. In his speech President Okumura said mohair was the most unique fibre in the world and proudly proclaimed South African producers as world leaders. Sarel du Plessis from De Rust won the most sustainable mohair producer trophy, and Ben van der Westhuizen from Adelaide, was the runner up. Barries Snijman of Vleikuil Boerdery, Rietbron, won the reserve grand champion trophy; the winter clip champion trophy went to Frans and Louw Retief, of Driehoeksfontein Boerdery, in Murraysburg, and Billy Colborne, of F.E. Colborne and Sons, in Willowmore, won the Summer Clip champion trophy.


If you are in search of peace and tranquility then the Kriedouw Retreat, outside Prince Albert is the place to be. Simply Saffron is to run their second Forrest Yoga Retreat there from September 9 to 11, with Sandra Heider Robinson in attendance. She is the owner and manager of Equilibrium Yoga and Well-Being Centres in Peterborough and Huntingdon, in the United Kingdom, and a Forrest Yoga Guardian. A qualified biodynamic massage therapist and body psychotherapist, she has been assisting Ana Forrest since 2008. “Forrest yoga addresses physical and emotional stresses brought on by the stress and challenges of today’s modern world,” says a spokesperson for Kriedouw Retreat. “It uses intense pose sequences and conscious breathing to bring aliveness into the body.” Heat, vigorous workouts and deep breathing techniques are used to help the body sweat and flush out toxins. Forrest yoga does not require strength or flexibility; it needs only an open mind.” The Kredouw Retreat offers regular workshops and retreats to assist those in search of rest, relaxation and reconnection to their inner core. The programme includes yoga, art, meditation and dream workshops, as well as mandala drawing.


In January 1859, The Graham’s Town Journal announced that a conservatory was being erected in town’s Botanical Gardens to commemorate the death of Lieutenant-Colonel John.Fordyce. The Colonel, who served with the 74th Highlanders, was killed in the Waterkloof during one of the frontier wars. “It may appear somewhat singular to a distant reader to hear of a monumental conservatory, but the committee thought they might combine the utile et dulce (something useful and pleasant) in this way. Colonel Fordyce’s coat of arms will be displayed on glass at the memorial and there will be an inscription over the facade of the building as well as a marble bust inside.” stated the January 4, issue.


It took 25 years for the South African Society of Anaesthetists (SASA) to adopt an official crest. However, when they finally settled on a design, they honoured William Guybon Atherstone, one of SA’s most famous doctors. The SASA was formed in August 1943, during WWII. In that year there were only 26 anaesthetists on the South African register and which comprised 266 specialists who might need their services – (73 surgeons, 40 gynaecologists, and 153 others practicing various surgical techniques). Anaesthesia was not a popular specialty due to high mortality rates, low status, poor remuneration and the fact The Royal College of Surgeons had only introduced a diploma qualification in this subject in 1935, states an article on the SASA website Also, South African doctors had to travel overseas to obtain such a qualification. Then came the war and its outbreak in September 1939, provided the stimulus for change. Anaesthetists were urgently needed in the Armed Forces and many doctors volunteering for service with the South African Medical Corps and were drafted into anaesthetic services. It took many years for a crest and motto to be chosen. It was only in 1966 that a crest, including part of the Atherstone family crest, met with the approval of the council. The black and silver colours, representing night and day or the sleeping and waking states, were maintained with the three poppies. After 25 years of existence the Society at last had an emblem with which to identify itself and this was linked to the first time that an anaesthetic was used in this country.


In June 1847, Grahamstown’s Dr William Guybon Atherstone, became the first medical man in South Africa to administer an anaesthetic for major surgery. He was also a renowned geologist and palaeontologist. In March 1867 he was sent an unusual stone that had been picked up on a farm near Hopetown in the Northern Cape. Atherstone identified the stone as a diamond and thereby triggered the Kimberly diamond rush. At the De Beers Centenary Exhibition in 1968 a model of the 21-carat diamond was manufactured for display purposes. At the end the Exhibition De Beers presented the model to SASA and they incorporated into the Society’s Presidential Chain of Office, reports the article on the SASA website.


In a short news item in the column entitled Prominent People in Black and White Budget, November 17, 1900, Lord Roberts states that the defence of Wynberg was one of the most noteworthy events of the Anglo-Boer War. He hails Colonel Ridley as the hero of this skirmish stating that the Colonel held out for two days and nights, and successfully warded off 1500 Boers with his own small force of only 250 men.


Alfred Raymond called himself a dentist, however a September 1863, a newspaper states that while attempting to extract a single tooth, he inadvertently extracted two teeth, a portion of the gum, and a piece of the jaw. The patient obviously was not impressed. Alfred advertised his services in the South African Commercial Advertiser of July 1837, when he first came to South Africa. He did not specify his qualifications, but he gave only the address of his rooms. He left South Africa for a while and then, in February 1842, returned and again advertised stating he had had ten years experience on the island of Mauritius, in Paris and in a major hospital. In an 1846 advertisement he claimed to have qualified as a surgeon-dentist at the University of Paris. It appears that he later moved to Port Elizabeth where he continued to practise as a dentist, but not always with success


The Maskell family woke in terror in the early hours of a June morning in 1840. Their home was filled with smoke and they were all coughing and choking. “Fortunately, this diabolical attempt at incendiarism claimed no lives,” reported the Cape Frontier Times of June 3. “The family woke at about 04:00 with smoke billowing through their home. Upon searching for the cause they discovered that a fire had been kindled in the passage close to the door, leading to the back premises and street. A basin, containing dripping, which had been in the kitchen the previous afternoon, was found in the fire. The lower part of the door was burnt, as well as a considerable part of the passage floor, but there was nothing to indicate whether the fire was kindled inside the house or was communicated from underneath the threshold. The nefarious circumstances are shrouded in mystery. Maskell is universally and deservedly respected, so it is impossible to assign motives or suspicions as to the fire’s origins,” said the newspaper. Authorities were at a loss to explain, it added.


A man who enjoyed studying lightening, electricity and power planned some of the Karoo’s power stations in the 1920s. He was Gerald Victor Adendorff, a qualified electrical engineer, associate of the British Institution of Electrical Engineers and member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. While working for the Victoria Falls Power Company in Johannesburg in 1910, he studied the induced effects of lightning on power lines. His conclusions were published in a paper entitled Atmospheric phenomena and their relation to the production of over voltages in overhead electric transmission lines in the 1910 edition of Transactions of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers. In 1914 the same journal also published an article he wrote on thunderstorms and, in 1919, it published another entitled Notes on the application of synchronous condensers to large power systems. Gerald was employed as a consulting electrical and mechanical engineer in Cape Town from about 1920 to 1940. During this time, he planned power, lighting and water schemes for several hinterland towns. Among these was the power station at Beaufort West (1924), the water works and electric lighting plant for Upington (1926), the electric lighting system for Hermanus (1926), an electricity supply scheme and water supply system for the municipality of Aberdeen (1933), electricity extensions at Burghersdorp (1934-1938), and a proposed suction gas electric power station for installation at Cape Town.


Retief, De Ville and Company of Noorder Paarl, were most reputable wagon-builders. In their heyday their workshops were said to be one of the great sights of Paarl. During a boom period when no one imagined that the wagon was doomed to vanish like the sailing-ship, Retief and De Ville’s workshops were a constant hive of activity, states a Cape newspaper. The reporter wrote: “By the time I visited their workshops the company had been in business for more than half a century. I gazed in wonder on their workshops where every type of road vehicle was made but, for some reason, however, they never attempted to design mail-coaches. These were all imported from the United States. Nevertheless, they made spiders and phaetons ‘suitable for our South Africa’s rough roads’. They made a two-wheeler ‘doctor’s gig’ and a four-wheeler called the Doctor’s Comfort. It was specially built for South Africa’s trying climate. It had glass windows in the doors. Their buggies went by such names as The Runaway, The Sailor, The Sultan and The Dandy. The Frenchman was described as one of the prettiest and most fashionable of the day. It was greatly admired. One of their Cape carts was named The Admiral, while their Scotch cart was naturally called The Scotchman. A wagonette called The Judge had a partition separating the driver from his distinguished passengers.”


Glen Avon may well be considered a model farm and worthy of a visit, stated an article in the Cape and Natal News of June 4, 1850. “The fruits of Glen Avon are unequalled in the Colony, as no expense or trouble has been spared to bring them to perfection. Iron mills have been long in use, and lately one of Westwood and Sons patent mills and stone have been worked with success. Generally speaking the district is rich and getting richer. Iron roofs for houses, mahogany furniture, pianos and such things are now all the go as wagon chests and veld stoeltjes are rapidly going out of fashion.”


The history of Glen Avon is closely tied to the story of Robert Hart who was regarded as being the “Father of the 1820 Settlers”. He first came to South Africa as an 18-year-old private with the Argyllshire Highlanders in 1795. The regiment served for a while on the frontier, but when Britain returned the Cape to Holland it returned to Britain. Robert went with it, married and in 1807, returned to the Cape as an officer in Colonel Graham’s newly formed Cape Regiment. This brought him to Grahamstown where he was put in charge of the experimental farm founded by the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, to provide supplies to the army. The farm was closed down in 1825 when the little town of Somerset East was laid out on its grounds. Robert was granted some farmland adjacent to the town in recognition of his services to the government, so he and his family then settled there. He built a homestead, acquired sheep, planted fruit trees (mainly citrus) and grew grain that was so successful that it justified him ordering machinery and equipment from Leeds in England, to set up a commercial mill. He used this to assist his neighbours. The equipment was transported via the old Zuurberg Pass by bullock wagon to Glen Avon and assembled on the spot. Robert Hart died in 1867 at the age of 90, but Glen Avon is still farmed by some of his descendents who have taken great care to preserve their heritage and the farm’s original buildings which are excellent examples of Cape Colonial architecture. Glen Avon today functions as a holiday farm.


John Anchitel Ashburnham, one time resident magistrate of Bloemfontein, was extremely proud of his ancestry. Born into an old Sussex family on February 6, 1865, John, the son of John Woodgate Ashburnham, loved to tell tales of his forefathers to anyone who would listen. He was proudest of the fact his forefather Bertram, Baron of Kent, constable and defender of Dover castle during the Battle of Hastings, was beheaded by William the Conqueror in 1066. After attending at Lancing, Exeter and Oxford colleges John came to South Africa in 1888 to act as secretary to the British Bechuanaland Administration. He later became Assistant Commissioner to the Bechuanaland Protectorate (1895-1901 and Acting Resident Commissioner (1901). As Chairman of the Land Laws Enquiry Commission John visited to Colesburg in April 1893. He was appointed Resident Magistrate at Bloemfontein later that year He accompanied the High Commissioner to conferences with the President of the SAR at Brignant’s Pont in March,1890. On June 20, 1894 he married Jean, daughter of the late Rev. R. Price.


A night attack on a wagon at the farm of Mr Howse between the Koonap Post and Double Drift was unsuccessful, states The Cape Frontier Times of June 2,1841. The newspaper stated that five armed men attacked two wagons in which some of Howse’s employees were a sleeping. “They first threw stones at the wagons, probably hoping to rouse the sleepers so that they might more conveniently shoot them but, finding this ineffectual, they approached the wagons, lifted up the flaps and fired several shots into the interior. The wagon-chest in one wagon was struck and the wagon sail of the other partly burnt. The attackers loosened an ox but were prevented from making off with it as booty because, the sleepers had by then been sufficiently aroused. They leapt out of the wagons and fired on their assailants. The men fled. Hearing of the incident, Major Armstrong of the Cape Mounted Rifles, who is stationed at Koonap Post, raced to the spot. He and his men tried to follow the spoor of the assailants without success. Howse’s people then refused to stay at the spot where their lives are at risk. They had been guarding about 1,600 valuable sheep and erecting kraals at the spot where they were attacked, stated the newspaper. However, after the attack they feared for their lives.

The greatest enemy of justice is privilege. – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach