DELINEATED FROM LIFE IN THEIR NATIVE HAUNTS
Imagine Africa one and a half centuries ago, in 1836. North Africa had been well known to the civilised west since Roman times and before, but south of the great desert, other than the coastal settlements on both the east and west coast, it was truly the dark continent, vast, mysterious and unknown.
On the southern tip of the continent lies the Cape of Good Hope, described by Sir Francis Drake during his voyages, as the fairest cape of all. Here was the Cape Colony, established by the Dutch East India Company as a provisioning station in 1652. But by 1836 it was in British hands. The Great Trek northwards into the hinterland by Boer settlers, who considered thy had been unjustly treated by the British Government, had commenced. Hunters, mostly Boers, but some Englishmen as well, had undoubtedly penetrated far north in the interior, but either because they couldn’t or were just not interested, few had left written records of their travels and even fewer still had left behind artistic records.
Stories of the wildlife paradise that the plains of southern Africa were, had filtered through to the outside world, but there were minimal specimens to be found in the natural history museums and even less live ones in the zoos to confirm the existence of these many wonderous species. A Frenchman, M Le Valliant, had towards the end of the 18th century, included sketches of the giraffe in his book, but he was derided in Europe as a charlatan.
Captain William (later Sir William) Cornwallis Harris, an Indian Army officer, led a party into the interior in September 1816. His prime purpose, as can be read in the pages of this book, was to hunt and this he most certainly did. His actions in killing during the chase, a vast number and variety of game animals, would, in this a different age, be frowned on, but times were not the same then and no one would have believed most species of African game animals would on day face extinction.Captain Harris was an accomplished writer and an observant and reliable naturalist, as can be seen by the remarkable detail in the comprehensive captions to his portraits, as well as being the first really competent wildlife artist to appear on the southern African scene. He was the first to bring to the attention of the western naturalists the existence of the sable antelope called for some time afterwards, Harris’ buck.
While some of his painting, particularly that of the elephant and the hippopotamus are undoubtedly not completely accurate depictions, it must be remembered that some were only painted after the completion of his hunting trip, and few mounted museum specimens existed to jog his memory, while the camera hadn’t been invented.
The map he drew of his travels, which is reproduced in these pages, is the only one that exists to show the contemporary situations of the early settlements established by the Voortrekkers during the Great Trek. The record of southern Africa that he left behind is a unique and marvellous slice of time depicting an era that has disappeared for ever. The raw veld he once trod, where only the cough of the lion or the call of the jackal was heard at sundown, now echoes with the roar of the Witwatersrand rush-hour traffic.
The first edition of this book published in 1840, consisted of a mere five hundred copies. Its beauty has made it the rarest, most sought after, as well as the most expensive piece of Africana ever published, expensive editions for the specialist collector, which has ensured this outstanding work on African wildlife has remained virtually unknown to the average man in the street, to whom the heritage of Africa must truly belong.
The text of this wonderful book has not been produced facsimile. In the first edition it was widely spread and difficult to read. For this reason it has been carefully edited to eliminate some words of archaic usage which would deter the modern reader, while keeping the old spellings of the various game animals, African tribes and place names, which the publisher believe add a great charm and a spirit of the times to this undying classic.