South Africa 1795- 1803

A few random excerpts from the Autobiography:
"...In concert with Mr. Bresler, the landrost ( the parson having positively refused to go) I purchased two horses, ten oxen, and a boulder-waggon well-covered with a rounded canvas roof, and fitted my cot inside. I took with me a small pocket sextant of Ramsden of five-inch radius, an artificial horizon, a case of mathematical instruments, a pocket compass, a small telescope, and a double-barrelled rifle-gun ... The only books I carried with me were Aiton's "Hortus Kewensis" and the "Systemae Naturae" which were of great importance, affording me both comfort and assistance; some small quantity of wine and spirits, but I left the cooking-apparatus, the kitchen utensils and the table appendages to the landrost, who had his own two waggons, and a third for his baggage and for the people, his servant and the Hottentot leaders of the oxen....

As soon as night set in, the howling wolf and the yelping jackal filled the air with their hideous and melancholy cries, which continued to pursue us in the dark at no great distance from the waggons .... whenever we passed a shrubby tract, the Cape partridges, seemingly fearless of man, ran about nearly as tame as poultry in a farm-yard ... The aardvark, or earth-hog, is also very common, undermines the ground, and seldom appears but in the night.... We met with a small herd of zebras and quatchas, both animals exceedingly wild and the former very ferocious.

Among the divers animals about this place were several ostritches, and one of our Hottentots found a nest full of eggs, and brought us a couple; he placed them in hot ashes, and by a small hole made in the end, stirred around the contents till they had acquired the consistence of an omelet, and certainly a better omelet never was eaten. Very often, in the course of my long journeys over the wilds of Africa, have I found an ostritch-egg thus prepared an excellent repast, and fully sufficient for two persons.

On quitting this forest of most beautiful and luxuriant shrubbery, at least thirty miles in extent, I observes a whole line of Strelitzias in full flower, which I was pleased to find were not of the species reginae, but a new species ... with pointed instead of spoon-shaped leaves, and from six to ten feet long

Thus, between the 1st of July 1796 and the 18th of January 1797, I had traversed every part of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, and visited the several countries of the Kaffirs, the Hottentots, and the Bosjemen; performing a journey exceeding three thousand miles, on horseback, on foot, and very rarely in a covered waggon; and full one-half of the istance as a pedestrian. During the whole time ... I never slept under a roof, but always in my waggon, and in the cot that I brought with me in the good ship "Trusty" from England.


This is the (printed 1804 version of the ) MAP drawn by John Barrow, who spent months riding round the Cape
on horseback, surveying the territory and trying to persuade the various inhabitants to be nice to one another.
The map gives an idea of the vastness of the country he covered. It is also the FIRST ever map of these lands,
so he was "riding blind", so to speak. By 1810 the Cape had become a popular destination for Botanists etc,
but they would all have been lost among the cacti but for our John.

This beautiful hasty little watercolour is probably by Samuel Daniell, who
was one of Barrow's companions. A good picture of an ox-waggon,
the sherpa van of those times. Scribbles illegible, alas

A guinea fowl, also native to South Africa,
and a more convenient size
for dinner than an ostritch. Although there were a lot of porters, ox-team-drivers and so on also needing to be fed.
The explorers had
to live off the land, of course.

An ostriches nest. Look, there's a tiny ostritch, far away. They are pretty big close up!
John Barrow was fond of an ostritch egg omelette - big enough to provide sandwiches
(had sandwiches been invented yet?) for the next day, and the next.

And this is an Ostrich hunt, a Dutch engraving from about 1780.
Magnificent beast. The feathers were extremely valuable, perhaps
dyed pink as with Lord Macartney's China hat.


 Barrow was a keen botanist - the
only book he took on his travels was the "Hortus Kewensis" or Kew Gardens catalogue.
He'd spent months before the journey at Kew, studying what was already known (not much)
and so had a sharp eye for possible new species. The spiky one above is a Protea, and top left is Salsola kali- apparently surrounded by broken ostritch eggs. On the right is a "Carrion flower", by Sydenham Edwards, 1804, another item from my peculiar collection. But the most distinctive South African species is probably the dazzling Strelitzia, on the left, called after King George the Third's Queen Charlotte's native land, somewhere in Germany. Some strelitzias grow to ten feet tall. Crikey.

This shows a Boer family, trekking across the Veldt with their waggon.
The horses are being hobbled to stop them galloping off. The "staff" in their
interesting hats are minding the stew and Mrs has got the dinner table out.

Or the "kitchen utensils and table appendages" as Barrow would say.
Jolly good show.

This is Cape Town, or Kaapstad as the Dutch called it, in about 1780. Table mountain on the left.
The Dutch left in 179X, and Barrow was part of the first wave of Britishification. Another ox waggon,
this time in motion. But only just.
This engraving is from about 1760. Wild Asses? Zebras? I put this picture in because
I have owned it for years without knowing why, till now. The landscape
could almost be the south coast of Cumbria, but for the palm tree.
Wow! This is a "Quahkah" (Quagga?), a brand-new item of Natural History, in an aquatint
by Barrow's friend SAMUEL DANIELL himself. For lots more of his
wonderful work click HERE
View of Cape Town c 1780. This and other views are from photocopies taken in the Cape
Town Public Library by a friend on holiday there. Thanks, Phil.


Question: How many oxen does it take to .... ?

This is treasure. This is the house that Barrow bought, intending to settle in SA, and it is by his elusive wife, Anna Maria Truter, whom he met and married out there. She was also a botanical sketcher and many of her drawings are in the South African museum collections.
The only time she gets a mention in Barrow's memoirs is a roundabout tale, where King William IV says hallo to her at a party, this being the first time she's been out anywhere for about ten years. "It unfortunately happened that Lady Barrow had been confined to the house ... Her complaint was somewhat singular. Being one evening at the theatre, in Coutts's box, she was half-dozing in the corner close to the stage, and in the course of the pantomime a firing took place close to her. Though much startled at the time, she thought no more of it till the following morning, when a violent pain came on - the muscles of her neck were sprained, and so remained for some years .... "
Barrow also forgets to mention his 5 or 6 children, apart from his second son John Barrow junior who followed in his footsteps, working in the Admiralty and organizing the atticfuls of old papers, and writing numerous very long books describing every minute of their family holidays, to Ireland, North Holland, and so on - the old man did continue to travel when he got the chance, though in fairly sumptuous comfort.
Cape Town again, as it was in Barrow's day. Not unfashionable, in fact probably cleaner & more civilized than many an overcrowded damp European city. Who is the chap with the sandwich-boards? What do they say?

Here by contrast is a Bushmans' Kraal in about 1810, drawn by Wm Burchell,. For more views click HERE
And here he is, the man himself ... This sketch was scribbled by me in great haste in the British Library,
a most unhelpful institution, from vol. Add.35, 300 which is part of the "Barrow Bequest", various volumes
given to the British Museum by Barrow's son in 1858. The inscription by him reads ".... containing original
drawings by [Wm] Alexander and Saml. Daniell, artists of celebrity in their day". As they should also be in ours!
The above is from a watercolour, presumably by Daniell, and 99% certainly is a picture of our John. A photocopy of the original would have cost £54 + VAT.

Local fashions, c. 1760. Another gem from my collection. The frock is remarkably
similar to that worn by the lady in the Africa section, drawn by Denham.

And the blue-and-white stripey fabric in George Lyon's watercolour
of a desert sandstorm.