From Francis Galton Memories of My Life (London: Methuen, 1908), pp. 121 - 137.
Royal Geographical Society - Ch. J. Andersson - Cape Town - Walfish Bay - Reach Damara Land - Hans - Negotiations with Namaqua chiefs - Revs. Rath and Hahn - Wagons brought up
TRAVELLERS of the present generation need some effort of imagination to put themselves into the mental positions of those who were living in 1849. Blank spaces in the map of the world were then both large and numerous, and the positions of many towns, rivers, and notable districts were untrustworthy. The whole interior of South Africa and much of that of North Africa were quite unknown to civilised man. Similarly as regards that of the great continent of Australia. The unknown geography of the North Polar regions preserved some of the earlier glamour attached to the possibility of finding a navigable North - West passage from England to China, which inspection of the globe shows to be far shorter than that round the Cape. The South Polar regions had only been touched here and there. The geography of Central Asia was in great confusion, the true position of many places familiar in ancient history being most uncertain, while vast areas remained wholly unexplored, in the common sense of that word. It was a time when the ideas of persons interested in geography were in a justifiable state of ferment.
My own inclinations were to travel in South Africa, which had a potent attraction for those who wished to combine the joy of exploration with that of encountering big game. The book of Harris, describing the enormous herds of diverse animals that he found on the grassy plains of South Africa, had directed many sportsmen thither who abundantly confirmed his account. Gordon Cumming had just returned to England. Oswell, then in company with Livingstone, and with another companion, Murray, had recently made a joint expedition, in which the desert country which hitherto limited the range of travel to the northward had been traversed, and Lake Ngami discovered. Consequently the well - watered districts beyond this desert could now be reached by wagon from the Cape. I felt keenly desirous of taking advantage of this new opening, and inquired much of those who had recently returned from South Africa concerning the conditions and requirements of travel there. But I wanted to have some worthy object as a goal and to do more than amuse myself.
It happened at this critical moment of my life that I was walking with my cousin, Captain Douglas Galton, R.E., then one of the most rising officers of the Engineers, and subsequently Sir Douglas Galton, K.C. B., of whom I have already spoken. He suggested my putting myself in communication with the Royal Geographical Society, where I could learn precisely whereabouts exploration was especially desirable, and where I should be sure to receive influential support. He offered introductions to some of its leading members, which I gladly accepted, and this determined my line of life for many years to come.
The immediate helpfulness to a traveller of such a Society is very great. It has the further advantage of pledging him to undertake work that is authoritatively judged to be valuable. My vague plans were now carefully discussed, made more definite, and approved, and I obtained introductions to many persons useful to me in their respective ways. I was introduced to the then Colonial Secretary, Lord Grey, who gave instructions in my favour to the Governor of the Cape.
My outfit was procured, and other preparations were far advanced, when my kind friend, Sir Hyde Parker, whose acquaintance I first made when shooting at Culrain, strongly urged me to engage a companion. He told me that a young Swede whose history he knew intimately was then in England, and that I could not do better than come to terms with him. This was Charles J. Andersson, who became my travelling - friend and second in command. He spoke English fluently, through having been brought up by Charles Lloyd, a well - known Scandinavian sportsman and writer, but an Englishman of Quaker extraction. I may mention here that I made Mr. Lloyd's acquaintance some years later, when his face had been frightfully scarred with wounds made by a bear. He told me that an old wounded she - bear had turned upon him, and actually got his head between her jaws to crack it, but her rounded teeth failed to find at once a sufficiently sharp hold and only tore the flesh. His companion shot the animal in time.
Andersson was accustomed to the rough life of a sportsman, and had been sent to England to push his way to fortune as he best could. His capital wherewith to begin consisted of a crate of live capercailzie, two bear cubs, and the skin of one of their parents. He was then so na1ve that, seeing an auctioneer's placard about a forthcoming sale of farm stock, in which was included " 20,000 Swedes," he, not knowing that in the language of farmers " Swedes" meant "turnips," confessed afterwards to a thrill of terror lest they should be his compatriots, and lest he himself might be pounced upon and sold as a slave together with them.
I was most fortunate in securing Andersson, because a second in command proved at times to be a necessity, and he always did his part admirably. He was remarkably strong and agile. When on board our full - rigged sailing - ship he began for amusement to climb the rigging. A sailor followed him, as is the wont of sailors, with a piece of twine to lash his feet as soon as he had gone as high as he dared, and to keep him bound there until he had consented to "pay his footing." Andersson perceived the game, and completely vanquished the sailor by descending from the maintop to the deck, hand over hand down the mainstay, which was too daring a feat for the sailor to emulate. Consequently Andersson became highly respected by all the crew.
One of the effects of association with the leading members of the Royal Geographical Society was to show me that the world of English interests was very much wider and more earnest than that of the coteries among which I had chiefly lived, and that many men were thoroughly able to understand and criticise my proposed course justly, whose good opinion if I succeeded would be of far more value to me than the approbation of a multitude of less well informed persons, however numerous or laudatory they might be.
I left England on April 5, 1850. My voyage deserves a few words of description, because it was made under conditions that are now obsolete, which had some advantages to counterbalance their many disadvantages. The ship was called the DaSovsie, an old teak - built East Indiaman, quite incapable of beating against a head wind, and occupying nearly eighty days in reaching Cape Town. It was chiefly used on this journey to carry emigrants at cheap rates with rough accommodation, but a few cabin passengers were taken besides, who had the use of the high poop to themselves. In a long voyage like that of ours, the elements count for much, and the manipulation of the ship is of continual interest. The charm of the Northern Trades, of the calms and sudden squalls of the Equatorial Belt, and of the crisp, strong Southern Trades cannot possibly be experienced in an equal degree by those on board a fast steamer, that rushes through all of them at an equal speed and holds its course almost regardless of wind and weather. I was glad, too, of the abundant opportunities of familiarising myself with the sextant, by which I mean a much closer acquaintance with its manipulation and adjustments than nautical persons are usually contented with or require. I had left England without any practical instruction either in obtaining latitudes and longitudes, or in surveying, for I failed to find anybody who would give it, consistently with the limited time then at my disposal. The excellent facilities now afforded by the Royal Geographical Society for the instruction of intending travellers did not then exist; indeed, I had a large part in their introduction many years later. I was, however, familiar with the requisite book - work, and relied on what I could pick up on board ship and elsewhere to supplement it. Let me anticipate that I took very kindly indeed to instrumental work, and learnt in time to get more out of my sextants, etc., than most persons. Land work admits of far greater exactitude with that instrument than sea work, where the true position of the horizon is never known, owing to uncertainties of refraction, and is not seen at all at night. The sun, which is the principal object of observation at sea, is little used on land, where the altitudes of stars are obtainable with great accuracy from their reflections in a small trough of mercury. Also the hand can be so rested that the images of the star and of its reflection shall be quite steady when seen through the telescope. Moreover, the two images, whether of the star and its reflection, or of the star and the moon, can be toned to an exactly equal degree of brightness. The sextant is a very powerful instrument for its size, in the hands of those who have patience and skill to get the most out of it.
I was received very kindly at the Cape by the Governor, Sir Harry Smith, and by his lady, whose name is perpetuated in that of the well - known town " Ladysmith," called after her. But the news from the frontier recently received at Cape Town scattered my plans like a bombshell. The Boers, who had been very unruly, kad affirmed their intention of keeping the newly discovered lands about Lake Ngami to themselves and of refusing passage through their territory to every Englishman. Sir Plarry Smith said it would be useless for me to attempt to go as I had proposed. After a tedious journey of more than two months by ox wagon, I should meet with Boers who would politely but firmly tell me that I must go no farther. If I attempted to force a way, they would shoot me, and he would be powerless to prevent them.
I had made many friends in Cape Town, and numerous suggestions were offered as to other ways of reaching the district of Lake Ngami. The one I adopted had many arguments in its favour. A cattle - dealer then in Cape Town had made occasional ventures to Walfish Bay. The coast around it was desert, but the Namaqua Hottentots drove cattle there for sale, which would otherwise have been sent overland to the Cape by what is practically a four months' journey. The country between Walfish Bay and the Namaquas could be traversed by wagons. There were mission stations in Namaqualand, whose headquarters were in Cape Town. Nay more, a new missionary was waiting for an opportunity to go there, and if I took him with the other things now waiting to be sent, I should be helpful to the missionaries, and they would doubtless be all the more inclined to help me. Again, to the north of the yellow Namaquas were the black Damaras, the interior of whose land was as yet quite unknown, though two or three mission stations had been established along its southern border.
Here, then, was a land ready to be explored, by which a new way through grassy country might be found leading through Walfish Bay to the interior, and at the same time south of the territory claimed and practically barred by the Portuguese. Sir Harry Smith desired to use every opportunity of disavowing the complicity of the Cape Government with the attacks of the Boers on the natives, and he requested me to use such occasions as I might have, of doing so. He caused a document to be drawn up to express this and to serve as my credentials. It was written in English, Dutch, and Portuguese, with a huge seal appended to it, protected by a tin case.
The story of my journey has been so fully told in print that I shall go but little into the details of it here (Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South - West Africa. By F. Galton (Murray), 2nd edition, Ward, Locke, & Co., Minerva Press, 1889. Lake N'gami; Explorations in South - West Africa. By Ch. Andersson (Longman), 1856. Also papers by both in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society.).
Moreover, the country has of late been so traded through and fought over, and in large part occupied by the Germans, that it has, I presume, become mapped with considerable exactness.
It will be seen by my sketch map that the country I travelled over proved to be inhabited by three principal and widely different races, occupying three roughly parallel belts of country running from west to east. The southernmost were the Namaquas. They were yellow Hottentots, with hair growing in tufts on their heads, and speaking a language full of clicks. They had a strain of Dutch blood, and most of them spoke a little of the Dutch language. Their race reaches down through more and more civilised tribes to the Cape Colony. Captain, afterwards Sir James Alexander ( 1803 - 1885), had travelled right through their territory from the Cape to Walfish Bay, and back. Mission stations were planted among them, of which the two northernmost, numbered 1 and 5 on the map, were called Schepmansdorf and Rehoboth respectively. The Kuisip river - bed, down which water runs only once in every few years, and ends in Walfish Bay, makes a northern limit to the Namaquas, which they were apt to transgress.
The Swakop river - bed, in which water runs every year after the rains, and which enters the sea some forty miles north of Walfish Bay, is the southern limit of the Damaras. Two mission stations (2 and 3), called Otchimbingue and Barmen respectively, were established on the Swakop. A third, marked 4 on the map, had been established, but destroyed shortly before my arrival by a murderous raid of Namaquas, under Jonker, whose name will be found on the map, and the position of whose home is shown by a dot. The land between the Swakop and the Kuisip is a high desert plateau and uninhabited. The Damaras extend northward up to about the line where " Damara Limit " is written on the map, and they extend far to the east. The Kaoko plain, of which I learnt little that was definite, lies to the west, between them and the sea.
" Damara" is a corruption of the Hottentot word " Damup," used indiscriminately for numerous Bantu tribes that have no general name in their language, but severally call themselves Ovaherero, Ovapantieru, etc. In a similar way the Arabic word " Caffre " (Kaffir, or infidel) comprehends many different Bantu tribes on the east side of South Africa. The Damaras and the Caffres are clearly of the same race. To the immediate north of Damara Land is a narrow belt of country ill fitted for habitation. Northward of this belt and from the line where " Ovampo Limit " is written on the map, is the country of the Ovampo. The Ovampo are pure negroes, but of a high type. Their country extends northwards a little beyond the limits of the map, up to the Cunene River, beyond which the Portuguese claim possession.
In addition to the Damaras, small tribes are scattered over their territory of two totally distinct races of Hottentot and Negro. Both of these tribes now speak the Hottentot language. The first of them are the Bushmen, so called by the Namaquas, and who are pure Hottentots. They are usually small men, but not so very small as the Bushmen proper of Cape Colony are, or rather were, for those exist no longer. On the other hand, the Ghou Damup are as purely negro as the Ovampo. The Bushmen and the Ghou Damup are equally hunted and equally ill - treated by the Damaras, and they live wherever they can find safety. The Ghou Damup are apparently the inferior of the two.
I suppose that the country was inhabited long ago by the progenitors of the Ghou Damup, probably a branch of the Ovampo; that the Hottentots invaded it, and lorded over the Ghou Damup for so many years that the latter wholly forgot their native tongue, and spoke the Hottentot language instead; lastly, that the Hottentots, and of course the Ghou Damup also, were in their turn overrun by the progenitors of the Damaras, and became dispersed among them as they are at the present time.
The Bushmen are nomadic and good hunters. The Ghou Damup are sedentary, living on roots and the like, but they have a stronghold in Erongo to the north - west of the Mission Station No. 2 on the map. They live there in marvelously rocky and easily defensible quarters, totally unsuitable to the pastoral Damaras, who have no object to gain by attacking and ousting them if they could. I visited also a large encampment of Bushmen in quite another part of the country, and stayed by them for four days, at the place marked Tbs ( = Tounobis), on the extreme right hand of the map.
It was reckoned to be a six or seven days' sail from Cape Town to Walfish Bay, so I hired a small schooner, and with the help of many kind friends got a my equipment on board~ It consisted of a light cart, two Cape wagons, nine mules from which a team could be selected to draw the cart, when it was laden with articles of barter to buy oxen, and two if not three skilled drivers and other necessary men; also two horses which were not expected to live long, and did not, and a few dogs. The gear of the missionary and the young missionary himself were also taken on board. We started from Cape Town in the second week of August 1850.
On arriving at Walfish Bay, we found ourselves faced by as desolate and sandy a shore as even Africa can show, which is saying a great deal. There was a small empty wooden hut on the beach, very useful as a storehouse; a few natives appeared, and one consented to act as a messenger to the mission station twenty miles off, in return for a stick of tobacco and a biscuit. This is No. I on the map (Schepmansdorf). We landed the things as best we could from the schooner, which was anchored one third of a mile from the shore. The animals had to swim, the rest of the cargo was taken in many instalments by the dinghy. The missionary, Mr. Bam, and his then guest and helper Mr. Stewardson, a former cattle - trader, made their appearance the next night, riding on oxen, which is a usual mode of travel in these parts.
In the meantime we had visited the watering place " Sand Fontein," three miles off, of which we had heard, and which is marked by a dot on the map. It was at that time a puddle of nasty water, but gave a sufficient quantity of it for the mules and horses. A cask of good drinking water was brought ashore for ourselves and placed in the storehouse.
It was agreed that all my possessions should be carried to Mr. Bam's station, No. I on the map and it was finally arranged that Mr. Stewardson should guide us up country to Mission Station No. 2.
My disasters began soon. The journey across the arid plain that separated the Kuisip from the Swakop taxed the strength of the mules, who were wholly unused to such a strain. It was necessary to give them immediate rest and food as soon as the pasturage of the Swakop was reached. Tracks of wild animals were looked for on the sand of the river - bed, but none were found, so Stewardson urged that our mules and horses should be left free during the night to rest and feed themselves. The result was that a troop of lions dashed down upon them in the dark, killing one mule and one of my two horses. The remainder galloped off unscathed, and were recovered in the afternoon. The tracks of the lions by the side of those of the animals up to the two fatal springs told the story clearly. I had no reserve of food, so it was necessary to utilise the horse flesh, which I cut off and stored in an apparently safe hole in the side of a cliff. When I returned towards nightfall to remove it, one of my enemies had out - generalled me. He had clambered from behind and unseen to a ledge five or six yards above the hiding - place, and could be seen there by the party below, crouched like a cat above a mouse - hole. I got down safely, meat and all, and saw the head and the pricked ears of the brute as he kept his position. A shot struck the rock under his chin, and he decamped.
I had little further trouble with lions during my journey, though they were often heard roaring at night. I think I only lost one cow, and apparently a few of my remaining mules after I had no further use for them. All eight of the mules decamped later on, when I had provided myself with oxen; three of them reached Schepmansdorf; those that disappeared on the way had probably been killed by lions. The very first animal I shot in Africa was a lion, just after my first arrival at Schepmansdorf. It had crossed from the Swakop to the I(Kuisip and had seized a small dog in the yard of the mission station, while I was asleep in an almost doorless hut that opened on the same yard. So much for lions.
I pass over all the other difficulties, troubles, and events that intervened, which have been related in the books above mentioned. Suffice it to say that by the end of September I was installed at Station No. 2 under the kind care of Mr. Rath, the resident missionary. Here I had the good fortune to meet Hans Larsen, a Dane, who spoke English perfectly. He had been a sailor, but obtained permission to quit his ship at Walfish Bay and to enter the service of a cattle - dealer. When that particular venture was concluded, he joined a second cattle - dealer, and finally found himself at large with a small herd of oxen, which he intended to drive overland and to sell at Cape Town. I had been most strongly urged to acquire his services if I could, and I did so to my very great advantage, partly, I may add, through my medical experience. He was willing from the first to go, were it not for a most painful whitlow which disabled his arm, and gave him so much pain that he could hardly sleep or eat; and he was totally unfit for the expected severe manual work. He therefore had to make his acceptance dependent on getting well. Now the sore was of a chronic kind, very familiar to me when at the Birmingham Hospital. There was an outgrowth of what patients like to call " proud flesh," upon which a slight cautery often acts like a charm. It stimulates the vitality of the part and causes it to act normally. It did so in this case. I rubbed the sore lightly over with nitrate of silver, which hurt at the time, but eventually gave him the first good night's rest he had enjoyed for months. Thenceforward his finger rapidly improved and healed, and he felt and looked himself again.
I bought all his live stock of fifty oxen and one hundred sheep and goats at a single swoop, by a cheque on Cape Town for 71. Hans himself became a most valuable and efficient servant and friend. In brief, he and Andersson went down to the coast with the new oxen, to break them in and to bring up the wagons, while I remained partly at the Mission Station No. 2, and afterwards at No. 3, where Mr. Hugo Hahn, a very accomplished man, who had married an English wife, was the resident missionary.
Mr. Hahn possessed all the extant knowledge about the Damaras, and was greatly interested in my proposed expedition. Information about the wretched state of the country was gradually obtained. It came to this, that the four tribes of Namaquas under Jonker, Cornelius, Amiral, and Swartboy respectively, well provided with horses and guns, had made many successive raids upon the Damaras, lifting cattle and - selling them. They usually sent the stolen animals overland to the Cape. Sometimes when opportunity occurred they sold them to traders at Walfish Bay. The Damaras were not only perpetually fighting among themselves, but also provoking retaliation from the Namaquas which the latter only too gladly indulged in. Lastly, the Namaquas who in the first instance welcomed missionaries, were now opposed to them and to every outside influence or criticism, and determined to do just what they liked both to one another and to the Damaras. More especially they had recently determined that no white man should pass through their country to the interior. They were, in short, behaving in a similar, but still more marked spirit of exclusion to that of the Boers.
The attack under Jonker on the Mission Station No. 3 on the map was their latest iniquity. They behaved like demons. Among other things they cut off the feet of the women to get their ankle rings, as related in Chapter III. Unless these misdoings could be stopped, my journey would soon come to an end. The Damaras believed that I and my party were merely Hottentots in disguise, and acting as spies. To make a long story short, I took Hans and two intelligent men and rode on ox - back to Jonker himself, and rated him soundly, in English first, to relieve my mind, and then in Dutch through my interpreters, brandishing my paper with the big seal, and thoroughly frightened him. Arrangements, which I cannot go into now, were made for a meeting between myself and the other Namaqua chiefs, and ultimately a modus vivendi was secured, which lasted all the time I was in the country and for a while afterwards.
These negotiations occupied fully three months, during which every nerve was strained to get the expedition into readiness to start. Andersson, Hans, and nearly all the men had gone down with the cart and newly - bought oxen to Station No. I, whence they brought back the two wagons most successfully, though having first to break in the oxen. Then, whilst Andersson was encamped at Station No. 2, I rode with Hans to the mountain stronghold of the Ghou Damup, Erongo. Finally, in March, I made my start northwards from the place where Station No. 3 formerly stood, every step being henceforth through new country.