Popular Science Monthly/Volume 68/January 1906/With the British Association in South Africa I

Popular Science Monthly Volume 68 January 1906  (1906) 
With the British Association in South Africa I by Ernest William Brown






By Professor ERNEST W. BROWN.



THE visit of the British Association to South Africa during the past summer appears to have established the idea that its activities in future are not to be confined to the British Isles. Two successful oversea meetings had already taken place; the first at Montreal, in 1884, and the second at Toronto, in 1897, and there seemed to be no reason why the suggestion of a meeting in Cape Town, made as far back as 1898, by Sir David Gill, astronomer royal at the Cape, should not be followed up. But there were many difficulties in the way. It was obvious at the outset that few would be willing to make two long journeys by sea unless opportunities were afforded to visit the chief places of interest in other parts of South Africa. It was obvious too that few of those whose presence was chiefly desired would be in a position to afford the necessary expense unless very considerable assistance were forthcoming, and the general funds of the association were not intended, nor were they sufficient, for this purpose. Further, there are few towns where accommodation for several hundred visitors can be obtained, and this meant that special trains with dining and sleeping cars must be provided; the trunk lines in the colonies have a supply of rolling stock not much more than is sufficient for the few who travel long distances in South Africa.

While the matter was under discussion, war broke out. But those who were interested did not lose sight of the idea, and early last year it took more definite shape in generous offers of assistance from the governments and towns in South Africa. In the meantime, many changes had occurred. The new colonies must be included in the itinerary; opportunities must be afforded to see places and districts rendered famous during the war; the extension of the main line in Rhodesia to the Victoria Falls made a visit to this natural wonder almost a necessity; and the recent connection of the port of Beira in

Scale. About 750 Miles to the Inch.
The main routes are marked with a thick line
Alternative routes by dotted lines . . . . . . . .
The dot and dash lines show political boundaries ·–·–·–·
This map of Africa is copyrighted by the McKinley Publishing Company, Philadelphia, and is printed here by their courtesy.

Portuguese territory with Bulawayo suggested a possible return by the east coast and through the Suez Canal.

The tour finally planned was an extensive one, as a glance at the accompanying map will show. The Union-Castle line steamers Kildonan Castle and Durham Castle, leaving Southampton on July 22, and the Saxon, leaving on July 29, carried the members over the 6,800 miles which separate that port from Cape Town. From there the party traveled by sea or rail to Durban and thence by rail to Johannesburg, making stops at Pietermaritzburg, Colenso and Ladysmith. The scientific meetings were divided between Cape Town and Johannesburg, and four or five days were accordingly spent in each of those towns. After a short visit to Pretoria, the regular program involved a long journey of 1.374 miles to Bulawayo viá de Aar Junction, the only possible all-rail route; on the way, stops of a day or two were made

General View of the Victoria Falls from a Point near the West End.

at Bloemfontein and Kimberley. From Bulawayo five special trains conveyed the oversea party, with the addition of many others living in South Africa, to the Victoria Falls, where a couple of days were spent. On the return to Bulawayo about half the party proceeded direct to Cape Town, whence the regular steamers carried them by the west-coast route to England. The remainder went by rail through Salisbury and Umtali to Beira, where the Durham Castle awaited them for the east coast route. On the return journey, Mozambique, Mombasa and Cairo were visited; the presence of plague at Zanzibar and Niarobi upset the arrangements for seeing those two places, but the unexpected block in the Suez Canal enabled the party to spend much more time in Egypt than had been expected. Several members whose duties

The Spot in the Suez Canal where the 'Chatham' was blown up, causing the Canal to be blocked for over two weeks.

Characteristic Kopjes and a Part of one of the Reservoirs on Table Mountain.

called them back early left by the quickest routes from Cairo, many others disembarked at Marseilles, the final port of call, and the remainder proceeded with the ship to Southampton, which was reached on October 24.

The route thus outlined was admirable for seeing as much as possible in the time, thirty-five days, which could be spent in South Africa. But many of those who went out had more specific objects in view than attendance at the meetings or sight-seeing, and arrangements were accordingly made so that any one could deviate from the official route and travel by the ordinary trains. Some went to Durban by the only railway route—through Johannesburg; others omitted Natal altogether and spent the extra time examining the geological and botanical features of Cape Colony and the Orange River Colony; some avoided a great part of the long ride from Johannesburg to Bulawayo by going on 'trek' from Potchefstrom, or from Pretoria, to Mafeking; other parties trekked from Bloemfontein through Paaredeberg to Kimberley; and so on. And in each case something new and definite was to be seen or learnt.

Everywhere the arrangements made by the local committees were admirable. When it is remembered that about 360 people from Europe landed in Cape Town and were carried over an immense extent of territory, were lodged and fed everywhere in comfort and without going through any hardships beyond the fatigue caused by such rapid traveling, and this almost without a hitch of any sort, one can not too highly praise the ability and devotion of all those who were responsible for the organization. And it must be added also that it was not only those who kept to the official route who were alone considered. At every place efforts were made to find out what the various members wished to do and, if possible, arrangements were made to accommodate even a small number; alternative excursions were described in printed circulars, previously distributed, and all that was asked was for each member to apply at the committee room for tickets, so that the number joining any particular excursion might be known. At every place where a stop was made each person knew in advance where he or she was to stay, and conveyances and guides were ready at the station so that there should be no delay or confusion. For example, all that was asked of us at Johannesburg was to stand at the windows of our own compartments as the train steamed into the station, and when the train stopped each host was found standing on the platform opposite his guest. Our baggage, previously directed, arrived later in the day, and meanwhile we were driven, first to the committee room, where we made the circuit of a long counter, gathering up handbooks, tickets and mail, and then to our destinations. And so it was everywhere. No matter seemed too small for consideration and preparation. Many of us felt that perhaps the most striking feature of the tour was the excellence and elasticity of all the arrangements made for our comfort and convenience. If the ability shown by the colonists in this direction is any guide, one should not fear much concerning the administration of the colonies in the future.

In order to secure the attendance of those whose presence was chiefly desired from the scientific side, a fund of over nine thousand pounds was raised, mainly by contributions from the governments of Cape Colony, Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and supplemented by subscriptions from private individuals; this was used to pay the greater part of the expenses of the 'official members.' The governments also issued free passes over railways to all oversea members, and the Rhodesian railways gave a large number for the use of the official party and tickets at half fares for all others. At those places where a stay was made entertainment was provided for the official party, either in private houses or as guests in the hotels; in some places all the members were similarly treated. Most of the excursions were free to those who chose to take advantage of them. It is a privilege to have an opportunity of saying in public what all of us felt, that the generosity and hospitality displayed by the residents of every town far exceeded our utmost expectations, and the kindness which we received is not likely to be soon forgotten. This too in a land only beginning to recover from the ravages of civil war, suffering from a two years' drought, with nearly all its cattle exterminated by disease, and in the height of the most severe financial depression it has known for twenty years.

The official party, numbering about 180, consisted of the president and general officers of the association, the president, a vice-president and a recorder in each section, a number of prominent scientific men, not necessarily officers, and some younger men of promise and ability selected by the general committee. The ladies who accompanied the official members were also attached to the official party. Finally, representatives of other countries were invited to joint as guests of the association. They included Dr. Backlund, from Russia; Professors Beck, Engler, Harzer and von Luschan, Germany; Professor Böhr, Denmark; Professor Cordier, France; Professor Donner, Sweden; Professor Penck, Austria; Professors Kapteyn and de Sitter, Holland; Mr. D. Randall MacIver, Egypt; Professors Macallum, Coleman, J. B. Porter, Canada; Professors D. H. Campbell, H. S. Carhart. W. M. Davis, W. B. Scott and E. W. Brown, United States; and others who were not able to attend.

The general officers of the association for the year are: President, Professor G. H. Darwin (now Sir George Darwin, K.C.B.); secretaries, Major P. A. Macmahon, Professor W. A. Herdman: treasurer, Professor John Perry. The presidents of the various sections are as follows: A (Mathematical and Physical Sciences), Professor A. R. Forsyth; B (Chemistry), George T. Beilby, Esq.; C (Geology), Professor H. A. Miers; D (Zoology), G. A. Boulanger, Esq.; E (Geography), Admiral Sir W. J. L. Wharton; F (Economic Science and Statistics), Rev. W. Cunningham; G (Engineering), Colonel Sir C. Scott Moncrieff; H (Anthropology), Dr. A. C. Haddon; I (Physiology), Colonel D. Bruce; K (Botany), H. W. T. Wager, Esq.; L (Educational Science), Professor Sir Richard C. Jebb. Amongst others who attended and who are not included in the above lists or in the list of lecturers given below may be mentioned Sir Benjamin Baker, Sir T. Lauder Brunton, Professor John Milne, Dr. J. A. H. Murray, Sir W. H. Preece, the Earl of Rosse, Alexander Siemens, Esq., and Dr. A. Traill, provost of Trinity College, Dublin.


To one accustomed to the rush of the high-speed boats on the north Atlantic, the rows of huddled up and miserable passengers lying in deck chairs, the cold winds and the frequent bad weather, a journey in a mail steamer crossing the equator presents a pleasing contrast. There is a general air of sociability and comfort; sports, tournaments

Some of the Members on the 'Saxon' before the ship left Southampton. In the top row, reckoning from the right, may be seen Prof, and Mrs. Herdman, Prof. Forsyth, Mr. Freshfield, Sir R. Jebb, Sir W. Wharton, Dr. Murray; in the second row, Dr. Haddon, Professor Perry, Sir W. Crookes, Sir L. Brunton, Major Macmahon, Mrs. Darwin; in the third row, the writer, Professor Darwin and Professor Sollas.

and entertainments of all kinds are of daily occurrence: and to these diversions were added in our case, as befitted the character of the company, lectures and discourses on subjects which were generally connected with the countries to be visited. But perhaps the most useful feature of the voyage was the opportunity it afforded for the leisurely discussion of scientific and professional matters and for establishing closer personal relations between men representing various departments of science. It need hardly be said that this was very fully appreciated, especially by those who have their work in places remote from the main centers of intellectual activity.

Euphorbia 'snapped' from the train near Durban.

The southern gateway of Africa is an imposing sight as it is approached from the sea. A characteristic feature of the mountains, the table-like formation with high vertical cliffs on one side, has no better example than the huge mass which faces Table Bay, flanked on one side by the conical hill known as the Lion's Head, and on the other by the Devil's Hill. Cape Town lies on the low ground in front of the mountain and one can not see the old and new fortifications guarding the entrance to the docks without remembering its early settlement by the Dutch, its later acquisition by the English and the fact that, until the completion of the railways to Durban, Delagoa Bay and Beira, the story of South Africa is almost contained in that of Cape Town. All through the late war it was the principal port of entry for men and supplies and during that time was a scene of tremendous activity. It is now suffering from severe depression caused by over-speculation in building and commerce. In spite of the fact that the population of the whole colony is less than 600,000 whites, trading was started after the war on a scale which a white population of twenty millions would hardly have justified. As might be expected in a town of nearly 80,000 inhabitants, Cape Town has the conveniences of a modern city, a fine town hall just finished at a cost of a million and a quarter dollars, a good and plentiful water supply, electric light, extended railway and trolley car lines, and a perfect sewerage and drainage system. It is not possible for me to warn intending tourists of the troubles caused by quarantine, customs declarations, passports or baggage transport, for all these formalities were dispensed with: we had only to walk ashore in company with our hosts who had come on board the ship to meet us. The first half of the presidential address was delivered by Professor Darwin on the evening of arrival, and the following three mornings were devoted to the sectional meetings. The five days in Cape Town were spent by the different members of the party in different ways, according to their consciences or inclinations. The afternoons were generally free for excursions, and the evenings were fully occupied by receptions or lectures, well attended by both visitors and residents. Many of the geologists were attracted by the opportunity to see the country with their own eyes and obtain data for the discussion of those problems which appear to be peculiar to South Africa. The astronomers were particularly active both in Section A and in afternoon and evening visits to the observatory, the history of which furnishes remarkable examples of devotion to science; under the present director it has not only been equipped with some of the finest and most modern instruments, but has sent forth many valuable contributions towards our knowledge of the heavens. Groote Schuur, the residence of Cecil Rhodes and bequeathed to the colony at his death, was a center of interest as the home of the man 'who thought in terms, not of countries, but of continents,' and nearly every one visited the beautiful house and extensive estate with its large collection of African animals. On the last day some hundred and fifty of the party, guided by members of the Cape Mountain Club and others, climbed up various routes on to Table Mountain and sat down to a lunch provided by the mayor near the new reservoirs which supply the city with water. There were excursions also to various features of interest in the town and its neighborhood, to the De Beers Explosive Works, to the Government Wine Farm at Groot Constantia, to the Admiralty Works at Simonstown, and to the Elsenburg Government School of Agriculture at Stellenbosch.


The southeast coast railway to Durban is as yet incomplete and, to avoid the long railway journey viá Johannesburg, the members left Cape Town by the Saxon on August 18, calling at Port Elizabeth and New London, or by the Durham Castle, leaving the following evening and going direct to Durban. The times were so arranged that every one arrived there on the morning of Tuesday, August 22. There is practically only one good natural harbor for ships of large tonnage on the east coast of South Africa—that of Delagoa Bay, in Portuguese territory. Much money has therefore been spent in improving the harbor at Durban by building a long mole and by dredging the shallow channel which leads into a large protected lagoon. It is now possible for the mail boats to go inside and tie up alongside of the quays. One

The Chief Princess of the Tribe which greeted the Party at Mount Edgecombe.

was struck immediately on landing by the mixture of the east and the west. Jinrickshas drawn by Zulu boys with their picturesque head-dresses, ordinary two-horse carriages, and electric cars on the trolley system carried the passengers along well-made roads bordered by trees, to private houses and hotels, where they were waited on by Indian servants. Shops of all kinds, a big department store, English churches and chapels, a synagogue, a mosque, three-storied residences, bungalows—all these made it difficult for us to realize that we were in a town which has been British territory since its foundation in 1823. As at Cape Town, there were receptions, lectures and excursions to the more interesting works of nature and man. There were only two days allotted to Durban and the majority of the party spent the greater part of one of them at Mount Edgecombe, some fourteen miles away, where the factory of the Natal Sugar Estates is situated. The company had issued an invitation for lunch and an inspection of its works, and it had also made arrangements for us to see something of the native element by gathering together over 300 Zulus from the surrounding country. The exhibitions of war and other dances which we witnessed were much appreciated by the ethnologists and photographers. I may mention here that over a hundred cameras were continually employed on all varieties of subjects throughout the whole of the trip. In order that a record of some permanent value may be obtained, it has been proposed to make a selection of photographs taken by those who are willing to lend their negatives and to publish a memorial volume containing the best of the pictures.

The Bride, Bridesmaids and Induna. Mr. Samuelson is standing on the right.

An even more interesting view of native customs was obtained in an excursion to the large Henley reservation near Pietermaritzburg, our next resting place. Maritzburg, as it is generally called, lies in a basin surrounded by hills and is laid out on the Dutch plan, in blocks like an American town, with broad avenues, but with houses which, like most of the residences in South Africa, are only of one story. The reservation is on higher ground and the station is less than ten miles away as the crow flies, but requires a journey of seventeen miles along a railroad with steep grades,and sharp curves. The only white man living on the reservation is the permanent undersecretary for native affairs, Mr. Samuelson. By his wish, the marriage ceremony of one of the native chiefs, Mhlola, the head of the Inadi tribe, had

Street in Maritzburg.

A Visitor during a Halt between Mafeking and Bulawayo.

been postponed in order that the association might have the opportunity of witnessing it. The bride, who is to be Mhlola's chief wife, is a 'commoner,' contrary to the usual custom. It is probably the only occasion that a royal Zulu wedding has been attended by a large party of invited guests of the white race. We watched the official part of the ceremony for some three hours; dances, speechmaking and chanting of war-songs not unlike Gregorian chants occupied most of the time. The part of the ceremony which constituted a legal marriage was followed by the presentation of gifts from the bride to her husband's principal female relatives and of symbolical presents to the bridegroom consisting of a lamp, a water jug, basin and soap, a chair and an umbrella. The festivities were to last two or three days, but the members of the association had to leave for other scenes, and they preferred the conventional lunch provided by the residents of the city to the oxen roasted over open wood fires and the Kaffir beer in which the natives delight. This attractive program occupying the only full day spent at Maritzburg prevented many of the visitors from joining in the numerous other excursions which the hospitable residents had arranged. Some idea of our activity throughout the trip may be gathered from my movements on the previous day. Leaving Durban at 8:50 a. m. and reaching Maritzburg at 1:10 p. m., I spent the early afternoon in riding round on the electric cars, seeing the town and visiting the new botanical garden. Then to a garden party at Government House, and after dinner to a lecture on 'Sleeping Sickness,' by Colonel Bruce!

It was a fortunate circumstance that the third volume of the Times' history of the Boer war, containing a full account of the operations round Ladysmith, should have been published early in the year. Those who had read it during the outward voyage were able to picture to themselves the various incidents of the struggle as the trains slowly steamed through the area past Estcourt, Frere and Chiveley, to Colenso. An afternoon was spent in climbing the nearer hills of Fort Wylie and Hlangwani, and in viewing the devious course of the Tugela as it threads its sunken bed through the rolling ground lying in front of the round-topped hills which faced the army at Colenso. Stone sangars, but little damaged, are still to be seen on every hand, but the hunters of curios in the shape of bullets and portions of shells had done their work too well long before our arrival, and few relics were discovered. Here the special trains were side-tracked for the night so that the points of interest along the short distance to Ladysmith could be seen by daylight. The residents of this quiet country town lying in a warm hollow on the Klip River had gathered together every available private and public conveyance and drove us to the scene of the most famous incident of the siege, Wagon Hill. This spot, about three miles from the town, commands it completely, and had the Boers in their determined attempt on January 6, 1900, succeeded in capturing the hill against the desperate defense made by the British, it would have been necessary to retake it at all costs or to evacuate Ladysmith. Another hill of historic interest, Spion Kop, some eighteen miles distant, was visited by a small party who had gone on ahead for the purpose. The town itself bears few marks of the siege. The hole made by a shell in the clock tower of the town hall is still unrepaired, doubtless for the sake of tourists. I noticed the remains of a few of the 'dug-outs' in the steep crumbling banks of the river, and some of the corrugated iron plates which form the walls of a freight shed at the railway station had many bullet-holes in them; they had been evidently used for. cover and returned at the end of the siege.

The day at Ladysmith was followed by a night's journey to Johannesburg. The higher veld is reached along a series of heavy grades, frequently one in thirty. There is no attempt to make the line straight; tunnels, embankments and cuttings have been avoided as far as possible to save expense, and the line, especially over rolling plains, closely follows the natural level of the land. Over a thousand feet of height is gained near the border of the Transvaal by a series of zigzags up the side of a mountain; at each of these the line comes to a stop, and the train is reversed up the next portion, and then forward again after another stop. There is apparently no hill around which the line may curve easily in order to obtain the desired height.


Although Johannesburg has been so often described, I can not pass in silence over this focus of all the later development of the Transvaal and of most of its political difficulties during the last twenty years. Moreover, so many changes have taken place since the war ended and so much misconception still prevails about the conditions there that it is only right and perhaps not uninteresting to record the impressions of one who was anxious to learn the facts and who had various opportunities for obtaining accurate information at first hand. The most striking and noteworthy of these impressions was the absolute openness of everything connected with the mining industry. Not only have very full reports of the working of each mine to be sent in monthly to the government and to the Chamber of Mines, but every new process, every improvement in machinery, every new problem arising, every difficulty occurring in the management of the natives and Chinese, is known or can easily be found out by those living on the Rand. And this is true not only of the residents, but also of any visitors who may wish to learn the facts and will go to the proper sources for them. In our case, the chief desire seemed to be that we should get to know what the actual conditions were, the bad as well as the good side; it was not a question of searching for information, but of listening to the full answers which an enquiry always produced. In particular, the native and Chinese compounds were visited at all hours both with and without previous notice. My own impressions and those of our party with whom I afterwards talked were the same: that the arrangements for housing and feeding the workers are far better and more complete than we had any idea of, and that the slavery which has been and is still so much exploited in meetings and newspapers of a certain class does not exist. Passes for leaving the compounds during off hours are freely granted to natives and it is only since the commission of crimes outside by a few bad characters that a restriction in this direction has been placed on the Chinese. As one walked about the compounds or in the mines underground the solemn Chinese equally with the light-hearted native readily responded to a word or a smile. 'Tell those who abuse us to come and see things for themselves'—was a frequent remark from the mine officials with whom I talked.

A second striking feature is the change which must have come over the spirit of the so-called 'Outlander' since the conclusion of the war. Formerly, Johannesburg consisted of the business section, the mines with compounds for the natives, and cottages on the mining area for the staff and white workers. During the last three years large suburbs have sprung up with many hundreds of residences surrounded by gardens and young trees, and having every appearance of permanent occupation. If this conclusion is correct, there will be a large settled population within the city area which will take an interest in its future and in the general affairs of the country, in spite of the fact that the majority of the shares of the mining companies are naturally owned in Europe, whence came the money which started them. To this must be added the consideration that nearly all the best work on the mines is being done by comparatively young men who have gone to them with the definite intention of making a living, and who have to use all the ability and energy they possess to rise to the higher positions. There is need now, however, of men of a higher grade, with, if possible, a college education and special training in some one or more of the departments connected with mining.

As might be expected, the town gives every external appearance of being alive. But it presents some curious anomalies. One has not to walk far from the principal streets with fine buildings on either side, shops, offices, clubs and hotels, to reach old shanties which look as if they had been there at the opening of the Rand. Cabs, carriages and automobiles are passing rapidly along the roads (there is no speed limit!), but there is only a single line of slow horse-cars. Instead of a modern sewerage scheme the 'bucket system' is employed. Electric light is furnished by the municipality, but about two thirds of the current has to be purchased. It is only right to state that all these defects are being remedied at a large outlay of money, and the rates are going up at a speed which may give cause for jealousy in certain cities of the northern hemisphere. It is to be remembered that Johannesburg is only eighteen years old and that for four of these years it had to lie fallow, although it practically escaped damage. I must pass over the many interesting features of the social conditions which the society of the place has evolved.

The scientific meetings of the association, begun at Cape Town, ended with the stay in Johannesburg. Many of the papers naturally dealt with problems and matters relating to South Africa; especially was this the case in the chemical and engineering sections during the latter half of the meeting. I shall not attempt to give any resume of the work done; accounts will be found elsewhere. Professor Darwin's presidential address on the evolution of matter was delivered in two halves, one at Cape Town and the other at Johannesburg. It excited great interest for its own sake and also as continuing the connection between the name he bears and the subject which first gave it worldwide fame. The many illustrated evening lectures on a great variety of subjects were a special feature throughout the tour; some of them had been prepared at the cost of much time and money, and, judging by the attendance, were very fully appreciated by those who heard them. The list included the following: 'W. J. Burchell's Discoveries' by Professor Poulton, and 'Surface Actions of Fluids' by Professor Vernon Boys, in Cape Town; 'Mountains of the Old World' by Mr. Douglas Freshfield, and 'Marine Biology' by Professor W. A. Herdman, at Durban; 'Sleeping Sickness' by Colonel D. Bruce, and 'The Antarctic Regions' by Mr. H. D. Ferrar, at Maritzburg; 'Distribution of Power' by Professor Ayrton, and 'Steel as an Igneous Rock' by Professor J. O. Arnold, at Johannesburg; 'Fly-borne Diseases, etc.' by Mr. A. E. Shipley, at Pretoria; 'The Milky Way and the Clouds of Magellan' by Mr. A. B. Hinks, at Bloemfontein; 'Diamonds' by Sir W. Crookes, and 'The Bearing of Engineering on Mining' by Professor J. B. Porter, at Kimberley; 'Experimental Farming' by Mr. A. D. Hall, at Mafeking; 'Rhodesian Ruins' by Mr. Randall MacIver, at Bulawayo.

(To be continued.)