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DBL: Exhibition Histories

Stow: A Geological Fieldguide of UCT

“In 1872 George Stow was employed by Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of the Cape Colony, to survey the territory of Griqualand West, a task he embarked on with some relish. On this subject he read a paper before the Geological Society in London in 1873. Two years later Stow undertook the task of studying the geology of the country surrounding the diamond fields of Kimberley, travelling down to the junction of the Orange and Vaal rivers and beyond to connect the work he had done in the previous survey. This involved more than 2500 miles of footwork and enormous stress and anxiety in producing the report” (Skotnes & Stow 2008: 60). 

On Tue, May 4, 2021 at 1:10 PM Nina Liebenberg <> wrote:

Dear post-graduate researchers in Geological Sciences

I am a lecturer at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, and have brought my Honours in Curatorship students almost 
annually to visit the Mantle collection that forms part of your department. Dr Janney usually chats to us, and shows us the kimberlite specimens...

As of recently, I have been doing research on George Stow,  a British born, South African geologist and ethnologist (who was also a poet, historian, artist, cartographer and writer) and who, during the 19th century, was responsible for documenting the rock art he found in  the caves and shelters of South Africa.

In 1872,  he was employed by Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of the Cape Colony, to survey the territory of Griqualand West. On this subject he read a paper before the Geological Society in London in 1873 ("Geological Notes on Griqualand West"). Two years later, Stow undertook the task of studying the geology of the country surrounding the diamond fields of Kimberley, travelling down to the junction of the Orange and Vaal rivers and beyond, in order to connect this research to the previous  work he had done in the area.

I have attached a map he drew up during this time and would be very interested to know what a contemporary geologist makes of it...

I  welcome any insights  - and would especially be interested to know whether there are materials in the department which could possibly relate to it, such as specimens in the Mantle Room, or other maps perhaps? Or maybe you can just point me in the right direction and I can chat to someone else in the department or further afield?

I am keeping my fingers-crossed...

Have a lovely rest of your afternoons.

Nina Liebenberg

From: Lara Sciscio <>
Date: Tue, May 4, 2021 at 4:22 PM
Subject: Re: A curious request...
To: Nina Liebenberg <>

Dear Nina,
Thanks for your email - it was a lovely detour from the work I have been trying to do all afternoon. I love looking at geological maps - both old and new alike - so this was a treat.Stow's map is fantastic, right down to the amazing calligraphy. 

From the map itself, it seems he put a lot of effort into mapping out the exposures of the older Vaal river terrace deposits ('boulders', gravels and grits). This would make sense in light of the alluvial diamonds (& I see diamondiferous - truly wish I had this in front of me!). He has also mapped out much of the modern sediments & sand bars on the river (& even the rapids- gorgeous). My take is that if you have diamondiferous gravels, they would want to know where they are being transported to by the river - hence the detailed mapping of sandbars and currents, which a modern geological map wouldn't be too specific about. Given this is not my area of geological expertise, I can't really comment on the geology off the top of my head but there are extensive terraces along the Vaal and I remember them also being significant for stone tools.

Given there are no grid-coords that I can see, I would rely on trying to find the spot along the river based on the place names given and the morphology of the river (as it was then, relative to how it looks now) between 14 Streams and ?"Karryn Poort". Find attached the .kmz file - in which I've tried to overlayed Stow's map you provided onto the 2009 geomorphology of the Vaal downstream of 14 Streams (try shifting between 2021 and 2009 to see how Stow's map fits with the river's course - this was fun!). I don't know how accurate that is (largely because I struggled to read his scale [? 1 inch:927 feet? = 1 cm: 111m?]); but it gives you an idea of what it may have been like to map there in the late 1800s, and also how the river moves and shifts over the course of ~150 years & seasonally (which I find fascinating). It is probably safe to say that he most likely mapped the area in the dry season - as the river doesn't look particularly 'full' relative to the time-warping you can see on Google Earth. 

Best of luck with the project. I would love to know what you find!


Stow’s discovery of coal deposits in 1878, found in the beds of the Vaal River, was of interest to the diamond magnate, Sammy Marks. Marks realised the importance of Stow’s discovery and the opportunity for using coal at the Kimberley diamond fields for energy generation (Leigh, 1968:112). He believed he could transport the coal from Vereeniging to Kimberley by floating it down-river by a series of weirs to his diamond claims. This turned out to be impractical and he had to resort to using ox-wagons as a method of transport instead (Leigh 1968:17).

Marks & Lewis who at that time owned a quarter of all the Kimberley diamond claims sold most of their Kimberley claims to concentrate on the coal finds through their newly formed mining company, the Zuid-Afrikaansche en Oranje Vrystaatsche Mineralen en Mijnbouvereeniging (later to become the Vereeniging Estates Limited). In 1892, the small village of Vereeniging was formally established.

Near Vereeniging the predominantly black community of Sharpeville was established where on the 21st of March, 68 years later, the Sharpeville massacre would occur.

The man who consolidated thousands of small diggings in Kimberley to found De Beers Consolidated Mines was Cecil Rhodes, who then used the profits to extend into gold mining in and around Johannesburg.

“UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College, a high school for boys.

The College had a small tertiary-education facility that grew substantially after 1880, when the discovery of gold and diamonds in the north – and the resulting demand for skills in mining – gave it the financial boost it needed to grow.

The College developed into a fully fledged university during the period 1880 to 1900, thanks to increased funding from private sources and the government.

During these years, the College built its first dedicated science laboratories, and started the departments of mineralogy and geology to meet the need for skilled personnel in the country's emerging diamond and gold-mining industries” (University of Cape Town 2021).

“ The University of Cape Town houses a collection of upper mantle-derived materials (mantle xenoliths and xenocrysts, kimberlites and related rocks and megacrysts, as well as deep crustal xenoliths) that is most likely the largest of its kind.  The collection was assembled over the past 50 years and has been and continues to be an invaluable and irreplaceable resource for mantle research.  Informally named the “Mantle Room” collection, it is maintained under the  auspices of the Department of Geological Sciences”  (Department of 
Geological Sciences 2021).

“The initial impetus for establishing a collection of mantle materials for research purposes in South Africa was provided by Gardner Williams and his son Alpheus Williams in the late 19th and early 20th century.  These two American mining engineers shared a great interest in the mining methods and geology of the South African kimberlite-hosted diamond mines they were supervising.  Each wrote books on the subject and the two men assembled a collection of scientifically interesting rock samples and minerals from the mines.  Subsequent to the death of Alpheus Williams, the Williams family donated this collection to the Geology Department at UCT for teaching and research purposes” 
(Department of Geological Sciences 2021).

“In the mines operated by the De Beers Company alone, more than eleven  thousand African natives are employed below and above ground, coming from the Transvaal, Basutoland, and Bechuanaland, from districts far north of the Limpopo and the Zambesi, and from the Cape Colony on the east and the south to meet the swarms flocking from Delagoa Bay and countries along the coast of the Indian Ocean, while a few cross the continent from Damaraland and  Namaqualand, and the coast washed by the Atlantic. The larger number are roughly classed as Basutos, Shanganes, M'umbanes, and Zulus, but there are many Batlapins from Bechuanaland, Amafengu, and a sprinkling of nearly every other tribe in South Africa” (Williams 1902: 412-413). 

Gardner Williams writes about the living conditions of the mineworkers in one of the chapters (‘Workers in the Mine’) of his book – referencing the divided public opinion about it:

One such was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Cape Colony, who came to Kimberley to investigate the conditions of life and treatment of the natives in the compound. On arriving at De Beers Compound, in company with his wife, he first impressed upon the natives whom he met that he was a member of the Cape Colony Legislative Council. He had come to the fields in their behalf, and he wanted them to tell him freely everything of which they had to complain. With the aid of an interpreter he interviewed a number of natives in the compound, asking searching questions about their treatment. One native told him that he had been working for eight years in the mines and had been outside the compound only three or four times in all that period. When asked if he was well treated in the compound his answer was, " If I didn't like it, Baas, I wouldn't be here." Before leaving, the legislator said that he was glad to have the opportunity to inspect fully the operations of the compound. From what he had heard he had been much opposed to compounds, but he now saw with his own eyes that he was wrongly informed, and henceforth he should be a strong advocate of the system. Yet a year or two later, when questions affecting De Beers Company and the compound system arose in the Upper House, this gratified member was one of the first to denounce the system in an intemperate speech.

(Williams 1902: 448 – 449)

“In 1947, on the brink of the fateful election that saw the coming to power of D.F. Malan and the imposition of the apartheid system, the British Royal family spent just over two months touring the Union of South Africa. On 22 April 1947, two days before the end of the tour and the Royal departure, UCT conferred an honorary Doctorate of Laws on the then Queen Elizabeth.

The Argus describes the event as:
... a simple, dignified and deeply moving ceremony ... in which Her Majesty occupied the centre of the stage as the Chancellor of the University, General Smuts, conferred the degree upon her (The Argus, 22 April 1947).

The report noted that,
Long before the doors of the Jameson Hall were opened, professors, lecturers and students thronged the steps leading to the Hall. The brilliant gowns of the professors, mingled with the black undergraduate gowns of the students, formed a spectacle, which must have been one of the most colourful of the whole royal tour (The Argus, 22 April 1947)” (Bloch 2016: 172).

“We understand that this drum was played during the 1906 Bambatha rebellion against British rule and unfair taxation in what was then Natal. Between 3 000 and 4 000 Zulus were killed during the revolt some of whom died fighting on the side of the Natal government. More than 7 000 were imprisoned, and 4 000 flogged. King Dinizulu was arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment for treason. The belt that the drummer would have been used to wear it is now broken, but the drum would have been used as accompaniment to ingoma dancing, which was/is performed with drums, whistles and often full regimental attire”. Micheal Nixon, former Curator of UCT’s Kirby Collection (Humanitec 2015)

The Kirby collection, housed in the South African College of Music, UCT consists of more than 600 musical instruments, most of which were used in southern Africa before 1934, many pre-dating urbanization. Starting as early as 1923, the Scottish historian and musicologist, Percival Kirby, then Professor of Music at the University of the Witwatersrand (and a colleague of Raymond Dart), observed the music cultures of indigenous South Africans through a series of field trips conducted during university vacations (Nixon in Kirby 2013: ix). He collected these instruments and categorised them using a Western system for classifying musical instruments and the principles on which they were based. Stipulating three categories (percussion - ‘rattles and clappers’, ‘drums’, ‘xylophones and sansas’, and ‘bull-roarers and spinning-disks’; wind instruments – ‘horns and trumpets’, ‘whistles, flutes, and vibrating reeds’ and ‘reed flute ensembles’; and stringed instruments) these divisions and their subsequent curation in the SACM encourages a ‘comparative’ viewing framework. Comparative displays were very popular in anthropology in the 19th and early 20th century and grouping objects sourced from various communities worldwide according to ‘type’ in relation to western versions served to enforce ideas of Social Darwinism, depicting a scale of development from what was viewed as ‘primitive’ objects to the more evolved Western versions.

“|uma was one of the two younger !kun boys who arrived in Mowbray on the 25th of March 1880. |uma (and the youngest boy Da) were placed in the Bleek and Lloyd household after permission was granted by the Cape ‘Native Department’. Lloyd notes on the reverse of a photograph of |uma (in the collection of the NLSA) that |uma is ‘apparently’ between 12 and 14 years of age.

|uma left Mowbray on the 12th of December 1881 and was found employment by an official of the ‘Native Department’ Mr George Stevens. He was not able to contribute much narrative to Lucy Lloyd, and the contributions he did make are limited to some 58 pages of dictation, but he did many drawings and water-colours depicting examples of fauna and flora from his homeland”
(The Digital Bleek and Lloyd 2021).