The Journal of Gustaf De Vylder: Naturalist in South-western Africa, 1873-1875 – Gustaf De Vylder


Condition : Good.
Van Riebeeck Society (Second series No. 28), 1998, Hardback with removable protective plastic wrap – Africana – 292pp.

This VRS volume contains an English translation of three diaries of De Vylder that was written during his first visit to the Cape and South-West Africa from March 1873 to September 1875.

Gustav de Vylder, a Swedish naturalist, travelled through Namibia from 1873 to 1875 and collected insects and other natural history objects for institutions in his fatherland. He undertook the journeys a few years before the German occupation, at a time when European influence was barely perceptible. De Vylder’s journal is the report of an adventurous journey, personal meetings, and the condition of an area that was regarded as remote then. He was a man of his times, but some of his ideas were challenging and ahead of his times.

De Vylder was born in Sweden in 1827. His father, who was from Belgium, married a Swede while being employed by a Swedish family to improve their French. At the age of twelve, he lost his father and was forced to leave school for financial reasons. He learned several languages from his mother and as a talented boy was employed as a tutor in a wealthy family home. He eventually qualified as a land-surveyor and was occupied for a time with mapping and surveying but found that it left him little time to study the natural sciences, especially entomology which had been his main interest from a young age.

From 1844 to 1871 he worked for publishers in Stockholm, illustrating and engraving scientific works. A man of many talents, he trained as a photographer; wrote songs, at least one of which became popular; published poetry, a novel, illustrated children’s books and several plays. With financial help from the Swedish government, he undertook two journeys to the Cape and German South-West Africa (now Namibia). The first was from 1871 to 1875 and again from 1879 to 1887 to collect natural history specimens for Swedish museums.

De Vylder’s first journey to the Cape also took him to South-West Africa (Namibia) via Port Nolloth. He continued on the overland journey to Otjimbingwe, and northward, east of the Etosha Pan, to Ondangwa, the centre for trading in Ovamboland. From his headquarters in the small Swedish community at Omaruru, he explored the north-central part of the colony, keeping a diary all the time. In the summer of 1875 he returned to Sweden with his adopted San child called Joseph.

He was particularly keen to visit Lake Ngami during his second visit to the Cape, but a lack of funds prevented him from journeying northwards, and he remained at the Cape for eight years. He made substantial collections of insects and also wrote poetry and light literary works during this time.

De Vylder was a kind and helpful man who had many friends, though in his diaries he quite frequently criticised others and was particularly scornful of the English. He bore a grudge against the Swedish scientific fraternity for their lack of support, which probably resulted from his lack of formal scientific education. He was, however, an informed, observant, and meticulous collector.

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