Burchell’s Travels

Hermanus History Society

Presented by Susan Buchanan

Just over 200 years ago, in 1810, a 30-year-old Englishman named William Burchell landed in Cape Town after a four-year stint as a naturalist on St Helena Island. The following year he embarked on an epic journey through the Cape Colony, which lasted four years and during which he covered 7 000 kilometres, mainly through unexplored terrain, and collected over 50 000 plant and animal specimens, as well as built up a vast collection of sketches and paintings. He went on to travel in Brazil, and after many years back in Britain, he died at the age of 82.

Burchell’s Travels tells the story of Burchell’s journeys, bringing to life an important figure who has faded into historical obscurity. It is a fascinating account of what travel was like 200 years ago – reconstructed from the rich source of Burchell’s own writings. Two elements of interest are combined in the book. First, the historical interest in how Burchell travelled, the people and groups he met and the records he kept. Secondly, there is the botanical interest as he documents the thousands of plants he identified and collected.

The author, who lives in Cape Town, will present the story and a large number of projected images for us. The book, which is beautifully illustrated with over 100 of Burchell’s sketches and paintings, is a must for anyone interested in history, art, nature and travel.