Bevan, W. R.  [MS] Diary of a Journey to Demaraland...

Bevan, W. R. [MS] Diary of a Journey to Demaraland...

" part of the South West Africa Expedition."


8vo. 69pp. Approximately 11500 words in a clear and legible hand. Bound in a rexine spined notebook, wear to spine ends, over marbled boards. Strong and solid. Mr. Bevan, originally of Swansea, journeyed to Damaraland (an area we would now describe as North Central Namibia, on the edge of the Kalahari) in 1900 alongside 32 other British representatives (all listed to the front pastedown as expedition members), setting off aboard the SS Guelph of the Union Castle Line.

Bevan, a mining engineer (further shades of Hannay), notes in his introduction:

“In attempting this diary I must say it ought to have been commenced on the day we left Swansea, but, as it was not I will enter the 6th, 7th and 8th from memory, and try from now on to keep a daily record. [signed] W.R. Bevan.”

Thus we begin Wednesday June 6th with a GWR train journey and an arrival in Southampton, and a mutual introduction session at the Flowers Commercial Hotel.

“One of the company who had been in Africa advised us to get our umbrellas for protection from the sun, also some smoked and dust glasses, which I did.” Ruminations follow on the unsuitableness of regulation khaki as the worst possible material for the climate, a bout of seasickness aboard the Guelph (including a rather seaside postcard bit of humour: “Mr Jones...told me of a gentleman who was leaning over the side 'casting up accounts' as the Captain passed + remarked that he must have a weak stomach, which he denied saying he was certain he had heaved as far as the others.” ). After a somewhat uneventful voyage he gives his account of arrival in Las Palmas “As is usual in those places we were surrounded by native bum boats and boy Divers almost before the anchor was let go”, takes a trip ashore “ They have been building the Cathedral for 2 or 3 hundred years, and it is not finished yet”. Guelph crossed the Equator on June 20th “We Crossed the Line, and permission having been granted from the Captain, all who had not previously crossed the equator and gave consent were of their own free will + accord shaved + dipped in due and ancient form. It is a custom which has almost entirely died out on steamships.” As an interesting aside, the Crossing the Line certificate (addressed “To Father Neptune”) and complete with wax seal, is laid in to the rear of the Diary, with Bevan's name amongst the list of recipients of the ceremony. His account of the ceremony, complete with trident armed Neptune stand in, is enthusiastic and detailed, presumably because “It brought us more fun than had come our way in a long time.” Bevan's arrival in Africa is greeted with relief after what, a few disasters (flooded cabins, illnesses amongst his shipmates) notwithstanding, seems to have been a somewhat uneventful voyage. “There are no piers or docks for discharging cargo at Swatkop Mund + and all cargos are landed in small boats which are beached and unloaded by negroes who swarm about the beach, sometimes the cargos are brought up high and dry + sometimes they are not, sometimes they put the cargo on the sand, but they put it just as often in the water, for it is all one to them. They go along quite undisturbed + the costumes they wear seem comical to a European.” Probably the journey got less comical to a European as it continued: “Jackal's Water consists of 1 Store, 1 Hotel, 1 Railway Station Shed, 1 Small Barracks + 1 Large Stretch of Fine Sand.” After the sparse comforts of Jackal's Water, the journey continues across Damaraland by wagon train. “Sat. July 7rh is memorable as at dinner time I had my thirst really quenched for the first time since leaving the Guelph...watched the oxen being inspanned to wagons...Tom Hodge achieved the distinction of being the only “Britisher” in town with a clean undershirt...” The journey seems gruelling, there's a general distrust of “natives” and a fear of running out of water: “Every thing here seems suffering from thirst. The sheep and cattle flocking round the well to be watered reminded me of some of the scriptural narratives of the past.”

As a fair warning, there's a fair amount of fairly gross descriptors of the “boys” the expedition have working with them, obviously not unusual for the period, but still somewhat jarring to the modern eye, and downright offensive when you consider that the whole point of the expedition was to mine Namibian resources for profit, I'm guessing without asking the Damara peoples if they fancied a share. Bevan's careless attitudes seem particularly unjustified in view of a later episode where his friend, Tom Hodge, goes missing for four days whilst hunting, and every native in the area mobilises themselves to search for him. Hodge is eventually found after 4 days without food and water, at a native kraal where the occupants had taken him when they found him out in the sand. Work commences, and soon takes precedence, along with the discomforts that Bevan is experiencing: “I did intend this to chronicle the whole of the stay, but there are so many other things to do and think of that this diary, instead of being a pleasant occupation to write, almost makes me feel as if I were its slave. In a moment of blissful ignorance I threatened to keep a diary, but now enlightened by a short experience, I absolve myself from such a rash promise.” An interesting account of late Colonial flailing about in South West Africa.

[Ref: 743]


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