08 May 2024

Travelling through southern Africa in the 19th & 21st Centuries

Footing with Sir Richard's Ghost

Footing with Sir Richard's Ghost by Patricia Glyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Patricia Glyn, having heard about the travels of her great grand uncle Sir Richard Glyn, decides to walk the trail of his 19th-century journey from Durban to the Victoria Falls. This is the diary of her journey, with excerpts from his diary, and notes on the places they passed through, and historical events that had taken place there.

Sir Richard Glyn and his English companion were that comparatively rare species of traveller, the British "sportsman", who came to Africa primarily to hunt animals for sport, and left with their trophies. Though comparatively rare, however, unlike most other travellers they kept comparatively good written records in the form of diaries, and so their travels are better documented than most.

The book was a toss-out from the Alkantrant Library, probably a donation from a deceased estate. I hope the reason that the library tossed it out was that they already had a copy, and not just that they didn't think they needed one because it would be a pity if this book were not available. Just as her relative's diary is a valuable account of how people travelled and lived in the 1860s, so hers is a record of how people travelled and lived in the same parts of the world in the early 21st century.

In the 1860s the travellers relied of paid local guides, accounts of other travellers, or local advice or knowledge. In the 21st century this was supplemented by cell- and satellite phones and more accurate maps.

One of the reasons I found it interesting was that in 2013 my wife Val and I went on a similar journey, following in the footsteps of her great-great-grandfather Fred Green, who travelled through much of the same region, and also that to the west, from the 1850s until his death in 1870. Unlike the Glyns, he was not a sportsman, but a professional hunter, trader and explorers, his main source of income being ivory for which he hunted and traded. Unlike Patricia Glyn, however, we did not walk, but drove by car, taking three weeks instead of five months.

The book is illustrated with photos and maps, and has side panels with historical and geographical notes drawn from a variety of sources, which are all listed in the copious bibliography.

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