Centenary News

BSc students’ field trip in April 1918

1 March 2018

Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Science is also celebrating its centenary in 2018. Here is the first of many fascinating anecdotes from our history??

On foot and, for the luggage, a donkey cart. This is how a group of 19 Victoria College students and their lecturers, all from geology and botany, undertook a “hike between Prince Albert Station and George” in April 1918.

The aim was not only to enjoy a “pleasant holiday” but also “as we went along, [to] discover more about the natural sciences; and so observe the various phenomena about which we have learned in the classroom in their natural environment”, explained an article that appeared after the excursion in the Stellenbosch Universiteitsblad of June 1918.

The idea for this “big party of people” was that of the Australian biologist and palaeontologist Prof Ernest James Goddard (1883?1948), who succeeded Prof Robert Broom at Victoria College in 1910. Dr Goddard returned to Australia in 1922, where he became greatly respected; the Goddard Biological Sciences Building on the campus of Queensland University in Australia, among others, was named after him.

The other two lecturers were Miss Gardiner, a geologist, and Dr Augusta Vera Duthie (1881?1963), a botanist. Dr Duthie was appointed in 1902 to establish the Department of Botany at Victoria College. In 1912, the degree Doctor of Science (DSc)  was awarded to her by the University of South Africa for her dissertation The vegetation and flora of the Stellenbosch flats.

According to the article in the Universiteitsblad, the tour group set off with great “scientific gusto”, Prof Goddard with “his usual brisk stride”. The botanists and one “Gentleman” were not far behind, either. Arriving in Prins Albert, the party apparently “caused [a] sensation” ? the residents there thought it was the “Circus” come to town.

After Prins Albert, the group went up and over the Swartberg Pass, made its way through Oudtshoorn over the Montagu Pass and so walked into George – having covered a distance, all in all, of 130 kilometres on foot. By the end of the trip, the scientific gusto had apparently lost some of its steam and “the only stones of interest were the mile stones”.

According to the Stellenbosch 1866?1966 commemorative publication, this excursion into the Karoo was the first of many and it ultimately led to the establishment of the ‘Berg en Toer Klub’ on 4 June 1928.

Sources

Stellenbosch 1866?1966. Honderd Jaar Hoër Onderwys. 1966. Cape Town: Nasionale Boekhandel Beperk. 343?345.

Van Prince Albert naar George. Stellenbosch University Magazine, June 1918:17?18.

Stellenbosch University Archive

- By Wiida Fourie-Basson -