S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Henkel, Mr Caesar Carl Hans (forestry)

Born: 1839, Fulda, Hesse, Germany.
Died: 16 June 1913, Umtata, South Africa.

Caesar Carl Hans Henkel, a German-born South African forester, cartographer, painter and soldier, was a young lieutenant in the British-German Legion during the Crimean War of 1854-1856. In the latter year he came to the Eastern Cape with a group of soldiers sent out by the British government. During 1857 and 1858 he worked as clerk to Major-General Baron R. von Stutterheim, commanding officer of the German military settlers in the King William's Town region. In 1858 he volunteered for military duty in India and joined the German volunteer battalion sent to Bombay (now Mumbai) to suppress the Indian uprising of 1858-1859. Upon his return to the Eastern Cape as one of the few survivors he re-joined the headquarters of the German settlers in 1860 as secretary to Captain Charles Mills. After some years in clerical posts at Bathurst and Peddie he was appointed second assistant draughtsman in the Surveyor-General's department in 1875, becoming assistant compiler of maps the next year.

During 1877 to 1884 Henkel worked for the survey commission under Mr C.P. Watermeyer*, assisting with cartographic surveys all over the country. He developed an interest in indigenous trees and in November 1885 obtained a transfer to the Forestry Department as chief ranger in the Stockenstrom district. A few months later, in February 1886 he was transferred to King William's Town.

A serious problem facing the department at this time was the destruction of the indigenous forests by both commercial tree harvesters and by the indigenous population who needed wood for hut building and cooking. In 1888 the Cape Forest Act was passed, giving forest officers long needed powers to control the exploitation. However, destructive practices continued in the Transkei and as a result the Cape government stationed Henkel there in 1888 as chief forest ranger, and from 1890 as conservator of forests, Transkeian territories, with responsibility for the preservation of the natural forests and for the large-scale development of forestry in the territory. During the next few years his staff of foresters and forest guards rose to more than 30. His first task was to conserve the more important forests and then to introduce the same system of management as in Kaffraria. Although he has been credited with introducing wattle plantations for firewood, this may have been mainly the work of his successor, A.W. Heywood* (King, 1938). However, his methods and planning served as models for forestry development elsewhere in South Africa. He strongly advocated afforestation and produced a manual, Tree planting for ornamental and economic purposes in the Transkeian Territories, South Africa, which was published in Mariannhill in 1894.

Except for a brief spell as conservator of forests at Knysna in 1891, Henkel remained in the Transkei until 1898. After his retirement he settled at Umtata. On his estate, The Pines, near the town he planted rare exotic trees and shrubs, as well as hundreds of fruit trees, grew vegetables on a large scale, and started one of the first fish hatcheries in the country. He became a town councilor of Umtata and at his own expense planted avenues of trees and laid out plantations outside the town. As secretary of the Agricultural Society of Tembuland he played a key role in organising regular agricultural exhibitions. In 1903 he completed another book, History, resources and products of the country between Cape Colony and Natal, or Kaffraria proper, now called the native - or Transkeian - territories, with large map, which was published in Cape Town and in Hamburg. This excellent handbook included descriptions of the history, physical features, agriculture, pastoral resources, flora, fauna, minerals, soils, and infrastructure of the region, while his map of the Transkei became a standard work. Seven years later he wrote a pamphlet, The Transkei, British Kaffraria and the Eastern Province as a separate province under the Union government (East London, 1910).

Henkel's contributions to forestry, and particularly to the preservation of indigenous forests, received some recognition when one of the yellowwood trees of the Eastern Cape was named Podocarpus henkelii in his honour. He married Auguste Radue, and one of their twelve children, John S. Henkel, also made significant contributions to South African forestry.

List of sources:
Cape of Good Hope. Report of the Conservator of Forests, 1888-1897.

Cape of Good Hope Civil Service list, 1896.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 4, 1981.

King, N.L. Historical sketch of the development of forestry in South Africa. Journal of the South African Forestry Association, 1938, Vol. 1(1), pp. 4-16.

Mendelssohn, S. A South African bibliography. London: 1910.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979 (Vol. 1-4) and Cape Town: SA Library, 1991 (Vol. 5).

Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: Nasou, 1970-1976.

Compiled by: C. Plug