S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Kannemeyer, Dr Daniel Rossouw (palaeontology, archaeology, zoology)

Born: 26 December 1843, Cape Town, South Africa.
Died: 1 January 1925, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Daniel Rossouw Kannemeyer, medical practitioner and naturalist, was the eldest son of auctioneer Daniel Gerhardus Kannemeyer and his wife Johanna Susanna Rossouw. The family moved to the newly founded town Burgersdorp, in the north of the Eastern Cape, around 1848. Daniel was interested in nature from an early age and was a pupil at the South African College, Cape Town, from 1859 to 1863. Later he went to Edinburgh, Scotland, for medical training, qualifying in 1871 as Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (LRCP) of Edinburgh. He worked briefly as an assistant in a large practice at Barrow-in-Furness, on the north-west coast of England, and in November 1871 married Helen Hill of Edinburgh. Returning to the Cape he was licensed to practise in June 1872 and did so successfully in Burgersdorp for forty years, despite his lack of attention to collecting fees. His wife became known in the area for her beautiful soprano voice, while he played an active role in the public life of the village, serving on the school board for many years and giving public lectures on topics in history and natural history. He served as a volunteer in the Ninth Frontier War of 1877-1878, and in the campaigns against Moorosi and the Basuto in 1879 and 1880. An anecdote illustrating his enthusiasm for natural history was told by Dr W.G. Atherstone*, to the effect that, while under fire from the enemy, he once dashed out to capture an interesting butterfly with his helmet.

Kannemeyer had wide interests outside medicine. He collected insects, reptiles, old firearms, Bushman lore, Stone Age artefacts, Karoo fossils, and information about the early history of Burgersdorp; traced the meanings of local place names; and noted the medicinal properties of indigenous plants. In several of these endeavours he made important contributions to scientific knowledge. He shared his information through lectures, personal contacts and correspondence, rather than formal publications. Around 1890 he published two interesting popular articles in the Cape Illustrated Magazine. One was an anecdotal but detailed account of "The early history of Burgersdorp", which appeared in three parts in consecutive numbers of the magazine from December 1890 to February 1891 and demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the district and its people. The second followed in April to June 1891, again in three parts, and dealt with "Colonial nomenclature". It contained notes from earlier publications on South African place names, plus some derivations based on his own experience.

As an insect collector Kannemeyer donated many specimens to the South African Museum, Cape Town, in 1883 and 1884. The butterflies described by Roland Trimen* included a rare new species, the small Lycaena stellata, which Kannemeyer had discovered high on the Stormberg range. Trimen acknowledged his donation of a small but most interesting series of butterflies, with valuable notes, in the preface to his book South African butterflies... (1887-1889). Somewhat later Kannemeyer published a single entomological note, titled "Note on locusts as propagators of foot and mouth disease", in the Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society (1890-1895, Vol. 8, pp. 84-85). It dealt mainly with the behaviour of the red locust and the importance of birds for controlling its numbers.

Years later he resumed his donations of zoological specimens to the South African Museum. These included a large collection of snakes and lizards from Burgersdorp and the Free State (1907-1909); an extensive series of arachnids and 185 species of insects, all from the vicinity of Smithfield, of which 23 insect species were new to the museum (1908); and a further series of moths and other insects from Smithfield (1909).

Kannemeyer's main contribution to palaeontology was to collect many vertebrate fossils, mainly from the Burgersdorp Formation near the town. In 1884 he sent a large collection to the South African Museum and five years later donated dicynodont fossil skulls to the Albany Museum, Grahamstown. Specimens from both museums were sent to the British Museum (Natural History) in London and were described by the British palaeontologist H.G. Seeley*. When Seeley came to South Africa in 1888-1889 he visited Kannemeyer briefly, recognising him as one of the handful of important collectors of Karoo fossils. Their subsequent correspondence, conducted over a number of years, helped to maintain Kannemeyer's interest in palaeontology. The genus Kannemeyeria, of plant eating mammal-like reptiles, was named in his honour by Seeley in 1908, as were several species, by Seeley and others.

From 1888 to 1890 Kannemeyer served on the committee of the short-lived South African Geological Association, founded in Grahamstown in June 1888. Though he could not attend its first meeting, he submitted a paper on "Some proof that mammalia occur in the upper Karoo beds at Dunn". It contained a detailed description of fossil tracks, believed to be those of an ungulate animal, found some twenty-nine kilometers south-west of Venterstad. In 1907, when Robert Broom* was in charge of the South African Museum's fossil collection, Kannemeyer sent in a fine series of Triassic fossil fishes, collected in the Rouxville district. These were described by Broom and included some new species.

His contributions to palaeobotany were less important, probably because few fossil plants occur in the Burgersdorp district. The director of the Albany Museum, Dr Selmar Schonland*, mentioned him in 1892 as one of six important contributors to the museum's collection of fossil plants. He donated about 75 specimens from the Molteno Formation, collected at Cyphergat (now Syfergat, south-east of Molteno), to the museum, while three of his specimens from the Burgersdorp Formation are in the South African Museum.

Kannemeyer was also an avid collector of Late Stone Age artefacts and ethnological materials. At the Queen's Jubilee South African Exhibition, held in Grahamstown in 1888, he lectured on "Bushman implements and their mode of occurrence and probable use" and exhibited a large number of stone artefacts collected in the Free State and around Burgersdorp in caves, kitchen middens, and some in alluvial deposits at a depth of nine meters. He also described rock paintings and urged that they be systematically photographed. The next year he donated several hundred artefacts, chiefly duck-bill scrapers from the Burgersdorp region, to the Albany Museum. More followed in 1890. In 1891 he published an important article, "Stone implements of the Bushmen", in the Cape Illustrated Magazine (Vol. 1, pp. 120-130). The article includes information obtained from living San with regard to the uses, names, and manufacture of stone tools, descriptions of rock paintings and engravings, the pigments used, bone arrowheads, pottery, and more - a remarkable publication for its time, including one of the few detailed descriptions of the making and use of stone tools in southern Africa. He corresponded with L.A. Peringuey* about his finds, and inspired George Leith* to collect artefacts. In later years he donated many specimens to the South African Museum: A "numerous and miscellaneous collection" of archaeological remains, including bone awls from a rock shelter (1907); a large collection of stone artefacts, chiefly flakes, from the Smithfield district (1908); and many more stone artefacts (1909). These collections formed the basis for defining the Smithfield culture in 1926. His numerous donations to the museum in the three years to 1909 marked the end of his known scientific activities.

From 1892 to the turn of the century Kannemeyer was a member of the South African Philosophical Society, and around 1906 he was a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. He and Alfred ("Gogga") Brown* of Aliwal North were lifelong friends and rivals who had the same interests, but concentrated on their own geographical regions.

In 1912 Kannemeyer moved from Burgersdorp to nearby Aliwal North and then on to Smithfield in the Free State. He was a short, slight person, dark and bearded in appearance, who was well liked by all who met him. He became a Freemason while a student in Edinburgh. In 1924 he became a mental patient in Bloemfontein and died there the next year.


List of sources:
Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. Palaeoflora of southern Africa (p. 65). Rotterdam: Balkema, 1985.

Brink, A.S. Illustrated bibliographical catalogue of the Synapsida. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Handbook 10, 1986.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the committee of the Albany Museum, 1889, 1890.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1883, 1884, 1907-1909.

Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette, 9 January 1885, pp. 41-45, List of medical practitioners in the Cape Colony...

Cohen, A.B. African stone tool collectors represented in the collections of the British Museum (Natural History). Unpublished notes, 2001.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 2, 1972.

Goodwin, A.J.H. A commentary upon South African prehistory up to the introduction of the new terminology. Bantu Studies, 1935, Vol. 9, pp. 291-333; bibliography pp. 387-413.

Grahamstown Journal, 12 January 1888, p. 3, Lecture on Bushman remains; 12 September 1889, p.3, Professor Seeley's lecture: Scientific discovery in South Africa.

Hewitt, J. The Albany Museum, Grahamstown. Southern African Museums Association Bulletin (SAMAB), 1947, Vol. 4(4), pp. 81-91.

MacRae, C. Life etched in stone: Fossils of South Africa. Johannesburg: Geological Society of South Africa, 1999.

Medical and pharmacy register for the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope..., 1893.

Medical, dental and pharmacy register for the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, 1907.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Daniel Kannemeyer.

Plug, C. & Levin, G. The South African Geological Association (1888-1890). Africana Notes and News, September 1991, Vol. 29(7), pp. 251-261.

Ritchie, W. The history of the South African College, 1829-1918 (list of alumni). Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

Schonland, S. Plant life in South Africa during past geological ages. E.P. Magazine, January 1893, Vol. 1(2), pp. 1-14.

Seeley, H.G. Some scientific results of a mission to South Africa. Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society, 1889, Vol. 5, pp. 1-16.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1905/6, list of members.

South African medical directory for 1897. Cape Town: Cape Times, 1897.

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1890-1900, Vol. 8, 10, 11.

Swinton, W.E. Harry Govier Seeley and the Karroo reptiles. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Historical series, 1962, Vol. 3(1), pp. 1-39.

Trimen, Roland. South African butterflies: A monograph of the extra-tropical species (3 vols). London: Truebner & Co., 1887-1889.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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