S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Kuhn, Dr Alexander (hydrology, plant collection)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: 1906, Valparaiso, Chile.

Alexander Kuhn, a German engineer, was first sent out to German South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1901 by the Syndikat fuer Bewaesserungsanlagen fuer Deutsch-Suedwestafrika, with the financial support of the German government, to re-examine a proposal by the civil engineer Theodor Rehbock* for a large dam and irrigation scheme at Hatsamas, some 80km south-east of Windhoek, and to investigate the feasibility of proposed dams at Marienthal and de Naute [not identified]. He was accompanied by the engineer Scutari. Kuhn reported his findings in Bericht ueber Bewaesserungsanlagen fuer Deutsch Suedwestafrika (Report on water schemes for German South West Africa; Berlin, 1901), which included a map on a scale of 1:500 000. He supported Rhebock's earlier findings, giving preference to the scheme at Hatsemas.

Another of his recommendations was that a detailed study should be made of the drainage system of the Fish River. This recommendation was accepted by the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft, which asked Kuhn to lead a second expedition to the territory for this purpose. The investigation was conducted in 1903. The resulting report, Bericht ueber die von der Deutschen Kolonialgesellschaft dem Kolonial-Wirtschaftlichen Komitee uebertragen Fischfluss-Expedition: Reisen und Arbeiten in Deutsch-Suedwestafrika im Jahre 1903, was published in Berlin in 1904 (157 p). Kuhn proposed the construction of four large dams and many farm dams in the Fish River and its tributaries, all upstream of Seeheim. He believed that the resulting retention of flood waters might turn the Fish River into a permanent stream and also increase rainfall over its catchment. However, his report has been described as consisting mainly of a narrative account of wanderings in the Fish River country between Mariental and Ais-Ais, with much personal account and little of scientific value, its many proposals for the improvement of the country being based largely on American literature (Logan, 1969). A foreword to the report was contributed by Rehbock.

Kuhn also published a report on the "native problem" in the territory, Zum Eingeborenenproblem in DSWA (Berlin, 1905, 40 p). He furthermore collected plants during his visits. The specimens went, among others, to the Botanischer Museum, Berlin-Dalheim, Germany.

After his second expedition to Namibia Kuhn visited the western United States to study large dam projects there. Upon his return he shared the American vision of the time that large desert and semi-desert regions would be turned into fertile farmland by irrigation schemes.

List of sources:
Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Hugo, P.J., Schalk, K.E.L. & Barnes, S. Bibliography of South West African/Namibian earth science. Windhoek: Geological Survey of SWA/Namibia, 1983.

Kienetz, A. Nineteenth-century South West Africa as a German settlement colony (pp. 913-917). PhD thesis in social geography, University of Minnesota, 1976. Facsimile by University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977.

Logan, R.F. Bibliography of South West African geography and related fields. Windhoek: SWA Scientific Society, 1969.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug