S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Percival, Captain Robert (geography)

Born: 1765, England.
Died: 1826, Place not known.

Robert Percival (or Perceval), English traveller and writer, joined the army and, as a captain in the 18th Regiment of Infantry, took part in the first British occupation of the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. Serving under General Craig he led the attack on the fortifications at Muizenberg and became the first British officer to reach Cape Town. He spent some time at the Cape and paid a return visit in 1801. Subsequently he published An account of the Cape of Good Hope... (London, 1804, 339p), dealing with the history, politics, geography, products, and inhabitants of the colony. Though the book contains much information, it is confined to the region within about 80 km of Cape Town and is not always reliable. German and French translations were published in 1805 and 1806 respectively.

Percival included some notes on the geology and physical geography of the vicinity of Cape Town. For example, he surmised that the Fish Hoek Valley (crossing the peninsula from Vishoekbaai to Chapman's Bay) had formerly been a strait that became filled with blown sand. He thought that the Cape Flats must have been formed in a similar manner, as its soil consists mainly of sea sand, shell fragments, and other marine products. Furthermore, the shore of Table Bay had the same composition and he concluded that the bay was becoming smaller and shallower by the deposition of blown sand. These ideas were not new, for around 1793 Colonel R.J. Gorden* had estimated that the advance of the Table Bay shore, as a result of sand blown in from the shore of False Bay, amounted to about one pace per year over a period of 50 years. However, Gordon did not publish his observations.

Percival also wrote An account of the island of Ceylon... (2nd ed., London, 1805), covering the same topics as in his book on the Cape. This work too was translated into German and French.


List of sources:
Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Rogers, A.W. The pioneers in South African geology and their work. Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1937, Annexure to Vol. 39, pp. 1-139.

Rosenthal, E. Southern African dictionary of national biography. London: F. Warne, 1966.

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


Compiled by: C. Plug


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