S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Peters, Dr Carl (archaeology)

Born: 27 September 1856, Neuhaus an der Elbe, Germany.
Died: 10 September 1918, Woltorf, near Peine, Germany.
Dr Carl Peters

Carl Peters, German traveller and colonial administrator, studied at the universities of Göttingen, Tübingen and Berlin and was awarded a doctorate in 1880. He founded the Gesellschaft für deutsche Kolonisation, a colonising company, in 1884 and in November that year arrived in East Africa. There he signed treaties with chiefs in east-central Tanzania, obtaining land concessions for his company, and these treaties were recognised by the German government in February 1885. After helping to establish German rule in East Africa he returned to Germany and published Deutsch-ostafrikanische Kolonisation (1888). Returning to Africa he led an expedition in search of the brilliant but eccentric German administrator, naturalist and explorer Eduard Schnitzer, known as Emin Pascha. In 1890 he helped to organise a venture by Emin to secure territory between Lake Victoria and Lake Albert (in present Uganda) for Germany. However, the Heligoland treaty between Britain and Germany had meanwhile allotted Uganda to the British, with the result that Peters had to disown Emin. He described these events in his book Die deutsche Emin-Pascha expedition (1891). In 1890-1891 he furthermore published two papers on he geography of the region along the Tana River, in present Kenya.

In 1891 Peters was appointed German Resident for the Kilimanjaro district, but was recalled in 1893 because of his alleged harsh treatment of the local people. Between 1887 and 1895 he wrote several publications on German colonial interests in East Africa, including a book on Das Deutsch Ostafrikanische Schutzgebiet (1895).

Between 1896 and 1902 Peters lived alternately in England and in southern Africa, and travelled widely in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He also explored the Zambezia province of Mozambique, situated between the Zambezi River in the south and the Ligonha River in the north. He tried to prove on linguistic grounds that the biblical King Solomon had obtained his gold from present Zimbabwe. An early publication by him on prehistoric gold mining was translated into English as King Solomon's golden Ophir: A research into the most ancient gold production in history (London, 1899). The next year he published a paper, "Macondee's country south of the Zambesi; its ancient goldfields and industrial resources", in the Journal of the Society of Arts (London, 1900). A second book by him on prehistoric gold mining, Im Goldland des Altertums: Forschungen swischen Zambesi und Sabi (1902) was translated into English and published as The Eldorado of the ancients... (London, 1902). Although dealing mainly with the lower Zambezi region of Mozambique, the book is of interest also for the early history of Zimbabwe.

Peters published his memoirs, Dr Carl Peters Lebenserinnerungen... (1918) just before his death.

List of sources:
Hall, A.L. A bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

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

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

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

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

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

Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa. Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

Compiled by: C. Plug