S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Schubart, Mr Anton F (museum curation)

Born: Date not known, The Netherlands.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

Anton F. Schubart, official of the South African Republic (Transvaaal), studied mathematics and natural science at the Hoogeschool (University) of Utrecht, the Netherlands. He arrived in the Transvaal during the early eighteen-fifties and settled in Potchefstroom, the capital of the Republic until about 1860. In 1857 he was appointed clerk of the government's Uitvoerende Raad (Executive Council). By 1859 he was government secretary and in this capacity served on the Executive Council for two years. He was the first secretary of the Potchefstroom municipality and in 1866 was also secretary of the School Commission. During the eighteen-seventies he was a member of the committee of the Transvaalsche Maatschappij voor Landbou en Veeteelt (Transvaal Society of Agriculture and Stockbreeding) and in 1876 a member of a two-man sub-committee for minerals, in preparation for the society's agricultural show that year. He won prizes for his cobalt and silver ores.

On 30 December 1873, on the proposal of President T.F. Burgers, the Executive Council resolved to create the Staats-natuurkundig Genootschap (State Natural Science Association) to establish a museum at Potchefstroom. At the same time they appointed Schubart as a member of the seven-man committee of the association and curator of the Museum. One of the other committee members was Thomas Ayres*. The government's aim was mainly to increase public awareness of the region's minerals and to improve the Republic's poor financial position by their exploitation. Schubart was the only member who had some knowledge of minerals and presented the museum with his personal collection of minerals from the Transvaal and other countries to serve as the nucleus of its collection. A further donation of minerals was received from Dr W.G. Atherstone* of Grahamstown. However, as the committee members had been appointed without prior consultation they lacked enthusiasm for the project and only held their first meeting after being prompted by the editor of a local newspaper. By late July 1874 a room in the government building had been allocated for the museum, but no provision was made for cabinets in which to store or exhibit the collection and no funds allocated to develop the museum. Schubart later claimed that he had paid at least part of the cost of exhibiting the collection out of his own pocket. He also claimed that the collection had been properly labelled and had been found useful to inform members of the public. However, visitors to the town either did not mention the museum, or found it locked up.

Although the museum continued to exist after the British annexation of the Transvaal in April 1877 it was destroyed during the subsequent First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881). The Staats-natuurkundig genootschap and its museum therefore ceased to exist when the South African Republic was re-established in 1881. Years later, in a memorandum to the government, Schubart implied that the collection had been destroyed and stolen mainly by the Boer forces and requested compensation for the loss of his personal collection that had formed part of the museum. His request was denied.

Schubart stayed on in Potchefstroom but did not flourish. By 1892 he was jobless and struggling to maintain his large family. In July that year the state secretary offered him a temporary post as clerk for the establishment of a new State Museum in Pretoria. Schubart accepted the post and during the same month moved to Pretoria to become the first employee of the institution that later developed into the Transvaal Museum. On 25 August 1892 he compiled the first list of acquisitions for the museum and sent it to the state secretary. It was published in the Staats Courant (Government Gazette) under the latter's name on 19 October. Schubart himself initially presented only two mineral samples and a bronze medallion commemorating the founding of the Utrechtse Hoogeschool. However, in 1893 he donated a collection of local and foreign minerals.

Schubart's financial problems and lowly position, considering his earlier experience, appear to have been caused by alcoholism. On 31 May 1893 the secretary of the museum's Board of Curators wrote to the state secretary with a request that Schubart be dismissed, "daar het museum niet meer aan zijne zorg kan worden toevertroud" (as the museum can no longer be entrusted to his care). Schubart Street in Pretoria was named after him in the eighteen-fifties.

List of sources:
Plug, C. Die Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek se eerste staatsmuseum en wetenskaplike verenigings. South African Journal of Cultural History, 1991, Vol. 5(3), pp. 113-127.

Preller, G.S. Old Pretoria (p. 74). Pretoria, 1978.

Transvaal almanac and directory, 1877, 1879, 1881, 1889.

Transvaal Museum. Catalogue, 1894-1897. (Transvaal Museum library).

Van der Walt, A.J.H. et al. Potchefstroom 1838-1938. Potchefstroom, 1939.

Compiled by: C. Plug