S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Seiner, Mr Franz Josef (geography, physical anthropology)

Born: 18 March 1874, Feldbach, Austria.
Died: 18 April 1929, Graz, Austria.

Franz J. Seiner, Austrian journalist and traveller, came to South Africa in November 1899 as a journalist for the newspaper Grazer Tagblad and to fight as a volunteer against the British in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). He returned to Austria in September 1900 and, using the name Franco Seiner, described his war experiences in two popular books, published in 1902 and 1903. Around the beginning of 1903 he arrived in German South West Africa (now Namibia) to see the country and seek relief from tuberculosis. After landing at Swakopmund he first spent some time in Windhoek. In March he set out on a long journey to the Waterberg and eastern Hereroland, a region known as the Omaheke. Returning to Europe in June 1903 with his health restored, he described his journey in Bergtouren und Steppenfahrten im Hererolande (Mountain trips and steppe journeys in Hereroland; Berlin, 1904, 278p), a popularly written but informative description of the region. He also wrote an excellent description of the country he had visited for the journal Globus (1905), entitled "Der Omuramba Omatako und die Omatako-Berge".

Seiner visited Namibia for the second time during 1905-1906, focussing his attention mainly on the Caprivi Strip. However, he also travelled from Palapye, Botswana, via Serowe, across the central Kalahari to Lake Ngami and on to Rietfontein (near the Namibia-Botswana border), reaching Windhoek in January 1907. A comprehensive report, "Ergebnisse einer Bereisung des Gebiets zwischen Okawango und Sambesi (Caprivi Zipfel) in den Jahren 1905 und 1906" (Results of a journey in the area between the Okavango and Zambezi (Caprivi Strip) in the years 1905 and 1906), was published in the Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten in 1909, accompanied by a map on a scale of 1:500 000. In another paper in the Zeitschrift für Kolonialwirtschaft (1909) he described the economic and political position of the Caprivi Strip. His excellent photo-text presentation of eight vegetation types of the Kalahari, "Trockensteppe der nördlichen und mittleren Kalahari" (Dry steppes of the northern and central Kalahari) was published in Vegetationsbilder in 1910, followed by a paper on "Pflanzengeographische beobachtungen in der Mittel-Kalahari" (Plant-geographical obsevations in the central Kalahari) in the Botanische Jahrbucher (1911).

Seiner's visits were partly financed by the German government and the Deutsche Kolonial Gesellschaft. A third visit to the Omaheke followed in 1910-1912, during which he again made observations on its climate, minerals, plants, people and languages, and collected minerals, insects and plants which he presented to scientific institutions in Berlin and Graz. He took numerous photographs and drew maps of various areas which contributed to the cartography of the territory. A thorough report on all aspects of the region studied during his third visit, including its vegetation, was published as "Ergebnisse einer Bereisung der Omaheke in den Jahren 1910 bis 1912" (Results of travels in the Omaheke in the years 1910 to 1912) in the Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten (1913, 92p). Another paper described his "Geographische Forschungen in politisch interessanten Okawango-Gebiete" (Geographical researches in the politically interesting Okavango region; Deutsche Kolonialzeitung, 1912).

Seiner's study of the people of the Omaheke led to several papers. An ethnographic study of the San of the Okavango and Zambezi areas of the northern Kalahari appeared in Globus in 1910. His "Beobachtungen und Messungen an Buschleuten" (Observations and measurements of Bushmen), a study in physical anthropology, was published in the Mitteilungen der Anthropologische Gesellschaft in Wien in 1912. A third paper contained his observations of the Bastard-Bushmen of the northern Kalahari in Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten (1913).

Seiner's work contributed much to knowledge of the north-western Kalahari and its people. However, his views on political conditions in the region were strongly criticised by the editor of the newspaper Südwest and led to a libel case which lapsed when Seiner left the territory. Many plant species were named after him, including Hermannia seineri, Ornithogalum seineri, Abutilon seineri, Dolichos seineri, Ipomoea seineri and Helichrysum seineri.

During World War I (1914-1918) Seiner was in Albania were he appears to have been in charge of a population census. He reported the results in Ergebnisse der Volkszählung in Albanien, in dem von Österr.-Ungar. Truppen in 1916-1918 besetzten Gebiete (Results of a population census in Albania, in the region occupied by Austrian-Hungarian troops in 1916-1918; Vienna, 1922). After the war he became one of the leaders of the Grossdeutschen Volkspartei in Austria and was for many years secretary of the Gesellschaft für Geopolitik und Kolonisation

List of sources:
Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 4, 1981.

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

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

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

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

Compiled by: C. Plug