S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Buttner, Reverend Carl Gotthilf (geography, botany)

Born: 24 December 1848, Königsberg, Germany.
Died: 14 December 1893, Berlin, Germany.

Reverend Carl G. Buttner, missionary and philologist, completed his theological studies at the University of Koenigsberg in 1870 and then studied medicine and philology at the Rhenish Mission Institute at Elberfeld-Barmen. In 1872 he came to German South West Africa (now Namibia) as head of the Augustineum, a training school for native teachers and evangelists at Otjimbingwe in Damaraland. He was a scholarly and intensely patriotic young man who became a learned and versatile writer and an authority on German South West Africa. During his stay he was the first to study and describe rock engravings and paintings in the Erongo Mountains. His description was discussed by James Buchanan in the Orange Free State Monthly Magazine in 1879. Buttner also wrote a paper on the Namaquas, Damaras and Hereros and their territories, which was published in Germany in 1878. An English translation titled "The Berg-Damaras" appeared in the Cape Monthly Magazine.

Buttner returned to Germany in 1880 and obtained a pastorate in Koenigsberg. He wrote a lengthy review of missionary work and the development of German commerce in Namibia, titled Das Hinterland von Walfischbai und Angra Pequena ... (Heidelberg, 1884). The next year he produced a 60 page monograph on farming and cattle raising in Namibia, titled Ackerbau und Viehzucht in Suedwestafrika. His many other publications on the territory included a paper on "Die naturlichen Hilfsquellen von Suedwest-Afrika und die moeglichkeit ihrer Verwertung" (The natural resources of South West Africa, and the possibility of their utilisation, in Export, 1884).

Owing to his knowledge of the territory and its languages Buttner was sent there again in 1885 to assist the German commissioner, Dr. H. Goering, to negotiate treaties with several Nama and Herero chiefs. Landing at Port Nolloth on 1 June he crossed the Orange River near present Goodhouse, travelled north to Okahandja, and left the territory through Walfish Bay. Based on this visit he wrote a travel narrative, "Erinnerungen an meiner Reise in Suedwest-Afrika von Berseba bis Okahandja in Jahre 1885", which was published in the Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft fuer Erdkunde zu Berlin in 1890. It included an early attempt at a vegetation map. After a brief spell as inspector of the German East-African Mission he became a lecturer in Swahili at the Seminar fuer orientalische Sprachen at the University of Berlin in 1887. He published several important works on Swahili, and from 1887 to 1890 edited the Zeitschrift fuer Afrikanische Sprachen.

Buttner published two further papers of geographical interest. "Ueber den Stand der geographischen Erforschung des deutschen Schutzgebietes in Suedwestafrika" (On the position of geographical research in German South West Africa) was read at a geographical conference in Karlsruhe and published in the Verhandlungen des siebenter deutschen Geographentages zu Karlsruhe in 1887. Second, "Erste Reise eines Europaers nach Damaraland" (First journey of a European to Damaraland), a translation of Willem van Reenen's account of his trip into Damaraland in 1792, appeared in the Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft fuer Erdkunde zu Berlin in 1889.

List of sources:
[Buchanan, J.] Rock paintings. Orange Free State Monthly Magazine, July 1879, Vol. 2(21), pp. 852-856.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 2, 1972.

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 (Vol. 1). Geological Survey of South West Africa/Namibia, 1983.

Kienetz, A. Nineteenth-century South West Africa as a German settlement colony. 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 Africa. Geography and related fields. Windhoek: SWA Scientific Society, 1969.

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

Compiled by: C. Plug