S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Claudius, Mr Heinrich (plant collection, botanical and zoological illustration)

Born: 1655, Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland).
Died: 1697, The Netherlands.
Active in: SA.

Heinrich (Hendrik, in Dutch) Claudius was born about 1655-1660 and employed as an apothecary at Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) by the German physician Andreas Cleyer, a senior medical official there. According to Father G. Tachard* he had also travelled in China and Japan. In November 1681 Cleyer contracted him to go to the Cape of Good Hope to collect and draw medicinal plants and to send various natural products to Batavia. Claudius arrived at the Cape aboard the Africa on 16 February 1682. However, shortly after his arrival Cleyer was transferred to China and no longer required his services. Simon van der Stel*, governor at the Cape, decided to retain him to continue his work. In 1683 Claudius accompanied a party of about 40 persons, led by Ensign Olof Bergh, on an expedition to Namaqualand in search of copper. His role was to keep a record of the journey and of the plants and animals encountered. They were away from 27 August to 24 October, but had to turn back at the Groenrivier for lack of water. He was one of the expedition's leading men who signed a declaration on 29 September that it was impossible to make further progress.

Father Tachard and his party visited the Cape from 31 May to 7 June 1685, and again from 13 to 26 March 1686. Tachard records that Claudius, whom he describes as "a young doctor from Breslau", was a good observer and drew and painted plants and animals very well. He had filled two volumes with paintings of plants, drawn from live specimens, and had collected many dried plants. Tachard was keen to obtain these volumes, but they were not for sale then and cannot now be traced. Claudius shared his knowledge of the country and its inhabitants with Tachard, and provided him with a number of illustrations for his book. These included two drawings of local inhabitants, and several of reptiles and other animals. He also gave Tachard a small map of the Cape which he claimed to have drawn himself. Even for the time its coastline was inaccurate. The interior contains little detail, but no fictitious features.

Another visitor, H.A. van Reede*, a commissioner-general representing the directors of the Dutch East India Company, was at the Cape from 19 April to 16 July 1685 and was also most interested in Claudius's drawings. He authorised Simon van der Stel's expedition to search for copper in Namaqualand, from 25 August 1685 to 26 January 1686. Claudius accompanied the expedition. Van der Stel's report of the journey included 72 illustrations in the same style as those by Claudius in Tachard's book and although they are unsigned, some have dates that fall in the period during which the expedition took place. Claudius was not a great artist, but his hundreds of drawings form the largest set of seventeenth century illustrations of Cape plants and animals, and make him the first known resident at the Cape to illustrate its natural history on any scale. His drawings were important as the source of numerous illustrations used by seventeenth and eighteenth century authors on natural history, notably Johannes Burman. Copies of a number of the drawings are extant in South Africa (South African Museum, National Library of South Africa in Cape Town, Africana Museum in Johannesburg), Britain, Ireland and Germany, but it is not clear which are originals. Among the plants depicted are Aloe dichotoma (the quiver tree), Aloe variegata, various bulbous plants such as Gladiolus, Bulbine, Albuca, Ornithogalum, Brunsvigia, several Asclepiadaceae, an Euphorbia, Acacia Karoo, and several pelargoniums. His drawings of reptiles are less accurate, but include the yellow cobra, molesnake, horned adder, a chameleon, and various lizards. Birds include the Namaqua dove, Namaqua sand-grouse, White-backed mousebird, Red-winged starling, and Sacred ibis. Other animals include the Round-eared elephant shrew, the Cape hare, a grasshopper, stick insect, two freshwater fishes (the yellowfish Barbus capensis and the freshwater eel Anguilla mossambica), and ten marine fishes.

The fact that Claudius had freely shared information about the country with Tachard, and was acknowledged in the latter's book, earned him the disapproval of the governor, who banished him to an unknown destination at some time between June 1687 and April 1688. He presumbaly returned to Holland eventually and died before 1697, for in that year his widow remarried.

List of sources:

Bauer, A.M. Early German herpetological observations and explorations in southern Africa, with special reference to the Zoological Museum of Berlin. Bonner zoologische Beitraege, 2003, Vol. 52, pp. 193-214.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 1, 1968.

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

Heniger, J. Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) and Hortus Malabaricus, a contribution to the history of Dutch colonial botany. Amsterdam: Balkema, 1986.

Hoge, J. Personalia of the Germans at the Cape, 1652-1806. Archives Yearbook for South African History, 9th year. Cape Town: Cape Times, 1946.

Kennedy, R.F. Catalogue of prints in the Africana Museum... (Vol. 2). Johannesburg: Africana Museum, 1976.

Kerkham, A.S. The Claudius manuscript in the South African Library. Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 1992, Vol. 46(4), pp. 146-158; Vol. 47(1), pp. 28-46; Vol. 47(2), p. 58.

Leibrandt, H.C.V. Rambles through the archives of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town: Juta, 1887.

Moritz, E. Die Deutschen am Kap unter der hollandischen Herrschaft, 1652-1806 (p. 33, 46-48). Weimar: H. Boehlaus, 1938.

Mossop, E.E. Journals of the expeditions of the honourable Ensign Olof Bergh (1682 and 1683) and the Ensign Isaq Schrijver (1689).... Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, VRS 12, 1931.

Norwich, O.I. Maps of Africa. Johannesburg: A.D. Donker, 1983.

Raven-Hart, R. Cape Good Hope 1652-1702. The first fifty years of Dutch colonisation as seen by callers. Cape Town: Balkema, 1971.

Reynolds, G.W. The Aloes of South Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1969.

Skelton, P.H. & Skead, C.J. Early reports and paintings of freshwater fishes in the Cape Province. Africana Notes and News, 1984, Vol. 26(1), pp. 29-35.

Smith, M. Early paintings of Cape fishes by Hendrik Claudius in the Africana Museum. Africana Notes and News, 1969, Vol. 18(8), pp. 325-327.

Verster, F. The Claudius enigma: A question of authorship. Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa, 2006, Vol. 60(3), pp. 92-100.

Compiled by: C. Plug

Last updated: 2020-04-23 17:30:14