S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Comrie, Dr Peter (archaeology)

Born: 1832, Place not known.
Died: 1882, Place not known.

Dr Peter Comrie, surgeon of the Royal Navy, intellectual and naturalist, served on the Sparrowhawk from 1865 to 1868 and in 1870 donated a collection of native American items to the British Museum. He visited the Cape of Good Hope in HMS Dido in 1871 on his way to the East. During his visit he did some archaeological exploring on the Cape Peninsula. He found stone arrow heads, spear points, perforated stones, pottery, and human remains on a platform underneath the light house at Cape Point. He also investigated three caves along the eastern side of the peninsula, some three kilometers from Cape Point, in which he found mounds of edible shells and unidentified bones. He furthermore received some pieces of pottery from P.D. Martin*, and was in contact with his friend, the ethnologist Dr. W.H.I. Bleek.

During his travels Comri visited, among others, the Solomon Islands, the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu, in the Pacific Ocean), New Zealand and New Guinea. At some time he joined HMS Basilisk, commanded by Captain John Moresby, which undertook hydrographic surveys around New Guinea. In New Zealand Comrie read a paper on the archaeology of the Cape in which he described his observations. On the return journey to England in HMS Basilisk he touched at the Cape again and, via P.D. Martin, submitted the manuscript of his paper to the Cape Monthly Magazine for publication. It appeared in November 1874 (new series, Vol. 9, pp. 286-290), titled "The stone age at the Cape of Good Hope". At this time a debate about the origin of shell mounds in caves was still being waged at the Cape, with some arguing that they were of human origin and others that they were natural accumulations of shells. Dr. Comrie effectively concluded the debate by listing the overwhelming evidence in favour of the human origin of the mounds, though most of the evidence had been listed in the same journal a few years earlier by an unidentified person, 'S.T.' (new series, 1871, Vol. 3, pp. 174-176).

During his voyage to the East Comrie collected birds, butterflies, and cultural artefacts. The study of this material resulted in several scientific papers. P.L. Sclater*, J. Smit and Dr Comrie published 'On the birds collected by Dr Comrie on the south-east coast of New Guinea' in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1876). F.D. Godman and O. Salvin published 'A list of the butterflies collected in eastern New Guinea and some neighbouring islands by Dr Comrie during the voyage of HMS Basilisk' (Ibid, 1878). And Comrie himself contributed 'Anthropological notes on New Guinea' to the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1877). During the presentation of the latter paper he exhibited a large collection of weapons and other cultural artefacts. In 1876 he donated unspecified material from Oceanea to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.


List of sources:

A trip to Port Chalmers and an hour aboard the Dido. The Otago Witness, 14 December 1872. Retrieved from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzbound/dido.htm

Beolens, B., Watkins, M. & Grayson, M. The eponym dictionary of birds. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.

British Museum. Dr Peter Comrie. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=40698

Comrie, Dr. The stone age at the Cape of Good Hope. Cape Monthly Magazine, new series, 1874, Vol. 9, pp. 286-290.

Goodwin, A.J.H. A commentary upon South African prehistory up to the introduction of the new terminology. Bantu Studies, 1935, Vol. 9, pp. 291-333, bibliography pp. 387-413.

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by P.L. Sclater, F.D. Godman.

HMS Basilisk (1848). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org

Pitt Rivers Museum collectors: Dr Comrie. http://history.prm.ox.ac.uk/collector_770.html


Compiled by: C. Plug


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