S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Abraham, Rev Nendick (Invertebrate zoology, advancement of science)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: 1924, Place not known.

Nendick Abraham was apprenticed to a firm of architects at the age of fourteen and was offered a partnership in the firm five years later. However, he declined the offer in favour of studying for the Christian ministry. In 1880 he came to the Cape of Good Hope and settled in Cape Town. About three years later he returned to England for a brief period and married Florence A. Angle, with whom he eventually had four children. Upon their return to the Cape Colony they settled in Grahamstown, where Abraham worked as a minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of South Africa from about 1884 to May 1889, when he moved to Somerset East. He returned to Grahamstown before 1903, but in July 1905 left the town for the second time. Thereafter his activities appear to have been confined to Natal. By 1908 he was a minister at "Greytown to York", a township some 30 km from Pietermaritzburg, and he was still there by 1911. In the early nineteen-twenties he was living in Pietermaritzburg. He was much loved and respected in the various towns in which he worked.

Abraham's most important scientific work was his long term study of spiders. His observations on the "Tree trapdoor spider of Grahamstown" (the banded-legged trapdoor spider) were published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1887. A new species of spider collected by him was described by R.I. Pocock in 1898 and a small collection of his spiders, including several new to science, was described by O. Pickard-Cambridge* in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1890. In 1911 he read a paper on "Spiders" which was published in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Natal Scientific Society (December 1911, Vol. 2, No.2) and in the Agricultural Journal of the Union of South Africa (Vol. 3, 1912). Finally, his "Observations on fish and frog eating spiders of Natal" appeared in the Annals of the Natal Museum (1923, Vol. 5, pp. 89-95). In 1917 he addressed the annual meeting of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science at Stellenbosch on "An interesting case of insect mutualism". This paper was published in the association's Report (pp. 137-140) for that year.

In December 1884 Abraham was elected as the first president of the Grahamstown Natural History Society, a position he retained for the society's short life of about three years. He also served as president of the Eastern Province Literary and Scientific Society in 1886, was a member of the Management Committee of the Albany Museum during both his first and second periods in Grahamstown, and served on the Committee of the short-lived South African Geological Association (1888-1890). In September 1910 he was elected joint vice-president of the newly established Natal Scientific Society, which appears to have been active mainly in Durban. By 1911 he was a fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society. In 1922, towards the end of his life, he was elected honorary vice-president of the newly established Cape Natural History Club.

In Grahamstown Abraham regularly presented lectures, both to the members of scientific societies and the public. His topics included "Wonders of nature", "Burrowers, borers and builders", "Coral formations" and "The haunts and habits of strange creatures", and usually dealt with various curiosities of the animal world. In "An introduction to the study of animal life" (1884) he expressed well-informed and balanced views on evolution and on the nature and origin of life (rejecting spontaneous generation). The lectures were illustrated by slides projected through a "magic lantern", and the illustrations usually included some of his own microscopic slides. On some occasions (e.g, May 1889, before the Eastern Province Naturalists' Society) he projected microscopic views of living creatures on a screen during his lecture, showing the movements of mosquitoes and their larvae, mites, and "a flea magnified to the size of a Newfoundland dog". His skill as a lecturer and populariser of science was much appreciated: "He was perfectly at home in the several kingdoms of nature and their denizens" (Eastern Province Naturalists Society, 1885-1892, p. 100). And, "The Rev. Mr. Abraham exhibits markedly the rare power and talent of bringing down the most abstruse and seemingly dry subjects to within the mental grasp of those least versed in the scientific problems and facts, without in any way robbing his account ... of any definiteness and accuracy" (Grahamstown Journal, 11 March 1884).

Abraham appears to have been a modest collector of natural history specimens. In 1885 he presented some pieces of limestone containing Cenozoic shells (Ostrea and Cardium), from near Bathurst in the Eastern Cape, to the Albany Museum, as well as two nests of trapdoor spiders. In 1903 he sent three species of fungus to the same institution.

List of sources:

Agricultural Journal (Union of South Africa), 1912, Vol. 3, paper by Abraham.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the Committee of the Albany Museum, 1885, 1903, 1905.

Campbell collections. http://www.campbell.ukzn.ac.za/?q=node/22022

Dippenaar-Schoeman, A.S. & Jocquin, R. African spiders: An identification manual (pp.79, 253, references). Pretoria: Agricultural Research Council, 1997.

Eastern Province Naturalists Society. Minute Book, No. 2, 1885-1892, p.100 (East London Public Library, Africana collection).

General Directory of South Africa, 1890/1, 1903, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911: Clerical directory.

Grahamstown Journal, 11 March 1884, 10 December 1884, 21 January 1885, 22 April 1885, 13 May 1885, 29 June 1885, 21 January 1886, 16 July 1886, 17 May 1887, 24 September 1887 (2 items), 7 July 1888, 9 May 1889.

Grocott's Penny Mail, 10 October 1889.

How the Cape Natural History Club began. The Cape Naturalist, 1934, Vol. 1(1), pp. 18-20.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Abraham, Nendick.

The Naturalist, 1911, Vol. 1, Numbers 3, 5 and 6: Council of the Natal Scientific Society.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1917, paper by Abraham.

Compiled by: C. Plug