S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Fletcher, Mr Robert Alexander (surveying and cartography, geology)

Born: 6 June 1865, Keerom, Namaqualand, South Africa.
Died: 4 November 1950, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Robert Alexander Fletcher, son of Patric Fletcher senior* and his wife Agnes Eaglesim, should not be confused with his younger brother Patrick junior*, who had a very similar career. Robert, like his brother, received his education at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown, and in 1885 passed the examination for the certificate of proficiency in the theory of land surveying of the University of the Cape of Good Hope. Again like his brother, he completed an apprenticeship with the Cape railway engineer Richard E. Brounger and became an associate member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers. In June 1901 he married Annie Alice McDonald of Queenstown (with whom he had four sons), while his brother married her sister Ida. Both brothers were admitted as land surveyors in the Cape Colony in 1888.

Robert was engaged on the Cape Central Railway survey in 1887, and in further railway surveys and construction in the Cape Colony and Orange Free State during 1889 to 1892. He then joined the Engineering staff of the Public Works Department of the Cape Colony and was engaged in bridge building during 1892 and 1893. In 1894 he went to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and joined the firm Fletcher & Espin, which had been founded by his brother Patrick and William M. Espin*. The firm carried out extensive trigonometrical surveys between 1894 and 1907 in Matabeleland and Mashonaland (in present Zimbabwe) and in the northern Transvaal. Both brothers were Justices of the Peace for Matabeleland, and both fought in the so-called Matabele Rebellion in 1896.

Robert Fletcher and William Espin compiled three maps of Matabeleland. The first, Fletcher and Espin's map of Matabeleland (8 miles to the inch, or 1:506 880) appeared in 1896. The second, Fletcher and Espin's land map of Matabeleland (5 miles to the inch, or 1:316 800) appeared in 1897 and contained their third map, Fletcher and Espin's geological sketch map of Matabeleland (20 miles to the inch, or 1:1 267 200) as an inset. The maps were published by Goldfields of Matabeleland, Ltd.

Robert resided in Bulawayo but was admitted as a land surveyor in the Transvaal in March 1905 and became an early member of the Institute of Land Surveyors of the Transvaal. He was a member of the Rhodesia Scientific Association from 1899, the year of its foundation, to at least 1931. He was interested in agriculture and stock-breeding, became the first president of the Bulawayo Agricultural Society in 1901, and served as president of the Rhodesia Agricultural Union from 1910 to 1914. He was instrumental in founding the Bulawayo Landowners' and Farmers' Association, serving as vice-president during 1904-1906 and as president from 1907 to 1915. He led a movement to reduce drastically the Chartered Company's mining royalties, and played a role in founding two schools in Bulawayo. After organising farmers in a passive resistance campaign against the Native labour tax he was imprisoned, but the tax was abolished. He further opposed a scheme whereby the Chartered Company intended to raise money by mortaging land, and the scheme was dropped. He entered politics in 1908 as a representative of Western Matabeleland in the Legislative Council (1908-1911, 1920-1924) and was re-elected to the first parliament in 1924. He opposed responsible government in 1922 and supported the idea that Rhodesia should join the Union of South Africa. On 29 September 1928 he was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Lands, a post he held until June 1931. He retired from politics in 1939.

List of sources:
Anglo-African who's who and biographical sketch-book (ed. W.H. Wills). London: Upcott, 1910.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the Surveyor-General, 1888.

Hall, A.D. A bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

Journal of the Institute of Land Surveyors of the Transvaal, 1905, Vol. 1(1), pp. 24-27; 1909, Vol. 1(8), pp. 338-241: Lists of members.

Heese, J.A. South African genealogies. Pretoria and Stellenbosch, 1986-2005.

Rhodesia Scientific Association. Proceedings, 1906, Vol. 6 (1); 1918, Vol. 16(2) and 1931, Vol. 30: Lists of members.

South African who's who, 1908, 1917/18, 1919/20.

Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Vol. 4, pp. 575-576.

Transvaal Civil Service List, 1906, pp. 147-148, list of admitted surveyors.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1887/8.

Willson, F.M.G. and Passmore, G.C. Holders of administrative and ministerial office, 1894-1964.... Salisbury: University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Department of Government, Source Book No. 3, 1966.

Zimbabwe, Death notices, 1904-1976. Family Search. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVBQ-CZGF : accessed 22-12-2015.

Compiled by: C. Plug