Of Cockroaches, Gunshot and Collections: Durban

Of Cockroaches, Gunshot and Collections: Durban

Of cockroaches, there have been a few. The flat we are renting is in an old house which is being renovated, so we have had evening visitors of a disturbingly large size. The flat is lovely and meticulously clean, but it seems that cockroaches don’t like being disturbed and especially not by plumbers! And that is quite enough on that subject. Not least because in the scheme of things the more significant matter of a shootout – thankfully, without casualties – occurred on the main drag near where we are staying at about 6:30 PM last night. Yes it has been incredibly hot and people are as a consequence quite tetchy, but two bursts of gunfire rang out…. No one turned a hair, though there was much shrugging of shoulders this morning when we chatted to a few people on the way to the carpark.

And so to img_0196collections and the Killie Campbell Library in all its magnificence, now part of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Not so many world-class archives are named for women, but this one is and she is to be celebrated for her foresight and dedication. The archive rooms are quite small but are just what an archive should be, and the staff are incredibly efficient and helpful. iI’s been a pleasure to work here.

Similarly to our work in the National Archives in Pretoria and the Pietermaritzburg Archives Depot (see the ‘How to…’ on ‘Starting: an example‘), the focus of work here has been to review collections with an eye on the appropriateness for more detailed investigation. We have done this by judicious reading of inventories, choosing a hit list of likely collections, and then sampling appropriate numbers of files from each of them and skim-reading of their contents with regards to letter-writing and its longevity.

img_0206Working like this, we have reviewed in some detail fifteen large and three smaller collections. A number of them have been quite fascinating and for a variety of reasons. We have been deep in the interstices of collections regarding a Pondoland trading station in the 1880s, a Zululand labour recruiter in the 1890s and 1900s, a professional artist in Durban in the 1970s, a Natal trader turned magistrate in the 1830s and 40s, a Pietermaritzburg cattle breeder in the 1930s to the 1960s, a Natal colonial official in the 1850s and 60s, and so on and so on. However, none of them have provided that Shangri-la of a large multi-faceted family collection with letter-writing spanning three or more generations and with content covering a wide range of interesting topics. In fact, the closest we have come to a new instance of this was in Pietermaritzburg and is the Parkinson Family Collection, which now looks much more promising.

But waste not and want not, and a number of these Killie Campbell collections investigations will be turned to good account. An article has been planned around the very large collection of letters of the magistrate mentioned above, and three File Maker databases of smaller sets of letters and also another of a very interesting farmer’s diary will be produced and become part of the pantheon of collections appearing within the framework of the WWW published website.

All very pleasing. And we move on tomorrow for a few days of intensive discussion and work planning before returning to the UK at the end of another week.

And by the way, there was a small earthquake in the night before this was written; though no one was hurt, some buildings have splits in theIr brickwork. But this sounds so unlikely that I didn’t put it in the heading of this blog!

Last updated: 8 December 2016


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