Game parks and conservation: a P.S. involving letters

Game parks and conservation: a P.S. involving letters

The Daily Maverick has just published an interesting article about the circumstances in which the Kruger game park was established as a reserve in the early 1900s, just after the end of the South African War in 1902. All men were involved, it says; and maps out a series of events and heroic male figures. Perhaps. But there is always another story to tell, always more intricacies than a dominant narrative proclaims.

AP Cartwright wrote a very supportive and detailed book about this in the 1950s, with the Maverick article a long extract from its recent re-publication. The father of this Cartwright, also an Albert, was a newspaperman known to Olive Schreiner, and her letters comment on his journalistic activities and in particular his independence from the controlling might of Cecil Rhodes in buying up of newspapers and journalists themselves so as to represent the news only as he wanted it. Among other things, Olive Schreiner‘s Thoughts on South Africa includes an essay concerned with conservation matters, with protecting animals and expanses of land from the encroaching depredations of white settler humankind. Although not published until after her death, it was written many years before and is one of the first ‘on paper’ arguments expressing the need for a conservation policy and practice in South Africa. It is interesting to consider whether Cartwright senior held similar views and influenced his son, and also whether conversations about this ever took place between Cartwright senior and Olive Schreiner. It is also interesting to turn the gaze northwards and to what Cecil Rhodes was up to in the period just before his early death. In addition to murder and mayhem, at the start of the 1900s he was establishing a large farm or park in what is now Zimbabwe and with conservation ideas firmly in mind, as organisational letters by his underlings convey. Another letters connection exists too, via Alfred Milner. As Governor of the Transvaal post-1902, Milner supported the Kruger game reserve venture. While it would be too strong to say that he was a friend of David Forbes senior and David Forbes junior, he certainly knew them and had on occasion visited Athole, with letters in the Forbes collection confirming this link. Relatedly, both Milner and his private secretary John Buchan (the novelist, and later Governor General of Canada) admired the land management ideas of David Forbes junior, and he was later commended for turning one of his farms (he combined farming with managing a Swaziland coal mine) into a protected reserve so as to conserve its animal stock, although combining this with issuing special licenses to shoot some game.

Certainly creation of the Kruger park was an astounding and far-sighted thing to have done. However, it is always worth remembering that things are complicated, ideas have many roots, origins are rarely singular, and what on the surface may seem heroic can beneath it be much more mixed.

For Albert Cartwright senior, go to https://www.oliveschreiner.org/vre?view=personae&entry=103 

For the Daily Maverick article, published on Tuesday, 14 January 2020, please click here

Last updated: 16 January 2020


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