Memoirs

I fell upon this memoir by chance. It is old, out of date and a book passing into history as it was published over half a century ago (published by Howard Timmins in 1965). Jack Stodel does not feature in the standard encyclopedias or biographical dictionaries. Why bother with such a book? Memoirs give us a flavour and taste of the lives of a bygone generation and recall amusing experiences and anecdotes. We learn about the lives of others, how they lived and what the issues of the day were. Memoirs become building blocks in  the writing of history.

Harold Napier Devitt (he wrote under the name of Napier Devitt) was born in England in 1871 and came to South Africa in 1889 on board the Royal Mail Ship, the Spartan. He tells us he was only 17 years old at the time of his arrival. He explains in the opening chapter of the first volume of his memoirs that he was one of 10 men in a party sponsored by Sir Frederic Young of the Colonial Institute and Sir Henry Pasteur, a City of London man. F C Selous the great African hunter was also on the voyage and thrilled the young Devitt with tales of the African veld.

This is another of those books that is now a classic of early 20th century South Africa. Its age and rarity pushes up the price of the original book on the antiquarian auctions and hence expect to pay well over $200 for a first edition. Alternatively you may wish to settle for a reproduction from Amazon priced from $13.57 to $45. Or if you are a fan of online reading, take advantage of the free download available via UCLA or the Guttenberg project.

Johannesburg Pioneer Journals 1888-1909 edited by Maryna Fraser, published by the Van Riebeeck Society Cape Town 1985, Second Series no 16. This is an elegant well presented volume and an excellent item of Johannesburg history.

Wagon-tracks and Orchards Early Days in Sandton, Juliet Marais Louw: Pictura Africana Series, published by AD.Donker, 1976. Juliet Marais Louw was the sister of  the prolific author , Eric Rosenthal and also wrote popular local social history.  She died in 2001, aged 90  , her lifespan marked huge changes in her city . She was a well known teacher in Johannesburg and lived on a farm in Sandown.

Subscribe to Memoirs