Book Review – Burchell’s Travels

by Susan Buchanan (Penguin Books) ISBN: 9781770227552

Burchell, after whom the zebra, the coucal and many more species were named, was a well-known naturalist and explorer, but the 19th century adventurer was also a brilliant artist, writer and cartographer. His masterpiece Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa (1824) is still of historical, anthropological and scientific interest. A legacy of his items with many drawings and watercolours are in the Museum Africa in Johannesburg.

In this beautiful biography, which is skilfully crafted and well-researched, Buchanan has made Burchell come to life again. His journey through the interior of Southern Africa from June 1811 until April 1815 takes up most of the book. He had a keen interest for languages and people, and he documented their linguistic, cultural and social behaviour in words and paint.

Buchanan manages to capture the artist’s soul and passions with his numerous exquisite illustrations and journal excerpts. She has done a sterling job and I can recommend this book to everyone. For its beauty. For its narrative. For the pleasure of reading about such an exceptional man, who was ahead of his time in many ways.

Pauline Vijverberg
Posted on: 14th April 2016