Worth a Read

A ‘biography’ of Table Mountain

Table Mountain.jpg

Over 500 years, visitors to South Arica’s most recognisable landmark, Table Mountain, have penned in various languages their encounters with this remarkable rock.

Some of the more remarkable of these stories are now, for the first time, available in an English collection.

In the just published book, On Top of Table Mountain; Remarkable Visitors 0ver 500 years, seasoned journalist, columnist, author and editor Joan Kruger, who concentrates on historical non-fiction, has collected the stories, some of them even written in Russian and Swedish, of 27 exceptional visitors to the mountain.

Not all the visitors to the mountain were there voluntarily or for recreational purposes. In fact, the first recorded European visitor in 1503 was the Spanish nobleman, seafarer and explorer, António de Saldanha, who ascended the mountain to ascertain where on Earth he was.

De Saldanha, with a squadron of three ships, was sailing to the East when they lost their way and ended up in an unknown bay, dominated by an enormous flat-topped mountain rising from the sea. This mountain was their salvation – and what the indigenous Khoikhoi called Hoerikwaggo (Mountain in the Sea) entered recorded history as Tabua do Cabo (Table of the Cape.)

Ever since, visitors to the Cape have toiled, scrambled, ridden on horseback, run or climbed to the top – and written about it afterwards. Taken together, these reports provide a fascinating biography of the mountain. Looked at separately, they are thrilling reads, penned by larger-than-life voyagers and, often unlikely, adventurers.

Pulled together

Collected in one volume, they make for a read which I found both informative and entertaining. The reader meets, among others, botanist Carl Peter Thunberg who risked his life to pick an exquisite blue disa, growing precariously on a ledge; James Holman, the ‘Blind Traveller’ who rode up and down the mountain on horseback; and Lady Jane Herschel who, while pregnant, still managed to ride part of the way up and then went for a canter on top.

The life-stories of the visitors are told with flair and humour and, together with the accounts of the ascents, provide a riveting read.

Social history

From this book we also learn how great chunks of the world’s social history are reflected in the ‘biography’ of Table Mountain. The published journals, letters and memoirs of those who had climbed Table Mountain reflect all the turmoil of a ‘shrinking’ world, of imperial and nationalist ambitions, of adventure and scientific discovery.

What others say

“A truly original book. Compelling storytelling, anecdotal yet historically accurate, easy to read, and un-putdownable. My favourite book about my favourite mountain.”- Scott Ramsay, photojournalist and author of South Africa’s Wildest Places.

On Top of Table Mountain; Remarkable Visitors over 500 Years (ISBN: 978-0-620-72637-5) is published by Paternoster Books and retails for R300. The Intelligence Bulletin’s readers can obtain the book at the special launch price of R290 (postage included). The author will sign all copies. We are proud of the fact that the author, Joan Kruger, is also our subeditor.

 

by Steve Whiteman

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