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SOUTH AFRICA / BOMBAY IMPRINT: Narrative of an Expedition into Southern Africa, during the years 1836, and 1837, from the Cape of Good Hope, through the Territories of the Chief Moselekatse, to the Tropic of Capricorn, with a Sketch of the Recent Emigration of the Border Colonists, and a Zoological Appendix.



William Cornwallis HARRIS (1807 – 1848).

Bombay: American Mission Press, 1838.

8° (21.5 x 13.5 cm): [Complete collation of the 1838 Bombay first edition:] xviii, 406 pp., plus, 4 lithographic plates including frontispiece and 1 folding lithographed map (Africa, North East of the Cape Colony) with original hand colour (53 x 44 cm) folding at rear, mss. period owner’s inscription of “Sir Thos. Hastings, R. Naval College” to half-title, plus, EXTRA-ILLUSTATED with the folding lithographed map (24.5 x 23.5 cm) and 24 full-page hand-coloured lithographic plates from subsequent London editions of the book bound in at rear; modern light brown crushed morocco bearing gilt title to spine and the gilt image of a stag’s head to both covers (Very Good, overall clean, just a few very minor stains and light even toning to Bombay text with stab-holes visible in gutter from former binding, looseleaf map clean and bright and mounted upon archival Japan backing with upper left neatline slightly trimmed and some minor wear along old folds, hand-coloured plates clean and bright with resplendent colours, binding pristine) (#70415 – 70476).

A bespoke example of Captain William Cornwallis Harris’ fascinating and important account of his 1836-7 expedition to the Transvaal, featuring the complete collation of the first edition, published in Bombay in 1838, with 4 plates lithographed by the author, plus, his excellent and important map, plus, extra-illustrated by 24 resplendently hand-colored lithographed plates and the map from the subsequent London editions; Harris was sent on a diplomatic-scientific mission to the Transvaal by the Bombay Medical Board, whereupon he witnessed the ‘Great Trek’ of the Afrikaners, had an audience with the great Ndebele King Mzilikazi; while mapping the enigmatic countryside and sketching and hunting the region’s famous Big-Game before it was depleted by modern exploitation; a landmark work on South Africa, safaris, ethnography and zoology of the highveld, from the library of Admiral Sir Thomas Hastings, the famed British gunnery instructor.

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During the 1830s the region of Southern Africa that would become the Transvaal (roughly today’s South African provinces of Gauteng, Northwest, Limpopo and Mpumalanga) was a vast and magnificent land of astounding ecological diversity and wealth, as well as being the theatre of a great clash of civilizations.  The northern part of this region was the centre of the great indigenous nation of the Ndebele people, who had spread their control down from Zimbabwe.  They were led by their epic monarch Mzilikazi (aka Moselekatse) (c. 1790 –1868), who in 1840 consolidated his territory as the Kingdom of Matabeleland.  They battled their rivals, and neighbours the southeast, the Zulus, led by the great prince Dingane (aka Dingaan) (c. 1795–1840).

Into this realm of powerful indigenous states, came waves of Afrikaner emigrants, departing what they saw as the oppressive British rule in the Cape Colony.  Commencing with ‘The Great Trek’ [Die Groot Trek] (1836-40), the voortrekkers sough to carve out agrarian settlements in the Transvaal, battling both the Ndebele and Zulus.  Intrepid, but very brutal, Afrikaner commando parties penetrated the region, variously led by Pieter Mauritz Retief, Gerrit Maritz, Andries Hendrik Potgieter and Louis Johannes Tregardt.  Notably, at the Battle of Mosega (January 17, 1837), voortrekker commando forces led by Potgieter and Maritz sacked Mzilikazi’s capital, killing over 1,000 of his warriors, taking 6,000 of his cattle, and compelling him to move his base of operations to Kapian.  During the same period, both the Ndebele and Zulus mounted stealth raids upon Afrikaner settlements and travel parties, resulting in great massacres in what would become Transvaal and Natal, the most known of which was Piet Retief Delegation Massacre (February 6, 1838) at the hands of Dingane’s Zulu warriors.  The overall situation was thus extremely tense and unpredictable.

Juxtaposed against the chaotic human environment, the highveld of the northern Transvaal was still a largely unspoiled paradise of animal life, with vast herds of Big-Game remaining in their traditional form, undiminished since ancient times.

While the voortrekkers and a few, principally British, explorers made some decent reconnaissance and sketch maps of key travel corridors, for the most part the northern Transvaal largely remained an enigma to Europeans.

Meanwhile, the Bombay Presidency of the British East India Company (EIC), which maintained a vague imperial oversight of affairs in southeastern Africa, decided to take a more hands-on approach to the situation in the Transvaal.  They were weary of the voortrekkers and their supposed desire to create an Afrikaner empire in the heart of Southern Africa.  They were also curious about the nature of the Ndebele nation, and the potential of opening fruitful diplomatic/trading relations with them.

Enter William Cornwallis Harris: Pathfinder and Big Game Hunter on the Highveld

Captain (later Major Sir) William Cornwallis Harris (1807 – 1848) was an English military man of uncommon energy and powers of observation.  A native of Kent, he attended the EIC’s academy, the Addiscombe Military Seminary, gaining accreditation as an engineer.  He headed to India in 1823, joining the Bombay Engineers.  A life-long ‘gun nut’ he was an obsessive hunter, and his various postings in rural Western India afforded him the opportunity to bag many impressive trophies.  While trigger happy and certainly responsible for killing an unnecessarily large number of creatures (even by the liberal standards of the day), he was nevertheless a keen observer of wildlife and a skilled amateur artist whose portrayals of creatures in their natural environment was widely acclaimed.

Harris’ reputation as a great frontiersman, cartographer and intelligence operative endeared him to the senior civil and scientific establishment of Western India.  In 1836, the Bombay Medical Board sent him on a mission to explore the Transvaal, to gain an assessment of the activities and ambitions of the voortrekkers, as well as of Mzilikazi and his court, a tall order, especially as these two parties were mortal enemies.  He was also to assess the natural wonders of the region, including its famed Big-Game animals, as well as charting the terrain to fill in some of the many blanks that still existed on the maps of the region.  It was an extremely dangerous assignment, but an exciting one, and Harris is recorded as being almost overwhelmed with enthusiasm for his new adventure.

In June 1836, Harris disembarked at Cape Town, where he met and gained valuable knowledge from Dr. Andrew Smith, the eminent ethnologist and zoologist, who had recently returned from an expedition to the northwestern Transvaal, where he met Mzilikazi at his capital Mosega.  Also, on his way to the Cape, Harris met, by chance, William Richardson, an intrepid official of the Bombay Civil Service, who he invited to join his expedition.

Harris then continued to Grahamstown, in the eastern Cape Colony, which was to be the staging point for his trek, whereupon he met the legendary Scottish ivory trader and explorer David Hume (1796 – 1864), who had already mounted several expeditions into the northern Transvaal, as well as being one of the first Europeans to meet Mzilikazi, back in 1829.  The intelligence he gained from Hume proved invaluable.

Harris organized his expedition essentially as a Big-Game hunting trip, with his diplomatic-espionage responsibilities being done ‘on the fly’.

The Harris expedition headed up to Graaf Reinet, in the northeast of the Cape Colony and into the highveld, across the Orange River to Kuruman.  There Harris met Robert Moffat, a frontiersman who was good friend of Mzilikazi, and who provided stellar advice on how to treat with the Ndebele king.

Harris next encountered several settlements and parties of voortrekkers, some of which he lived with for a time, gaining fascinating insights into their daily lives and their political and military objectives.  He then travelled up to Kapain, Mzilikazi’s new provisional capital, whereupon he was received with great hospitality by the king, who greatly impressed Harris as a brave and noble leader.  He then travelled up towards the Limpopo Valley, and then back down to Graaf Reinet, concluding an epic voyage.

All along the way, Harris mapped his itinerary, while gaining geographical intelligence of the wider region from other sources, deveoping a new and highly valuable mapping of the region.  Gripped by “shooting madness”, he killed almost anything that moved.  At the Meritsane River he found a great herd of quaggas and and many as 15,000 brindled ‘gnoos’.  He shot an eland and was set upon by a lion, but amazingly escaped without major injury.  Traversing the Mariqua River, he stalked white rhinoceros and ostriches.  In the Cashan Mountains, he hunted elephants, while in the Limpopo Valley, he encountered buffalo, hippopotamus, giraffe, black rhinoceros, sable, and lion.

While many today might find Harris; mass killings of great African animals to be acts of horrific barbarity, he neverthelss constantly sketched the creatures he encountered with a keen eye to accuracy, capturing their vigour and majesty in a way seldom rivaled.  His artworks and the specimens he collected were imbued with tremendous value by scientists in Bombay and London.  Harris’s observations on both the Afrikaners and the Ndebele, as well as his mapping of the Transvaal, ensured that his superiors in Bombay considered his mission to have been a great diplomatic-espionage success.  Consequently, the Bombay Presidency charged Harris to lead an important scientific-diplomatic mission to Ethiopia, from 1841 to 1843, to negotiate a commercial treaty with Emperor Sahle Sellassie.

Harris’ Expedition Account: The Present Work in Focus


Upon Harris’s return to Bombay in early 1838, he commenced work on the publication of the present book, a Narrative of an Expedition into Southern Africa, which is significant for being one of the best and most authentic accounts of the Great Trek and early voortrekker life, its impression of Mzilikazi and the Ndebele court, as well as being one of the first great books on African hunting safaris.  For the work, Harris prepared a magnificent map of eastern South Africa, depicting his travel route and much other fascinating information, plus personally engraving four of his field sketches onto stone, to be lithographed.  The engagingly written text details Harris’s exciting adventures, including his time with the voortrekkers, his audience with Mzilikazi, stories of the many regional conflicts, ethnographic observations, as well as riveting accounts of his big-game hunts.  As Kenneth Czech writes, “Harris’ work is valuable as it presents a detailed picture of the South African game fields prior to the growing pressure of civilization. A cornerstone title in the essential African sporting library.”


Four subsequent editions of the work were published in London, under a different title, The Wild Sports of Southern Africa, with very similar text, issued in 1839, 1841, 1844 and 1852.  The 1839 edition featured a small number of dull monochrome plates, while the third to firth editions featured 26 resplendently hand-coloured lithographed plates, that proved wildly popular with the British upper classes.

The present bespoke example of Harris’ work was assembled for or by Admiral Sir Thomas Hastings (1790 – 1870), a British naval officer known for his great intellect and as one of the world’s most innovative an influential gunnery instructors (the half-title features his mss. inscription of “Sir Thos. Hastings, R. Naval College”).  It includes the complete contents of the first, and only Bombay edition, issued in 1838 by the American Mission Press, but is also extra-illustrated.  The 4 lithographed plates issued in Bombay are each labeled as ‘On Stone by W.C. Harris’ and possess a beautifully crude colonial quality; they include:

  1. Moselekatse.King of the Amazooloo(Frontispiece)


  1. Elands, and Game Scene (between pp.74-5)


  1. Matabili Warrior. (between pp. 168-9)


  1. [Giraffes] (between pp. 228-9)


The original Bombay edition of Harris’ magnificent map, Africa, North East of the Cape Colony, exhibiting the relative positions of the Emigrant Farmers and the Native Tribes / May 1837. By W.C. Harris, Captain Engineers. (53 x 44 cm), which is here folded looseleaf at the end of the work, is one of the finest and most intriguing early maps of the Transvaal, featuring many new discoveries made by Harris (ex. his discovery of the source of the Marique River, one of the tributaries of the Limpopo, etc.), while compiling geographical intelligence from several different authoritative sources.  Notably, it is one of the first documents to chart the spatial relationship between the Afrikaners, the Ndebele and Zulus during the tumultuous and transformative period of the 1830s.


The map delineates all major rivers (as best as was known), labels tribal lands, notes the locations in many Christian Missionary stations, indigenous villages and Afrikaner outposts.  The British-held territories, in ‘Graaf Reinet’(Cape Colony) and the ‘Victoria’ district (later Natal), with the city of ‘D’Urban (Durban, founded 1824), are shaded in pink, with the hotly disputed regions extending beyond, while the map reaches almost as far north as the 21st  parallel South.  Various itinerary routes are marked on the map, being: Blue Line = ‘Captain Harris’ route 1836 and 1837; Pink Line = ‘Route of Maritz’s Commando’ 1836-7 and that of ‘Bronkhorst and others’ (being the route of the voortrekker Johannes Gerhardus Stephanus Bronkhorst); Green Line = David Hume’s routes, 1830-5.  The map also features numerous fascinating notes on places and contemporary incidents, including: ‘Thaba Unchu, Maritz’s camp’; ‘Mosega and 15 Kraals destroyed by Maritz commando, 17th January 1837’; ‘Kapain, residence of Moselekatse’; ‘Great Camp of Emigrants under Piet Retief’; ‘Emigrant farmers attacked here 29th Octr. 1836’; ‘BaMakaria Cannibals’; ‘Battle between Moselekatse & Dingaan’; and ‘Residence of Dingaan’.

The text is rounded out with a zoological index, ‘Ferae Naturae’, describing in detail all the major animals Harris encountered, some of which were scarcely known to Europeans; a list of subscribers that contains 409 entries, featuring mostly Anglo Indian and Indian names; and a prospectus for Harris’ ‘Portraits of Game and Wild Animals of Southern Africa’ (a book was what eventually published, in London, in 1840).

Not only does the present bespoke example of Harris’ work includes all the contents of the 1838 Bombay edition but is extra-illustrated with the map and 24 (of 26) of the magnificent full-page, hand-coloured lithographed plates from the London editions of 1841, 1844 and 1852 (it does not feature the first 2 London plates: I. Moselekatse, King of the Amazooloo (Frontispiece) and II. Vignette Title Page).  The London edition of the Harris map (24.5 x 23.5 cm) is essentially a greatly reduced version of his map from the Bombay edition.

The London edition plates present within the present bespoke example include:  III. Andries Africander, A Mulatto Hottentot; IV. The Gnoo; V. The High Road to Kuruman; VI. Bechuana of Distinction; VII. Bechuana Belle; VIII. Burchell’s Zebra, and Brindled Gnoo; IX. Hunting at Meritsane; X. The Sassaybe and Hartebeest; XI. Driving in an Eland; XII. Departure from Mosega; XIII. Truey, The Griqua Maid; XIV. The White Rhinoceros; XV. ‘Lingap, A Matabili Warrior; XVI. Aigocerus Ellipsiprymnus; XVII. Hunting the Wild Buffalo; XVIII. Hunting the Wild Elephant; XIX. Shooting The Hippopotamus; XX. Hunting The Giraffe; XXI. The Black Rhinoceros; XXII. Aigocerus Niger; XXIII. Bechuana Hunting the Lion; XXIV. Hunting The Blesbok; XXV. Hunting The Ostrich; and the XXVI. The Pretty Bushgirl.

References: Library of Congress: DT756 .H3 1838; OCLC: 896736127; ABBEY Travel 333; Kenneth CZECH, Bibliography of African Big Game Hunting Books 1785 -1999, p. 118-9; Sydney MENDELSSOHN, South African Bibliography, vol. 1, pp. 688-90.