The English naturalist William Burchell arrived in Cape Town in June 1811 to explore the flora and fauna of the vast southern African interior. Over a four-year period, and travelling in a custom-built ox wagon, he amassed an astonishing 63,000 specimens of plants, bulbs, insects, reptiles and mammals – many not previously documented for science – as well as over 500 paintings and illustrations.
While the outbound trek is well described in Burchell's famous Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, little has been published about the challenges and discoveries made on his return journey to Cape Town, from 1812–1815. This pioneering book traces the homeward leg of Burchell's epic odyssey – through the arid northern Cape, the Great Karoo, the warravaged eastern Cape, and along the Eden-like southern Cape coast.
Drawing on primary and secondary sources, including Burchell's letters and the detailed map he created to record his trek, the authors have crafted a thought-provoking and beautifully illustrated account that encompasses both the genius of the man and the natural history of the region that so intrigued him.
Roger Stewart has been researching the life of Burchell for 15 years. He is a truant from medicine, academic clinical physiology and commercial business, and currently researches and publishes on African maps and their associated history. His collection of essays inspired by maps, A Cape Odyssey, was published in 2021, and his curated collections of miniature maps have been acquired by the University of South Afria (Unisa) and Stanford University Library. He deals in historical maps of Africa, and is a representative of the International Map Collectors' Society in South Africa, Chair of the Friends of the Cape Medical Museum and Cape Bibliophile Society, and a member of the Washington Map Society and the Royal Society of Southern Africa.
Marion Whitehead is an author, travel writer and freelance photojournalist with a keen interest in natural and cultural history. She first followed Burchell's tracks while working as assistant editor at Getaway magazine and has subsequently traced parts of his journeywhile researching articles for other magazine. She is also the author of South Africa's Favourite Passes & Poorts and Visitor's Guide: Flower Route. A dedicated gardener, she is a member of the Botanical Society of South Africa and the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa.