HUMAN DETERMINATION OVER THE LOSS OF SIGHT – Dr Dawn Gould

(The Enteprize, a ship James Holman traveled in to arrive at the Cape)

In the lives of many people there will be times when something overwhelming will need strength of character to rise above events relating to matters emotional, physical or medical.  Such one individual was James Holman.

Over the past centuries the Cape Peninsula has had its fair share of overseas visitors eager to see what the country had to offer but one of the more unusual visitors was James Holman.  He was born in Britain in 1786 and died there in 1857. In 1789 he joined the Royal Navy becoming a lieutenant in 1807.  Unfortunately Holman’s sight began to deteriorate and he had to retire in 1810.  Blindness changed his lifestyle – he referred to it as the “quietude of life”.  This did not stop him from trying to find a way to once more enjoying long distance sea travel. Given his determination and personality this eventually happened. He wanted to live as full a life as was possible. However, he was fortunate in the agreement of ships captains to accept him as an unaccompanied passenger.  In this way he traveled to various parts of the world including the Cape Colony. He appears to have been a personable man whom most people wanted to help.  He designed a writing pad for himself and then got others to transcribe his notes.  His curiosity was huge and again his companions always seemed to have gone to tremendous lengths to describe in great detail the scenes around them.

In December 1822 when the ship in which he had a berth reached the naval port of Simon’s Bay, he lost no time in finding the house which would be his immediate quarters.  He made time to dine with the Reverend M Sturt at Rocklands “a polished and agreeable gentleman”, met that most enterprising of men John Osmond, explored Simon’s Town and then together with the Reverend Fry made his way on horseback to Cape Town.  Their horses were watered and fed at the inn of Simon and John Peck, Muizenberg.  He described the road from Muizenberg to Cape Town as broad, flat and in excellent order.  The 22 miles were covered in a little more than three hours.

His comparison of Cape Town weather as sultry and oppressive to that of Simon’s Town as moderate and agreeable is an example of the weather differences that can be experienced in various parts of the Peninsula.  In no time at all he had called on the Governor Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, visited Mr D G van Reenen at his brewery at Papenboom, Newlands and found the homestead to be far superior to that of the Governor’s residence at Newlands.  Again Holman makes reference to the climate finding Newlands to be so much cooler than the other parts of the Cape Peninsula he had visited.

Soon after this confident man returned to the naval port, he visited Cape Point accompanied by John and James Osmond.   Everything that was described to him he remembered or made notes – the baboons, the piles of shells, the remains of fires, the large and slippery rocks, the caves and his feeling of security in his sense of touch.  After reaching the Point the group made their way back by horseback to the senior Mr Osmond’s farm.

On another occasion, with van Reenen and John Freshfield (Versfeld) of Klaasenbosch, he set off by horseback in an attempt to reach the top of Table Mountain.  One gathers that the route had previously been repaired, cleared of stones and other obstacles.  He was successful in this attempt and once more his companions described the rock rabbits seen and spoor of what was referred to as hyena and wolf.  Holman visited the Cloete farm Groot Constantia, the Colyn’s at Klein Constantia and the van Reenen farm High Constantia – relatives of the van Reenen of Papenboom.  He walked among the vineyards, tasted the wines giving it much praise. Later he also journeyed to Swellendam, Mossel Bay, George, Knysna and various other parts of the Cape.

Without a doubt James Holman, with the aid of many generous people, managed to live as full a life as was possible.