François Le Vaillant - Journey into the Interior of Africa

29 May 2017
François Le Vaillant - Journey into the Interior of Africa



Le Vaillant 2.1

Le Vaillant 4

 Le Vaillant 3



  • What route did he follow? 
  • What was his purpose?
  • Where did he go?  
  • How long was he gone?


Le Vaillant 1.1

CT: Dec 1781 – Pampoen Kraal: April 1782 – Plettenberg Bay: June/July 1782 – Cookhouse: Oct/Dec 1782 – CT: Mar 1783


'…the green and natural bower of Pampoen Kraal’

•He reaches ‘the last outpost of the Company’. ‘This is the African horn of plenty.’
•He falls into an elephant trap, a ‘mishap from which the heavens might not have saved me as they saved the young Daniel’.
•On a fishing trip he took ‘everything I thought might be useful for the miracle of the fishes. Once on the shore … we cast our nets several times, but to no avail’.
•‘Now at last I was about to escape man’s dominion entirely and return a little to the conditions of his primitive origin.’
Le Vaillant 6

Plettenberg Bay

‘On one journey which the Governor of the Cape, Blettenberg [sic], took in this area, he insisted that his name and the day of the year of his arrival be engraved on a stone column. I looked at this pathetic monument which only wanted a few lines of verse inscribed on it to make it even more contemptible.’
‘This is one of the places where the government should establish shipyards and warehouses for timber.’
‘In addition, this highly fertile soil, once exploited, would offer the hope of better crops and attract intelligent colonists…’
‘These wishes, so contrary to their policy, will, happily, not come to fruition. It is up to the Company to establish a fine settlement there.’
Le Vaillant 7


Hottentots at Koks Kraal, pp. 28-114

‘Such are these peoples, or such at least have they appeared to me, innocent in their manners and their pastoral way of life.

  • Dwellings
  • Clothing
  • Child-rearing
  • Marriage customs
  • Weapons
  • Food
  • Animals & cattle sicknesses
  • Medicines
  • Funeral rites
  • Social structure
  • Dancing, music and singing
  • Physical features
  • Superstitions
  • Language


Visitors from Caffraria, pp. 134-46 and pp. 205-17 

‘I spent that entire day talking with these Caffres about anything of interest to me concerning their manners, their customs, their religion, their tastes, their resources

  • Cattle
  • Metalworking
  • Physical features
  • Clothing
  • Dwellings
  • Superstitions
  • Social Structure
  • Food
  • Weapons
  • Marriage customs
  • Music
  • Funeral rites
Le Vaillant 8

Peter Kolbe, 1731


An Age of Classification: Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias 

Chambers: Cyclopaedia, 1728
Buffon, Natural History, 1749-1804
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1768-71 
Le Vaillant 9

The Encyclopédie … of sciences, arts and skills, 1751-76

Le Vaillant, Natural History of the Birds of Africa (1799-1808)

Le Vaillant 13

Crested barbet (Trachyphonus vaillantii)


Le Vaillant 12

Bateleur Eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus)

Le Vaillant 11

Le Vaillant 10

Male and Female Racial Types: similarities and differences


Monogenism and Migration Buffon, Theory of the Earth  (1749); The Epochs of Nature (1778)

Le Vaillant 17Le Vaillant 16Le Vaillant 15Le Vaillant 14



Sentiment: the expression of emotion


As he leaves Koks Kraal to begin the return journey:

‘My good friends, my true friends, I will never see you again!... Whatever may be the cause of the tender feelings that you have sworn to me, be at peace; their source is no purer in Europe than among you; be at peace, no force can weaken the memory of them. Full of confidence in my farewells, my sorrows and my tears, you will perhaps have awaited me for a long time! In your calamities your naïve simplicity will perhaps have brought you more than once back to the beloved places where we met, where we rejoiced. You will have sought me in vain; in vain will you have called for my help, I will not have been able to comfort you or defend you! Immense countries separate us for ever… Forget me. Do not allow a vain hope to trouble the tranquillity of your lives; that idea would be the torment of my life. I have picked up once more the chains of society; I will die, like many others, burdened by their enormous weight. But I will at least be able to exclaim in my final hour: ‘My name is already fading among my own kind, whilst the imprint of my footsteps can still be seen among the Gonaquas!’

Le Vaillant 18

Rousseau, Julie, or the New Heloise, 1761



Sentiment: the return to Nature 

He reaches an outlying homestead on his return journey: 

‘Dare I admit that their kindness and their tender thoughtfulness was received coldly by my heart, oppressed as it was by a thousand different feelings. I was almost seeing once more the manners and customs of the world; I was returning to society; I saw again fields, furniture, possessions, order, masters; in a word, I was on a smallholding. Such ease and comfort was a burden to me. An involuntary urge dragged me from the place; I went around it several times, my eyes wandering this way and that, as though looking for the road I had lost. I cursed the house with my groans and surrounded it, if I may express myself in this way, with my sighs. Everything was fleeing away, the rivers, the mountains, the majestic forests, the tribes of savages and their charming huts, everything was fleeing from me. I felt a longing for everything, even the wild beasts whom I invested, in that moment, with feelings of familiarity and goodwill towards me. I do not know if such bizarre ideas are common to all men, but the more I think about it the more I feel that they belong to Nature.’



Le Vaillant 19Rousseau: Emile, or On Education (1762)     

Did Le Vaillant cross the Great Fish River?
Vernon Forbes, ‘Le Vaillant’s Travels in South Africa, 1781-4’ 

The purpose of the journey:

  • To meet Phalo, paramount chief of the Xhosa (died 1775), and bring and end to hostilities with the settlers (First Frontier War, 1779-81);
  • To search for survivors of the Grosvenor, wrecked 4 August 1782 (almost 450 km due east)


  • Geographical difficulties
  • Chronological difficulties
  • Narrative difficulties
  • Textual difficulties

Le Vaillant 21Le Vaillant 20



Le Vaillant: author of the Travels?


•Le Vaillant: ‘I…set down in my journal the result of my researches regarding this country and its peoples.’
•Sérieys: Casimir Varon edited the journals ‘before my very eyes, based on the original manuscript, composed of several folio notebooks’ (1814).


•Born and raised in Dutch-speaking Surinam of French parents. How good was his French?
•‘I took my first steps in the wilderness and was born almost savage.’ How good was his education?


•References to Graeco-Roman culture: Herodotus, Orpheus, Homer, Pliny, Heliodorus, etc, etc.
•Revolutionary fervour: ‘In a country where all people are born equal, provided they are men, all ranks are necessarily equal, or rather, there are no ranks.’
Le Vaillant 22

‘It was, as they say, the painter moving out.’ Etienne Jeaurat, The Painter Moving Out (c. 1757

Style: Le Vaillant’s ‘flowery verbiage’ (Vernon Forbes)

Esprit: wit and gallantry 

  • When visiting Haabas’s kraal, ‘I might just as well have left my visiting card with the ladies, for I was received by none of them’.
  • The Hottentot woman, who is not familiar with amber, musk or benzoin is equally unfamiliar with vapours, spasms and migraine.’
  • ‘If these [women] had been able to read, and if they had been taught from the books of etiquette read by our ladies of fashion that the simplest way to resist temptation is to give way to it, […]my ruin would have been complete.’
  • ‘The female [cuckoo] is more cunning [than the male], and caused me to lose a lot of time in pursuing her; her tricks, which I could compare to those of a coquette, continually found ways to deceive my expectation.’  
Le Vaillant 23

Narina: ‘the sensual curves of her body could have made her a model for the brush of Albani’


The Legacy: François ‘le vaillant’?


  • At least 7 French editions of the Travels in Le Vaillant’s lifetime
  • Translations: English, German, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Italian
  • Ecole François Le Vaillant – Cape Town
  • Le Vaillant Street – Plettenberg Bay
Le Vaillant 24

Frontispiece, Travels into the Interior of Africa, Vol. 1

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