Dutch people haved travelled al over the world. During the age of seafaring nations the Dutch sailors travelled far and near. There has been long relationship with what is now Indonesia. And ofcourse the relationship with South Africa, the southern tip of this place was used as a stepping stone for the journey to the East Indies. At the Cape the ships could get fresh water and vegetables and meat. More and more people stayed at the Cape and expansions took place and travellers moved inland to look for places to live and new areas to ‘discover’.
One of the Dutchmen who travelled inland was Robert Jacon Gordon. His family name does not sound Dutch, for this man had strong Scottish roots. He started walking in the vast expanse north of Cape Town. He walked in the second half of the 18th century, when the vast expanse was still vast and often empty, with some travelling nomadic groups.
Gordon was an army man and a diplomat. He knew the important people of his days in Cape Town and he was able to mingle with them and also with the traditional leaders.
In this book several of his journeys have been described in a wonderful way. Gordon kept notes, very detailed notes of his meetings with people, with wild animals (for instance the first time he saw a giraf), beautiful birds. He made beautiful drawings of what he saw and encounters. His maps and his drawings have been collected in the ‘Atlas Gordon’, this book can be seen at the Nationa Museum in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).
In later life Gordon made some akward choices ion his political career. He chose the side of the British, who wanted to take over power in Cape Town. His position in town became more and more isolated. He ran a private museum where he displayed his findings during many travels. He entertained guests and told many stories about his adventures. Gordon was in contact with the House of Oranje in the Lowlands and sent specimen of his findings to augment the collection of the House of Orange. Partly due tyo his isolated position Gordon decide to end his life by his own hands. His widow and children lefrt for England, later on she moved on to Switzerland. His three sons all sought an army career. His first two sons were killed in action., his third son married a Dutch lady and settled in Amsterdam. The fourth son became a member of the papal Swiss Guard.
This book is a beautiful account of a man with many qualities who liked to travel. It is also an account of his surroundings and political changes.
Luc Panhuysen – Een Nederlander in de wildernis. De ontdekkingsreizen van Robert Jan Gordon (1743-1795) in Zuid-Afrika – Amsterdam 2010 – 189 pages