Correspondence of Peter MacOwan and G. W. Clinton, Part 2c
Edited by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
October 8, 2009
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The Correspondence of

Peter MacOwan (1830 - 1909) and

George William Clinton (1807 ‑ 1885): Part 2c


Edited by P. M. Eckel, P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; email:



Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) near Groot Okevi, Etosha, Namibia. Photo by Hans Hillewaert: Wikimedia Commons.



PART TWO C: Final Letter


Vol. 11 no. 182 [J 73 & 72 two sheets of paper]

Gill Coll., Somerset East, Cape of G. H.

21 Dec. 1876


To the Hon. Judge Clinton: Buffalo

 My dear Friend,


Doubtless on seeing my handwriting you have taken a long breath, as one who is trapped and taken, set to listen to a poet's new epic, a lecture on the Lost Tribes or the last derivative of tri-chloro-methylammonium. Confess however that it is but once in a way, and that if long-winded, I practise the virtue of silence for eighteen months at a time. In this case however the virtue does not deserve much praise, for nothing has kept me from breaking silence incontinently but very poor health and very constant college work, preventing the shipment of a rudis indigestaque moles (1) of things for your Society's Museum. But let this day be marked with a white stone. I began in the early hours, not much after dawn, putting together this & the other trigle (2) long ago intended for you & tonight can report progress. The box is full, closed, directed & will soon be afloat, if Providence sends the usual sort of liberal-minded American skipper to Algoa Bay (3).


[paragr] I have not been very lucky with birds lately: for lack of leisure some dozen skins have gotten the moth into them & are condemned - there are therefore only two specimens of our brown owl (4) sent this time. Then come a few fairish horns, wanting fine sand paper followed by a couple of coats of varnish. The clumsy detached pair belong to the hartebeest, Alcephalus Caama Pr. (5): The lyre-bent pair, annularly ridged is a specially fine sp. of spring buck, Antidorcas Euchore Prd.(6) doubt if you will see larger ones. The remaining pair belong to the Bushbuck (7) and tho' larger than commonly seen, are no rarity. I have 5 or 6 pairs of all sizes. The smallness of the box precludes sending a lovely pair of Koodoo (8), the spiral Strepsiceros  [small, elegant drawing of a horned animal's head] near 3 ft. long. After worrying these horns out, you'll come upon a veritable Caput Apri (9) a skull of a young Boschbuck (10). I shot this gentleman some 5 or 6 years ago. He is only a youngster as you will see from the teeth, wh. pro tem. (11) are kept in with plaster of Paris. However there is, besides, the lower jaw of his venerable father, to exhibit the paternal "razors" with wh. he was wont to teach adventurous puppies to keep their distance. The incisors of the little one are ruined by a fall, but with the oldster's jaw you may make a show for the present.


[paragr] Close by is a couple of seed vessels of Uncaria procumbens Burck, the "Grapple Plant", (12) an indehiscent capsule wh. requires that a buck shall tread upon its artful elastic hooks, be caught, & limp away in pain to its death in order that the seeds may be trampled out & puddled into the earth. Please, as the showman says, notice the short nail like spines that hold the trap in situ. It is the finest piece of diabolically intentional cruelty out! Should the too celebrated Slade (13), or any other medium ever be able to summon the Rev. Moral Philosphy Paley (14) from the Shades at my bidding I should certainly like to dumbfounder his universal benevolence argument with a glance at this truly infernal machine.  There are 2 species; U. Burchellii is smaller & without the second or lower hook & is designed for the torture & slow death of smaller antelopes (15). Then you have a lump of "Hyraceum", (16) a curious menstrual deposit of the female Dassie (Hyrax capensis) wh. is colonially used as a substitute for Castoreum (17), & sub rosa (sapientibus loquor)(18) is given as an aphrodisiac when S. Afr. Boredom thinks the little boers are long in coming. Pereira (19) has a paper on it in the Pharmaceut. Journal (20) . It is beastly stuff. Poor Daniel Hamburg [sp.?] (21) to whom I sent a lump some years ago told me that a cask of it was offered in Mincing Lane (22), but "he was happy to say no bids were gotten". Next is a sample of native Madder (Rubia petiolaris) (23) from wh. fairist reds & purples can be got. It is not cultivated.


{paragr] The fungi are only numbered - names will follow on publication of Kalchbrenner's memoir on them in the Hungarian Acad. of Sciences (24), not long delayed. The canister has a sp. of Sarcophyte sanguinea Sparrm. (25) a most extraordinary parasite on roots of Acacia horrida W. (26).I have only the [female plant: Venus sign]. If it arrives whole, wh. is somewhat problematical, your curator should dip it in a weak brandy solution of corrosive sublimate & dry quickly. It is otherwise as subject as a Polyporus to acari (27). I haven't just now got the still more curious Hydnora (28), but will try & secure it. By the bye Sarcophyte  is  detestably carrion-scented, while growing. Scald it, or immerse in Mercuri Chloridi & the odour dissolves. There is a bad figure in Linnaea (29) V. 2. made from old Wehdeman's (30) drawing.  


[Paragr] Below this you have our colonial Toad [Venus or female sign and another - a Mars or male sign?] (Dactylethra) (31) & two nice C. millemaenlates [sp.?] (32) A tin cannister holds a general gathering of lizard snakes (33).  Please cut the bottom off clean, like a can of oysters. The beasties will never come out of the hole thro' wh. they entered. (Mem. (34) The spirit is good & strong & will serve again.).


[paragr] Then there is a little packet of Palaeolithic implements, rudibus simillima signis (35), such documents as the Bosjesman Deucalion (36) might have pitched over his brown shoulder and seen spring up in his own dwarfish likeness. The pierced hammer stone is figured by Burchell (37) as used by the Bakalari (38) merely to add weight to their digging-sticks wherewith they get edible roots. But it is inconceivable that so mortal a weapon as this hammer would prove if run out to the end of a suitable stick and whirled at an antelope or a struysvogel (39) could long remain undiscovered by even the rude South-African Adam. Moreover the typical weapon of the country is the "Kerrie" (40), carved as I think, exactly from the model of this hammer & stick. This is the idea [small drawing of a stick tipped with a round object] There is room for discussion whether on the migration of Bosjesman humanity to a sylvestral veldt, where grew hard-wooded trees in plenty & fit for Kerrie-making, he relinquished the pierced boulder wh. cost him months of patient boring with a stick and sand, in favour of the lighter tougher, less deadly but more easily replaceable missile - or whether, originally belonging to [second sheet] woodland and driven by Sonqua (41) i.e. Hottentot Adam into the desert, he relieved his mind by making stone Kerries instead of the original wooden ones. I go in hot for hypothesis number one and even think sometimes that from the comparative common-ness of these hammers they could not be very difficult to make. Certainly, with stick & sand, the drilling must have been excuse the pun, it is inevitable, an awful bore & one not lightly to be undertaken. Granted, that once drilled, the hammer would become a [Greek notation: ktema es aei (42)] joy for ever, bushmannically speaking, and like a hair of the great Julius (43) would be bequeathed to the driller's children and assigns like a rich legacy.


[paragr] Still there are too many of them altogether for the stick & sand theory, and when fairly off on speculation's airy wing I humbug myself with a semi-belief that these blessed Bosjesinans had actually discovered diamonds (44) and anticipated Smith's Patent Howitzer Rock Drill (45) with its teeth of adamantine bort. If so, Smith's cake is burnt & his patent is naught. I have seen nothing resembling Neolithic work or any indubitable chipping to improve the edges given to the spaulls by that one first and final stroke, the coup de maitre that created them.


[paragr] But do you know how Bosjesinan Adam made them? No? then in return for the correct tip on the Nepeta (46), at wh. carelessness, oversight, what you will, I have blushed celestial rosy red half a dozen times, I'll tell you how to make Palaeoliths; the said how having been discovered at a dismal pic/nic years ago, when in company with several seniors in sere & yellow leaf smoking as they sat for want of thought we watched the young folks fulfilling their destiny. Having hammered vainly at the intellects of my neighbours in quest of an idea, I turned to the more interesting stones & practised spaull-making, with equally indifferent success. Whether by inspiration, whatever that is, or by what the thoughtless call Chance, I thought of hitting a second time, employing a tough dolerite pebble as the intermediate corpus vile (47). For mark you, it won't do to use a round edged steel punch & mallet: A. B. had none, and one must start fair on the Adamic ticket. So I broke out the middle prong of a fork that lay handy, wedged the much enduring pebble into the space left open, thus [side view of a three-tined fork-drawing, a pebble residing between the remaining tines] and laying him on the block of hard chert where a nice angle projected [drawing of the angle] fetched him an awful vicarious thump with a 3 lb. boulder. Enge! quod erat faciendum! (48) off flew the spaull - the precise Palaeolithic thing minus only the basal thinning to receive the reed-stem. Of course the next thing was to alter the process slightly - spaul off a tiny flake first for the thinning, then slip the pebble backwards and repeat the whack fortissimo. But alas! in my childish delight at having turned the Bosjesman inside out, I incautiously exhibited the process, and discoursed most excellent anthropology, when ehew! down upon me swooped the matronly unscientific & un-sympathetic owner of the fork then in my hand, caught flagrante delicto, manibus rubris (49). There was not even time to slip it into the nearest deacon's coat-tail pocket. Abashed the lecturer stood, feeling very small & heartily wishing he was a Bosjesman for the nonce, & venturing the clumsy apology that it was only a steel fork & of little value, was shut up & rendered speechless by the retort - "steel or no steel, it had no any call to be stole!" But split a stick to do duty for a fork, and pinch the pebble in the clefts, like naughty boys serve the tail of the deacon's dog when they want to hear its owner swear - and the Palaeolithic tip is complete.


[paragr] I haven't many fungi to send. Kalchbrenner & Thuemen (50) have stripped me so utterly. The former is to publish a memoir shortly - there will be over 250 perhaps 300 species. Thuemen has already distributed some curiosa in his Mycotheca Universalis. One remarkable thalloid proposed I describe as a new Lysurus (51), L Tuckii, Kalchbrenner said Aseroe (52) potius (53)- Berkeley (54) says neither. Novum genus " Kalchbrennera Tuckii" (55). I am gratified at being so honourably extinguished. The sight of a figure of either Lysurus or Aseroe, would have saved me. I have since seen Roumeguere's (56) faint outlines & even those would have done. Alas for books on fungi, Sowerby (57) fetches 15 [a currency sign: pounds?] so Quarisch [sp?] says. It might as well fetch 50 [pound sign] as [15 currency sign] for botanists are never overladen with this world's riches, at least in Africa. Or if you'll excuse the questionable, .... Latinity -


Dat Salernus opes, dat Quintilianus honores;

Sed "Genus et Species" cogitur ire pedes.


Suppose we say -

Gaily the Doctors and Lawyers along in their carriages rush,

Spattering Hooker and Gray, trudging along in the slush. (58)


I doubt if ire pedes is the best of Latin, but it is indisputable the pace at wh. poor "genus et Species" foots it thro' this howling wilderness fungus-gathering. "It mayn't be Poetry "as Rare Ben [Johnson?] averred in his quarrel with Sylvester anent a certain smutty rhyme, "but it is true!"


Surely - sat prata biberunt (59) - you've had enough MacOwan for one write.  I was just going to close the runnels with a fine "dixi" (60): but stop one moment. Please where is that photograph? (61) I cannot evolve you out of my ... consciousness without it & without knowing what a re (62) your pet books when you read for fun. Write me as long a letter as you can, dear pater mycologicus, de omnibus petus [sp.?] et quibusdam aliis (63).


[paragr] I hope you are fond of my pet authors - tho' rarely find one who is (64) - Erasmus, the Epist. Obscur. Virorum (65) - more - Burton the Melancholy, Montaigne, Chaucer, the Decameron, the Gesta Romanorum & R--s the abominable.


[paragr] One more tho': Oliver Wendell Holmes (66). I must join the "Autocrat" to those whom I'd save in a general combustion of the State. One such man grown on American soil makes us ready to forgive the Pilgrim Fathers for bullying the Quakers & enacting the bluest of Laws. There dixi! [I have spoken] Valeas paneratice [sp.?]


Ever yours,


P. MacOwan


[no note of receipt: probably in April of 1877, according to sequence of letters in Clinton's numbered notations.]





(1.)  rudis indigestaque moles, a rude and indigested mass, a description of Chaos from the first book of Ovid's Metamorphoses 15-20, singing of the creation of the world and referring to the undifferentiated face of nature.


(2.) trigle is Greek for the red mullet, a fish - a creature said to be sacred to Hecate, but perhaps meant by MacOwan to refer to something of no set importance; it perhaps refers also to the Red Fish (Red Gurnard), occurring on the western coasts of Ireland and England, it is French for the Searobin, or Grondin, the family Triglidae, one of the fishes of Canada.


(3.) Algoa Bay is associated with Port Elizabeth - a liberal-minded American skipper probably refers to the kind of ship's commander or captain who would transport a minor cargo of cultural, especially scientific, significance without charge. Much of the natural history unfolding in the world during the nineteenth century, especially the colonial world, was learned from specimens that returned to Europe and America on cargo ships.


(4.) Brown Owl, a possible reference to the Marsh Owl (Asio capensis), a small bird around the size of a pigeon and brown in color common in grasslands with wet depressions (Sasol Birds of Southern Africa - Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton, editor Struik 3rd Ed p241).


(5.)  Alcephalus Caama Cuvier [Pr. = Pringle], the Cape Red Hartebeast is extinct in South Africa, the last 25 observed at a farm in 1932. This animal was endemic to the Natal region and was removed as a livestock competitor, and destroyed by wild or feral dogs ("Endangerment" by N. C. Heywood (Aug. 2000), viewed Oct. 2009, endanger.htm#mammals) ; Alcephalus bucelaphus has seven subspecies of which one is A. bucelaphus caama, the Red Hartebeast (Hartebeest).


(6.) The springbuck, Antidorcas Euchore Prd. which is a synonym of the Antidorcas marsupialis Springbok, the South African gazelle, a beautiful animal with striking, lyre-shaped horns.


(7.) The Bushbuck is a widespread African antelope of the genus Tragelaphus of which there has been proposed two species, Tragelaphus scriptus and T. sylvaticus. Tragelaphus sylvaticus, the Imbabala, is most probably the species referred to by MacOwan. Their horns reach to a half meter with one twist (the first loop of a spiral) , from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (viewed October 2009).


(8.) Tragelaphus strepsiceros, the Greater Kudu. since T. strepsiceros has the largest horns in the Bushbuck tribe, it is understandable that MacOwan could not include representatives in his package.


(9.) Caput Apri, the boar's head. There is a famous boar's head carol dating from the sixteenth century, sung at Christmas in England in one line of which the 'caput apri' is mentioned (caput apri defero, I bring the boar's head). "This song is sung on Christmas day at Queen's college, Oxford, and the custom of bringing a boar's head to the dining table is still maintained."  (viewed Oct. 2009).


(10.) Boschbuck, or Bushbuck, Boschbok, see note 7.


(11.) pro tem. = pro tempore, for the time (being), i.e. temporarily.


(12.) Uncaria procumbens Burck 1822 (Pedaliaceae), now known as Harpagophytum procumbens DeCandolle, harpagos in Greek meaning 'grappling hook' + phyton, 'plant,'  an important medicinal plant from South Africa, harvested by the ton and now protected in the three countries where it grows, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. It is known as Devil's claw, Sengaparile (Tswana), Duiwelsklou (Afrikaans), Grapple plant, Wood spider, Harpago. The 'two species' of the letter are now H. procumbens and H. zeyheri Decne, reduced to Harpagophytum procumbens (Burch.) DC. ex Meisn. subsp. procumbens and subsp. transvaalense Ihlenf. & H. E. K. Hartmann.


Although more than deadly to animals in its native habitat, it has an extraordinary application for the betterment of human ailments such as fever, lower back pain, coughs, bleeding gums, venereal diseases, diseases of all kinds of organs, such as the liver, gall bladder, kidneys, much disruption of the digestive system to name only a few. It is frequently used as a tea, which in high concentrations is a poison.  It also has a beautiful flower.


(13.) Henry Slade (d. 1905), an American medium of international repute, a specialist in 'slate writing,' as evidence for the paranormal. He entertained great notoriety throughout America, Europe and Australia, being promoted by the leading spiritualists of the day, and systematically hounded by those seeking to debunk him, which they eventually did. In July 1876, Slade voyaged to England where he impressed the Spiritual community there with his materializations and telekinesis, which must have been proclaimed in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic - as MacOwan wrote his letter several months later in December.  See:

Curtis, James. Rustlings in the Golden City. Ballard.1894; Podmore, Frank. Modern Spiritualism. London: Methuen, 1902. Reprinted as Mediums of the Nineteenth Century. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963; Truesdell, J. W. Bottom Facts of Spiritualism. New York, 1883.


From;  (viewed Oct. 2009).


(14.)  William Paley (July 1743 – 25 May 1805), "a British Christian apologist, philosopher, and utilitarian" "Paley's Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy [1786] was one of the most influential philosophical texts in late Enlightenment Britain." [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   Viewed Oct. 2009).


"Its significance lies in the fact that it marks an important point at which eighteenth century “whiggism” began to be transformed into nineteenth century “liberalism.” In Paley's published words in Chapter 5 "The Divine Benevolence," when contemplating the universal nature: "We conclude, therefore, that God wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures. And this conclusion being once established, we are at liberty to go on with the rule built upon it, namely, “that the method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into the tendency of that action to promote or diminish the general happiness.” 


From the: Online Library of Liberty. =703&chapter=102789&layout=html&Itemid=27   Viewed Oct. 2009.


(15.) See note 12. Uncaria burchellii is a synonym of U. procumbens Burch.


(16.) Hyrax capensis is presently named the Rock or Cape Hyrax, Procavia capensis, a small  (8-9 lbs.) animal living in colonies of up to 50 individuals, strongly resembling a rodent but actually related to elephants and manatees and anatomically resembles in one way or another a whole host of other mammals. Today it is the most common animal on Table Mountain. This species occurs throughout the Middle East as well as Sub-Saharan Africa (Smithsonian, National Zoological Park information). In South Africa they are known as Dassies. They appear to mate in February, and aspects of female reproduction (the 'curious menstrual deposit') probably correspond to distinctive changes in the male reproductive organs at that time. Hyraceum is initially a sticky mass of dung and urine, but economically refers to deposits that have been petrified or fossilized over hundreds of years, such that masses may be harvested from a stony stratum, and which may in fact be the deposit to which MacOwan refers. It has been used to treat epilepsy, convulsions and other disorders (with information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - Sept 2009), and which has elements useful in perfumery. See Olsen, Andreas; Linda C. Prinsloo, Louis Scott, Anna K. Jägera (November/December 2008). "Hyraceum, the fossilized metabolic product of rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis), shows GABA-benzodiazepine receptor affinity". South African Journal of Science 103 (retrieved from " ").


(17.) Castoreum refers to the "exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver, Castor canadensis and the European Beaver, Castor fiber."  "... castoreum is the yellowish secretion of the castor sac in combination with the beaver's urine, used during scent marking of territory. Both male and female beavers possess a pair of castor sacs and a pair of anal glands located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail."  This odorous substance has been used in perfumes, but MacOwan makes a reference to its use as an aphrodisiac.


From "Castoreum;" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   Viewed Oct. 2009.


(18.) sub rosa, "under the rose," which has come to mean, in secret, or in strict confidence and has a mythic reference to Cupid, bribing Silence, in the shape of Harpocrates, not to tell of Venus' amorous misdeeds (Ehrlich 1987). "sapientibus loquor," 'a word to the wise' or discreet.


(19.) Jonathan Pereira (22 May 1804 - 20 January 1853), pharmacologist, "author of the Elements of Materia Medica, a standard work, the first important English work on Pharmacy. He was examiner on the subject in the University of London." had apparently written of Hyraceum, a so-called crude drug, or a drug in its raw or unrefined form, in the Pharmaceutical Journal. See

Shellard, E. J. (1980)A History of British Pharmacognosy (1980-1982). The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol. 226-228: 108, 189, 406, 201, 631, 774, 78, 371, 536. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia   Viewed October 2009.


(20.) the Pharmaceutical Journal, the official journal of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.


(21). Daniel Hamburg. Perhaps a friend or colleague of MacOwan's.


(22.) "Mincing Lane is a street in the City of London, stretching from Fenchurch Street south to Great Tower Street...It was for some years the world's lading center for tea and spice trading after the British East India Company successfully took over all trading ports from Dutch East India Company in 1799. It was the center of the British opium business (comprising 90% of all transactions), as well as other drugs in the 1700's."  from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   Viewed October 2009.


(23.) The genus Rubia of about 60 species is the type genus of the family Rubiaceae. There are three species of Rubia in South Africa, of which R. petiolaris DC. is one (R. cordifolia, R. horrida). The Madder of Turkey (Rubia tinctorium) producing a bright red dye, is well known as a dyeplant. Both Rubia petiolaris and R. horrida are endemic to southern Africa. Rubia petiolaris is one of the 10 most frequently sold medicinal plant species in the Eastern Cape Province today (Dold & Cocks 2002), and of the ten, it is the most expensive; it is "Heavily traded, unsustainably harvested and with a high price at the study sites” (Dold & Cocks 2002).


(24.) See note 21 above. The memoir by Kalchbrenner may specifically relate to collections by MacOwan in an article in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for 1877.


(25.) Sarcophyte sanguinea Sparrm., of Africa, is placed in Balanophoraceae or the Sarcophytaceae. According to Hutchinson, Sarcophyte sanguinea was known to occur only in the area of Grahamstown, near Somerset East. Sarcophyte is a dioecious plant - one gender growing on one plant, the other on a separate plant. (Hutchinson's new species is S. piriei):  A New Tropical African Sarcophyte J. Hutchinson Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew), Vol. 1914, No. 7 (1914), pp. 251-253

(article consists of 3 pages) Published by: Springer on behalf of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The female plant of S. sanguinea has "subglobular spadix-like clusters of" around 200 flowers "sunk in a common receptacle." The fruit is a syncarp "with individual fruits forming a spherical false berry," Hyde, M.A. & Wursten, B. (2009). Flora of Zimbabwe: Genus page: Sarcophyte. retrieved 22 October 2009 (viewed October 2009).


The strong odor of Sarcophyte, mentioned by MacOwan is also a characteristic of Hydnora (see note 28).


(26.) Acacia horrida (L.) Willd. is also called the Cape Gum, and Dev-Babul and, in addition to South Africa, is also found elsewhere in Africa, Asia, India and South America. The epithet 'horrida' is in reference to the vicious spines that arm the plant. 


(27.) The genus Acarus, a genus of arachnids, belongs to the order Acarina, the mites and ticks. Acarus siro, in particular, is a noxious pest infesting grains and cereals and is perhaps the creature MacOwan's Sarcophyte needs protection from. The parasitic Acarus scabiei (= Sarcoptes scabiei) causes scabies in humans and is responsible for mange in dogs.


(28.) Hydnora (Hydnoraceae), perhaps Hydnora africana Thunb.,  is perhaps one of the most bizarre plants of South Africa. It, like Sarcophyte, is parasitic, but on species in the Euphorbiaceae, and is completely free of leaves of any kind and has no green coloration (achlorophyllous). "The plant grows underground, except for a fleshy flower that emerges above ground and emits an odor of feces to attract its natural pollinators, dung beetles, and carrion beetles. The flowers act as traps for a brief period retaining the beetles that enter, then releasing them when the flower is fully opened," from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,  (viewed October 2009). 


(29.) Ichthyosma D. F. L. Schlechtendal, Linnaea 2: 672. Oct-Dec 1827.


T.: I. wehdemanni D. F. L. Schlechtendal  Phan.-Balanophoraceae (10) 9 Feb 1996, from the Index Nominum Genericorum.  Linnaea, ein Journal fuer die Botanika in ihrem ganzen Umfange. Herausgegeben von D. F. L. Schlechtendal, begun in 1826.


(30.) Clemenz Heinrich Wehdeman  1762-1835, known as a South African plant collector and naturalist, but especially a painter of the trees, for example, and collector of wood material, of which he took a particular interest.


That Wehdeman may have made a drawing of Sarcophyte may be due to the fact that a species (as Ichthyosma wehdemanii Schlechtd.) was named after him - this being subsequently reduced to Sarcophyte sanguinea Sparrm. (Gunn & Codd 1981). His paintings are curated at the British Museum, Kew and Pretoria. The genus Ichtyosma means 'smelling like fish' - a further testimony to the malodorous character of this parasitic plant.


(31). There appear to be three species of the amphibian genus Dactylethra: D. muelleri, D. pirus and one that is surely from South Africa: Dactylethra capensis. Dactylethra capensis Cuvier is now a synonym of Xenopus laevis Daudin.


(32.) C. millemaenlates is probably a misspelling (of my own).


(33.) This is perhaps the 'snake-lizard' (Chamaesaura) of South Africa, which are lizards that have lost their limbs, or legs, which are reduced to apparently functionless appendages. Also called Grass Lizards, they wiggle through grass like a fish in water. Three species of Chamaesaura occur in southern Africa: C. aenea, C. anguina and C. macrolepis (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  (viewed October 2009).


(34.) Mem., memorandum, 'to be remembered;' in reference to a note regarding information that should not be forgotten; the neuter singular gerundive of the Latin verb memoro,-avi,-atum, 1. to remind of, cause to remember.


(35.) [non satis exactaque] 'simillima rudibus signis,' [a shape not sufficiently finished and] 'very similar to rough statues' Ovid, the Metamorphoses I.318 ff., in reference to the ancient or mythological Greek 'Noah.' After the earth was flooded by Zeus to punish the sins of men, the son of Prometheus, Deucalion, and his wife, Phyrrha, were rescued in an ark they had built. When the waters receded, they were advised to throw stones (the bones of mother earth) over their shoulders, and from these stones, between them, mankind was reestablished. Ovid describes the transformation, or metamorphosis of stone (such as the marble in a statue) slowly assuming the characteristics of flesh and blood. So MacOwan describes the native 'Bushman' of South Africa and his stone tools.


(36.) The Bosjesman Deucalion. (Boschjesman is Africaans for 'Bushman'). The bosjesman is the Bushman, a member of one of several groups of peoples from South Africa, nomadic in habit, living especially in the deserts of southern Africa. They are not considered to be allied racially or linguistically with any other people.


(37.) William John Burchell, 23 July 1781 - 23 March, 1863), an English botanist and collector in South Africa, known primarily for his extensive 7000 km collecting trip from June 19, 1811 to April 1815 from and back to Capetown amassing "the largest collection made by one man ever to have left Africa, before or since" (Gunn & Codd 1981). He collected 50,000 plant specimens, but also around 10,000 "skins, skeletons, insects, seeds, bulbs and fish." He also "made about 500 accurate drawings of landscapes, portraits, costumes, zoological and botanical material" some of which were published in his 'Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa," two volumes, 1822 and 1824 (Gunn & Codd 1981).


It is in these volumes that Buschell must have published an illustration of the 'pierced hammer stone.'


(38.) The Bakalari were evidently a people - there is also a reference in old South African literature to a Bakalari Desert, such as "Rivers of Water in a Dry Place, an account of the introduction of Christianity into South Africa and of Mr. Moffat's Missionary labours." 'Designed for the Young.' London: The Religeous Tract Society. Perhaps the name is associated with Bakalarr in Western Gambia.


(39.) struysvogel or struisvogel, the Ostrich; Struthio camelus australis is a subspecies native to South Africa.


(40). The kerry (knobkierrie, knobkerrie, knopkierie, knobkerry), "are African clubs used mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa. Typically they have a large knob at one end and can be used for throwing at animals in hunting. This knob is carved out of a tree trunk and the shaft is simply the branch that protruded from the tree at that point." The kerry, "an indispensable weapon of war" was especially used by the Nguni tribes of southern South Africa, such as the Zulu and Xhosa. "Knobkierries are still widely carried, especially in rural areas. The weapon is employed at close quarters, or as a missile, and in time of peace may serve as a walking-stick.

The head, or knob, is often ornately carved with faces or shapes that have symbolic meaning." from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,  (viewed October 2009).


Note that the kerry as described in this note is a single piece of wood, the head being the basal end of the branch excavated from the flesh of the tree trunk out of which the branch developed.


(41.). 1800 to 1600 years ago pastoral peoples densely settled the western or Atlantic coast of South Africa. The SonQua (Bushmen), or San, like the Guriqua, apparently no longer exist there. The San are the people the early settlers called Bushmen, living off the veldt and without cattle, whereas the Khoikhoi being or considering themselves to be a separate cultural group, possessed and cared for herds. There is and was abundant archeological and anthropological material to be found and analyzed in these western coastal regions. Hottentot is another name for the Khoikhoi people. The San are not Hottentots but were indigenous to South Africa when the Khoikhoi (Hottentot) people migrated there. Hottentot, a Dutch word first used to describe the stuttering sounds of the Khoikhoi, is no longer used in reference to these people. MacOwan seems interested in the migratory pattern of the people using the Kerry.


(42.) ktema es aei, 'an eternal' or 'perpetual possession.' "Said by Thucydides of his own history, which he bequeathed as an 'imperishable treasure' to posterity." History of The Peloponnesian War  1, 22 (King 1904).


(43.) 'like a hair of the great Julius' - reference unknown to me, perhaps Julius Caesar but, however, note that he was bald.


(44.)  Diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, and gold in the Transvaal: at present 49 percent of the world's diamonds are mined in central to southern Africa. It was in the 1870's, when these letters were written to Clinton, that the Diamond Fields of South Africa were first discovered - 1871 the year when a significant diamond was found on the farm of the DeBeer's brothers on the slopes of a low elevation, the Colesberg Kopje on their property, immediately after which a Diamond Rush was on to the area: "From mid-July 1871 to 1914, 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds." (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Sept. 2009).  The Colesberg became a pit and under this was developed with famous Kimberley Mine.


It is said that in 1867, MacOwan and a colleague, H. G. Galpin, helped the naturalist and geologist William Guybon Atherstone identify a crystal found near Hopetown as a diamond - a mineral doubtless unexpected in the region, which gave early momentum to what would soon be a craze, a diamond rush and change the history of South Africa forever (Gunn and Codd 1981).


The Boers appeared to own the land on which these fabulous deposits were embedded, but the British were the engineers and the men of business who could exploit the fields, and so another layer of inter-cultural and political tension was created. At this time the fabulous native oil deposits south of Buffalo, New York, in the State of Pennsylvania were discovered at Titusville and other areas, and an oil-rush had begun there, to be ultimately dominated by John D. Rockefeller.


(45.) Howitzer is a Dutch word and refers to a short cannon or a cannon with a short barrel and large powder chamber 'delivering shells at a medium or low muzzle velocity, usually by a high trajectory'; it appears to be a kind of mortar, with a hollow projectile that can be inserted by hand. Or a cannon with the capacity to fire large projectiles with smaller charges. One happy characteristic of this type of gun is that it can be disassembled and carried over bad terrain (see MacOwan's unfortunate wagons at the river in flood). Apparently a weapon of this type was adapted to the excavation process in  mining.


(46.) Nepeta. Apparently Clinton caught MacOwan out on the name of a plant. Nepeta is a genus in the mint family (Lamiaceae; Labiatae), of which Nepeta cataria L., the Catnip is the most familiar. However, according to a recent checklist of the plant species of South Africa, Catnip does not grow there:  (viewed October 2009).


(47.) corpus vile, in Latin is rendered "worthless body;" it is defined as "A person, animal or thing treated as expendable, to therefore use as an experimental subject regardless of whatever loss or damage it may suffer as a result. (figuratively) The subject of an experiment." Wiktionary:;  viewed October 2009.  vilis,-e (adj.) in Latin: of small price, cheap, of little value.


(48.) quod erat faciendum! 'that which was to be done' "The statement, abbreviated QEF, that is appended to a mathematical solution, with the meaning 'We have done the work we were required to do." (Ehrlich 1987).


(49.) used in law: (in) flagrante delicto, manibus rubris, while [the crime or offence] is blazing (i.e. while committing the offence), with red hands.


(50.) Kalchbrenner & Thuemen: see note number 20 and 21 above.


(51.) The fungus genus Lysurus represents a collection of species collectively called Stinkhorns, due to their smell when ripe, which is generally repulsive to human beings, but may perhaps be interesting to, say, a fly, the odors generally resembling that of sewage. They are in the family Phallaceae due to the resemblance in many species to the membrum virile.


(52.) Aseroe, a genus of stinkhorns, also in the Phallaceae, all  of which appear to be saprobic, living on decaying organic matter.


(53.) potius (adv.): rather, preferably.


(54.) Reverend M. J. Berkeley (1803-1889), a British clergyman and mycologist, was known for his great tome, Outlines of British Fungology, published in 1860, in which he described and illustrated the thousand or so fungi indigenous to the British Isles. He earlier published treatments of fungi collected in the North Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, including specimens collected by Charles Darwin on the expedition of H. M. Ship Beagle.


On many labels in the Clinton Herbarium and here and there in the G. Clinton correspondence, the authority abbreviations read "B. & C." or "B. et C.": this stands for Berkeley and Mordecai A. Curtis, between which there was a correspondence (Petersen 1980).


Berkeley named a genus, Macowania agaricina Berkeley, after MacOwan, just to have Kalchbrenner later, after various study, shift these plants to a new genus: Macowanites.


(55.) Kalchbrenner described a genus of fungi after MacOwan: Macowanites agaricinus Kalchbr. (Kalchbrenner (1876) 116, (1882 a) 107 ). Another was described by Berkeley: Macowania agaricina Berkeley "amongst grass at foot of trunks of Acacia karroo, in fields near Somerset East, MacOwan 1211, 22087, Kew & Upsala." Hydnangium nigricans Kalchbr. (Kalchhrenner (1882 a) 107 "grass under Acacia trees, at foot of Boschherg, MacOwan 1211, Kew & Berlin."


There is a Kalchbrennera tuckii Berkeley (1876 c) 785, (1876 b) 248; Kalchbrenner (1876) 115, (1882 a)106; Fischer (1886) 60, (1890) 18 ; Medley Wood (1898) 18 ; Sacc. Syll. Fung. VII : l4; also  Kalchbrennera tuckii var. microcephala Pole Evans (1915 b) 159; " after heavy rain, on ground amongst Acacia thickets, Boschberg, MacOwan & Tuck (MacOwan 1225). from The South African fungi and lichens to the end of 1945: E.M. Doidge, Bothalia. 1950, vol. V. 1094 pages; index.html ; viewed October 2009). 


Examination of this compendium of fungi and lichens with the habitat described on the label may give the interested student some idea of the ecology of the region around Boschberg Mountains where MacOwan collected - especially the Acacia-wooded grasslands.


Kalchbrennera is a genus of fungi comprising the Stinkhorns, e.g. Kalchbrennera corallocephalus (= Lysurus corallocephalus).  The genus was described by Berkeley as new, and K. tuckii M. J. Berkeley is the type species on which the new genus was based - all based on the collection made by MacOwan and Tuck! [citation Index Nominum Genericorum], hence "I am gratified at being so honourably extinguished." 


(56.)  Casimir Roumeguere (1828-1892) studied cryptogams, such as algae, mosses, lichens and fungi, and also he studied conchology. He was founder of the Revue mycologique, the first journal dedicated to mycological research. The text to which MacOwan refers is probably the Cryptogamie illustrée, published in Paris in 1870, which included "Famille des Champignons contenant 1,700 figures representant ..." fungi at various ages, their anatomy, organography, their reproduction including microscopic images (TL2 p. 936).


(57.) James Sowerby (1757-1822), botanical illustrator and father of a family of sons with the same disposition who illustrated many books and publications of other British and foreign scientists. MacOwan's reference is probably to "Coloured figures of English fungi or mushrooms, ..." published in London throughout various years from 1795 to 1803 (TL2) p. 761. The United States Department of Agriculture presently possesses a complete set. They were hand-colored. In MacOwan's day (1876) Sowerby's volumes were very valuable collector's items.


(58.) As MacOwan mentions in his letter, he taught Robert Burton's great Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621. In the chapter entitled: Love of Learning, or overmuch study. With a Digression on the misery of Scholars, and why the Muses are Melancholy, there is the quote:


"Dat Galenus opes, dat Justinianus honores,

Sed genus et species cogitur ire pedes;"

"The rich physician, honour'd lawyers ride,

While the poor scholar foots it by their side."


Burton goes on to say "Poverty is the muses' patrimony...". MacOwan is referring to the lack of funds by which he might purchase Sowerby's book - 'genus et species' a reference to the particular plight of taxonomists, and those studying mycology in particular.


Galen (circa 129 - circa 200 A.D.) was known as a Greek physician who had a great influence on western medicine for over a millennium.


The Christian Emperor of Byzantium, Flavius Justinianus, is known for having reorganized the Roman Empire (yet again), but he also codified the laws, resulting in the Codex Justinianus, in 534 A.D. - hence the allusion to 'lawyers' in the translation above, hence Galen gives money, Justinian gives public, or high office (or honors).


Salernus is, perhaps, a reference to the great medical school of Salerno, in southern Italy, the 'first medaeval medical school'[from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia;  (viewed November 2009).


Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (circa 35 - circa 95 A.D.),  author of the Institutio oratoria in 12 volumes, achieved wealth and fame as the ultimate specialist in oratory, or rhetoric, certainly of great use to politicians and lawyers.


Salernus is made to replace Galen, Quintilianus to replace Justinianus in the earlier Latin, but both still refer to the wealth of doctors and lawyers.


MacOwan's genus and species refers to the modern institution of systematics instituted by Linnaeus and intensely practiced all over the western world during the Victorian era, when the colonial possessions in Great Britain's empire extended around the world, especially through the programs of the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew, but also by men of various walks of life in various countries.


George Bentham and Joseph Dalton Hooker were  creating their great Genera Plantarum in three volumes during 1862 to 1883, at the time of MacOwan's writing. Asa Gray had collaborated with Hooker on various projects and had been working with John Torrey on a Flora of North America before settling to the Manual of Botany of the Northeastern United States.


(59.) sat prata biberunt. In Virgil's third Eclogue, one of a number of shepherds who is judging a pastoral poetry contest says 'staunch now your streams, boys,  for the meadows have drunk their fill' (claudite iam rivos, pueri: sat prata biberunt), another has translated this as “Turn off the fountains [of poetic inspiration], boys: the fields have drunk enough.”


(60.) dixi, in Latin, the perfect indicative active of dico, to speak: "I have spoken", indicating that MacOwan is finished and he will say no more. A vow which he immediately breaks.


(61.) Clinton has not included his photograph, although by now he has a more attractive one than he usually distributed (compare the full face image at the beginning of this article to the image Bebb referred to). Perhaps it was vanity that Clinton did not include it - MacOwan's is dignified enough.


(62.) in re (re = ablative singular of res, 'a thing, fact, circumstance' - 'in regard to' ) - whatever Clinton read, it is very doubtfully the same reading matter as MacOwan, or there is no evidence for it in Clinton's correspondence, which included some religious matter certainly, by which he could debate somewhat against Darwin's controversial origin of species. MacOwan's formidable grasp of Latin tags, Latinized paraphrases, current issues, on both sides of the Atlantic (as seen from England), in the newspapers and culturally in general is enough to terminate any interest in further correspondence by the recipient of his letters. Note Bebb's letter above where he states his appreciation of a plain letter to be tossed down on a table ("I like letters that appear to be written to toss across a table, friendly scraps, with out set phrase either to begin or end with - parts of a continuous correspondence." Bebb to Clinton, Nov.. 8, 1873).


(63.) pater mycologicus, de omnibus petus [sp.?] et quibusdam aliis; [write] mycological father, concerning all things [?] and certain others .... [?]


(64.) MacOwan acknowledges, in his sincerity, that he doubts that Clinton will enjoy his favorite authors - and perhaps not pester him for more letters (or specimens). It is possible, given the demands on his time and energy, that MacOwan preferred his and his South African colleagues to labor in the field for higher reasons than simply to fill small-town herbaria with exotic (and valuable or interesting) specimens that no one was going to study, and which, perhaps, would ultimately be used to keep widows in funds, through their sale, after their botanical husbands had perished.


(65.) Epist. Obscur. Virorum = Epistulae Obscurorum Virorum = the Letters of Obscure Men - a collection of letters written in Latin from 16th century Germany. mocking "the doctrines and modes of living of the scholastics and monks, mainly by pretending to be letters from fanatic Christian theologians discussing whether all Jewish books should be burned as un-Christian or not." (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, , viewed November 2009).


MacOwan's other authors also, in some way, rebel against conformity or conventional morality - they were intensely humanistic, but certainly they were all written in Latin, or foreign languages or obsolete English forms.   R--s, the abominable may perhaps be a reference to Francoise Rabelais? Certainly it would appear that the "fantasy, satire, the grotesque, and both bawdy jokes and songs" said to be part of the Rabelaisian repertoire would appeal to MacOwan's taste, as it appears in these several letters (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: ; viewed November 2009).


(66.) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (August 29, 1809 – October 7, 1894) wrote the "Breakfast-Table" series, beginning with The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, published serially in 1831-2 and later collected in a book, published in 1858, composed of poetry, songs, jokes and stories presented as breakfast table-talk. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia;,_Sr .; viewed November 2009).


The Autocrat was a series of essays that brought intense pleasure to Mark Twain, a personality similar in some ways to Peter MacOwan.




Vol. 11 no. 175 [J 80]


Cape of Good Hope

Port Elizabeth

1 st [?] [month? = Jan.?] 1877


Dear Sir


At the request of our mutual friend Mr. P. MacOwan, I have shipped by

the bark Anna I. Taylor


Capt[ain] Percival


a box of dried plants addressed to you to the care of


Isaac Taylor Esqr.



The box is kindly taken charge of by Capt. Percival free of expense. The vessel sailed from this for Boston - at end of last month - will be due there about end of March - write to Mr. Taylor (who is the owner of the vessel) & thank him for passage of the box, and I doubt not he will take the trouble to forward it to you if you have no other way to get it from Boston


I remain

yours truly


J. R. Holland


[no note of receipt]


[placed between letter numbers 174 March 19th 1876 and 176 Mar. 30 [1877]


It is perhaps interesting to note here that the first of the 'large modern luxury liners', the S. S. "Oceanic," of the White Star Line, was launched in 1871 (Grun 1991).


This was a time since the 1850's when the racing clipper ships were built ever larger, ever more ornate, sleek and faster in the water. The Anna I. Taylor was probably named after Taylor's wife (or other family member). The era of the American clipper ships lasted only ten years - few before 1850 and few to none after 1857-1859.


In The Era of the Clipper Ships, Arthur H. Clark, Isaac Taylor of Boston was said to have built the Syren. He was one of several owners of Boston ships during the 1850's, including Samuel Hall and Daniel C. Bacon, and he may have owned a shipyard and built them.


Ships, many of them clipper ships but including sloops and schooners, built by the Boston ship architect Donald McKay, were constructed between 1842 into the 1870's [Clipper Ship History, Oct. 2009, on site Updated by

Derived from The Maritime History Virtual Archives ] Trade with the orient may have included tea and coffee and Port Elizabeth was probably mostly a refueling station. During the 1870's the steamships were replacing sail, offering cheaper rates on cargo.






Clark, Arthur H. 1910. The Clipper Ship Era. An Epitome of Famous American and British Clipper Ships, Their Owners, Builders, Commanders, and Crews 1843-1869.  7 C's Press, Riverside, Conn., 1970 (facs av ou 1910). 8vo, xii, 406 pp, 70 pl.


Dold, A. P. and M. L. Cocks. 2002. The trade in medicinal plants in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Science, Vol. 98, November/December.  South African Journal of Science 98, November/December 2002: 589-597.


Ehrlich, Eugene. 1987. A Dictionary of Latin Tags and Phrases. Robert Hale. London.


Deane, Walter. 1896. "Michael Schuck Bebb", Botanical Gazette. 21:53-65.


Goodyear, George F. 1994. Society and Museum. A History of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences 1861-1993 and the Buffalo Museum of Science 1928-1993. Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, Vol. 34. Buffalo, New York, USA.


Grun, Bernard. 1991. The Timetables of History, ed 3. Simon & Shuster.


Gunn, Mary and L. E. Codd 1981. Botanical Exploration of Southern Africa.  Botanical Research Institute.  Balkema, A. A. Cape Town.


King, W. F. H. 1904. Classical and Foreign Quotations. J. Whitaker & Sons, Ltd. London.


Marloth, R. 1913. Flora of South Africa. Vol. 1 Capetown.


Petersen, R. H. 1980. Bibl. mycol. 72:1-120; also Taxon 29:748, 1980;  also Huntia 3(3): 179-180. 1979 (cited from TL2 p. 99).


Sayre, Geneva. 1975. Cryptogamae Exsiccatae - An Annotated Bibliography of Exsiccatae of Algae, Lichenes, Hepaticae, and Musci. V. Unpublished Exsiccatae.  1. Collectors. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. Vol. 19(3), pp. 277-423.


Stafleu, F.A., R. S. Cowan & E. Mennega. 2009. TL-2 Online: Online Edition of Taxonomic Literature, Second Edition. IDC Publishers.    October 20, 2009.


Thiers, Barbara. 2009. Index Herbariorum: a global directory of public herbaria and associated staff. New York Botanical Garden's Virtual Herbarium. http://sweetgum.