The Saint, the Surgeon and the Unsung Botanist

ISBN 978-0-620-71244-6

Each of these three people played a remarkable role in the history of the Eastern Cape



My ancestors, to whom I pay tribute in this book, are Frederick York St Leger as the Saint, Dr William Guybon Atherstone, the Surgeon, and Mary Elizabeth Barber, the Unsung Botanist.

Each of these three people played a remarkable role in the history of the Eastern Cape. Dr Atherstone, who in 1828 was the District Surgeon of Grahamstown, performed the first operation under ether in the then British Commonwealth. He identified the first diamond discovered in Kimberley. Frederick York St Leger, a classical scholar, an Anglican minister and headmaster of St Andrews School, was the founder and first editor of the Cape Times. Mary Elizabeth Bowker collected botanical specimens throughout the Eastern Cape and, without any formal instruction, produced work of professional standards – birds, reptiles, plants and moths and butterflies. She had a life-long correspondence with Charles Darwin.

My narrative starts with the artist, Thomas Barber, a portrait painter of such esteem that in 1873, 50 years after his death, an exhibition of his work was held in Nottingham Castle. He was a celebrated figure and executed portraits of the noble families in the English Midlands. The scene shifts to the 1820 Settlers, Miles Bowker, William Cock and the Frontier Wars. Hugh Barber emigrated to the Cape and his son, Hilton, became a prominent sheep farmer and race-horse breeder in Cradock. Fred and Hal Barber were hunters and adventurers and gave their name to the town of Barberton. The book is a well-researched chronicle of an era of stalwarts who made an impressive impact to the lives of those that followed.