Chapman’s Peak Road and Hout Bay, Cape Peninsula, South Africa

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

Today, one of the project’s volunteers, Sharon, writes about Mary’s trip through South Africa, a place she knows herself.

The drive along the west coast of the Cape Peninsula from Noordhoek to Hout Bay takes you on the Chapman’s Peak Road. The road, an engineering feat of its time, is cut into the rugged, near vertical side of the Chapman’s Peak mountain from which it gets its name. The winding road caresses the mountain side and the scenery in both directions is absolutely stunning.

Little did I know when I visited there in 2012 that I was walking in the footsteps of Dr. Mary Gillham. Mary’s primary reason for visiting South Africa was to study the affect of guano and its harvesting on bird and other wildlife on some of the islands off the Western Cape, which was documented in her journal, “Some Interactions of Plants, Rabbits and Sea Birds on South African Islands” – Journal of Ecology, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jul., 1963), pp. 275-294.

Mary took full advantage of her time in South Africa and, like me, did a lot of sightseeing. As a volunteer of the Dr. Mary Gillham Archive project I have had the privilege of reading some of Mary’s travel diaries detailing her visit to Africa in 1960. While in Cape Town she stayed in Claremont with Bunty Rowan (Mary Katherine Rowan; a microbiologist at the Fishing Industry Research Institute and an active member of the South African Ornithological Society) and her husband Bertus (who was also involved in the fishing industry). On the 5th May 1960 she too traveled along the Chapman’s Peak Road and recorded it in her diary.

Mary’s recollections from travelling around the Cape Peninsula

Unfortunately, in the archive, we do not have the photographs Mary took, so I have included my own from 2012. I am sure we stopped at exactly the same view point along the road as Mary did and this would have been the spectacular view she would have had of Hout Bay.

Hout Bay

Hout Bay, formerly a fishing village still maintains a fishing harbour and its beach, enclosed by mountains on three sides, is a huge attraction for those seeking solace from the hustle and bustle of Cape Town. I love the way Mary’s diaries show her constantly absorbing information, making historical references and corrections. Reading her work makes you want to find out more yourself.

Mary writing about the Bay

Here she mentions the Skaifes. Sydney Skaife (an eminent South African entomologist and naturalist) was Bunty Rowan’s father and was key to setting up the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) have been protected in South Africa since 1990. Duiker Island near Hout Bay is a sanctuary for thousands of seals and birds and the seals can often be seen in Hout Bay enjoying a few titbits from the fishermen there.

As a volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive project it has been lovely looking back at my own memories of the Cape Peninsula and seeing it through Mary’s eyes.


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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2 thoughts on “Chapman’s Peak Road and Hout Bay, Cape Peninsula, South Africa

  1. Pingback: The March of Mary Gillham – Mary Gillham Archive Project

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