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21 DECEMBER 1873, The Griqualand West Legislative Council meets at Barkly West for the first time.
21 DECEMBER 1882, The water from the Vaal river to Kimberley successfully pumped, 1882.
21 DECEMBER 1664, John Power, (pictured), the second McGregor Museum curator, dies, 1964
John Hyacinth Power, the second Director of Kimberley’s Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum, was born in Waterford, Ireland on 2 November 1884.
Trained for the ministry as an Irish Christian Brother, Power emigrated to South Africa in 1904 to take up a post as a schoolmaster at Kimberley’s Christian Brothers’ College. Known as Brother Hyacinth Power there is a photograph of him on page 7 in the history of CBC Kimberley.
At some time (unknown) he left the Congregation of Christian Brothers, married and had children.
From 1920 he headed the South African School of Mines, later known as the Griqualand West Technical Institute which eventually became the Northern Cape Technical College.
Although Power would only succeed Maria Wilman as museum director in 1947, his close association with the museum began at the time of its inception in 1907. From 1917 he became the museum’s honorary curator of reptiles and amphibians, herpetology being the field in which he achieved wide renown as a regional specialist. He had been encouraged in this direction by Dr Louis Péringuey, Director of the South African Museum in Cape Town. The first of some forty publications he wrote in various fields appeared in the Annals of the South African Museum in 1913. Among the specimens he collected are type specimens that are housed at the McGregor Museum, including Bufo poweri which was named in his honour. Among others the amphibian species Breviceps poweri and Hyperolius poweri were also named in his honour during the 1930s.
He also collected enthusiastically in other fields of museum science, notably archaeology, being one of the most prolific donors in this field over many decades. A major Acheulean site on the farm of Pniel on the Vaal River is known as “Power’s Site”.
Power became increasingly interested in archaeology, particularly after reading J.P. Johnson’s book “The stone implements of South Africa” (1907). As early as 1909 he presented stone artefacts to the McGregor Museum and was thanked by the director, Miss Maria Wilman, in her annual report for his careful collecting in the neighbourhood of Kimberley. He spent most weekends collecting Early Stone Age artefacts and fossil bones at the diamond diggings along the Vaal River and presented his finds to the McGregor Museum and later to the Archaeological Survey (which later became a research unit at the University of the Witwatersrand). Several fossil finds were named after him, including Equus poweri.
On his various trips he also made rubbings of rock art, most of which are housed in the McGregor Museum. Another of his archaeological discoveries, in 1913, was an Early to Middle Stone Age site among the shifting sand dunes near Mossel Bay. The artefacts he collected there are in the McGregor Museum and the South African Museum, Cape Town. During 1910-1913 he also presented many stone artefacts, and a variety of zoological specimens (lower vertebrates, beetles, spiders), to the Albany Museum, Grahamstown.
Power succeeded Wilman as Director of the McGregor Museum in 1947 and oversaw major expansion and changes in the administration of the institution during the decade that he was at the helm.
These included the erection of a new building across the road from the original McGregor Museum on Chapel Street, made possible by a generous donation by the daughter of Alexander and Margaret McGregor, Helen Jessie Crawford. De Beers Consolidated Mines lent its support as well. Here Power was responsible for a set of state-of-the-art natural history dioramas, constructed with the help of Kimberley based artist Nellie Steenkamp.
Just months before his retirement in 1958 the Cape Provincial Administration took over the McGregor Museum as a Province-Aided institution, providing an annual grant for the running of the museum, and paying the salaries of its still small staff at public service levels. The Board of Trustees continued to run the museum as it had from the start, but was now able to look to the appointment of extra professional staff.
Power was a Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS) and a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London (FZS, 1931). He became a member of the Royal Society of South Africa in 1920 and was elected one of its Fellows in 1931. As a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science he served as president of Section D (which included zoology) in 1934, with a presidential address on “Some South African herpetological problems” (South African Journal of Science, 1934, Vol. 31, pp. 98-116). In July 1947 he received the association’s very first Certificate of Merit in recognition of his important contributions to knowledge of the fossil mammalian fauna of the Vaal River deposits. In 1935 he became a member of the Cape Natural History Club. He was a foundation member of the South African Archaeological Society and of the Wild Life Protection Society.
In retirement, Power lived for a time in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) before settling in Pietermaritzburg. He died suddenly at his son Peter’s home in Johannesburg on 21 December 1964.
(Compiled from information supplied by Wikipedia, Beryl Wilson, Robert Hart, and the S 2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science, among others.)
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