27 MAY 1886, Artist Harry Stratford Caldecott (pictured) born in Kimberley.
Kimberley born man influential in the Kruger Park
The artist Harry Stratford (Strat) Caldecott Junior was born in Kimberley on 27 May 1886, and died in Wynberg, Cape Town on 12 December 1929.
“Strat” was the fifth and last child – and the only son – of Harry Stratford Senior and Martha Johanna Caldecott (nee Sauer). His father Harry was an attorney in Kimberley and Johannesburg, while his mother was the daughter of the Honourable JW Sauer MLA (Cape). His one aunt, Emily Caldecott, was married to Sir Robert Coryndon.
Shortly after his birth the family moved to the Johannesburg gold fields, his father having been a good friend (and lawyer) of and for Cecil John Rhodes as well as for the De Beers Mining Company.
Strat was educated at the South African College School (SACS) in Cape Town and at St John’s College in Johannesburg before becoming articled to a firm of Johannesburg solicitors. In 1912 he gave up his employment and left for Paris France to study art at the Academie Julian and in 1913 at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Gabriel Ferrier. Becoming disenchanted with Ecole, Strat took a studio in Montparnasse and made a short visit to Munich before the outbreak of World War I.
He served with the British army from 1914 to 1915 before being discharged on grounds of ill-health, but re-enlisted as an interpreter in 1918. From 1919 until 1923 he worked for various firms in Paris as a draughtsman and stenographer before returning to Johannesburg in 1923 where he held many exhibitions.
Strat met the artist Florence Zerffi in Cape Town in 1924 whom he later married, and in 1925 had a joint exhibition with Florence at Ashbey’s Galleries. Having relocated to Cape Town in May 1924 he lived with Florence and their young son Oliver in a flat attached to the Michaelis Collection, Florence being the curator of the collection. In order to maintain steady cash flow Strat wrote weekly articles for “The South African Nation” and for “Huisgenoot”.
The Caldecott family lived close to the Malay Quarter in Cape Town and he, like many other artists, found the area a rich source of subject matter. He described his attraction to the neighbourhood in his article “A Painter in the Malay Quarter” in the South African Nation of 2nd August 1924:
“Here all seems good, all solicits, with silent urgency, projection into the unreality of the painted universe. Parallel and wavering straight, mouldings cap the bulging walls, giving sharp perspectives underlined in horizontal shadow.”
In 1926 he exhibited at the Kimberley Club, an institution where his father Harry had played an important role in the 1880s. (A framed photograph of Harry hangs in the Club).
A keen enthusiast of wild life and nature conservation he worked actively for the Wild Life Protection Society from 1925 to 1929, and was one of those responsible for the naming of the Kruger National Park on 31 May 1926.
Strat became the self-appointed “chief propangandist” for the national park campaign.
Dr Jane Carruthers, in her paper presented in 1989 “Creating a National Park, 1910 to 1926” wrote that “Stevenson-Hamilton could not ally himself publicly with the national park campaign because neutrality was required of him as an official of the provincial government; he also fully expected to lose his job once the national park had been proclaimed. However, in Caldecott, who had no personal vested interest in the game reserve or national park, Stevenson-Hamilton found a mouthpiece.”
The two men had met when Caldecott had visited the Sabi Game Reserve in August 1925 in an endeavour to publicise railway tours of South Africa – one of which incorporated a trip through the game reserve. Caldecott also took up other ‘national’ causes: he was a member of the government commission concerned with the design of a new South African flag in 1926, he fought for the preservation of historical buildings and he was also involved in the establishment of a nation-wide wildlife protection society. He ‘threw himself into the affairs of the new society [The Wild Life Protection Society of Southern Africa] and gave all his time and attention to it…’
In an article in November 1925, Caldecott linked the names of an ‘English gentleman’ (James Stevenson-Hamilton) and ‘the great Afrikander’ (Paul Kruqer) suggesting that both had had a hand in fashioning a suitable site for a national park in South Africa. Associating these two men together demonstrates the desire of Caldecott and others to use the national park scheme to merge English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans by striving for a common ideal and in this way putting a divided past behind them.
The newspapers concurred with this ideal, the Cape Argus noting that ‘South Africa first’ was one of the mottoes of the government and that the national park plan offered a good opportunity to put this ideal into practice. The Rand Daily Mail claimed that the national park question was not a party political but a ‘national’ question. Protectionism and the national park thus benefited from being able to advance the interests of both the separatist nationalist Afrikaners and the more reconciliatory movement to unite what was then known as ‘both races’.
On one occasion rivalry between the two groups surfaced when Afrikaners felt that the English-speakers were getting too much of the credit for initiating the idea of a national park. In order to overcome this problem, which threatened to jeopardise the campaign, Stevenson-Hamilton suggested to Caldecott they highlight English opposition. The two men were certainly deeply conscious of the political implications of their campaign.
Caldecott, almost singlehandedly, orchestrated a massive national press and publicity campaign in order to win over public opinion. If anything, his efforts erred on the side of idealistic over-enthusiasm, and Stevenson-Hamilton at one time warned him not to ‘exaggerate too much’ or people would tire of the propaganda and actually be repulsed. The involvement of Stratford Caldecott, an artist, in the campaign for a national park illustrates, too, how themes of nature were beginning to permeate South African aesthetics. He wrote, ‘Our civilisation spares so little beauty, and after all, beauty, to an artist, has more importance than, say economics’.
In 1928 Strat was diagnosed with cancer and went to Johannesburg for treatment, and in 1929, despite his illness, launched the Cape Town branch of the Wild Life Protection Society.
He died in Wynberg on 12 December 1929, leaving his wife and son to mourn his passing.
(From a wide variety of sources both printed matter and the Internet).