THE LESSER-KNOWN WILLIAM BURCHELL
Dr Roger Stewart, historian
The zoologist William Swainson lamented that ‘science must ever regret that one whose powers of mind were so varied ... was so signally neglected in his own country’. William Burchell is remembered for his extensive travels in South Africa (1811–1815), well documented collections of specimens, for his incomplete Travels in South Africa and for the numerous species of flora and fauna named after him. Burchell is less well known for the numerous detours he took from his travelogue to explain his worldview, natural philosophy and prescient thinking about the environment as a system. It also becomes clear that his paradigm of a divine creation prevented him from reaching the notion of evolution, despite his numerous astute observations of what are now considered evolutionary adaptations. This lecture reveals Burchell as a humanitarian of liberal disposition troubled by inner tensions about civilisation and colonial influence.
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