Barbara Eleanor Harcourt
Wagons - Wheelbarrows and Caravans
Wagons - Wheelbarrows and Caravans
Barbara Tyrrell was born 15 March 1912 in Durban, Natal. Her great
uncle Frederick Fynney accompanied Zulu King Cetshwayo
as an interpreter during a State visit to Queen Victoria in 1882. His
wife Louisa Birtle Fynney, died on the night of her 100th
Barbara grew up in
Zululand in an environment where Zulu tradition flourished. The
traditional dress and customs of the Zulu people fascinated her as a
child. She spoke their language and was present at many of the Zulu
people’s traditional ceremonies.
On the Move -
Cathy and Barbara
Barbara's first caravan was a wagon made
paraffin box by her father, which was
chauffeured by her
Ellen Harcourt Tyrrell. (Paraffin was railed and sold - two tins
per 'box' for lighting.) The little girls' wagon was a
forerunner to what she would design, work, and live in - today's
caravans or motor homes.
Ernest (Boy) - Cathy - Barbara / Circa 1915
Barbara's next 'vehicle' was a wheelbarrow, shared
with Cathy and their younger brother Ernest Fredrick Howard
Harcourt Tyrrell, who as children they called 'Boy'.
Ernest - Cathy - Barbara / Circa 1919
Great stories are told of how they and Zulu 'Jim'
(the gardener) would
take turns climbing aboard, then run screaming around the
BARBARA TYRRELL - Her African Quest
Barbara Tyrrell's father died when she was a small child. At the time,
they lived at Eshowe, where he worked for the Department of Native
Affairs. Her earliest memory of native culture, a topic that became her
lifelong passion, is rooted at Eshowe. Barbara Tyrrell - Her African Quest
The Zulu was black, yes. His dress was different, his dances
different and he lived a different lifestyle. He was part of our scene,
an exciting part, especially when the village had any sort of an outdoor
celebration. The Zulus then would have their beef and their beer and
round off the day with a full-dress 'war dance'. - The climax of the war
dance memories came for me, aged two years; a special dance for a
special guest; the famed author Rider Haggard of King Solomon's Mines,
She, Allan Quatermain and others. My father as host was special;
we, mother and three children, were special, all clad in white in
keeping with my father's pith helmet; the helmet and the white clothing
all part of the then image of white man in darkest Africa. My mother's
white parasol, lace-frilled, topped the scene. - Adults were seated in
deck chairs facing the dancing area, VIP's in the front row; the shadowy
figure of the Great Man, not in white; and our parents with Catherine,
Barbara and small Ernest literally at grass-roots level, our lot from
the commencement of dancing was inevitable. Dust! It rose with the
stamping feet, it bellowed. The scorching Zululand sun beat down and up
again from hot earth, baking us in our unaccustomed, uncomfortable,
starched white 'best', Ernest wailed and Catherine comforted but for me
a magic happened, something inexplicable, never forgotten, but nameless.
A dance of brown people watched by white people, of almost unclad people
and heavily overclad people. High stepping, stamping, chanting, girls of
the front ranks in high-pitched song, shining bodies in beads only;
deeper song from men at the back with shields and tall plumes. Old woman
scuttling along the line of girls, between them and the audience,
mopping the girlish brows, cleansing the air with whirling switches.
Meaning? I sensed it, felt it and grappled to define it. Ululating, that
strange and exciting sound. Ropes of beadwork tossing wildly around
brown bodies, and ostrich feathers against blue sky. A dance of praise
for the honoured visitor. Not a 'war dance'. - Amazingly, these
very many years later, I remember that dance, today perhaps the only
living person of that whole throng. I see the tall, white figure of my
father in conversation with the more darkly clad stranger. My mother and
her pretty parasol, raised against Zululand sun, small brother dissolved
and tearful, older sister fussing. And myself? Torn between pride in all
my whiteness and in the wonder of that dance, the profound meaning of
it. The unfathomable. I knew there and then was meaning and much, much
later set out to find it...
Truck owned by
W. E. Foster
Barbara Tyrrell - Comics
Barbara began drawing from a young age. Smiling, she explains her
passion was so strong, that it invariably interfered with and annoyed
boyfriends. In high school, she mastered the art of comical figures and
experimented with her signature. From 1930, she studied at University of
Natal, where she obtained a BA of Fine Arts in 1934.
Barbara Tyrrell with 1928 Dodge
Barbara was a young woman who loved the outdoors and was very strong
minded. Though it was unusual in the 30's for a woman to wear pants,
this girl did things 'her way'. She often travelled with her stepfather
William Edward Foster who she called 'Pops', in and around the Umfolosi
Game Reserve. He was the veterinary officer and from 1952, its director.
'Pops' encouraged and taught her how to drive.
SS Armadale Castle
Barbara travelled to London aboard the SS Armadale
Castle (steamship) to study fashion drawing. She laughs when
recalling that a man approached her on the ship, and then scolded her for
Barbara Tyrrell - Circa late 1930's
Barbara was a uniquely different and independent woman from the word go,
but also a chameleon. The photographs above confirm she 'walked the dress'.
Barbara Tyrrell - Fashion Artist
Barbara's first commercial art sales were to
newspapers and magazines, who commissioned her for comic and high fashion
Barbara Tyrrell - Christmas cards and first Ethnic Studies.
As her work became known, her talent and name were used increasingly in
marketing. She illustrated Christmas cards depicting wild animals,
which let to drawings of tribal people. Her curiosity of native people
rooted in childhood would spark a turning point of her art career and
Barbara Tyrrell's first car - Mini (Boat Tail) Austin
- Circa 1930
From her early 20's, all Barbara wanted to do was wander
through Africa and paint. She knew she needed wheels. Her
boyfriend Archie taught her through his own drawings how an engine
worked. Fascinated and literally 'driven' to obtain a set of wheels, she taught art
at the Port Elizabeth Technikon to supplement her income. Buying a car was
something women did not do, let alone drive them. Her first car
(above) was an Austin Mini, paid for with the
proceeds of art sales and teaching. She boasts: I drove that
little car alone from Natal to Cape Town and back on roads which you
could not imagine! Armed with an 'eye', precision fingers, paper,
pencil and gouache watercolors', she set off to rural South Africa to
paint landscapes and record tribal peoples dress.
Foster (Barbara's half sister) with Barbara and her first Caravan.
WWII broke out and
fuel was rationed. Barbara could not afford to stay in hotels and the
tiny Austin proved unsuitable for the task.
She needed a vehicle she could drive to a destination, park and live
in like a house for a month, returning only when the next gasoline ration cards were
issued. One day while sketching with pupils on a street in Port
Elizabeth, her idea took practical shape. A little delivery van with windows
passed in the traffic. She instantly knew that it was the type of
vehicle for her. She rang a garage who soon sold her a second-hand van, previously used to hawk vegetables. It was a 1934
Chevrolet truck, which played an important role in her life story.
Friend Miss Adams
with 1934 Chevrolet Truck
The Zulu's called
Barbara's caravan “Maceka-ceka”, which they said was the noise it made
when stuck. Barbara called her Nixie. When asked why she chose the name, Barbara explains a Nixie was a wild
spirit and that is exactly how she saw herself and her Nixie -
wild, with spirit, in the wild.
Nixie - Barbara -
Friend and William Edward Foster
According to Wikipedia;
Nixies resemble somewhat attractive humanoids with green skin and
hair and webbed appendages. They are described as looking as though they
are composed of water, bubbles and swamp foliage. Nixie are slim and
comely and lightly scaled. Nixies are goodly and peaceful creatures, but
are also highly shy, reclusive and suspicious. They are unforthcoming to
those they don't trust, rarely leave their watery homes, and can be
hostile when they need to be. Nixies desire friendship, and have the
ability to charm others to become their friend. Occasionally a nixie
will lure a human into the water, but they are usually more interested
in company rather than drowning a visitor. Nixies love music, and make
instruments from reeds on the banks of streams.
Tyrrell's and Co - Circa 1939
and friends made a number of camping trips with Nixie. Pauline,
15 years younger, had taken to wearing trousers (centre image
above right) like Barbara.
The woman seated reading is Mrs. Lawson - a farmers wife from the
- January 1944
unaccompanied trip to the field was to the amaNgwane, a Zulu
speaking clan living along the Drakensberg. As fuel was rationed, she would set up camp for
Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa - Pg 128 Ngwane Girls - Circa 1944
Barbara carried a Brownie camera and continuously took photographs for
Quest / Circa 1950
Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa pg 38
sketches were made in pencil with annotated notes to herself as per colour,
pattern, and nature of the different items worn by her subjects. These
sketches were later carefully reworked as paintings in watercolour,
pen, ink, and gouache.
Roof - 1940
After a number of
short trips, Barbara realized Nixie needed a
'head lift'. A bunk, cupboard and additional windows were fitted for
A tent was
designed and fastened to Nixie's side.
The DIAMOND FIELDS
ADVERTISER later reported (4 March 1948);
WOMAN ARTIST IN
CARAVAN - A HOME FROM HOME
caravan is also a masterpiece of comfort and compactness. She designed
it herself, and with true womanly foresight saw to it that there was
plenty of space for her clothes, her art materials, her cooking
equipment, and her bed, while at the same time allowing herself enough
room to work at her drawings.
the caravan and had it built, Miss Tyrrell proceeded to make all the
furniture for it herself. At one end is her bunk, covered with a gay
coverlet; above is a second bunk which folds back against the wall, and
when not required as a bed can be turned into a desk or art table. A
high stool, painted yellow, stands in the corner and provides a seat
when she is at work at this table.
Under the bunk
is a long cupboard where much of her equipment is stowed away, while
down the other side of the caravan is a dresser with drawers for stores
and kitchen utensils. As small sink is let into the corner and connected
with the 20-gallon water tank carried outside the van.
Behind the Door
of the caravan is a wardrobe, with ample hanging space for even a long
frock. Opposite the door is a box where all her artist's material are
kept locked away and secure from the dust.
The final touch
of feminity is to be found in the gay curtains over the windows and the
yellow and white painted furniture, which adds a bright and homely
atmosphere to the caravan.
Nixie Completed -
One may possibly
credit Barbara for inventing South Africa's first caravan or camper, to
'who was first' question leaves unanswered the world over at
There is little doubt that Barbara created the most economical and
compact travelling home one could imagine at the time.
For the most part
Barbara travelled alone, seldom slept under a roof, but always camped
nearby one. Trading stores were ideal campgrounds because they offered
security and were great meeting places for the natives. There she would hear
of special events such as weddings, funerals, and initiations, which
afforded her many opportunities to draw and paint ceremonial costume.
Zululand - Natal
During the war, Barbara used her artistic talents to teach occupational
therapy at Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg and Oribi in
Pietermaritzburg. During journeys between them, she found time to seek out
native models as subjects to sketch and paint.
with Nixie at Muckleneuk, the home of Killie Campbell - by
The media of the day tells us a lot about
The Natal Daily News - Saturday June 9th 1945 reported: Barbara Harcourt Tyrrell, the young Natal artist, has returned to
Durban in her caravan with a lovely collection of studies in flat water
colour of Natives and their costumes. For 18 months she has been living
in her converted delivery van, fitted up cosily as a tiny home,
and it is her proud boast that she has done every bit of her travelling
in Natal, Zululand and the Hluhluwe Game Reserve in search of subjects
without one pint of extra petrol to her legitimate allowance.
preparing collection of these studies for the newly-opened Bantu Museum
and also for Miss Killie Campbell's collection and her clean, clever
work in which her drawing stands without aid of shading of any sort,
offers an amazingly interesting record of designs and their meanings to
add to the historical data of the Natives of South Africa.
Beads and Beauty - I was much struck with the skill with which the
young artist had caught the beauty of line of many types of African
faces, and she has made a point of stressing actual likenesses to the
originals. She finds a good deal of tact necessary in persuading them to
pose at times, but once they consent they are excellent models.
studied every sort of costume and its meaning and the bead designs are
really lovely. In the Reserve, the Inanda district, around
Richmond and in the Drakensberg she sought her subjects, camping on the
farms of people she knew but refusing to be detached from her beloved
caravan. On one occasion she was the sole European guest at a Native
wedding, where she was able to draw richly for her studies.
this trip she was working hard at occupational therapy at Oribi and
Baragwanath, and thoroughly enjoyed the work.
Caravan Verse - 1945
work began to sell before her journeys began. Killie Campbell bought
virtually everything she produced, to complement one of the worlds
foremost Africana library collections. By November 1945,
Barbara's first illustrated book titled: A medley of South African
was published by KNOX Publishing Company. On the cover were comics of
Barbara and Nixie - with a caution sign!
Nixie - Caravan Verse
Barbara has agreed to share her booklet freely in its entirety on the
web. Click Nixie (above) to read, but do come back because her caravan life story
From it you will pick up bits about a young woman's purchase of 'Nixie',
the alterations, a mothers wrath, breakdowns, fear, punctures, getting
stuck, the natives, rescue, nature, culling, dreaming, rain,
mountains, rivers, sea, wind, fire, dust, spring, flowers, trees, her
friends, the city, the farms, campers, and erosion.
Umtata Paper - 1946
By 1946 Barbara had befriended
Mrs. Fred Clarke (neé Ethel Goss) in Pondoland, who lived at Gooshill
Trading Store. The two shared a common admiration for the tribal
peoples of Southern Africa and as others before them,
endeavoured to better understand the meanings and making of Southern African material culture.
Nixie - Pondoland - August
Mrs. Fred Clarke recorded her knowledge differently than Barbara. She produced photographic albums
that included hundreds of photographs, each with a detailed caption. Barbara was instrumental in bringing Mrs.
Fred Clark's work to the attention of Killie Campbell, who subsequently
purchased a number of them,
then gave one to Barbara. Click
here to view our page detailing Mrs.
Fred Clarke and her priceless photograph albums.
Bothner's Gallery - Johannesburg -
Barbara organized solo exhibitions from 1946. One
of her first to be saturated with media attention took place at the prestigious BOTHNER'S GALLERY
in Johannesburg. It was titled Native Studies in Tribal Dress and Berg
Landscapes. The Rand Daily Mail, The Star, Sunday Times and Sunday
Express all covered the event.
In one instance, the
writer was unable to identify himself to much more than dead wood.
Something unusual in
the South African art scene is Barbara Tyrrell's exhibition at Bothner's
Galleries, Johannesburg. Native studies abound - indeed, the artist is
an expert on native dress, language and customs, and the style is sure
to provide considerable comment. Most artist of today, used to
unfettered brush, will consider the work artificial, and it does bear
the stamp of the research worker rather then the artist. There is a
stiffness that one associates with poster and mural which the painter
has been unable to evade even in her oils. here, and in some of her
drawings, the artist gives a faint impression of a Chinese form and
colour conception, a form which does not lend itself to bold
draughtsman ship in the modern manner. I liked the water-colour marine
scenes, "Weathered Log - Mtunzini" and "Driftwood - Mtunzini."
who is a law unto herself
ARTIST OF SYMPATHY AND VISION - NATIVE STUDIES BY MISS TYRRELL
Tyrrel's paintings of native types, now on view at Bothner's Galleries,
place her in a niche of her own among South African artists and
craftsmen. She has brought these studies, in colour and outline, to the
plane of a highly specialized art.
landscapes Miss Tyrrell has a style particularly worth developing
as shown in the thinly painted oil 43, which looks more like a tempra
than an oil. And why not? An artist who is a law unto herself in
painting, with success, water colours that look like woodcuts and oils
that look like tempera, and who above all has expressed so much of the
spirit of Africa in so limited a frame, need fear no criticism from the
purist. The keyword is "success".
Riet Lowe (WITS) drew attention to the great value of having in
our midst a sensitive and sympathetic artist who he said, was doing
everything she could to preserve a faithful and colourful record of the
rapidly vanishing arts and crafts of the natives. "When I look back to
the Roman occupation of north-western Europe and recall that the
inhabitants of the Low Countries, France and Great Britain stood in
relation to the highly cultured Romans as the Bantu-speaking people
stand in relation to us today. I cannot help regretting that there was
no Barbara Tyrrell among them. Imagine how interesting and precious it
would have been had we inherited such a highly sensitized and colorful
record of the illiterate, hut-dwelling Hollanders and Britons, with
their simple clothing, ornaments and arts and crafts".
These pictures show: A Zulu warrior from Umfolosi
wearing ostrich fathers and strips of skins. A Zulu
woman from the Melmoth district wearing an isiqolo.
A girl of the Transvaal Ndebele wearing the beaded
apron (pepetu) and hoops of beaded necklace
which signify that she is of marriageable age.
Will This Survive?
Whether Native costume, pattern and crafts
survive the leveling of this civilization will
depend not only on the foresight of the European
but on the outlook of the African himself.
In his evolution, he will either continue to respect
the national talents which have developed in the
kraal and should still develop further, or he will
despise and reject these traditions, labeling them "barbarie,"
"heathen," "reactionary," until he and his nation
have succeeded in making themselves a copy of the
with Nixie - Swaziland - 1947
to Swaziland in 1947, one of her last journeys with Nixie. She sold
Nixie to a Rhodesian couple, fearing that with well over 20000 "Barbara
Tyrrell" miles on the clock, Nixie had not long to live. At the
time, Barbara was
commissioned to visit the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum located on the
Northern Rhodesian side of the Victoria falls. As she was without a caravan,
she boarded and made the journey by train.
with her new caravan at Killies - Muckleneuk - by Tom Bulpin.
On her return,
Barbara purchased a 1946 International Harvester truck (cab and chassis),
then designed a new caravan. It was
far more spacious and included two bunk beds, a small kitchen with stove,
wash basin, a 12 gallon water supply, drawers, cupboards, a wardrobe, a gas fridge and lights. She was able to use the top bunk as a
drawing table, leave it down and sleep in the lower unit. Entry to the
living quarters was only possible through the passenger door.
Barbara departed to the veldt. From top to
bottom (above) you see the caravan in Natal, picnicking and
camping with friends and
finally visiting friends on their farm. The woman above is Linda Adams,
nursing sister Barbara befriended during the war.
Above - the person with head covering is Banukile, a Bhaca woman
from Ixopo. Banukile taught Barbara about her people, their
customs and alerted her to tribal events. Barbara explains that
she owes more to Banukile then any other person she met in her
life, because it was Banukile who exposed her to Africa and its
Banukile - Circa 1947
Barbara wrote on the back of what became her favorite Banukile
drawing (above): This is Banukile who became my friend
- who taught me much about her people. I thank her - for always.
She introduced me to many interesting parties and other
occasions. We had fun together. She lived in Richmond near our
house - my mothers house. She could have written many books -
was a fountain of knowledge - but could not write.
Banukile - I thank you for your happy friendship and for all the
information passed onto me - and for the shared fun. Banu -
bless you wherever you are.
Click thumbs below to open
By 1947 Barbara
had developed a semi-regular income writing as a correspondent journalist for a number of newspapers and
magazines. She sent updates of her travels for weekly and monthly columns.
Veld Trust News
an article by Barbara in February 1948. It included drawings and was
Will One Day Regret the Vanishing of the National Art of the AFRICAN
Click either thumb
above to open the article.
Click thumbs below to read
An article named
Colourful Costumes of the Transkeian Territories
I pointed out Barbara
recording history soon to be lost.
The article ends with:
Mass Europeanisation for which the African himself so vigorously
clamors, tends to dilute and destroy his individual contribution to the
human brotherhood. In a frantic effort to be as like the white man as
possible he may well develop a dangerous sense of inferiority, having
deplored and forgotten the fascinating story of his past, his art, his
music, his dance, his costume. He is perhaps too swift an evolution.
It is indeed a time to preserve for him his vanishing story.
Click either thumb above to read the full text.
Duggan-Cronin and Barbara Tyrrell 1948
The DIAMOND FIELDS
ADVERTISER reported 4 March 1948: Three Natal women arrived in
Kimberly yesterday for the express purpose of visiting the Duggan-Cronin
Bantu Gallery. They were Miss Barbara Tyrrell, of Richmond, and Miss
Killie Campbell and her sister, Mrs. John Hepburn, both of Durban.
All were keenly
interested in Native life and customs, and they said their interest had
been awaken originally by Mr. Duggan-Cronin's books. These were added
sparks to the fire of enthusiasm he had already created, and they have
since spent much time collecting information and studying Native
who is a talented artist, has brought with her a large collection of her
own Native studies done in flat water colors, outlined.
arrived by caravan and is camping in the grounds of the gallery. She
travels alone through the Native territories and makes sketches of the
various types, with a special interest in their costumes, poses,
expressions and musical instruments.
She said she
soon discovered that each tribe has its own typical poses and facial
expressions, as well as its own mode of dress, and she has tried in her
pictures to capture the distinctive pose and expression of the tribe, as
well as to give a detailed picture of the costume.
As a linguist
she is able to talk to her models, and she has learned much of the
significance of the bead work and dress, so that each picture is
accompanied by a short article describing the significance of the
travels have extended over the past three years. She has toured
Zululand, Basutoland, Pondoland, Swaziland and the Transvaal, making
pencil sketches which she completes when she returns to Durban.
When she first
started the work she found it difficult to persuade the Natives to pose
for her, but she soon discovered that an outright request for a
"sitting" was a breach of etiquette.
Now, when she
sees a Native whom she thinks would make a good model she approaches the
subject cautiously, talking about the weather, the crops or any topic
the may come to mind until she is asked the direct question: "Where are
you going and what do you do?'
explains that she would like to draw the model, and they usually agree
readily. When they appear shy or self-conscious, she suggest that she
would like to draw their beadwork, of which they are always inordinately
proud. They will pose for hours while she makes her sketch, and the fact
that the human element creeps in does not worry them at all.
Travel Guides - 1952
T. V. Bulpin - 1949
By 1949 she was
regularly working with the 'Doyen of African travel writing', Tom Victor Bulpin. Tom
authored 29 books, over 2000 booklets, countless pamphlets,
newspapers and magazine features, as well as travel movies during his
career. Many of his articles featured Barbara Tyrrell's illustrations.
Their association was life long. Twenty-two years later, Tom published 'Suspicion is my Name', by
Barbara Tyrrell and reprinted 'Tribal Peoples'.
In 1949, Barbara met William Adrian Jurgens (Pete)
while working with Tom Bulpin at the Pilgrims Rest Hotel. Pete was an
engineer at a nearby gold mine. The excitement of meeting someone like
Barbara became instrumental in redirecting Pete's life.
discovered common interests, fell in love and engaged to marry. Their
evolving dream was to draw, paint, photograph and film Sothern
African tribal life together.
was too cumbersome to access the regions they intended to travel, so
Pete redesigned it. In an interview with Barbara she stated; Pete redesigned our lives and work around
my lifestyle because he thought it was great. He became a
professional photographer, film producer, stunt man and can be
accredited for filming African adventure films on behalf of Warner
Mr. Jurgens, an engineer, is building a safari van and caravan
trailer for the life of travel they have planned. The van is designed
for trips into difficult country, while the trailer, equipped with all
possible luxuries, will be restricted to broader highways.
A lighter, amble, modern caravan
Barbara's mother -
Kathleen Tyrrell (neé Kathleen Fynney)
Hetty Boshoff Fynney)
Barbara and Pete
were married 24 June 1950. Their new, yet to be named caravan
was embossed onto the wedding cake!
Their Caravan was
the obvious choice for a wedding car and as you can see, was a very
happy day in their life. The little boy on it hood is
Dr. Joe Clonard Tyrrell, Barbara's nephew. Dr. Joe Tyrrell is currently
a well known cardiologist practicing in Cape Town. (2010)
After a short
honeymoon to Durban's South Coast, Barbara and Pete set off on what would
become a 5000-mile epic journey in and around Southern Africa. As
mentioned, in 1947 Barbara
took the train to the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum in Northern Rhodesia
(Zambia). She was commissioned to paint nine large murals
for a museum building under construction. The work completed, Barbara and
Pete set off to deliver these - circa 1950.
Barbara and Pete -
Livingstone Zambia - 1950
Barbara and Pete were given the task of setting up the entire
ethological section. They designed and made thirty-three native figures
and arranged exhibits in thirty display cases. 'The Central African Post" reported
April 19, 1951: In a short article no attempt can be made to do
justice to the actual display in the cases.
In the artistic work which has gone into all this, the museum
authorities were indeed fortunate in obtaining the services of Barbara
Tyrrell (Mrs. Jurgens) and her husband. She has combined in her work the
skill of an artist of high rank with a scientific knowledge of African
life and a most sympathetic under of the technical needs of a museum. It
is truly remarkable what she has achieved in a short time.
At the opening,
5 May 1951, Barbara and Pete were presented to Governor Sir Gilbert Rennie. The Rhodes-Livingstone Museum Journal
Large painting of murals and unusual coloring of the walls enhance the
display of exhibits, making the museum as a whole vastly interesting.
Barotse - Lozi or
Lodzi Nalikwanda Barge - Circa 1950
Once the fanfare
subsided and the commission
completed, they set off to study tribal life in Barotseland (Western
Zambia). It is here that their caravan Nalikwanda
was named. Enjoy the video clips which follow their journey up the
Video Clips of
the 'Nalikwanda' Journey into Barotseland follow.
© Protected by
Click thumbs to view circa
Nalikwanda Border Crossing
Stuck - North Western Rhodesia
Crossing the Chobe River
Nalikwanda up the Zambezi Day 1
Poling up Zambezi Day 2
To Lealui - Limulunga Day 3
While on tour,
Pete reported 27 June1951 - THE CHRONICLE - In
Barotseland we had the rare privilege of seeing the Makishi dances. The
participants wear masks and fantastic costumes of bark. We received a
welcome from the Paramount Chief, who asked us to tea and later showed
us the white and green royal barge with hits rows of paddles in their
colorful attire. " On the way up to Barotseland in our caravan we
had rather an alarming experience. We rounded a corner of a track and
almost ran into wild elephants." - "Of course," chimed in Mrs. Jurgens,
"I shouted to him to reverse but he just called for his camera. The
animals did not give ay trouble but ambled away."
mask and drummer. -
reported: Once this commission had been completed, Mr. and Mrs. Jurgens
set out for Northern Rhodesia, where they studied the tribal life of the
Tonga and Barotseland in the Gwembe Valley. Here they were entertained
by the Paramount Chief, who showed them the royal barge. Makishi dances
were specially arranged, and the visitor enjoyed a rare privilege in
witnessing these dances in which the masks and fantastic costumes of
bark are worn.
C. M. N. White
(Charles Matthew Newton White) - post 1937.
Mwana Pwevo mask
(above left) Barbara and Pete photographed and filmed dancing in
also recorded by ethnologist C. M. N. White (Charles Matthew
Newton White) after 1937. The Rhodes-Livingstone museum published:
Elements in Luvale Beliefs and Rituals in 1961, which included the
image above (Rhodes-Livingstone Papers
Click thumb to view
bi-plane in Ba Tongaland
© Protected by
On return to Livingstone, Barbara and Pete hired a DH60 Gypsy Moth
bi-plane, an aircraft used extensively in Africa under the British
Crown. It took them to the Ba Tonga living along the Zambezi River.
They sat side by using a single harness, as the plane was built
for one passenger. The pilot flew the craft sitting to their rear. Click the thumb above
to view a portion of the landing, Pete and the airplane.
Ba Tonga girls with nose plugs and water pipe
- Circa 1950
reported on the 1st of June 1952: These
"Nose Plug People' remove their four top teeth so they can look
like their cows, which they reverently love, Miss Tyrrell told
me. She said; They are the most fascinating and primitive tribe
I have yet painted, and they live in a hot wilderness of thorn
and baobab trees, which are very beautiful in a fierce sort of
way. "We had to fly there from Livingstone, as there are no
roads for a caravan through the bush. My husband and I soon
became friendly with these happy-go-lucky Tongas with their nose
plugs and calabash bubble pipes and red-ochred bodies. He filmed
them." "We were lucky to witness a funeral, their
biggest festival, when there is chanting, drumming
and dancing on the grave for three days and night in
full tribal regalia."
triumphant - departing the river at Lourenco Marques / December 4th 1951
Click the image above to learn more about the adventure.
Barbara, in the early stages of pregnancy, accompanied the Durban
Ski-boat Commando down the Pongola River (Maputo River) on 26
November 1951. Twenty people embarked on a journey to descend 200 miles
downstream to Lourenço Marques (Maputo) - Portuguese East Africa
(Mozambique). Pete filmed while Barbara travelled
downstream by road, carrying supplies for night camps. Along the way,
the two of them referred to the baby as 'Pongola Pete'. ☺
Peter Jarl Jurgens enters the 'picture'.
Pete Jarl Jurgens was born the 13th of
July 1952 - which
added to the adventure. Four months old, he was
bundled into Nalikwanda, to film big game. Killie Campbell suggested
they base themselves at her bother Wac Campbell's safari camp. (Wac founded and owned Mala Mala from 1929-1964,
then sold it to the Rattray family.) As they neared their destination, the
caravan got stuck. THE NATAL DAILY NEWS reported 9 December
1952: We had set out along a fairly rugged road (writes Mrs. Jurgens)
and rain caught up with us. Conditions deteriorated so we abandoned the
trailer and hurried on with the truck only to stick in a deep, dry
stream bed - one of those precipitous ones. Pete went for help and the
family huddled in the truck until a lone Shangaan woman warned us that
the stream could rise very quickly, which appeared to be happening as
the rain was tremendous and cascading into our particular donga. The
family then took to their heels.
that she felt in
danger all the time. She says the young Zulu
girl they called a Tombizaan, carried baby Pete in the pouring rain under canvas,
while she walked ahead with an axe to protect them. Barbara explains
that she was very angry and fearful over their predicament, adamant
that she was quite capable of killing any lion
that might threaten
them. They were rescued by a tractor and taken to camp. Barbara says they were met by
'hee-men' type hunters, including one of Wac's
remaining sons, who on sight didn't like them. Picture a nursing white
woman arriving with a baby at the beginning of the rains and stranded,
without any means to 'go away'. Barbara laughs saying he actually hated us.
In response, she busied herself drying nappies around their main fire.
This effort of Pete's entailed a pushbike ride through lion country - 17
miles. He carried the bicycle (which had been borrowed from a Shangaan)
mot of the way as mud caked so thickly under the mudguards that the
wheels stuck. Once when he was digging mud from the mudguards a
black-maned lion suddenly appeared and roared within 20 feet of him. He
leapt straight over the bike and up a thorn tree, which left holes in
his hands. The lion rushed onwards and killed a zebra, with much kicking
and squealing, a short way off. After an hour in the thorny perch
and win all the nasty noises had subsided, he crept off on tip-toe with
his bike on his shoulders. He rescued the truck and trailer and family
and we fled from the bush during a lull in the weather.
Sixty years later,
Barbara explains how she and Pete laughed and laughed over their
situation and reception, at what became the exclusive Mala Mala
private game reserve. She goes on to say that Wac Campbell himself was a man of
had lost two sons in the war. He
sought out the help of traditional healers as he frantically and fruitlessly searched
for their bodies until his own death.
with Pete (Ottie)
The Mala Mala
adventure had an affect on Barbara's travel plans. She became ever more
confined to Richmond, while Pete travelled to movie shoots as distant as
his dog - traveling in the caravan.
Of Barbara, THE
NATAL DAILY NEWS
21 September 1953: "I sometimes rebel slightly over missing these trips
into the wilds with Pete," says Barbara, "but it is a strange thing that
as a solitary caravan artist and in my rugged journey with Pete, life
never presented a half of the alarums and excursions that one
experiences in owning a baby. Mothers certainly face stark drama. Tooth
cutting, collywobbles, vaccinations, injections - good gracious, give me
darkest Africa for a quiet life".
Pete and Pete (Ottie)
When Pete was
home, he would play with little Pete on his lap - Jump Jump Sugar Lump.
His giggles led to the nickname of Oogie, to which
his slightly older cousin Martin Arnold corrupted to Ottie. The name
stuck and as he grew up, most people called him Ottie.
Hugh Tracey -
Barbara Tyrrell - Circa 1954
Barbara raised her
boy in Richmond, called in on her mother daily, held solo exhibitions in
Durban, Pietermaritzburg and organized to sell paintings through the
Tate Gallery in London. (Above, an image of Barbara and Hugh Tracy
the 'ethnomusicologist', at a gallery opening.) Barbara began work on
a thesis of native tribal dress, which would lead to numerous important books and
her honorary PhD degree.
Barbara arranged a
gift of two paintings for the Queen. The Governor of Southern Rhodesia presented
these to the Queen Mother during the Rhodes Centenary Celebrations
- Tessa and Pete (Ottie)
bought a new Volkswagen Type 2 panel van in 1958 to replace Nalikwanda.
She and young Pete named it Kwanda, which they shortened from
Barbara Tyrrell - Ottie and Tessa -
In 1960, Barbara exhibited 34 works at Durban's Pabros Theatre
and one of Ottie's. George D.
How wrote of Barbara's paintings: proves without doubt that
the artist, with her delicate sensibility, meticulous attention
to detail and accuracy of interpretation, must be considered the
foremost authority on, and painter of, Native tribal dress.
Painting by (Ottie) Pete Jurgens Junior
Eight-year-old Ottie took gold. Ottie's work was titled "Under
the Sea" and fetched two guineas, 'tiny coins made of gold'.
Tessa - Ottie - Barbara Tyrrell -
In 1963, Pete Jurgens
- husband, father and filmmaker, died while go-cart racing at the Irene track near Pretoria.
A massive heart attack caused his death. Shortly thereafter, the racetrack was renamed the
Pete Jurgens Racetrack, as he had for a time been South
Africa's national go-cart champion.
and below - Joan Broster's Trading Store at
Barbara's sister Cathy
also died in 1963, in a motorcar accident. At this point Barbara
completely took over the
frail care Cathy had afforded their mother. She even bought her
a house across the street so that they were nearby. Barbara and Ottie managed to travel with
their two dogs during school holidays (and played a bit of
hooky). The larger dog was Sammy, the smaller Tessa. Tessa was a gift
from Barbara's dear friend
a trader and like-minded woman, who lived
at Qebe in the Transkei. The images above were taken at Joan's
trading store and nearby.
name to learn more about her life story.)
Barbara Tyrrell admiring the coiffure
of a Bhaca traditional healer.
Though Barbara was grounded,
she remained able to visit the nearby Bhaca (above). Between
caring for her mother and Ottie, she painted
and began in earnest to write and publish her books.
On Saturday 27 March 1965, over 2000 people watched as the University of Natal
bestowed unto Barbara - one of its highest honors. She knelt
before Chancellor Dr. D. G. Shepstone, and received an honorary
PhD. The Orator said that Barbara's famous paintings depicting
Bantu tribal costume, were to be found in public and private
collections throughout Southern Africa and in many countries of
the Western world. He stated: These paintings represent the
work of over a quarter of a century of travel and study of many
Bantu peoples in their own tribal homelands throughout the
subcontinent, and today the University not only sets the seal of
recognition and commendation upon her work, but also pay tribute
to her single-minded dedication to her purpose. Single-minded dedication become a way of life for Barbara!
MERCURY 29 September 1964:
"It was Benugile who
started it all." Barbara said at the week-end when we browed
together through the collection now back from the publisher and
gracing the wall of Dr. Killie Campbell's lovely Durban home.
She explained that Benugile was the first model who sat for her
when 22 years ago at her home in Richmond, Natal, she began
doing African studies in earnest. "While I worked she told me
many fascinating things about her dress and how one could
distinguish various tribal characteristics by certain ornamental
features," Barbara said. "It was all so enchanting that I
decided to investigate further afield."
PANORAMA - August 1965:
begin somewhere, and with Barbara the story began with Benugile.
If Benugile, more then 25 years ago, had not been such a
chatterbox, the chances are that Barbara might never have been
singled out for honour by a university. But Benugile, it seems,
was 'written in her stars' as surely as the day she first looked
on a box of paints and felt her fingers twitch in a desire to
Benugile Mabanjwa and Barbara Tyrrell
by Aubrey Elliot
'Benugile was a
little Bantu maid I came across one day in the streets of
Richmond,' Barbara tome me soon after the graduation ceremony.
'Dressed in her tribal outfit she made such an enchanting
picture that I couldn't resist painting her. She was a perfectly
delightful subject and while I painter her she told me many
fascinating thing about her dress and how one could distinguish
various tribal characteristic through certain features of
adornment. It was all so interesting that I immediately decided
to investigate more fully all she had told me.'
The result was
Barbara's first painting trip away from her home in Richmond.
This was done in an old panel van and the trail took her through
several Bantu homelands in the Natal Midlands. All along the way
Barbara found that what Benugile has said was true. The Bantu in
their various tribal areas had a long proud heritage, and their
attractive dress was full of tradition and colourful meanings.
It was an excited
young woman, therefore, who in a brief week or so, managed to
trap in her sketch book a score of these gaily caparisoned
When she returned
home, Barbara put the finishing touches to her sketches... and
found herself getting restless for the colourful world she had
Her first essay
into the fascinating African world had challenged her talents.
She realized that from an artistic point of view no one had yet
recorded its engaging story and that the field was hers.
Courageously, she ventured into it alone.
Since that first
excursion, she has gone many thousands of miles into remote
areas around Southern Africa and into places where no white man
had ever before dared intrude. The outcome of it all is a
fund of absorbing stories about highly-secret initiation and
puberty rituals as well as a vast knowledge about the habit and
customs of some 21 Bantu tribes.
This knowledge is
cleverly woven into her pictures and it makes her work a record
that is both unique and priceless. In Natal, Pondoland,
Swaziland, Basutoland, the Transkei, South West Africa and
Rhodesia, Barbara conducted her research in three sections - the
male, the female, and the seers and herbalists. The first
several hundred painting cover the customs and dress relative -
in both male and female - to babyhood, childhood, puberty,
marriage, tribal ritual and status.
Killie Campbell and Barbara Tyrrell at
friend and mentor Dr. Killie died in 1965. Click the image above
to read a moving tribute to Killie Campbell, authored by
Tribal Peoples of
Southern Africa was published in 1968 by Books of
Africa (Pty) Ltd. Its original name
had been 'Ritual and Dress of Southern African Tribes',
but Dutch publisher A. A. Balkema - let them down. During the
next 28 years, she would author or co author, 'Suspicion is my Name' - 'African Heritage', 'The Magic of Glove Puppet Theatre' and
'Barbara Tyrrell Her African Quest'.
Her African Quest by Barbara
Tyrrell - 1996
In the 1970's, Kwanda was exchanged for a custom
made Volkswagen, converted by Jurgens Caravans brand
named Auto Villa. Back came Barbara's days of beds, lights, camera and action!
Barbara felt and behaved like a little girl in
a candy store.
Graffiti (above right) reads:
MIND Your Blooming Head!
Barbara painted and travelled,
both with and without Ottie.
He attended the University of Natal, which allowed Barbara
to return and draw her beloved Baobabs.
Barbara with two paintings and her Volkswagen Jurgens
sold up in Richmond and moved to Number 8 Palmer Road -
Muizenberg during 1983. She continued to paint and
held exhibitions in Cape Town and Durban. One could often find
her sneaking an afternoon nap in her parked caravan.
Pete Jurgens - Pietermaritzburg Town
Tower - Circa 1970
Pete had grown up, married,
fathered a son and moved to Paris to be nearby his son, Théau
Jurgens. While researching brain cancer, he contracted the same.
Barbara flew to Paris
and remained by his side. Ottie died on May 15 1998. Barbara returned
to South Africa with his ashes, which she and family buried near
Barbara - Pete enjoyed a free spirit and lived life spontaneously
as a 'Nixie'. Above, her favorite picture of her son, was taken while
he 'mischievously' changed Pietermaritzburg time. The
tower was the tallest single brick building in the southern hemisphere
at the time.
Click thumbs below to
view larger Image
Barbara - Kristofer - Amanda
We thought Barbara would give up - perish, but
that was not to be. NO WAY! This extraordinary
woman was inundated with love. If pictures tell a story, know
that as she worked her way through personal tragedy, she grew younger
To cheer herself and get back on the go, Barbara bought
a new minivan. It was a
1998 Daihatsu 'Move' and as you might
suspect, produced these smiles!
drive the van for eleven years - before deciding her home could
finally become her caravan!.
90th Birthday Celebrations - Lovers Siyabonga
- Barbara Tyrrell
At 90, Barbara was honoured by
a clan of Thembu. They were
correctly 'period' dressed to the time of Joan Broster's
Red Blanket Valley and Barbara's caravan visits.
Click thumbs below to
view larger Image
Her family and friends - young and old - came to her birthday bash. They included a
group of 'belly dancers', women who had routinely given her belly dance lessons, she says 'to counter
the effects of my hip replacement'.
At 95 - the beautiful Barbara Tyrrell.
At 91, Barbara got
itchy feet and decided to move back to Natal. She railed her
Daihatsu and settled
at Scottburgh. Again feeling restless (at 93), she reversed this
and moved back to the fairest Cape.
THE NATAL MERCURY - Tuesday September 16 1947
Arthur Bowman took one
of the most famous
photographs of Barbara in 1947. She had sold Nixie - but would never forget
her - and still holds onto a part of her today..
Nixie's mascot - Circa 1934
the 1934 Chev Caravan, came with a griffin
mascot. A company called Franklin, who held copyright, made it. The mascot was die cast in zinc, then chrome plated
and used on 1934 Chevrolet trucks only.
Barbara Tyrrell with Nixie's original mascot.
wild spirit is and will always remain part of Barbara's legacy. We wish
and Nixie a safe journey, Sala Kahle and a heartfelt
Verse - 1945
Before we sign off,
know that Barbara was never accosted or robbed
in her travels. The natives of Southern Africa treated her with
the upmost courtesy and were always interested in what she was
doing. She paid her models, which they thought was
remarkable. Imagine sitting there paid to do nothing. Her
acute accuracy, minute attention to detail and meticulous hand,
matched with a relentless persistence to uncover the tribal
dress of Southern African natives, places her historic Africana
artwork beyond anyone before her, or who might
come henceforth. In a flicker in time, Barbara Tyrrell recorded beaded
traditional dress at its economic zenith and through perseverance, stuck to
her African quest. No one photographer captured all that which
Barbara put to pen, watercolour, gauche and oil. She combined her
artistic imagination with the accuracy of a historian,
preserving for prosperity what in her own time would become, the
finest record of native ceremonial dress of her
of Southern Africa.
Collection, Cape Town RSA
British Empire Society, London UK
Court of South Africa, Johannesburg RSA
Durban City Art Gallery, Durban RSA
Ghana Museum and Monuments Board, Accra Ghana
Killie Campbell Library, Durban RSA
KwaZulu Cultural Museum Ulundi, Ondini RSA
Livingstone Zambia (Rhodes Livingston Museum)
Museum Africa, Johannesburg RSA (Africana Museum)
Museum of Zimbabwe,
Queenstown Art Gallery,
National Gallery, Cape Town RSA
Museum , Cape Town RSA
The Campbell Smith Collection,
Cape Town RSA
University of Natal, Durban RSA
William Humphrey Art Gallery, Kimberly RSA
Wits University Collection, Johannesburg RSA
This page was made
possible with the help of:
Dr. Joe Clonard
Pat and Mathew O'Brian
Yvonne Winters and
of course -
To read Caravan Verse
by Barbara Tyrrell - click
May 7 2010 - The following
message was given to Barbara Tyrrell.
You have captured Barbara Tyrrell's life in a nutshell, a task that presents
quite a challenge. I have always admired her work but after reading about
her life, I now admire her life as well!
It is wonderful how you are weaving together the giants of southern African
ethnology. You give them a human face that makes their contributions not
only more amazing for their day, but brings a freshness to the cultures that
they were fascinated with. Cultures and times that have past, just as all
cultures and times do pass.
links leading to books authored by Barbara Tyrrell ...
Native Life in South Africa
Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa
Suspicion is My Name
Barbara Tyrrell - Her African Quest
link to visit our Barbara Tyrrell Centenary birthday party page: