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Gallery Ezakwantu

African Art  - Art Africain - Tribal Art -  菲洲艺术 - Afrikanische Kunst


Central and Southern African Tribal Art





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Barbara Tyrrell


Barbara Eleanor Harcourt Tyrrell

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 birthday.


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 Tyrrell


Barbara's first caravan was a wagon made from a paraffin box by her father, which was chauffeured by her elder sister Catherine 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 garden.




From: 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 recounts:  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...



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 Truck owned by W. E. Foster


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 wearing trousers. 


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 drawings.



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 life work.




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. 




Pauline Mary 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


Barbara, family, 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 Richmond area.




Drakensberg Natal  - January 1944


Barbara's first 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 a month.




          Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa - Pg 128              Ngwane Girls - Circa 1944


Barbara carried a Brownie camera and continuously took photographs for her records.



              Her African Quest / Circa 1950             Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa pg 38


Barbara's field 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.




Nixie's Raised Roof - 1940


After a number of short trips, Barbara realized Nixie needed a 'head lift'. A bunk, cupboard and additional windows were fitted for comfort.





A tent was designed and fastened to Nixie's side.  The DIAMOND FIELDS ADVERTISER later reported (4 March 1948);




Miss Tyrrell's 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.


Having designed 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 - 1940


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.




Drakensberg - Natal


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. 




Barbara Tyrrell with Nixie at Muckleneuk, the home of Killie Campbell - by Whysalls.


The media of the day tells us a lot about Barbara. 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. 


She is 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.


She has 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.


Before this trip she was working hard at occupational therapy at Oribi and Baragwanath, and thoroughly enjoyed the work.




Caravan Verse - 1945


Barbara's 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 Caravan Verse, 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 continues!


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, endeavored to better understand the meanings and making of Southern African material culture.




Nixie - Pondoland - August 1946


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 - October 1946


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. 




Bothner's Gallery - Johannesburg


Critics: In one instance, the writer was unable to identify himself to much more than dead wood.

Sunday Times                                                              The Angry Face


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." 

Others labelled her 'an artist who is a law unto herself ' .                   Happy Face 


The Star 





Barbara 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.


In her 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".


Professor van 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".  





SUNDAY EXPRESS: 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 drab European.             Barbara Tyrrell

October 20, 1946




Barbara Tyrrell with Nixie - Swaziland - 1947


Barbara travelled 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.




Barbara Tyrrell 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.



The Adams Family


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 'Tribal People'.


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 larger Image


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 published an article by Barbara in February 1948. It included drawings and was appropriately titled: South Africans Will One Day Regret the Vanishing of the National Art of the AFRICAN TRIBAL COSTUMES.


Click either thumb above to open the article.


Click thumbs below to read another.


An article named Colourful Costumes of the Transkeian Territories was published. 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.





Alfred Martin 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 customs.


Miss Tyrrell, who is a talented artist, has brought with her a large collection of her own Native studies done in flat water colors, outlined.


Miss Tyrrell 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 costume.


Miss Tyrrell's 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?'


Then she 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'.



1946 International Harvester Truck


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.





They 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.





Barbara's caravan 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 Brothers.





The press reported; 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 took form.





Nalikwanda, 'nearly completed'.




Barbara's mother - Kathleen Tyrrell   (neé Kathleen Fynney)


(Kathleen Adolphia 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


On arrival, 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. 


Further along: 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 recorded: 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 Zambezi River. 


Video Clips of  the 'Nalikwanda' Journey into Barotseland follow.


© Protected by Copyright ©


Click thumbs to view circa 1950 Cine




                         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."



Luvale Mwana Pwevo mask and drummer. - Circa 1950

Another newspaper 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.


Coincidently, the Mwana Pwevo mask (above left) Barbara and Pete photographed and filmed dancing in 1950, was 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 32).


Click thumb to view bi-plane in Ba Tongaland



© Protected by Copyright ©


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.                  © Copyright Protected ©




Ba Tonga girls with nose plugs and water pipe - Circa 1950



THE SUNDAY TRIBUNE 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."




Tired but 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. 

Barbara reminisces 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.


The article continued: 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, a grinning 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  'Africa', who 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.




Barbara Tyrrell 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 Kenya.




 Pete (Ottie)with 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 in 1953.




Kwanda - Tessa and Pete (Ottie)


Barbara bought a new Volkswagen Type 2 panel van in 1958 to replace Nalikwanda. She and young Pete named it Kwanda, which they shortened from Nalikwanda.




Barbara Tyrrell - Ottie and Tessa - Circa 1965


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 - Circa 1965


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.




Above and below - Joan Broster's Trading Store at Qebe  - Transkei


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 Joan Broster, 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.

(Click Joan's 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!



THE NATAL 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."



SOUTH AFRICAN PANORAMA - August 1965: All stories 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 create beauty.




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 people.


When she returned home, Barbara put the finishing touches to her sketches... and found herself getting restless for the colourful world she had just discovered.


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 Muckleneuk


Barbara's dearest friend and mentor Dr. Killie died in 1965. Click the image above to read a moving tribute to Killie Campbell, authored by Barbara Tyrrell.





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 Auto Villa.





Barbara eventually 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 Hall Clock 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 his fathers side.


Like 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 - Fugigoo

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 from inside.  ☺




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!





She would 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


Interestingly, Nixie, 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.


Nixie's wild spirit is and will always remain part of Barbara's legacy. We wish her and Nixie a safe journey, Sala Kahle and a heartfelt  

                                                                              "AU REVOIR"... 




Caravan 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 Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa.




Barbara Tyrrell Collection, Cape Town RSA

British Empire Society,  London UK

Constitutional 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 Museum, Livingstone Zambia (Rhodes Livingston Museum)

Museum Africa, Johannesburg RSA (Africana Museum)

Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo Zimbabwe

Queenstown Art Gallery, Queenstown RSA

South African National Gallery, Cape Town RSA

The Afri-Karner 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:


Martin Arnold

Suzanne Ball

Rayda Becker

Dillwywn Bester

John Davis

Jacque DeVilliers

Cindy Tyrrell

Dr. Joe Clonard Tyrrell

Pat and Mathew O'Brian 

Richard Palmer

Yvonne Winters and of course - Barbara Tyrrell!



To read Caravan Verse by Barbara Tyrrell - click Nixie.                            



May 7 2010 - The following message to Gallery Ezakwantu was printed and given to Barbara Tyrrell.



Gallery Ezakwantu,

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.

Michael Conner




Follow these 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



Follow this link to visit our Barbara Tyrrell Centenary birthday party page:    



We hope you have enjoyed the page.










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