- Out of Africa there is always something
new by J.A. van den Heever
Growth of a Collection (Ethnology Collection)
by E. M.Shaw
Edgar Leopold Layard was born in 1824 in Florence. He arrived in the Cape in
1854 to take up a post in the Civil Service, and was appointed to the Colonial
Secretary's office. Recommended by the Governor of the Cape, Sir George Grey, he
took charge of the Museum collection, but only in his spare time.
When Layard took over the old collection, it was in a pitiable state and
nearly everything was eventually discarded. In 1855 the first Board of Trustees
were appointed and in their first Report they drew attention to the need for
some permanent establishment for the Museum and for its protection by
legislation. The South African Museum was still a private and informal concern,
heavily dependent on voluntary subscriptions.
In 1860 a new building for the Museum and Library was opened by HRH Prince
Alfred. Layard moved into the Curator's quarters and the extraordinary poverty
of the Museum in those early days is emphasized by the fact that he was expected
to pay a very considerable amount out of his own pocket towards the cost of
erecting the Museum of which he was Curator. But good displays could at last be
mounted in a building erected for museum purposes and Layard proceeded well in
this regard. He also prepared a Museum catalogue, which dealt only with Mammalia
and the most important item listed in it is the
Layard had mentioned in 1859 that he was making every effort to obtain a quagga
foal and this foal is now the only representative on the the African continent
of this extinct sub-species.
His interests were more ornithological and conchological than mammalian, but
he was also an enthusiastic collector of invertebrates as well as vertebrates.
Minerals, fossils and ethnological material were also accepted and displayed. He
believed that the Museum should have "something for everybody" and followed this
principle throughout his curatorship. He realized the need to place his
collections before the public and the displays he set up, usually with his own
hands, were well received.
In 1865 he found an extraordinary whale stranded near Cape Town and although
it was thought to be a new genus at the time, it still retains layardii
as its specific name, and is known as Layard's Beaked Whale, (Mesoplodon
Unfortunately, when the Mixed Commission was abolished in 1870, Layard was
out of a job and he had to return to England. He was sorely missed as he had
been an extremely energetic worker, who seems to have divided his whole waking
life between the Colonial Office and the Museum.