- Out of Africa there is always something
new by J.A. van den Heever
Growth of a Collection (Ethnology Collection)
by E. M.Shaw
Roland Trimen was born in London in 1840. Due to ill-health, he was sent on a
to South Africa at the age of eighteen, and it was during this visit to Cape
Town that he first worked in the Museum, arranging beetles for
joined the Cape Town Auditor-General's department in 1860, started seriously
studying entomology, and published taxonomic papers. In 1864 he again worked in
the Museum and from 1866 - 1867 he was Acting Curator while Layard was overseas.
When Layard resigned due to the abolition of his Commission post, Trimen was
appointed by the Board of Trustees as Curator on the same terms as his
predecessor, namely an additional 100 pounds a year over and above his official
salary. He was given one day (Friday) each week to attend to the Museum.
Trimen spent all available research time concentrating on insects and as a
result, the Museum's entomological collection, especially Lepidoptera,
grew considerably. He also collected and exchanged birds and mammals. He
accepted, but did not actively collect ethnographic material. He was however,
the first Curator to enrich the collections with prehistoric relics, and it was
in his time that the first accession of rock art is recorded. The most
significant of the accessions during Trimen's time was the earliest of the
Karoo fossil reptiles, collected in 1881, by H.W. Oakley while he was Acting
Curator during one of Trimen's periods of leave.
Trimen saw no need to alter Layard's displays, but he experienced the usual
museum problem - lack of space to exhibit all he had to display. By 1886 the
Museum and Library Building was too small to cope with the rapidly increasing
collections and the Museum would have to move to a new site. Trimen vigorously
pursued the task of planning a completely new building. By 1895 the Museum had a
new building erected to Trimen's requirements, but unfortunately there was no
possibility of setting up any display due to a lack of funding. With an
additional grant forthcoming, the move to the new building could begin.
Due to ill-health, Trimen had to resign at this time, but he had done a great
deal for the South African Museum. He laid the foundation of an enduring
research tradition based on the Museum's own carefully conserved collections.
But probably his greatest service was in designing the new building and with the
beginnings of a fully qualified scientific and technical staff as well as the
beginnings of specialized collections and a well-stocked library.