see also:

  • 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:
Curator of the South African Museum 1872 -1895

Roland Trimen was born in London in 1840. Due to ill-health, he was sent on a sea voyagPhotograph of Roland Trimen (26327 bytes)e 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 Layard. He 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.