Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
GROBLER, Jackie. Louis Tregardt's diary as an historical source. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.3, pp. 465-480. ISSN 2224-7912.
In this article it is argued that the diary of Louis Tregardt contains a wealth of historical information. Tregardt was the only Voortrekker leader of the Great Trek era who kept a diary. It covers the period from the end of July 1836, when Tregardt and his group of Voortrekkers had already reached the Soutpansberg region in what is today the Limpopo Province of South Africa, to 1 May 1838, when his wife died less than three weeks after they had reached the Portuguese Fort at what is now Maputo in Mozambique. The diary was written in the language spoken by Tregardt and his companions: an early form of Afrikaans which was evolving from Dutch. Two transcriptions of Tregardt's diary have been published to date. The author of this article is busy translating the diary into Afrikaans. Selections from the diary have been published in English. Furthermore, a variety of academic and popular historical studies on Tregardt and his diary have been undertaken, especially on the language used by the diarist. Tregardt's trek has inspired creative work by foremost literary and artistic figures in South Africa. However, the only extensive evaluation of the diary as an historical source was undertaken by Gustav Preller in 1917. Since then a large body of information on Tregardt and his trek, which Preller did not have access to, has emerged. It certainly is time for a re-evaluation of the diary as an historical source. The first issue focused on in this article is the diarist himself, namely Tregardt. Why did he keep the diary? Did he mostly report on events and circumstances in which he himself participated or which he experienced? Did he enter information on a daily basis or long after events about which he wrote? Is the information which he included in the diary of sufficient interest to justify claims that it should be regarded as an important source? The answers to these questions can be summarised as follows: It is not clear why Tregardt kept a diary, but it certainly was not to justify his actions. He reported on what he himself did or witnessed. He wrote almost daily and seldom more than two days after events; and he certainly provides unique and valuable information. Indeed, this evaluation of Tregardt's diary as an historical source is based primarily on an analysis of the variety of issues about which the diary provides information that is not readily available from other sources. In the first place, Tregardt provides detailed information about his own character and views; about relationships within Voortrekker families; about racial prejudices; and about violence. Secondly, the diary highlights the differences between the various types of pioneers who participated in the Great Trek. Thirdly, extensive information is provided on Voortrekker customs and habits, including religious practices, education, death and funerals, clothing, food and drink, disease and medicine. Fourthly, the diary contains extensive information about the world of the Voortrekker. This includes the fauna and flora of the areas where they trekked; the climate and rainfall; the challenges of trekking in areas never before traversed by wheeled vehicles; interaction with indigenous communities as well as cultural practices of those communities; their hunting activities and indiscriminate killing and wounding of game; their wagons and the challenges to keep those wagons going; houses and shelters which the Voortrekkers built; their furniture and their tools; their farming activities and their struggle to move forward with their large herds of cattle and sheep; stock diseases and, finally, their interaction with the Portuguese at Delagoa Bay. In conclusion, the author agrees with Preller that there is no other single document from the Great Trek era that contains such a wealth of information as does Tregardt's diary. In addition, the diary is a literary gem reflecting the early development of the Afrikaans language - an issue not addressed in this article. The only possible conclusion is that the value of Tregardt's diary as an historical source cannot be over-estimated.
Keywords : Louis Tregardt; Diary; Great Trek; Soutpansberg Mountains; Tsetse fly; Wagon; Hunting; Stock disease; Education; Buys community; slavery; Lourengo Marques.