Framed: Who is the little girl in the picture?
For years we have come to believe, and have accepted, that the image used on the cover of Trudie Bloem's Krotoa-Eva: The woman from Robben Island was a painting of Krotoa or Eva van Meerhof as a young girl.
However, from the description of different diarists in their journals after having met her, this image, which is still being used today, does not make sense.
In the book by R Raven-Hart, Cape Good Hope: 1652–1702 – The first fifty years of Dutch colonisation as seen by callers, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier describes Eva as “white and pretty, except that her nose is somewhat flat”.
As per my findings, the origin of the image as prefaced by PW Laidler on page x in his book The growth and government of Cape Town (1939), he states, “For that of ‘Eva’, a portrait of a Namaqua girl of last century, indebtedness is expressed to the Trustees of the South African Museum, and Dr Gill” (the “last century” being the 19th century).
This portrait was used by Trudie Bloem on the cover of her book Krotoa-Eva: The woman from Robben Island in 1999, and under “Acknowledgments and praises” she states, “Cover painting from PW Laidler, The growth and government of Cape Town, 1939”.
Here is a list of a few websites and institutions still using this image today:
- South African History Online
- Cape Town Museum
From the list above, only a few institutions (The Castle of Good Hope and the Camissa Museum) give recognition to the true source of their sketches. These sketches were made by an English artist of natural history and scenery, Samuel Daniell (1775–1811), during an expedition he made to Southern Africa between 1799 and 1802.
The sketch which is being used as an image of Krotoa was extracted from his second book, Sketches representing the native tribes [a pejorative term, used within its historical context], animals, and scenery of southern Africa, from drawings made by the late Mr Samuel Daniell, published only in 1820 by his brother William Daniell.
In 2012 this specific image was recreated by the artist Lien Botha, presumably commissioned by the SA Post Office, on a stamp in 2012 to mark 360 years since the arrival of the Dutch at the Cape and to acknowledge the role played by Krotoa.
Although the sketches (including the next one) of Samuel Daniell had already been proven not to be those of “Krotoa”, they still form part of exhibitions at historical institutions today, as they are believed to fit the description of her as indicated on the website of the Camissa Museum. “As there are no sketches of Krotoa we can only go by the descriptions of her by different diarists who met her, and by this descendent sketch. It fits with the descriptions given of Krotoa. It was drawn by Samuel Daniell (1775-1811)”.
According to my findings the most used image of our beloved Krotoa was absorbed into South African history after the publication of The growth and government of Cape Town (1939) of PW Raidler. Although Laidler used this image for “Eva” in his book, the name was typed in inverted commas, which indicates that it is inaccurate. However, it was still used by Trudie Bloem on the cover of her book. I believe that after the publication of Bloem’s book in 1999 this image began to circulate as her story became known among all South Africans, especially the Khoi groups and descendants of Krotoa.
Trudie Bloem worked at the South African Library as an editor, translator and indexer. During the late 1950s she stumbled on the name Krotoa in an article “Uit die biografie van 'n Hottentottin [a pejorative term, used within its historical context]” by DB Bosman in Huisgenoot of 3 July 1942. As Krotoa, who had played such a prominent role as a female translator in history, had remained relatively unknown until that time, Bloem researched her life for many years and finally wrote this book published in 1999.
Despite speculation by many researchers that this image could not be that of Krotoa, or “Eva”, the true origin of this image, which we have come to believe is a painted portrait of her, has not yet been widely recognized.
Now, herewith, the origin story of this image.
In 1864, Samuel Baylis Barnard, an artist, emigrated from Gloucestershire, England, to South Africa. He found it difficult to make a living in Cape Town from his art and turned to photography. He opened a studio in May 1865 at 37 Adderley Street in Cape Town, where he practised for 40 years. He became one of the most fashionable photographers of the day. Wilhelm Bleek, a German linguist, wanted to study the |Xam language and record personal narratives and folklore. Together with his wife Jemima and his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd, he began collecting stories and drawings from prisoners at the Breakwater convict station during 1870. Bleek even got permission from the prison officials to interview a few of these prisoners at their home. Barnard was appointed to photograph the “bushman” [a pejorative term, used within its historical context] at the residence of Wilhelm Bleek in Mowbray.
According to Atom.lib.uct.ac.za this image of a young “Korunna” [Korana] girl was also taken by Barnard at the Bleek’s residence:
These photographs were taken by studio photographer Samuel Baylis Barnard in the 1870s. He emigrated to Cape Town from Gloucestershire and open his photography studio in Cape Town (in Adderley Street) in 1865. The people photographed here are thought to have been staying at the Bleek and Lloyd residence in Mowbray when they were photographed. The descriptions were taken from Tamar Garb (ed.): African photography from the Walter Collection: Distance and desire – Encounters with the African archive.
Bleek and Lloyd also interviewed other individuals during 1875 and 1876, but most of their time was spent interviewing only six |Xam contributors.
I do not know why this photograph of this young girl was taken, but it could be that she was among the individuals interviewed by the Bleeks during the 1870s as documented. The research with regard to who this young “Korunna” girl was, is still ongoing, as I could not find any proof that she was also interviewed by the Bleeks (http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/).
How did I discover this?
I was asked by my eldest daughter, Dieuwke-Jean Linee, a visual artist, to do research for her Woman exhibition which took place during August 2022 at The Koena Art Institute in Observatory. Dieuwke-Jean came across a book in the local library of Antjie Krog titled Met woorde soos met kerse. The book included poems and photographs of |Xam poets who had been interviewed by the linguists Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd during the 1870s. The story of Kweiten ta ‖ken fascinated her, so much so that she decided to do a pencil drawing of the photograph in the book. This pencil sketch was sold on the opening night of her exhibition and she was commissioned by another client to redo Kweiten ta ‖ken’s sketch.
It was my task to search for a better quality photograph and more information about Kweiten ta ‖ken. My search on the internet took me to the Walter Collection, and finally the name of the photographer Samuel Baylis Barnard appeared. As I was scrolling through the collection, this image I had come to know as being that of Krotoa / Eva suddenly appeared on the screen. The little girl was topless, looked frightened and was posing for Barnard while covering her chest with her right arm. On the black-and-white image one can clearly see that she had some sort of scarring appearing white on her arm, back and upper body. The innocence in this little girl’s eyes brought me to tears.
A faceless historical figure?
Why were all the other contributors who were interviewed by the Bleeks and Lloyd dressed when they were photographed, but not this little girl? Was she interviewed by them? Could it be that this photograph might not have been taken at the Bleeks’ home, and maybe at Barnard’s studio in Adderley Street? Who was this little girl whose image has for years been passing as that of the young Krotoa? These were all questions which came to me.
Who is this little girl whose photograph was used to represent the face of another girl who had lived 200 years before her?
Framed, by popular culture, and by the human need to give a face to a faceless historical figure.
A face randomly chosen by European descendants of those Dutch settlers that once banned and imprisoned Krotoa, became the face that those responsible used to glorify her name with a stolen identity.
Hybré van Niekerk
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*This text contains pejorative terms that readers may find offensive. These terms are quoted in their original historical context.*