August Hammar – Government Surveyor, 1890-1915

1 Swedish Oskarsberg Mission
2 Soldier
3 Surveyor
4 Adventurer
5 Artist

Swedish Oskarsberg Mission
Augustus Hammar, a 22-year-old newly qualified civil engineer from Sweden, arrived in Durban in January 1879. Not being able to afford the post cart fare to the Transvaal, he set out on foot to the Swedish Church Mission at Oskarsberg. Three years earlier, the Swedes took over the property and trading store at Rorke’s Drift for their mission and named it Oskarsberg. Favouring an injured leg, Hammar walked most of the way before being met by the Reverend Otto Witt, who gave him a horse for the last leg of his journey.

Soon after Hammar’s arrival at the Oskarsberg Mission, when war between the English and the Zulus became imminent, the Swedes abandoned it to the British soldiers who had set up camp there. Hammar retreated to the hills alone, and on 22 January 1879, watched as the British army was defeated in the Battle of Isandlwana. Heading back towards Rorke’s Drift after the battle, he once again was forced into the hills by an impi of Zulus on their way to attack the British at the Mission. From his viewpoint Hammar witnessed the successful defence of the Mission by 135 soldiers, against the attack of 3 500 Zulu warriors. Shortly afterwards Hammar volunteered for service as a trooper in Baker’s Horse Unit, which joined Sir Redvers Buller’s force’s scouting forays. The exiled Prince Imperial of France, Louis Napoleon, who was serving unofficially with the British, was killed in a skirmish during one of these forays.

After the war, Hammar articled himself to a land surveyor in Verulam, and qualified in 1881. He combined surveying with farming in the Rorke’s Drift area. In 1886 Hammar married an Englishwoman in Port Natal, and the couple settled in Pietermaritzburg. In 1890 he was appointed Government Surveyor of Natal, and carried out these duties for 25 years.

Fig trees at Inchanga
After one of his surveys in 1903, a farm in the Inchanga area, which he so loved, was named after him. It was on this farm that the township of Hammarsdale was founded in the 1960’s.

In 1884 Hammar and Dr Aurel Schultz of Dundee set off to the Victoria Falls and Okavango swamps – on foot. They reached the falls on 27 May, 1884, 25 years after David Livingstone, and, having covered over four thousand kilometres in under a year, returned to write a book on their experiences.

As he travelled and worked, Hammar painted landscapes. He sent one of his earliest paintings, depicting the scene where Prince Louis Napoleon of France died in one of the skirmishes of the Anglo-Zulu War, to Louis Napoleon’s Empress Eugenie. The sketches and oil and watercolour paintings of the Victoria Falls are still in the possession of his descendants. He particularly loved the Inchanga area, which became the subject of many of his paintings. Although his work was brilliant, he refused to allow any to be exhibited. While he was in Sweden in 1901, however, his wife, Elizabeth, exhibited four of his paintings in Pietermaritzburg, under the name “Mr Dauber”, and his work took the top four prizes.

August Hammar was also an accomplished photographer, and often used his photographs as models for his paintings and sketches, but, sadly, most of the negatives have been lost. In 1989 Hammar’s art was again shown in Pietermaritzburg, at the Tatham Art Gallery, with most of the paintings on display being loaned by those of his descendents who are still in South Africa. According to his family history all of his paintings remain in the family, with the exception of one that he gave to his pupil, James Steere.

Hammar died in Empangeni on October 16, 1931, aged 75, and is buried alongside his wife in Pietermaritzburg.

Thanks to Gavin Foster for granting permission to use his article published in Highway Mail of 6 Jan 2012.
Thanks to Hazel England formerly of Pinetown Museum for additional information.

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