Remarkable People

ID #5230

James Stevenson-Hamilton, Soldier and Conservationist, South Africa.

James Stevenson-Hamilton (1867 – 1957) was born in Ireland. He was the eldest of 9 children and heir to a family title and home at Fairholm by Larkhall in Scotland. He accepted a British Army posting as warden of the Sabie Nature Reserve in 1902 after the Second Anglo-Boer War. When he retired from the position in 1946, he had successfully nurtured and expanded the reserve into what is now the Kruger National Park.

In the early days he struggled against remnants of Boer forces which sheltered in the reserve and disease as well as the animals themselves. Malaria claimed many staff while imported European horses fell to horse fever. Lions and leopards were a constant threat and claimed more lives.

A fierce administrator, he fought hard for the park's status and witnessed the evolution of nature conservation science. He carried out a policy of clearing human habitation from the reserve and fought vets over their perception of the reserve as a breeding ground for disease. A diplomat, he realized that adoption of the name “Kruger Game Reserve” after the former president of the Transvaal Republic would win political support even though, as he often remarked, the “old man only ever knew antelope as biltong (dried meat)”.

He returned to serve in his military unit in WW1. At the end of the war, he was employed in the Sudan civil service and by 1921 Sudanese game protection legislation was drafted which endured for a number of decades.
He married an artist, Hilda Cholmondeley who was 34 years his junior. She influenced their move back to Kruger and bore him 3 children Hilda (born November 8, 1933 who died of meningitis aged 3), James (1933) and Caroline (1935).

James was known as Skukuza, a Shangaan word which means either "he who sweeps clean" or "he who turns everything upside down" by staff in the Kruger National Park. In 1936 the name of the main camp was changed from Sabie Bridge to Skukuza in his honour. RSAJSH

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:42
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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