In a world of their own

Captain Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, reached the Cape of Good Hope in the last week of December 1897 and, soon afterwards, met a politician in denial.


…..the Spray ran into a calm under Table Mountain, where she lay quietly till the generous sun rose over the land and drew a breeze in from the sea.

The steam-tug Alert, then out looking for ships, came to the Spray off the Lion’s Rump, and in lieu of a larger ship towed her into port. The sea being smooth, she came to anchor in the bay off the city of Cape Town, where she remained a day, simply to rest clear of the bustle of commerce. The good harbour-master sent his steam-launch to bring the sloop to a berth in dock at once, but I preferred to remain for one day alone, in the quiet of a smooth sea, enjoying the retrospect of the passage of the two great capes. On the following morning the Spray sailed into the Alfred Dry Docks, where she remained for about three months in the care of the port authorities, while I travelled the country over, from Simons Town to Pretoria, being accorded by the colonial government a free railroad pass over all the land.

Kerk Straat, Pretoria, around 1900, from a vintage postcard.

The trip to Kimberley, Johannesburg, and Pretoria was a pleasant one. At the last-named place I met Mr. Kruger, the Transvaal president. His Excellency received me cordially enough; but my friend Judge Beyers, the gentleman who presented me, by mentioning that I was on a voyage around the world, unwittingly gave great offence to the venerable statesman, which we both regretted deeply. Mr. Kruger corrected the judge rather sharply, reminding him that the world is flat. “You don’t mean round the world,” said the president; “it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible!” he said, “impossible!” and not another word did he utter either to the judge or to me.


Oom (uncle) Paul Kruger and his wife Tante (auntie) Senna.

The judge looked at me and I looked at the judge, who should have known his ground, so to speak, and Mr. Kruger glowered at us both. My friend the judge seemed embarrassed, but I was delighted; the incident pleased me more than anything else that could have happened. It was a nugget of information quarried out of Oom Paul, some of whose sayings are famous. Of the English he said, “They took first my coat and then my trousers.” He also said, “Dynamite is the corner-stone of the South African Republic.” Only unthinking people call President Kruger dull.

‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, Capt. Jushua Slocum. Rupert Hart-Davis. 1948.
Original edition published 1900.

It seems incredible that, as recently as 120 years ago, a man who achieved the presidency of his country still believed, in spite of the evidence, that the world was flat. In 120 years from now, what will people think of a president who believed, in spite of the evidence, that the idea of global warming and climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese as an act of industrial sabotage against his country? Assuming, of course, there are any people left to think about anything.