Saturday 6 August 2016

W.H.O? The Lady on the Mountain in Trousers

W.H.O? is a new journey that expresses my love for writing about the women we know and don’t know. It stands for Women History Offers, and this is the first installment! Enjoy!

I could not stand history class. It was always a boring lecture, told by a passionless “sir” who read from a textbook. That was my experience at primary school, oddly enough all my history lessons were taught by men and we were always taught about wars and killings. Where was the good stuff I wondered, where were the lives that fell outside the lines of war and defeat, blood and hatred? No wonder everyone hated history class, because it was boring and the themes were all the same. I rolled my eyes and prayed for it to end. At the same time, I excelled in history, how did that happen? History intrigued me, fed something in me that would only fully form once I had found salvation.

History took on a different face however, when I went to university. Much of my English classes were historical in nature, most of the poets we read were dead and a lot of the books we read were written by people who were also dead. But their stories were not ones of war and hate, but of life and yearning. One of my English teachers was eccentric to the core but her stories were wild and exciting. Her words introduced me to a very different scene involving a woman who once climbed a mountain in the eighteenth century amidst wild and untamed terrain, dressed in her husband’s pants.

It was 1797, and characteristic of her adventurous nature, Lady Anne Barnard suggested a climb up Table Mountain. She donned her husband’s pants and became the first white woman to climb up the very difficult ascent to the top of this great wonder of the world. She climbed up the mountain with her husband, a friend, a few slaves and naval officers. It may seem insignificant to us that someone should climb Table Mountain, as most of us have already done it but it was a very different feat two hundred years ago. Lady Anne Barnard defied the odds when she put on a pair of pants, something women did not wear. She was close to fifty and was British, a woman exploring the South African terrain but perhaps not used to it yet. Still she had this way of description, writing about everything she saw and when she could she painted it. “ behold a considerable Town more invisible than the smallest miniature which could be painted of one, to feel the pure air rising one up, it gave me a sort of unembodied feeling such as I conceive the Soul to have which mounts a beatified spirit leaving its atom of clay behind.”  (Lady Anne’s Cape Journals)

What astounds me about Lady Ann Barnard was that she was unwittingly egalitarian in her approach to life. She loved animals, admired people and did not see anyone as being different or strange. Her and her husband also had a way of life together, that showed an equality of love. Once they reached the top of Table Mountain, she expressed her thoughts on the happy journey but ended it all by saying that it was topped by this beautiful comfort and contentment of life that was only there because her and her husband were together. Lady Ann Barnard holds something of iconic status in the minds of Cape historians and some lay people, but what captured me about her, was her bravery, wit and her wonderful art works. Her paintings that forged a photograph of a country I call my own. Thank you Lady Ann for who you were and for leaving behind something of beautiful value and treasure that we today can look on and learn from…..

Next in this series is a Forgotten Holocaust Heroine, read her story over here: Forgotten Heroine


  1. Loved this post. You're breathed life into history - Women in history. thank you

    1. Shalom my sister Chris, nice to see, thank you. I am so glad you were blessed by this fascinating woman of history, she is super cool! Have a fabulous week :))) Your Friend!