'Snug little coteries' : a history of scientific societies in early nineteenth century Cape Town, 1824-1835
This thesis provides an account of four scientific societies in Cape Town in the early nineteenth century. The societies are the 'first' South African Literary Society (proposed and suppressed in 1824), the 'second' South African Literary Society (established in 1829), South African Institution (also established in 1829) and the South African Literary and Scientific Institution (formed from a merger of the previous two organisations in 1832). Before 1824, there had been no scientific societies in the Cape. After the decline of the Literary and Scientific Institution in the late 1830s, the colony did not support another general scientific society until the 1870s. This study links the establishment of scientific societies to the temporary ascendancy of British liberal humanitarianism in the late 1820s and early 1830s in the Cape and to changes in the organisational and structure of British science. The two Literary Societies and the two Institutions represented different scientific traditions in the colony. The Literary Societies were established by the radical Scottish newspaper editor John Fairbairn as part of an attempt to create a liberal political movement in the colony. They represented the interests of Cape Town's emerging middle class and were led by the city's professionals. The two Institutions emerged from the activities of the Scottish Army surgeon and naturalist Dr. Andrew Smith. He established several organisations at the Cape to further his career within the British Army's Medical Service. The city's official and Army elite were closely affiliated with the Institutions. Whereas Fairbairn was largely reacting to domestic political changes, Smith was reacting to the changing structure and opportunities of British science. This study reveals that science served diverse technical, professional and ideological ends at the Cape and that as a result it enjoyed widespread interest.