Andrew Geddes Bain

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Andrew Geddes Bain (baptised 11 June 1797 Thurso, Scotland - 20 October 1864 Cape Town), South African geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer.


Life history

The only child of Alexander Bain and Jean Geddes, both of whom died when Bain was still a young boy. He was raised by an aunt who lived near Edinburgh. Here he received a classical education, but no vocational training. In 1816 he emigrated to Cape Town accompanied by his uncle Lieutenant Colonel William Geddes of the 83rd Regiment, who was stationed in the Cape. He married Maria Elizabeth von Backstrom on 16 November 1818 and had 3 sons and 7 daughters. In 1822 he bought property in Graaff Reinet and carried on for some years the business of a saddler. In 1825 he accompanied John Burner Biddulph on a trading expedition to Kuruman, the mission outpost on the edge of the Kalahari and home of Dr. Robert Moffat (father-in-law of David Livingstone). They explored further north and reached Dithubaruba in Bechuanaland, becoming the first recorded Europeans to return safely from so far north. In 1829 they trekked to the vicinity of present-day Kokstad. They were forced to return by hordes of Bantu fleeing Dingaan. During these journeys he discovered his talent for drawing and writing and became a regular correspondent for John Fairbairn's South African Commercial Advertiser. Outspoken, he was sued for libel a number of times by Gerrit Maritz, one of the eventual Voortrekker leaders. He was awarded a special medal in 1832 for 'gratuitously superintending the construction of Van Ryneveld's Pass, Graaff-Reinet'. In 1834 he made another trip to Bechuanaland where he lost his wagons and collection of zoological specimens during an attack by the Matabele, caused by his Griqua guides' stealing some of the King's cattle. During the Cape Frontier Wars in 1833-1834 he served as captain of the Beaufort Levies raised for the defence of the frontier. He tried his hand at farming in the newly-annexed Queen Adelaide Province, but lost the farm when the land was returned to the Xhosa in 1836. Later he was engaged to construct a military road through the Ecca Pass, and displayed engineering talents which led to his being permanently employed as surveyor of military roads under the corps of Royal Engineers in 1836. During this period he had a part in building the Fish River bridge, then the largest bridge in the country.

He constructed the Queen's Road from Grahamstown to Fort Beaufort. He was appointed inspector by the Cape Roads Board in 1845 and built Michell's Pass near Ceres in 1848 and Bain's Kloof Pass near Wellington in 1853. He was presented with table silver and a candelabrum by grateful colonists. Returning to the Eastern Cape in 1854, he built numerous roads and passes including the Katberg Pass near Fort Beaufort. This occupation created an interest in geology, inspired in 1837 by a copy of Lyell's Elements of Geology. He was friendly with William Guybon Atherstone, who was also a keen geologist and fossil collector and who was present at the discovery of Paranthodon africanus Broom at the farm Dassieklip on the Bushmans River, about half-way between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth. Bain discovered many fossil remains, including the herbivorous mammal-like reptile dicynodon Oudenodon bainii Owen, which was excavated from the Karoo Beds on the farm Mildenhall south of Fort Beaufort and described by Sir Richard Owen.

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