James Stevenson-Hamilton

A brief history about James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of Kruger National ParkJames Stevenson-Hamilton (October 2 1867 - December 10 1957) born in Scotland was the eldest of nine children. He married Hilda Cholmondeley, who was 34 years his junior. She bore him three children.

It was in 1888, that Stevenson-Hamilton came to South Africa for the first time, as a member of the 6th Enniskillen Dragoons. He saw action against one of Dinizulu's Impis between the White and Black Umfolozi Rivers. It is also here that he saw South African game for the first time, a family of Reedbuck. This impression stayed with him for the rest of his life.

He returned to England for some years, but saw active duty during the second Boer War. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to major. As he did not want to return to England and on 1 July 1902, he got himself appointed Warden of the Sabi Game Reserve.

Stevenson-Hamilton was not sure of what was expected of him and when he enquired as much from his superior, Sir Godfrey Lagden, he was famously told to 'go down there and make yourself thoroughly disagreeable to everyone!'For the first few months, Stevenson-Hamilton stayed at Crocodile Bridge. Then he moved to Sabie Bridge where he had his headquarters. He thoroughly explored his domain and appointed the first game wardens, black and white. That Stevenson-Hamilton took his job seriously was emphasised when he had two police officers, who had poached game, arrested and convicted. This incident earned him quite a reputation.

In 1903, he managed to stop the movement of cattle through the park. He also managed to stop all prospecting for coal and minerals. With the proclamation of the Singwidzi Game Reserve in May 1903, Stevenson-Hamilton took over the management there as well.

In 1914, the First World War started and Stevenson-Hamilton joined the forces in the north. He left the administration of the reserves to Ranger Cecil Richard de Laporte and after that to Major A A Fraser. Upon his return in 1920, he found everything in a shambles. Fraser had let the administration slip into a mess. Further concerns surrounded the fact that the war had stimulated development and greedy eyes looked at the reserves for agricultural ground.

Stevenson-Hamilton fought on every front to save the reserves. Instrumental in helping him was the establishment of the Selati Railway Line, which was originally built to transport gold. However, the gold reserves soon began to dwindle and in 1922, in an attempt to increase the profit of the railroads, the Round in Nine Tour was established. This was a 9-day tour of Mozambique and the Lowveld and included a one-night stop at what is present day Skukuza, and the idea of allowing people into the reserve was born.

Stevenson-Hamilton got members of the Provincial Council to visit the reserve on one of these tours and they left with a better understanding of the possibilities of a national park.

He was known as Skukuza, a Shangaan name meaning either "he who sweeps clean' or 'he who turns everything upside down', by his staff at Kruger National Park. Dr HP Junod, an expert on the Tsonga people, interpreted the name and attitude with which it was given, as follows: 'As the Tsongas were early inhabitants of this part of the Lowveld, the name Skukuza - the broom (taken over from the Zulu), reflects clearly the Tsonga's bitterness at being deprived of their dwelling place by Stevenson-Hamilton'.

Later in 1936, the main rest camp's name was changed from Sabie Bridge to Skukuza to honour him. Stevenson-Hamilton remained with the park until his retirement on the eve of his 80th birthday in 1945.

One of its great attractions at Skukuza is the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library housing a fine collection of ecologically orientated books, paintings and memorabilia. A wealth of knowledge can be gained in the information centre, while visitors can attend lectures in the nearby environmental education centre.

In 1927, the Park was opened to the public who where charged a £1 fee. Only a handful of cars visited the new Park that year, but in 1935, some 26,000 people passed through the gates. Today the number is around one million per year.

Kruger National Park - South African Safari