book concerns the paintings done in Southern Africa, and Natal
in particular, by Cathcart William Methven who was harbour
engineer in Durban from 1888 and a pretty gifted painter,
going by the work reproduced in the book.
was born on 24 September 1849 and rose to become Engineer-in-Chief
at Greenock on the Clyde, before being appointed in 1888 as
Harbour Engineer in Durban to replace Edward Innes who had
died the previous year. His career didn't last long and he
was dismissed in 1895 by Attorney General Harry Escombe.
occurred after a heated dispute between the two over the best
means of dealing with the sandbar which prevented large ships
from entering the harbour and made it pretty hazardous for
small ones to do so. Escombe wanted to rely on dredging alone
while Methven wanted to dredge and extend North Pier so that
tidal scour would help to keep the sandbar at bay.
fired and there was tremendous outcry which led to Escombe's
resignation but it was too late for Methven. He set up as
a consulting civil and marine engineer in Durban, and was
apparently much in demand. History proved him right about
the sandbar and the South African government tacitly admitted
as much in 1918, when it granted him £500 in recognition
of his services and contribution to the development of the
harbour. He also recommended the development of the Umhlatuzi
Lagoon as a second harbour for Natal; this came to pass in
the 1970s and was called Richards Bay.
also practiced as an architect and was a founder member of
the Natal Institute of Architects. He was a keen trout fisherman
and a talented musician who was instrumental in preparing
the specifications for Durban Town Hall Organ and who played
the first solo on the instrument in December 1894.
a Victorian romantic realist and sketched and painted with
great attention to detail. His work qualifies as good art
in my book but, apart from that, it is an accurate record
of what he saw and, therefore,historically valuable as well.
He apparently did not attend an art school but would have
been exposed to painting in the normal course of his education.
He was already exhibiting his work when he arrived in Durban
and, by 1891, he had painted 'Durban Bay from Clairmont',
which he gifted to the Town Council and which provided the
impetus behind the formation of the Durban Art Gallery.
to much rich biographic detail, there are 47 full colour reproductions
of Methven's paintings included in the book. The pictures
were taken by Natal Witness photographer Ian Garbutt and reproduce
the paintings perfectly, as far as I can tell. There is also
a listing of 144 of the artist's South African works, which
Hughes was able to locate.
is expensive, no argument about that, but I would reckon it
to be great value and a worthy addition to the libraries of
art lovers in general, or to anyone with a particular interest
in early South African artists or the colonial history of
will be able to obtain copies but you can obtain yours direct
from the author. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
are a couple of copies left of Nigel Hughes' last book, Paintings
of the Bay of Natal. They can be ordered
from the author as well.