Collection BC94 - C. Louis Leipoldt Papers

Reference code



C. Louis Leipoldt Papers


  • 1854-1957 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

circa 4000 items

Name of creator


Biographical history

Christian Frederic Louis Leipoldt poet, playwright, journalist, chef, botanist and doctor was born on 28.12.1880 at the Rhenish Mission House in,Worcester, C.P., the home of his grandparents, Rev. Louis Frangois Esselen and his wife Catherine Wilhelmine, nee Knobel.
His paternal grandfather, Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt was trained as a Rhenish Missionary in Germany before being sent to the Cape in 1829. He founded the Mission Station at Wupperthal in 1830 and worked there until his death in 1872. In 1835 he married Carolina Jacobs Maria Lind in Cape Town. Three sons and two daughters were born of this marriage. Their son Christian Frederik was sent to Barmen in Germany to be trained as a Rhenish missionary. In 1870 he went to Sumatra to work among the Bata people. Anna Meta Christiana Esselen, second eldest daughter of Rev. L F Esselen of Worcester, travelled to Sumatra in 1874 to marry him. A daughter and two sons were born there, the youngest of whom died when only a few days old. Mrs Leipoldt's health broke down seriously and her husband decided in 1879 to bring his family to the Cape. They settled in Worcester at the Rhenish Mission House where Rev. Leipoldt assisted his fatter in law in running the Mission school. It was there that their fourth child, Christian Frederic Louis, was born.
In 1884, having left the Rhenish Mission field and joined the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev. C F Leipoldt went to serve the congretation in Clanwilliam. He worked in this community until his retirement in 1910. Leipoldtville in the Clanwilliam district is named after him.
By all accounts he was a scholarly man of gentle habits and was a talented violinist. His wife, on the other hand, appears to have had a very uncertain temper and her relationship with her family does not seem to have been a very happy one. She would not allow her sons to attend school nor would she let them mix freely with the children of the district. Their father took charge of their education and C L L was encouraged at an early age to read widely on all subjects and was given a grounding in several languages and in the natural sciences, particularly botany and geology. Whenever the family visited Cape Town, where Rev. Leipoldt attended the D R Church synod, C L L was sent to his father's friends, such as Professor P D Hahn, for special instruction.
C L L first made contact with Professor P MacOwan when he sent some dried plant specimens to the latter for identification. (1) MacOwan exerted an important influence on the youth and encouraged him to send more specimens. In his Report for 1895(2 he stated "... More recently good contributions have come in from Mr C L Leipoldt, of Clanwilliam, a district possessing a rich and somewhat peculiar flora, which I hope by his instrumentality to illustrate largely in the centuriae ..." In 1895 C L L was a boy of fourteen.
In 1893 C L L met the botanist Rudolph Schlechter who was travelling with a party in the Clanwilliam district on a botanical and zoological collecting trip. At Schlechter's request C L L was permitted to accompany the expedition into Namaqualand as _a guide.
At about this time C L L also met Harry Bolus and, despite a difference of nearly 47 years in their ages, a lasting friendship developed.
C L L was without question a gifted child who showed early promise as a writer and undoubtedly benefitted from the liberal, if somewhat eccentric, education he received. He is said to have written a play when he was eight years old and when he was eleven he won a prize of half a guinea and a merit award for a story he entered in a competition run by the "Boys Own Paper". He was encouraged to write, and from the age of 14 was contributing news items to Cape Town newspapers on a fairly regular basis and a number of stories and sketches he wrote while still a teenager appeared under various pseudonyms.
After passing the matriculation and Civil Service examinations in 1897 and 1898 respectively, he worked as a journalist in Cape Town, at first on "De Kolonist" and "Het Dagblad" and later on the "South African News". He was also a correspondent for various overseas newspapers,
amongst which were the "Manchester Guardian", "Chicago Herald", "Het Nieuws van den Dag" (Amsterdam) and "Petit Bleu" (Brussels). When Albert Cartwright, editor of the "South African News", was imprisoned for political reasons in 1901, C L L took over the editorship until the paper was closed down by the authorities later the same year. When this occurred he decided to go to England to broaden his experience as a journalist. He had always wished to study medicine but could not afford to do so. Before he left South Africa in January 1902 Harry Bolus suggested lending him money to enable him to study, and shortly after arriving in London he wrote accepting Bolus' offer. He studied medicine at Guy's Hospital and throughout his period as a student he augmented his financial resources by writing. During this period he also for a time edited "The Hospital", a medical journal owned by Sir Henry Burdett.
In 1907 he obtained the M.R.C.S. and the L.R.C.P. and was awarded gold medals for both medicine and surgery. Later the same year he was appointed Assistant House Surgeon at Guy's Hospital, an honorary post but one which carried great prestige. This appointment came to an end in January 1908 and his work on "The Hospital" in March, after which he was free to travel on the Continent and to work in various hospitals and clinics in Berlin, Vienna, Graz and Milan. At Sir Henry Burdett's suggestion he wrote articles assessing these institutions for "The Hospital". He also went to Prague, Cracow, Warsaw and Moscow, during these seven months.
In October he was back in London and failed in his first attempt at the F.R.C.S. examination. After this disappointment he accepted the post of medical adviser to the American millionaire newspaper owner, Joseph Pulitzer, and spent four months cruising on his steam yacht, the "Liberty". On his return to London he once more wrote the F.R.C.S. examination, this time with success.
Except for the first four months of 1912 when he travelled to the East, visiting Java and Sumatra, as ship's doctor on the "Ulysses", he worked in hospitals in London and also as a medical inspector of schools for the London County Council.
He returned to South Africa in 1914 to take up an appointment as Medical Inspector of Schools in the Transvaal, the first such post in South Africa. Shortly after his return. World War I broke out and C L L was drafted into the Army as General Louis Botha's personal doctor. He is reported to have saved General Botha's life when the latter was taken seriously ill during the South West African campaign.
C L L's interest in the School Journeys Association and school camps was kindled in England and he was actively involved in the movement for many years in South Africa. He also educated a number of boys over the years and often had several staying in his home at the same time.
In a letter to Mrs Eve Allen he makes the following comment which may throw some light on his reasons for helping children all his adult life: "... My position is simply this: when I was a youngster an old Englishman did far more than that for me, and all he asked was that in my turn I should do something to help an English boy or girl in
this country. If they won't let me well, I can only burn one more joss stick to the old man's memory ..."(3)
In 1928 while visiting England with a group of school children, he adopted a seven year old orphan, Jeffrey Leipoldt, and brought him back to South Africa with him. In 1932 another English boy, Peter Shields, came from Stellenbosch, where his mother had settled after being widowed, to live at Arbury, C L L's home in Kenilworth. Later C L L regarded him also as an "adopted" son and left the residue of his estate in equal shares to Jeff and Peter.
C L L was Medical Inspector of Schools in the Transvaal from 1914 until the end of 1922. During this time he travelled throughout the Transvaal and set up permanent clinics in some of the larger centres. He also advised the Provincial Councils of Natal and the Cape on the organisation of school Medical Inspectorates in those provinces.
He resigned from the Education Department at the end of 1922 in order to return to journalism and was appointed assistant editor of "De Volkstem" and worked under Dr F V
Engelenburg who was at that time editor. In 1924 C L L accepted nomination as the South African Party candidate for Wonderboom in the general election held that year but was defeated. During the same year Dr Engelenburg relinquished the editorship of "De Volkstem" and was succeeded by Gustav Preller with whom C L L was unable to work. In 1925 he left the editorial staff and settled in Cape Town, setting up in practice as a children's specialist. Shortly afterwards in 1926 he became the first organising secretary of the Medical Association of South Africa and the first editor of the "South African Medical Journal", posts he held until the end of 1944. In December 1926 he was appointed to the staff of the University of Cape Town Medical School as the first lecturer in children's diseases. By mid 1927 he wrote to a friend in Johannesburg(4) that he had been given 18 children's beds in the hospital and had about 20 students. The hospital referred to was the New Somerset Hospital which was then used as the teaching hospital by the University of Cape Town Medical School. He gave up lecturing in 1939.
Throughout his life he wrote prolifically. He was almost constantly engaged in journalism, submitting articles to overseas newspapers on a regular basis, wrote poetry, plays and novels. He also wrote books on health matters, dietetics, food, cookery and wine as well as on historical subjects. Very often his books and poems were written in English and translated, by him, into Afrikaans before being published in the latter language. In 1915 he was elected to the Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde and an honorary DLitt. degree was conferred upon him by the Witwatersrand University in 1934. That same year he was awarded the Hertzog Prize for poetry and in 1944 he won the prize for drama.
Although the greatest volume of C L L's writing was in English, his importance as an Afrikaans writer was immense. The publication of "Oom Gert Vertel en ander gedigte" in 1911 was a major event in the development of the Afrikaans Language. There is no complete bibliography of his writing available although a good deal of information can be obtained from the two existing bibliographies, viz.:
1.Christiaan Frederick Louis Leipoldt (28 Des, 1880 12 April 1947). Bibliografie, [saamgestel] deur S W R du Toit. Universiteit van Kaapstad, Skool vir Biblioteekwese, 1947.
2. C Louis Leipoldt, 'n Bibliografie van dr Christian Frederick Louis Leipoldt, 28 Des. 1880 12 April, 1947. Saamgestel deur NALN, 1979.
According to his passport he was 5 ft. 11 inches tall and had neutral grey eyes and brown hair. From photographs it is evident that his hair was always a little unruly. In his home he spoke English and German, and, despite his missionary heritage, asserted that he was a Buddhist. From his diaries and letters it is evident that he suffered from heart damage following rheumatic fever which he had had as a child, and from asthma which he appears to have developed during a visit to New York during his late twenties.(5)
After his death in Cape Town on 12th April 1947, his ashes were taken for burial to the Pakhuis Pass where a simple ceremony was held by a few of his friends.
1. Leipoldt, C Louis. My Jubileumjaar. In: Huis 17.1.1947. p.21, 60 62.
2. Cape of Good Hope Department of Agriculture Report of the Government Botanist and Curator of the Cape Government Herbarium for the year 1895. Cape Town: W A Richards and Sons, 1896. [G.12 '96]
3. BC 94 H1.2 Letter to Mrs Eve Allen from C L L, from Pretoria Club, undated but possibly ca. 1918 1922?
4. BC 94 H2.8 Letter to Alaric Allen from C L L, 5.8.1927
5. BC 94 A4.4 Pocket diary entry 2.5.1912 "Slight asthma attack in night. ?Cold and
damp sea air.Not so bad as first attack at New York. This is the third I've ever
had. Eased by chloroform inhalations. Lasted about 2 hour".

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Donors: Dr HML Bolus, Dr P Shields, J Leipoldt and Dr MPO Burgers

Scope and content

The C Louis Leipoldt Papers were donated over a number of years, from 1947, mainly by Mrs H M L (Lulu) Bolus, Mr Jeff Leipoldt and Dr Peter Shields, but many of C L L's other friends also donated letters and memorabilia. The most recent contributions having been made by Emeritus Professor C E L Allen in 1981. There are about 4 000 items in the collection.
The papers fall into seven sections. The first and largest section comprises Dr Leipoldt's personal papers amongst which are his school and medical certificates, testimonials, letters of appointment and other documents. There are also 29 pocket diaries, which are very informative and valuable, 19 notebooks in which he has written poetry in both English and Afrikaans, outlines for plays and novels and character sketches. There are corrected TSS of unpublished English novels and of poems which appeared in the posthumous volume "The Ballad of Dick King and other Poems" (Cape Town, 1949), and notes for books. Scripts for broadcasts and copies of some of his articles clipped from newspapers and periodicals have also been included. There are papers concerning medical inspection in schools, the S A Medical Association, the School Journeys Association and menus collected from various,places from 1902 1938 and other notes on food and wine. The letters, of which there are over 1 500, form a very important part of this section. Nearly 400 of these are written by Leipoldt to various people, including 207 to his adopted son Jeff and 94 to Dr Harry Bolus. Most of the latter have been published in "Dear Dr Bolus" (ed. E M Sandler, Cape Town, Balkema, 1979). The rest of the letters are from Leipoldt's friends from various walks of life and clearly indicate his wide interests.
The second section contains the Leipoldt family papers and includes over 200 letters 1857 1885 from Rev. J G Leipoldt and his wife from Wupperthal, the Rhenish Mission Station he founded, mainly to their son Rev. C F Leipoldt. There are also documents concerning Rev. C F Leipoldt's training in Germany, his career as a Rhenish Missionary in Sumatra and later as Dutch Reformed Minister in Clanwilliam, some 74 letters from his wife describing their life in Sumatra and some documents concerning their daughter Louisa and her husband Robert Pattison.
The third section contains the Esselen Papers. Three documents concern Rev. L F Esselen of Worcester and the rest consist mainly of letters received by his son Adv. Ewald Esselen. Most of the letters are from leading political figures of the late 1800's and early 1900's.Ewald Esselen's diary for January September 1881 while he acted as secretary to President Kruger has also survived, as has a notebook containing some of his reminiscences.
The fourth section contains some reminiscences about C L L` and notes of interviews with him by Dr M P 0 Burgers and miscellaneous items. Several hundred photographs and negatives form the fifth section and the sixth section contains material added to the collection by the Library and consists mainly of photocopies of letters the originals of which are in the collection, and items brought out in celebration of C L L's Centenary.
The final section contains important new material presented by Emeritus Professor C E Allen and includes 104 letters by C L L to members of the Allen family, 1918 1946. The copyright of all unpublished Leipoldt material is vested in the University of Cape Town.


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There are no restrictions on the use of the papers but permission should first be obtained from the University Librarian.

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Only a high level record of this collection is maintained in AtoM at present. For a detailed list of contents, see

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