Bleek, Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel

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Bleek, Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel

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Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek, Ph.D, b. Berlin 8.3.1827 - d. Mowbray, Cape, 17.8.1875. He was the eldest son of Professor Friedrich Bleek, professor of theology at Berlin University, and later at Bonn University, and his wife Augusta Charlotte Marianne Sethe. Bleek graduated from the University of Bonn in 1851 and achieved his ambition of going to Africa when he was appointed official linguist to Dr W D Baikie's Niger Tshadda Expedition in 1854. Unfortunately ill-health forced Bleek to leave the Expedition when they reached Fernando Po. He returned to England where he met J W Colenso, Bishop of Natal, who invited Bleek to accompany him to Natal in 1855 in order to help him compile a Zulu grammar. When this project had been completed Bleek accepted an invitation, in 1856, from the Governor, Sir George Grey, to become his official interpreter in Cape Town. When Sir George was appointed Governor of New Zealand, he presented his very valuable library to the South African Public Library. A condition of this gift was that Bleek should be appointed curator of the Grey Collection, a post he held from 1862 until his death. Bleek continued with his philological research and published his findings from time to time. He also wrote leading articles for the English edition of "Het Volksblad" for a number of years. From 1870 Bleek had access to Bushmen prisoners at the Breakwater Prison. Later some of the Bushmen were released into his custody and lived at his home in Mowbray where their language and folklore was recorded with the assistance of his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd. Bleek published a number of articles, reports and books during his lifetime, mainly concerning his philological studies and Bushman folklore. Many years after his death his sister-in-law published "Specimens of Bushman Folklore" in London (1911), based on their joint research. He married Jemima Lloyd in 1862 and they had seven children, one son and six daughters. Their son and one daughter died in infancy. Bleek is buried in the Wynberg cemetery.


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