Heraldry in South Africa
February 2010 / December 2013

Heraldic reference sources

SOUTH Africa's heraldic reference sources are slim, compared with the centuries of material that have built up in Europe : three collections of 17th and 18th-century material, and a number of books and articles that have been published over the past century or so.


In Cape Town are three important collections of heraldic artefacts from the Dutch colonial period (17th-18th centuries) and the early British colonial period (19th) : the Bell-Krynauw Collection ; the Western Cape Archives seal collection ; and the collection of hatchments in the Groote Kerk.

Some arms in the BKC : Abraham Auret - De Villiers 'of Drakenstein' - J.P. Eksteen - Johannes Fischer - Ryk Tulbagh - P.G. v d Byl.

Bell-Krynauw Collection — The Bell-Krynauw Collection (BKC) is the earliest known collection of material about Afrikaner personal coats of arms. Former State Herald Frederick Brownell once described it as the South African equivalent of the medieval rolls of arms found in Europe. The Heraldry Council has decided that arms in the Bell-Krynauw Collection may be used as the basis for new coats of arms.

The BKC is kept in the National Library. It is really two separate collections : one built up by Charles Bell (1813-82), and the other by his brother-in-law Daniel Krynauw (1840-1912). Krynauw inherited Bell's collection, and bequeathed both to the nation.

Bell's collection, built up from the 1830s to the 1860s, is heraldic, with secondary genealogical material about some of the families whose arms he had recorded. It contains 320 numbered drawings of coats of arms ; blazons and background detail for 185 of them and source notes for a further 100 ; and several dozen wax seals.

His sources were monuments and memorial boards, seals on old documents, stained glass windows, paintings, and items of armorial chinaware and silver. Bell merely recorded what he found – he was not in a position to judge the authenticity of the arms or the owners' right to use them.

Krynauw's collection, which appears to date from the 1890s and early 1900s, is primarily genealogical, and focused on his own and related families. Its heraldic content consists of some family-related arms copied from Bell's collection, and correspondence with a few people about their arms. He also made detailed drawings of Bell's collection of seals.

Cornelis Pama used much of the material in his various books on family heraldry, but no scientific study of the BKC has yet been published.

Some arms in the WCARS Seal Collection : Daniel Berrangé - Daniel Cloete - Olof de Wet - Jacobus Möller - J.A. Myburgh - Adriaan v Schoor.
Western Cape Archives Seal Collection — The Western Cape Archives & Records Service (formerly the Cape Town Archives Repository) has a collection of 546 old seals, most of which are armorial. It is divided into three parts : (a) 158 seals, mostly of 17th-, 18th- and early 19th-century Cape residents and institutions ; (b) 279 seals, mostly of German nobles, English peers and gentry, and various European states ; and (c) 109 seals, mostly of 18th- and 19th-century Cape residents and institutions, and others.

The collection seems to have been assembled, around 1912, by C. Graham Botha, who was the head of the archives 1912-44, and also Chief Archivist of the Union of South Africa 1919-44.

Pama described many of the seals in his books on family heraldry. The first detailed catalogue, covering part of the collection, was compiled by Robert Laing in 1998, and later published in book form. The present writer compiled a supplementary catalogue in 2009.

In the Archives are also more than a thousand volumes of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century wills and other legal documents, many of which bear seals. Bell recorded some of them in his collection, but the rest are yet to be inventoried and published.

Hatchments in the Groote Kerk – The Dutch Reformed church in Cape Town was the principal place of worship during the Dutch colonial period. Important personages were buried there, and at least 42 hatchments and other heraldic monuments were erected there during the 18th century. Regrettably, some were destroyed when the church was rebuilt between 1836 and 1841, and only 25 hatchments and two gravestones survived. Fortunately, Charles Bell had managed to record some of the others before they were lost.

The hatchments were first catalogued by Frederik Oudschans Dentz in 1955. Pama described them in his books on family heraldry.

Books and articles

Many articles and several books have been published over the past century (you'll find a bibliography here). The following are the more significant (albeit some in a negative way).

'Some Old Cape Families' in Argus Union Pageant Souvenir (A.W.B. Smuts) (1910) — An article on old Cape families, illustrated with drawings of 35 coats of arms. As most of them are in the Bell-Krynauw Collection, which was in Krynauw's possession at that time, it seems likely that Krynauw provided the material, and perhaps even prepared the drawings. The authenticity of a few of the arms is unclear.

Die Afrikaner-Voorgeslag met Familiewapens (Allen Loxton) (1933) — A compilation of short newspaper articles about old Afrikaner families, illustrated with 49 coats of arms. The majority (29) came from the Western Cape Archives seal collection, but the origin of the other twenty is unclear.

Die Hugenote-Familieboek (Agathe Kannemeyer) (1940) — Histories of the French Huguenot families who settled at the Cape from 1688 onwards, including 29 coats of arms, which Kannemeyer stated that she had verified. However, while a quarter of them (7) are to be found in the Bell-Krynauw Collection, nearly half of them (14) are simply the arms of French, Belgian, Dutch, Italian or Prussian families whose surnames are similar to those of the Huguenots. This raises questions as to how Kannemeyer 'verified' them.

'Afrikaner, Ken Uself' series in Die Brandwag (Nicolaas Theunissen) (1944-47) — A lengthy series of articles in an Afrikaans weekly consumer magazine, containing outline family trees of a couple of hundred Afrikaner families, illustrated with coats of arms. Five of the 188 arms are in the Bell-Krynauw Collection, and 16 were probably taken from Loxton's and Kannemeyer's books. About 120 seem to have been taken out of an European reference work (possibly Rietstap's Armorial Général) based on similarity (more or less) of surname, while at least 30 appear to have been fabricated by Theunissen himself and passed off as genuine. One is the arms of a Hungarian city, which Theunissen attributed to someone of Dutch ancestry!

Apparently the sudden appearance of these arms on the market caused some consternation at the time. Thirty years later, in 1977, the Heraldry Council resolved that none of these arms, or derivatives of them, could be registered under the Heraldry Act. Nowadays, the Bureau of Heraldry bluntly describes the arms in Theunissen's articles as 'valueless' – but it seems that many people still use them nonetheless.

Heraldiek in Suid-Afrika (Cor Pama) (1956) — A short book about heraldry in general, with a few references to South Africa, and photos of a few seals and memorial boards.

Die Wapens van die Ou Afrikaanse Families (Cor Pama) (1959) — A compilation of the arms in the Bell-Krynauw Collection, the Western Cape Archives seal collection, Loxton's and Kannemeyer's books, Theunissen's articles, and some other articles. Pama added genealogical material and explored the authenticity of some of the arms. While acknowledging that the arms published by Theunissen are largely bogus, he justified their inclusion on the grounds that they exist and should therefore be accepted. About 40 of the 222 illustrations prepared for the book by Dutch artist Karel van den Sigtenhorst are inaccurate.

Simbole van die Unie (Cor Pama) (1960) — Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Union of South Africa, this book traces the history of official coats of arms, flags, and seals in South Africa.

'Die Brandwag se Familiewapens' series in Die Brandwag (Cor Pama) (1964-65) — A series of forty-one articles, each consisting of a full-page colour painting by Cornelis Woltman(?) of an Afrikaner 'family coat of arms', accompanied by a short article on the family, and a 'bucket shop' advertisement for ashtrays and other items displaying the arms.

Most of the arms (24) came from the Bell-Krynauw Collection and the Western Cape Archives seal collection (though some were imaginatively embellished). Seven came from Theunissen and five from Loxton. Three were fabricated by Pama himself (which he acknowledged). Curiously, Pama made no reference to this series in his later books on the subject.

Lions and Virgins (Cor Pama) (1965) — An English version of Simbole van die Unie, with additional material covering changes in official symbols following the proclamation of the republic in 1961.

Some Frontier Families (Ivan Mitford-Barberton & Violet White) (1968) — Outline family trees of 100 early 19th-century British settler families, of which 50 are illustrated with coats of arms. Mitford-Barberton stated that he had not verified the settlers' entitlement to the arms.

Heraldry of South African Families (Cor Pama) (1972) — An English version of Die Wapens van die Ou Afrikaanse Families, together with the arms of some English-speaking families, mostly taken from Mitford-Barberton's book and Fox-Davies' Armorial Families. Regrettably, the incorrect illustrations from the 1959 book were re-used, and in many cases the blazons were altered to agree with the drawings. Pama also included more than a hundred arms from Rietstap's Armorial Général, noting that he was not attributing them to the families concerned but merely confirming them.

Families, Familiename en Familiewapens (J.A. Heese, G.S. Nienaber, Cor Pama) (1975) — A guide to Afrikaner genealogy and heraldry and the origins of surnames. Pama wrote the heraldry ('familiewapens') section, which is largely based on material published in his earlier books.

Die Groot Afrikaanse Familienaamboek (Cor Pama) (1983) — A dictionary of the origins and meaning of more than 3000 Afrikaner surnames, illustrated with 445 coats of arms painted in full colour by Sidney Ivey. It seems to be widely used as a heraldry source, but regrettably, it includes Theunissen's material (six years after the Heraldry Council had effectively condemned them), the incorrect illustrations and falsified blazons from the 1959 and 1972 books, more than a dozen arms fabricated by Pama himself, and several new illustrations that are inaccurate.

South African Armorial (Bureau of Heraldry) (1986- ) — An ongoing series of volumes listing details of arms, badges, and seals registered under the Heraldry Act since 1963. Each volume contains 400 entries, in numerical order of the registration certificates. Nine volumes have been published thus far. The content (but not the introductory chapters) is also available online through the National Archives website.

Names, Uniforms and Badges Vols I-IV (Bureau of Heraldry) (1991) — Details of the items registered under the Protection of Names, Uniforms and Badges Act between 1935 and 1963. The content (but not the introductory chapters) is also available online through the National Archives website.

British Families in South Africa (Cor Pama) (1992) — The English equivalent of Die Groot Afrikaanse Familienaamboek, dealing with South African families of British origin. It's illustrated with 116 coats of arms, selected from Heraldry of South African Families.

National and Provincial Symbols (Frederick Brownell) (1993) — A colourfully illustrated account, by the then State Herald, of the development of the national arms and flags, seals, floral and animal symbols. An Afrikaans version was also published.

Heraldry in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Frederick Brownell) (2002) — The history and development of the arms of the CPSA dioceses over the years, illustrated with line drawings.

Het Behoorlijk Zegel (Robert Laing) (2006) — A descriptive catalogue of some of the seals in the Western Cape Archives seal collection, with additional material on the use of seals in South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. Laing took the opportunity to correct some of the errors in Pama's books.

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