Chemists, druggists, and theatrics: a new donation for the KwaZulu-Natal Museum

 Coyne donationMr. Coyne holding one of the items donated: the ‘Dispensing Dept’ sign from the original shop.

Mr. Coyne, still residing in Pietermaritzburg, bought the oldest surviving pharmacy in the city some 40 years ago. The Medical Hall, as the pharmacy was called, was established in 1850 by a Dutch chemist, Nic van Zweel. The original building with its ‘Medical Hall’ sign is still standing in Church Street. 

Mr. Coyne and his father were both pharmacists, known as a ‘chemist and druggist’ back in the day. The Medical Hall closed down two decades ago and Mr. Coyne has now decided to donate some of its surviving wonders, such as chemist bottles from the c1930s, later medicine bottles from c1967, and a green poison bottle.

Chemist remedy ingredients  Poison bottle 

(a) Medicine bottles from the c1930s (b) green poison bottle

Chemists in the past used to mix and dispense medicines themselves, unlike today where we have ready-made and packaged medicines. Pill (cachet) makers were used to form tablets from powders that they mixed in the shop while the customer waits. Mr. Coyne’s donation of a pill maker was stored in a lovely wooden Fry’s chocolate box from the c1920s, together with handwritten remedy recipes, which Mr. Coyne and his late father used as pharmacists. The Medical Hall was in the Bouttell family before Mr. Coyne took over. The Bouttells also donated medical items to the museum years before. Thanks to these donations of historical significant objects, we can provide the public with a close, almost identical, replica of businesses and homes from more than 170 years ago. 

CoyneFry’s Chocolate box containing the pill maker and associated accessories.

Not only did Mr. Coyne donate items from the last Victorian apothecary in PMB, but he also presented the museum with a wooden box filled with theatre wigs worn by his great (great) grandfather, Joseph Stirling Coyne, who was the most prolific playwright in England from 1835 up until his death in 1868. Joseph Stirling Coyne wrote more than 60 plays, 27 farces, and contributed to several newspapers and journals. He was also one of the editors of the popular Punch magazine. He sadly passed away from cancer at the age of 63, but his legacy lives on not only in theatre but through his great-grandson here in our very own Pietermaritzburg.

Theatrical wigOne of the many theatrical wigs donated



A visit to Patricia Vinnicombe’s childhood home

"My main aim has been to demonstrate that the Bushman rock paintings are concerned not so much with the commonplace, material aspects of life, but with the deeper philosophies which govern relationships between man and the world he lives in, between man and man, and between man and the Creator Spirit"

Patricia Vinnicombe, 1976: xix


Patricia Vinnicombe was one of the first researchers to look at the social context of Bushman rock art and raise its study from an amateur pursuit to a serious academic undertaking. As a talented artist in her own right, she also had a creative affinity with this imaginative art form and developed a method of copying the art that we still admire today.

Born in 1932, Vinnicombe grew up on the farm West Ilsley near Underberg. Her love of rock art began as a child viewing the paintings on this farm. While still a schoolgirl (she boarded at Girls High School in Pietermaritzburg) she began to take creative inspiration from the art. This ultimately resulted in the publication in 1976 of People of the Eland, lavishly illustrated with meticulous hand-painted copies. Many of these original works are now in the collections of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum.

Vinnicombe1Sign at the old entrance gate to the farm.




Vinnicombe4West Ilsley rock art site 2: Two part-human/part-animal figures, also known as therianthropes (left: eland, and right: baboon). Top: natural photograph, middle: digitally enhancement using DStretch, bottom: Vinnicombe’s hand-painted copy of the same pair of figures.


At the end of March Dr Justine Wintjes and Dr Ghilraen Laue of the Department of Human Science, KwaZulu-Natal Museum had the privilege to visit West Ilsley and see three of the six rock art sites on the farm that inspired Vinnicombe’s lifelong love of rock art.

Vinnicombe5West Ilsley site 2: Various human figures and faded eland.


In the sitting room of the old farmhouse it is possible to see rock-art-inspired imagery that Vinnicombe painted on the raw sandstone walls.





KZNM at the Southern African Mountain conference!

Last week was held the first Southern African Mountain Conference, ground-breaking in its attempt to approach mountains from many different angles, including ecological, social and archaeological.

The KwaZulu-Natal Museum was well represented at the conference with four papers. Dr Igor Muratov spoke about the distribution of terrestrial molluscs in mountain areas and the importance of micro-habitats for their recovery. Dr Thembeka Nxele discussed how more research is needed to understand native mountain earthworms and their possible vulnerabilities. Dr Ghilraen Laue spoke about regional differences in rock art styles from one mountain zone to another. Dr Justine Wintjes and Ms Nothando Shabalala’s paper dealt with ritual practices aimed at transforming rock shelters into homes.

The conference took place at Champagne Sports Resort, surrounded by a dramatic vista of mountain peaks, rain clouds and occasional sunbeams. It was a festive occasion because for many of the delegates it was the first in-person conference attended since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

 group pic

Justine Wintjes, Nothando Shabalala, Ghilraen Laue and Thembeka Nxele at SAMC. Photo: Igor Muratov.

Thomas Niel Huffman

17 July 1944 – 30 March 2022

Tom Huffman low res

Thomas (Tom) Huffman, professor emeritus of archaeology at Wits University, died yesterday at home in Johannesburg. He had been struggling for several months with cancer and various related ailments. Tom was born in the United States. Fascinated by Native American artifacts as a child, he took anthropology (including archaeology) at university, first at Denver, then Illinois. His PhD was based on the Leopard’s Kopje pottery sequence in Zimbabwe and involved both excavations and museum-based work there in the late 1960s. Tom took up the position of Inspector of Monuments in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1969, and was made responsible for Mashonaland in 1970. He moved to Johannesburg in 1977 to become head of archaeology at Wits University, where he stayed until he formally retired in 2009. Retirement simply gave him more time for archaeology.

Tom revolutionized the study of the southern African farming past. He introduced new kinds of analyses and interpretations to the discipline that helped transform it from somewhat dry description into richly textured, peopled and meaning-filled accounts. In recent years he took ideas developed and honed here and applied them to American sites he’d worked on as a student. His extraordinary energy, right until the end, generated a publication list of such length and breadth that it will rarely be bettered. It is heavy on the academic side, of course, but he was committed to public education too. He wrote guidebooks on Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe and contributed to museum and other exhibitions, including at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. We look forward to the sadly posthumous publication of his book on the archaeology of Great Zimbabwe. Hambe kahle Ngqalabutho. Uyibekile induku ebandla!

Continued Fieldwork in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, Eastern Cape Province

In late 2021 Dr Ghilraen Laue of the Human Sciences Department at the KZN Museum returned to the Groot Winterhoek Mountains to undertake further fieldwork. Dr Laue started working in this under-researched area in 2012 and in the last 10 years has documented 70 new sites, including 11 new sites during this field season. There are still large areas of Groot Winterhoek Mountains that need to be explored and many more sites waiting to be discovered.

2022GW2This heavily painted shelter is situated high up in a narrow valley of one of the tributaries of the KwaZunga River.

2022GW42022GW3Left: Handprints on a naturally smoothed area of rock. Right: View from the shelter showing the steep terrain.


Dr Laue’s research includes the investigation into depictions of bird therianthropes; creatures with the bodies of swifts and human heads. Three new sites with these types of images were recorded, including a unique image where the ‘wings’ are bent up like arms and have human fingers (see below).

2022GW5Usually, in these types of images, the body is birdlike with wings stretched out on either side. Although this image has a swift tail, the upper body is human. The remains of a hook-head (a common way of depicting human heads in the region) can be seen above. This image has been enhanced using Dstretch.

2022GW1Among the many images recorded was this well preserved panel of five human figures with antelope-eared caps.

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