Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man


Perhaps, there is no other descriptive ‘English’ word more evocative of the earlier South African lifestyle than the verb to ‘outspan’. This word is one of the many that found their way from Cape Dutch to English. Words like commando, and trek, and the first full word in English, namely ‘aardvark’.

Unlike the French language – English feels no embarrassment in borrowing, using and owning foreign words. Ungracious folk would say steal. A recent study discovered that English is the most borrowed of all the world’s languages. It also found that English is the language that borrows the most from other languages.

Back to our word ‘outspan’ which was purloined from the Dutch word ‘uitspannen’/ uitspan in Afrikaans, which means to unyoke. Unyoke a horse or ox from a wagon (not unyolk – to separate the yolk from the albumin of an egg). Our dear friend the Oxford dictionary gives a rather bald rendition… 1. v. unharness (animals) from a cart, plough, etc. 2. v. break a wagon journey. 3. n. a place for grazing or encampment.  – the word has far more nuance for South Africans, for it carries melodious overtones of good times and relaxation; even now – long after ox wagons, carriages and scotch carts last traversed the land.

One can only imagine that after a long day’s trekking across the thorny Karoo, or squelching up the Natal escarpment, or careering over the precipitous Drakensberg Mountains or trundling over the dry Highveldt, that a traveler would long to outspan and set-up camp. Pull off one’s veldskoen, and light a welcoming braai and wrap oneself in a warm kaross. And what goes best with outspan but hot sweetened moerkoffie, a potjie of steaming bredie, maybe some slivers of seasoned biltong, Yes good scoff! – which is something of a circumambulatory word-trek for we have happened upon yet another borrowed word – ‘scoff’.

Scoff. v & n. / v. eat greedily. n. food; a meal. from Afrikaans ‘Schoff’ repr. Dutch schoft, meaning a quarter of a day. It is perhaps evident that outspanning happened more regularly than at end of day.

Ah! English my greedy mother tongue, that slurps, siphons and sucks-up a myriad words and allows me to travel across the world in words, even across my country in Dutch and Khoisan. ..

My dear friends – I leave you in the capable folios of the Oxford English dictionary if you do not know what braai, bredie, and biltong are.

Oh yes! and a collection of historic and informative images of my ancestors outspanning.

Graham Leslie McCallum






Outspan after buck hunting under a large yellow wood tree


















outspan, trees, wagon

(above) Outspanned in Matabeleland.

outspan after trek,

lithograph based on a drawing by baynes, outspan, eastern cape, wagon

(above) A lithograph based on a drawing by Baynes, Eastern Cape.

outspan, wagon, zambezi valley, methodist missionaries

(above) Methodist Missionaries encamping in the Zambezi Valley under trees.

Ngamiland, outspan, wagon

(above) Missionary encampment, Ngamiland.

wagon, drawing by boudier after a photograph by alfred bertrand, outspan under a large acacia

(above) A drawing by Boudier after a photograph by Alfred Bertrand, of an outspan under a large acacia tree.

Outspan, wagon, robert moffat

(above) Engraving of Missionary Robert Moffat’s camp.

Outspan, wagon, baobab, thomas baines

(above) A painting by Thomas Baines outspanned under a baobab tree.

Outspan, wagons, Thomas Baines

(above) A painting by Thomas Baines of his encampment.

Painting by Thomas Baines 1861 to 1862, Outspan near tree, Photographer, James Chapman wagon

(above) A painting by Thomas Baines of his and James Chapman camp under a large tree, 1862.


outspan, Charles Bell, wagon, lion

(above) A scary moment. A humourous painting by Charles Bell.

wagon, outspan and lions

(above)  An engraving of two prowling lions and a encampment.

outspan, holding up a flare, wagon

(above) A hairy moment at night.

Charles Bell, c1846, Wagon, Outspan, Hottentot

Outspan, outspan vv

(above) A convivial night around the camp fire.


Outspan wagon gh

Outspan bvv wagon

(above) A cheering draught.

outspan, moonlight night in the forest, wagon

(above) Holding court.


Outspan, wagon, charged by a rinocerus

(above)  Engraving of a rhinoceros charging the camp.

Outspan, wagon, burchell, 1811

(above)  Engraving of Burchell’s encampment, 1811.


Outspan, wagon bb

outspan bvc

(above) Spinning a yarn.

Outspan and a South African Storm

(above) A thunder storm disrupting camp life.

Thomas Baines, comet and meteor seen from camp, Botswana, wagon, Outspan

(above) Painting by Thomas Baines of comet and meteor passing above his camp, Botswana.


Outspan, Charles Bell, 1834, wagon nn

(above) A painting of Charles Bell’s camp at sunrise, 1834.

Robert jacob Gordon, Meerhof's Casteel, 1779, outspan, wagon

(above) A painting by Robert Jacob Gordon, Meerhof’s Casteel, 1779.

wagon, outspan qqq

outspan, wagon 1920's

(above) Morning coffee.

wagon, Outspan 8


wagon, Outspan after a hunt, 1898

Hunters camp on the Somokwe river, Outspan, wagon, frank oates, painting

(above) A painting by Frank Oates of a hunter’s camp on the Somokwe river.

outspan, wagon hh

making biltong, outspan, wagon

(above) Making biltong.

outspan, bamboespruit, cape

wagon, Hunting Party, outspanned, South Africa

outspan, Robert Jacob Gordon, Zeekoei River, 1778, wagon

(above) A painting by Robert Jacob Gordon, Zeekoei River, 1778.

outspan, kalahari desert, wagon

(above) A hunter’s camp, Kalahari.

Break of dawn, traveler on his kartel, wagon, outspan

dead gnu, thomas baines, wagons, outspan

Outspan, wagons, Thomas Baines


wagon, outspan qqq

Outspan, Charles Bell, 1834, wagon nn

Charles Bell, c1846, Wagon, Outspan, Hottentot

Robert jacob Gordon, Meerhof's Casteel, 1779, outspan, wagon

Outspan, outspan vv

Outspan wagon gh

outspan wagon, mmm

outspan, bamboespruit, cape

Outspan, wagon, diamond fields

Wagon, Outspan, painting

Charles Edward Fripp, Outspan, wagon

(above) A painting by Charles Edwin Fripp.

Outspanning , wagon

WAGON, Outspanning bg

outspan, trekboeren, artist Ernst Karl Erich Mayer 1975

(above) A painting by Artist Ernst Karl Erich Mayer titles ‘Trekboeren’.


outspan, wagon, cape cc


outspan, Robert Jacob Gordon, Groene Kloof,  Mamre District, wagon and Hottentots, 1779

(above) A painting by Robert Jacob Gordon, Groene Kloof, Mamre District, 1779

outspan after trek,

wagon. outspan, disruption in camp

( above) A drawing of Explorer James Chapman weighing out his photographic chemicals, while pandemonium reigns in his camp.

lithograph based on a drawing by baynes, outspan, eastern cape, wagon

Outspan next to a river, wagon

wagon, outspan, with bushmen, Kalahari

wagon, outspan


Outspan, northern cape, wagon

Outspan, Mr. Bartlett's house at Campbel, cape, wagon

(above) Outspanned at Mr. Bartlett’s house at Campbel, Northern Cape.

veldt fire threatening camp, outspan, wagon

(above)  A veld fire threatening camp.

umzingwani river, outspan, wagon

(above) Outspanned on the banks of the Umzingwani River.

outspan, collecting rain water in the tent of the wagon

(above) Quenching thirsts by catching rain in the canvass of the wagon’s tilt (kaptent).

Outspan, wagon, diamond fields

(above) Outspanning at the Diamond Fields, Cape.

pampoen kraal, wagon, outspan, francois levalliant

(above) The Explorer Francois  Le Valliant outspanning at ‘Pampoen Kraal’, Cape.

Outspan, wagon, namaqua, giraffe, francois levalliant

(above) A lithograph of the Explorer Francois Levalliant camp in the Namaqua.

Thomas Baines, Cape Wagon tent, outspan

(above) A drawing of Thomas Baines’ wagon and tent.

Nagmaal, outspan, wagon

(above) Outspanning for Nagmaal.

Outspan, Tugela Falls, Drakensberg

(above) Outspanning with the Tugela Falls and the Drakensberg in the background.

Wagon, Outspan qw

wagon, Outspan 8

wagon, Outspan nn


wagon, Outspan we

wagon, Outspan qwe

Outspan and a South African Storm

wagon, outspanned 1931

fort charter, wagons, outspanned

(above) Outspanned at Fort Charters.

wagon, Outspanned at Lake Ngami

wagon, Outspanned at a farm

koppie, wagon, Outspan w


outspan, jock of the bushveld

(above) Two drawings from ‘Jock of the bushveld’ by Percy Fitzpatrick.

outspan, wagon, jock of the bushveld, percy fitzpatrick

outspan, watering the oxen, wagon

doing the laundry, outspan, wagon

(above) Doing the laundry.

wagon, outspan, riding oxen, kalahari

(above and below) Visitors to the camp.

farewell, outspan, wagon

outspan, wagon, lattakoo, northern cape, john campbell, ameuteurish

(above) Missionary John Campbell’s camp at Lattakoo, Northern Cape.

outspan, cape wagon, burchell

(above and below) A painting and woodcut by Burchell.

Burchell, outspan, wagon, Karoo

wagon, Kalahari, outspanned next to a pool, K'abian pool

wagon, Outspanned, near a lake

wagon, Outspanning, South Africa

outspan, Boer Encampment, Wagon

wagon, Outspan er

(above and below) Interacting with the locals.

Outspan, a time to interact with the locals













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This entry was posted on July 18, 2014 by in History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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