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Grave of Axel Eriksson

Grootfontein | Namibia

Axel W Eriksson, who was the son of a butcher in the Swedish settlement of Vänersborg. His interest in nature and in particular ornithology, led him to meeting the famous explorer Charles Andersson. Andersson promised him an overseas venture and on June 25th 1865, Eriksson went on board a sailing ship in Gothenburg for a 4-month voyage to South Africa. He was only 19 years of age.

Eriksson met up with a very sick Andersson when he arrived in Cape Town. They eventually set off for South West Africa (now Namibia), where Andersson had established a trading post. Further explorations into Angola proved fatal as Andersson died during their first expedition. Eriksson buried his hero near the village of Efinde, Angola, close to the Namibian border. He was only 20 years of age.

Axel W. Eriksson followed in Andersson's footsteps, selling ivory and ostrich feathers to survive as he continued to add to his Namibian bird collection. In 1869, he was granted permission to open a trading post in Omaruru. At his peak, Eriksson employed about 40 hunters and his trading business included 6000 rifles and 18 tonnes of gunpowder, a staggering feat considering that transportation to and from Omaruru were by ox-wagons through the Namib Desert to the port of Walvis Bay.

Hunting had become so intense that the country's elephant population had almost been exterminated. Eriksson switched to the cattle trade, buying in northern Namibia and driving the herds to South Africa.

Between 1876 and 1880, Boer settlers took part in what was known as the Dorsland Trek from the Transvaal. They had settled in Namutoni, but sickness and extreme poverty forced them to move down to Otavi, which is where Eriksson had met them. Deeply shocked at the experience of meeting severely malnourished people, he took immediate action. An appeal was raised via the Cape Times. A ship laden with supplies was sent to Walvis Bay. The Dorsland Trekkers survived and journeyed further north and eventually settled in Humpata (Lubango) in Angola. Dissatisfied with living conditions a number of them returned and established a community around the present day Grootfontein, called the Republic of Upingtonia. He settled on Farm Urapupa from the 1880's onwards until his death.

His extensive bird collection had become extremely valuable and a museum was built in his home town to accommodate his contribution. He visited the museum on his 3rd and final visit to Vänersborg in 1894, a site that remains to this day. Disease led to the collapse of Eriksson's livestock trade. His vast fortune disappeared and he served out his remaining years in serious debt, notwithstanding the immense difficulty of trying to support his family. He died during a trip in northern Namibia on 5th May 1901. He was 55 years of age.

In 1967, the Historical Monuments Commission visited his ramshackle graveside. It was restored, fenced off and the grave of Axel W Eriksson was declared a national monument on 22nd March 1974. The grave can be found at Rietfontein a small village south of Grootfontein, those interested can include the site in their Namibian self drive holiday.

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