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An Arctic explorer buried in the Karoo?

The Cradock cemetery is probably one of the most interesting ones around. You’ll find gravestones of settlers, frontiersmen, nuns, soldiers who fell in the Anglo-Boer War and even one Harry Potter. Another grave I learned about and one I just had to go and find belongs to Reginald Koettlitz. You’re probably wondering what makes this grave different and the answer can be found in the grave’s inscription.
“An explorer and traveller, surgeon and geologist to Expeditions North Polar and Abyssinia and with Scott to the Antarctic”.

Koettlitz’s first Artic expedition was in 1894 to Franz Josef Land as physician and geologist on the Jackson–Harmsworth expedition. In 1901, Koettlitz volunteered for Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition to Antarctica, as physician and botanist. The story goes that Dr Koettlitz somehow neglected to add enough vitamin C to the polar pioneers’ diet. This was attributed by some critics as having led to the Scott party being in a weakened state before they perished on the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition that followed. 

Even though Koettlitz was cleared of wrongdoing, the fallout led to his withdrawal from the world of exploration and moving to rural South Africa in 1905. Here he worked as a country doctor for over a decade, often using a horse or pony-and-trap to call on patients in out-of-the-way places. Not much of a challenge for one who had traveled thousands of miles around the globe, and explored some of its most inhospitable places. He had been deep into the Arctic and, with Captain Scott, the Antarctic, trekked through vast uncharted areas of Africa and, alone, up the Amazon to Manaos.

Reginald Koettlitz died from dysentery on 10 January 1916. Look carefully at the stone and you’ll notice that his French-born wife died on the same day, barely two hours after him.

It’s amazing how many unusual sights and attractions the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape has. One just has to do a little homework and be willing to travel off the beaten track to find them.