Hierdie artikel ontleed die dagboek van Louis Tregardt ten einde die waarde daarvan as historiese bron te bepaal. Tregardt was die enigste Voortrekkerleier wat 'n dagboek bygehou het en wel vir die tydperk van einde Julie 1836 tot die begin van Mei 1838. Hierin vermeld hy, benewens sy daaglikse aantekeninge oor die aktiwiteite waarmee hy en sy trekgenote hulle normaalweg besig gehou het, 'n magdom besonderhede wat nie geredelik in ander bronne beskikbaar is nie. Hy skryf oor sy eie lewens-en wêreldbeskouing, oor onderlinge verhoudinge binne asook tussen Voortrekkergesinne, oor rasse-vooroordele en oor gewelddadigheid. Hy skryf oor verskeie van hulle gebruike, waaronder godsdiens, opvoeding, mediese behandeling, praktyke in verband met dood en begrafnis en eet-en drinkgewoontes. Uitvoerige besonderhede word oor Tregardt en sy trekgenote se leefwêreld verskaf, insluitende oor die klimaat, fauna en flora, jag, boerderybedrywighede, veesiektes, behuising, meubels, gereedskap, kleredrag, die onderhoud van ossewaens en trekgereedskap, vervaardiging van gebruiksartikels soos seep, die uitdagings op die trekpad, waaronder roofdiere en veediewe en interaksie met inheemse gemeenskappe en met die Portugese by Delagoabaai. Laastens werp die dagboek lig op die Afrikaans wat destyds gebesig is - 'n aspek wat nie in die artikel ontleed word nie. Aangesien Tregardt se dagboek so 'n verskeidenheid fasette aan die lig bring, is die finale gevolgtrekking dat dit as een van die mees uitstaande dokumente uit die GrootTrek-tydperk beskou moet word en dat die waarde daarvan nie oorskat kan word nie.
In this article it is argued that the diary of Louis Tregardt contains a wealth of historical
information. Tregardt was the only Voortrekker leader of the Great Trek era who kept a diary. It
covers the period from the end of July 1836, when Tregardt and his group of Voortrekkers had
already reached the Soutpansberg region in what is today the Limpopo Province of South Africa,
to 1 May 1838, when his wife died less than three weeks after they had reached the Portuguese
Fort at what is now Maputo in Mozambique. The diary was written in the language spoken by
Tregardt and his companions: an early form of Afrikaans which was evolving from Dutch.
Two transcriptions of Tregardt’s diary have been published to date. The author of this article
is busy translating the diary into Afrikaans. Selections from the diary have been published in
English. Furthermore, a variety of academic and popular historical studies on Tregardt and his diary have been undertaken, especially on the language used by the diarist. Tregardt’s trek has
inspired creative work by foremost literary and artistic figures in South Africa. However, the only
extensive evaluation of the diary as an historical source was undertaken by Gustav Preller in
1917. Since then a large body of information on Tregardt and his trek, which Preller did not have
access to, has emerged. It certainly is time for a re-evaluation of the diary as an historical source.
The first issue focused on in this article is the diarist himself, namely Tregardt. Why did he
keep the diary? Did he mostly report on events and circumstances in which he himself participated
or which he experienced? Did he enter information on a daily basis or long after events about
which he wrote? Is the information which he included in the diary of sufficient interest to justify
claims that it should be regarded as an important source? The answers to these questions can be
summarised as follows: It is not clear why Tregardt kept a diary, but it certainly was not to justify
his actions. He reported on what he himself did or witnessed. He wrote almost daily and seldom
more than two days after events; and he certainly provides unique and valuable information.
Indeed, this evaluation of Tregardt’s diary as an historical source is based primarily on an
analysis of the variety of issues about which the diary provides information that is not readily
available from other sources. In the first place, Tregardt provides detailed information about his
own character and views; about relationships within Voortrekker families; about racial prejudices;
and about violence. Secondly, the diary highlights the differences between the various types of
pioneers who participated in the Great Trek. Thirdly, extensive information is provided on
Voortrekker customs and habits, including religious practices, education, death and funerals,
clothing, food and drink, disease and medicine. Fourthly, the diary contains extensive information
about the world of the Voortrekker. This includes the fauna and flora of the areas where they
trekked; the climate and rainfall; the challenges of trekking in areas never before traversed by
wheeled vehicles; interaction with indigenous communities as well as cultural practices of those communities; their hunting activities and indiscriminate killing and wounding of game; their
wagons and the challenges to keep those wagons going; houses and shelters which the Voortrekkers
built; their furniture and their tools; their farming activities and their struggle to move forward
with their large herds of cattle and sheep; stock diseases and, finally, their interaction with the
Portuguese at Delagoa Bay.
In conclusion, the author agrees with Preller that there is no other single document from the
Great Trek era that contains such a wealth of information as does Tregardt’s diary. In addition,
the diary is a literary gem reflecting the early development of the Afrikaans language – an issue
not addressed in this article. The only possible conclusion is that the value of Tregardt’s diary as
an historical source cannot be over-estimated.