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Faculty Publication: Associate Professor of Geology Selby Hearth

February 14, 2024

Geologists as Colonial Scouts: the Rogers Expedition to Otavi and Tsumeb, Nambia, 1892–1895

Author: Selby Hearth

Source: Earth Sciences History (2023) 42 (2): 385–415,

Publication Type: Journal Article

Abstract: From 1892 to 1895, the South West Africa Company (SWACO) expedition led by geologist Matthew Rogers conducted the first geologic mapping in Namibia’s Otavi Mountains, including the now world-famous Tsumeb Mine. This paper uses archival documents from the Rogers expedition to trace his geologic contributions and to illustrate important themes in the relationships between 19th century colonial geologists, Western colonizing governments, Indigenous communities, resource extraction, and corporations. To carry out his mapping, Rogers performed a continuous balancing act between British and German colonial powers and local African leaders. The local leaders and communities he interacted with variously resisted his incursions, or collaborated with him, but consistently and vocally asserted their rights to the land and copper in Otavi. In addition to geologic mapping, Rogers understood his role as intelligence gatherer, reporting back on the resources needed to facilitate European settlers in the region, including his views on how Germany might subjugate local communities and ensure their labor for the growing colony. Throughout, the expedition was dependent on African guides to keep them alive and show them where copper outcropped, yet Rogers’ letters back to SWACO promoted racial and cultural prejudices that became the foundations for how SWACO would interact with those communities in the future. In addition to laying the geologic groundwork for the Otavi area, the expedition illustrated the many roles that 19th century colonial geologists played in Western colonization.