Reverend Father Franz Mayr

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Reverend Father Franz Mayr

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1865 - 15 October 1914


[Source - Rosemary Lombard for FHYA, 2017, using material written by Clemens Gütl: Reverend Father Franz Mayr was an Austrian missionary and collector active in southern Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in the Tyrol in 1865, Mayr arrived in the British colony of Natal in 1890. On his arrival, he lived for several months at St Michael’s, an outstation of the Mariannhill Monastery, from whence he moved to the colony’s capital, Pietermaritzburg, where he served under Bishop Charles Constant Jolivet. Mayr quickly became proficient in both English and isiZulu, and the Bishop acknowledged his dedication by putting him in charge of the first Catholic Zulu Mission in Pietermaritzburg. Mayr taught his mission choir hymns in Latin, isiZulu and English, accompanied by himself on the reed organ. At the behest of the Mariannhill Trappists, Mayr left Natal in 1909, to reopen a mission field in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and then a final mission at St Joseph’s, near Bremersdorp, then the capital of Swaziland. According to missionary sources, he was mugged and murdered at the age of 49, on October 15, 1914, while travelling in his mule cart near Bremersdorp.

While living in southern Africa, Mayr was a proficient collector, amassing a wide range of different items, including examples of local medicinal plants, minerals, animals and ethnological artefacts, such as tools, clothing and weapons. His interest in music and languages also led to his recording isiZulu speakers performing local musical genres as well as mission hymns, with a phonograph given to him for this commissioned purpose by the Austrian Academy of Science’s Phonogrammarchiv. He collected a substantial quantity of material objects – including items such as local beadwork and household goods – at the request of Dr Ernest Warren, director of the Natal Government Museum. Mayr wrote several educational and religious books, including isiZulu language manuals and scholarly articles on aspects of what was regarded as Zulu culture related to his collections. The articles were published in the European journal Anthropos and the Annals of the Natal Government Museum . His publications allow for the gleaning of additional contextual information pertaining to the recordings and collected material.

Mayr’s collections are presently held in geographically dispersed locales. He sent many ethnological items to the Slovenian countess and donor, Maria Teresa Ledóchowska – founder of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, dedicated to service in Africa – for use in her travelling exhibitions.
Original sound recordings by Mayr are housed in the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS) in Vienna and have been published as a CD collection with booklet. In Pietermaritzburg, the KwaZulu-Natal Museum holds approximately 47 cultural artefacts from Kwa-Zulu Natal which may be Mayr-related – some definitely collected by him, and others attributed to him with questionable certainty – and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Bews Herbarium, founded in 1910, is the custodian of his ethnobotanical collection, which runs to approximately 240 specimens.

Clemens Gütl’s 2004 publication, ‘Adieu ihr lieben Schwarzen’: Gesammelte Schriften des Tiroler Afrikamissionars Franz Mayr (1865-1914), makes much of Mayr’s correspondence and biographical detail available.]


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