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Born: fl. 1838
Died: 1846


Carel SPARMANN was closely associated with Carl Otto HAGER, a portrait painter and architect from Dresden in Germany and later in Cape Town, who wrote his unpublished memoirs before he died. It is from the latter's records that we have extracted the details of Sparmann's early biography.

A man of outstanding ability, wide interests and great inventiveness, Sparmann was of German origin. His birth date is not accurately known but being a contemporary of Hager at the Royal Academy in Dresden, it may be suggested that he was probably in the same age group and born circa 1813. He is described by Hager as a "Contractor or Foreman" and in poor circumstances. When he heard of Hager's plans to emigrate to South Africa, he suggested that he be allowed to accompany him. In October 1838, Sparmann his wife Ida, nee Scheever, and Hager sailed from Hamburg to the Cape. The journey, however, proved a tragic one for Sparmann. On arriving at the Canary Islands, his wife, who had been ill for a few days, gave birth to a child and died as they reached the Island of St. Lagos. She was buried there in the Catholic cemetery. The baby died four weeks later and was buried at sea.

Sparmann arrived at Cape Town in the middle of December 1838 and set about establishing himself as a builder and architect and persuaded Hager to join him in partnership as he had been awarded the contract to build the new Roman Catholic Church (St. Mary's Cathedral). Hager accepted the offer and was commissioned by Sparmann to draw up its plans. According to Rennie (1978b: 306) only Sparmann is mentioned in Bishop Grinley's diary but Hager claims to have been the architect in his memoirs. It is therefore likely that it was a joint design (cf SPARMANN & HAGER). Radford (1979) points out that architecture was not flourishing at the Cape in the 1840s. They had rented a house at 7 Grave Street, but within a short while Sparmann, whose finances were in an unhealthy state became insolvent and Hager stood surety for him. The partnership was later dissolved and Sparmann tried to bring Hager into discredit (see HAGER, Otto Carl).

Now on his own, Sparmann continued for a while as a builder. In September 1844 he commenced business as a silversmith in Cape Town, setting up his Gilding and Plating business, being one of the earliest in the Cape to do so. He invited "amateurs" to inspect the process and was prepared to supply them with apparatus and necessary solutions. At the end of the year he was appointed Town Surveyor to the Cape Town Municipality and suggested a scheme for procuring additional supply of water for Cape Town by means of Artesian Wells. His next interest was the production of illuminating gas and he delivered a public lecture on this subject in July 1846, being assisted by his friend JCA Wagner, the scientific instrument maker. At the end of the year he established his Liquid Gas factory at 29 St John Street. This was managed by another of his associates E Jones, while Wagner constructed the requisite lamps for the purpose. It was here in the garden of 29 St John Street, that his daguerreotype portraits were first taken professionally in December 1846, although references to his photography appear earlier. He was later assisted by Jones. Nevertheless, in spite of all this activity he still found time, in association with Jones and Wagner, to manufacture Gun Cotton.

Sparmann was the first recorded photographer to advertise "coloured" daguerreotypes. (Bull & Denfield 1970). It is noteworthy that at the sale of his photographic equipment in December 1847, he was in possession of no fewer than four daguerreotype apparatus. Although the Cape Almanacs of 1848-9 refer to Sparmann as a daguerreotypist, no evidence could be found that he continued as a professional photographer after he had disposed of his equipment in December 1847. After this date little further of his activities could be traced.

[Additional information provided by Michael Walker]

Books citing SPARMANN

Bull, Marjorie & Denfield, Joseph. 1970. Secure the shadow: the story of Cape photography from its beginnings to the end of 1870. Cape Town: T McNally. pp

Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pp 63, 590

Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1977. Victorian Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pp 41, 42

Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1973. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 8 Mus-Pop. Cape Town: Nasou. pp 529

Radford, D. 1979. The architecture of the Western Cape, 1838-1901. A study of the impact of Victorian aesthetics and technology on South African architecture. Johannesburg: Unpublished Ph.D thesis. Dept of Arch. University of the Witwatersrand. pp

Rennie, John for CPIA. 1978. The Buildings of Central Cape Town 1978. Volume Two : Catalogue. Cape Town: Cape Provincial Institute of Architects. pp 306

Walker, Michael. 2012. Early architects of Cape Town and their buildings (1820 - 1926) with postcard illustrations, The. St James: Michael Walker. pp 14