Author and Raconteur, Thesen of Knysna Was a Renaissance Man

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AUTHOR, conservationist, poet and businessman Hjalmar Thesen, 81, died in Knysna on Monday.

Patriarch of the Thesen family, which ran a timber business in Knysna for generations, Thesen has been described by friends as a Renaissance man, as passionate about poetry and literature as he was about nature; equally at home in a dinner jacket in the drawing room as he was roughing it around a campfire in the bush.

Born in Knysna in 1925, Thesen matriculated at St Andrew's College in Grahams-town and served in the Royal Navy during World War 2 from 1943 to 1946. He then joined the family firm, Thesen & Co, and in 1960 married Judy Tapson.

Thesen was fascinated by South Africa's earliest inhabitants, the San, and his first book, Echoing Cliffs, written in 1956, told the story of a small band of "strandlopers" who lived on the Tsitsikamma coast. Although he never spelt it out, it was set at Robberg Peninsula at Plettenberg Bay, a spot he loved and where he spent many weekends at "The Pimple", a rough rondavel his family built on the peninsula.

This book was followed by The Castle of Giants, about the interaction of the San with the Dutch settlers at the Cape, and then Master of None, about a San slave who is taken on the Great Trek. …