Sir Laurens van der Post Papers

Scope and Content

The papers of Sir Laurens Jan van der Post encompass correspondence files arranged chronologically and by correspondent, including Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Roy Campbell, Carl Jung, William Plomer, and Margaret Thatcher; official papers collectedduring his time as intelligence officer during and after the Second World War, including Japanese POW camp newsletters and statistics, correspondence with military officials, and intelligence signals of Indonesian nationalists; papers relating tosurveys undertaken in Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Bechuanaland (now Botswana) for the Colonial Development Corporation; papers relating to his literary career including draft manuscripts of all his published and unpublished books and other works, aswell as correspondence with publishers; papers relating to his philanthropic and conservationist interests; scripts for films and broadcasts; personal and family papers; transcripts of lectures; photographs; and papers relating to his legacy.

Administrative / Biographical History

Laurens Jan van der Post was born on 13 December 1906 at Philippolis in the Orange River Colony. He was educated at Grey College, Bloemfontein, before undertaking employment as a trainee sports reporter on the Natal Advertiser in Durban in 1925. The following year, he assisted two established South African writers, Roy Campbell and William Plomer, to establish a short-lived satirical magazine Voorslag, the purpose of which was to promote a multiracial South Africa. In March 1928, he moved to England and married Marjorie Edith Wendt, daughter of Theo Frederick Charles Otto Wendt, the founder and conductor of theCape Town Orchestra. After spending time in South Africa as a journalist for the Cape Times. Laurens returned to England during the early 1930s, establishing personal friendships and literary contacts with variousmembers of the Bloomsbury Group, including Arthur Waley, J. M. Keynes, E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf's husband, Leonard, published Laurens's first novel, In a Province, in 1934. The rest of the 1930swere spent dividing his time between managing a dairy farm in Gloucestershire and working as an occasional correspondent for various South African newspapers.

During the Second World War, Laurens worked for the intelligence corps, firstly as acting captain under General Wingate in Abyssinia and then in the Dutch East Indies as acting lieutenant-colonel in command of special mission 43 to organise theallied retreat following the Japanese invasion of Java. He was captured by Japanese forces and interned in the POW camps at Soekaboemi and Bandoeng. Here he was instrumental in organising an educational programme for other prisoners and running acamp farm. Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, Laurens remained at Java for a further two years, playing an important role as mediator between Indonesian nationalists and the Dutch colonial regime. Returning to England, he retired from thearmy and was made a CBE.

In 1949, he was commissioned by the Colonial Development Corporation to undertake a mission to survey the agricultural potential of the Nyika and Mlanje areas of Nyasaland, subsequently publishing a best-selling book on the expedition Venture to the Interior. Following the breakdown of his marriage to Marjorie, Laurens married Ingaret Giffard, an aspiring actor and writer, and, during their honeymoon in Switzerland, met the psychologist, Carl Jung,whose ideas were thereafter to have a major influence on his writing. A further expedition to Bechuanaland, organised by Lord Reith to assess the Kalahari desert for cattle-ranching, led to his first encounter with the hunter-gathering bushman (San)inhabitants of the central Kalahari. This resulted in a BBC-produced documentary on the Kalahari people in 1955 and the publication of The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958) and The Heart of theHunter (1961), both of which explored the life of the Kalahari bushmen. Laurens was instrumental in the establishment of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 1961 to guarantee the survival of the Kalahari people.

Laurens continued to publish successful works during the next two decades, including The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970), both of which drew on his experience in the Japanese POW camps; A Journey into Russia(1964) describing a trip to the Soviet Union; and Jung and the Story of our Time (1976), previously been a BBC documentary on Laurens's friendship with Jung. In 1970, he and Ingaret moved to Aldeburgh in Suffolk wherehe met Benjamin Britten and was introduced to Prince Charles, whom he took on safari in 1977 and who remained a close friend for the rest of his life.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Laurens continued to promote a number of conservationist causes and was actively involved in campaigning behind the scenes for the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, not as a supporter of Nelson Mandela and blackemancipation but as an advocate of a more federalist constitution influenced by the Zulu leader Chief Buthelezi, whom Laurens regularly corresponded with.

Laurens published his final book in 1996, The Admirals Baby describing his work as an intelligence officer in Java. He died on 16 December 1996, a few days after celebrating his 90th birthday. His funeral was attended by Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher andChief Buthelezi, amongst others.


The papers of Laurens van der Post are mostly arranged thematically in an attempt to encompass different aspects of his life: 

  • A. Personal Correspondence 
    • 1. Chronological
    • 2. Correspondent
  • B. Military Career
  • C. Colonial Development Corporation
  • D. Foundation Papers
  • E. Literary Career 
    • 1. Draft Manuscripts: Books
    • 2. Draft Manuscripts: Book Chapters
    • 3. Draft Manuscripts: Articles
    • 4. Draft Manuscripts: Publications by Others
    • 5. Publishers' Papers
    • 6. Newspaper Cuttings
  • F. Films and Broadcasts
  • 1. Film Production Papers
  • 2. Television and Radio Broadcasts
  • (a) Transcripts
  • (b) Audio Recordings
  • ©) Video Recordings
  • (d) 16mm films
  • (e) Other Papers
  • H. Lectures
  • J. Personal and Family Papers
  • K. Photographic Material
  • 1. Photograph Albums
  • 2. Loose Photographs
  • 3. Negatives
  • L. Death and Legacy

Access Information

Generally open for consulation. Correspondence between Laurens van der Post and Charles, Prince of Wales, has been closed under Section 37 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Durham University from Lucia van der Post in May 2016, with the support of grants from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Arts Council England/Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.

Other Finding Aids

Separated Material

BBC Written Archive, London: correspondence and typescripts of broadcasts

Chatto & Windus Archives, Reading University: correspondence, book reviews and royalty statements

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assistwhere possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

The contents of the collection have been fully appraised and duplicates have been removed. The papers of Laurens's second wife, Ingaret van der Post (née Giffard) have been catalogued as a separate collection.

Related Material

Plomer MSS, PLO/223: 137 letters from Laurens van der Post


Christopher Booker, Post, Sir Laurens Jan van der (1906–1996), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, May 2005 Jones, J.D.F., Storyteller: The Many Lives of Laurens van der Post (London: John Murray, 2001)

Geographical Names