Nicknamed by the Tsonga people as “Skukuza”, which loosely translates to “The man that turns everything upside down or the man that sweeps clean”, James Stevenson-Hamilton was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1867. Although well educated, James Stevenson-Hamilton decided to follow a career in the military and he stationed himself on the banks of the Crocodile River in South Africa before moving and settling at Skukuza which was known at the time as Sabi Bridge.
James Stevenson-Hamilton served as the first warden in the Kruger National Park, which was then called the Sabi Nature Reserve, from 1902-1946.
In 1902, James Stevenson-Hamilton was seconded from the military by Sir Godfrey Lagden, to become the parks first warden. Sir Godfrey Lagden deemed James Stevenson-Hamilton as a bachelor, a man of means and a professional soldier and therefore fit for this unusual appointment. After signing a two year contract, Stevenson-Hamilton left for what was described back then as the “White Man’s Grave” with only a map of the area, oxen and wagon, provisions and ammunition. The area of the Kruger National Park as we know it today, was uncharted back in the day and rife with malaria. Since “game ranging” was a completely new term, Lagden gave James Stevenson-Hamilton free rein in the area with his only instruction being “Make yourself generally disagreeable and eliminate poaching.
James Stevenson-Hamilton believed that if there was no shooting of game in the area, the game would lose their fear of humans and come back to the area. He made it his first order of business to announce to the locals, that no shooting would be permitted. He moved from Crocodile Bridge to make his headquarters at Sabi Bridge. Here he appointed two rangers, one being Harry Wolhuter, and with the aid to these two rangers they trained local rangers. Many poachers were caught and soon the locals realised that they were serious about the no shooting rule. They even caught and convicted senior policemen for poaching in the area.
James Stevenson-Hamilton not only patrolled the reserve to keep it safe from poaches, he also saw the need to thin out the lions and wild dogs. He managed to convince companies in the vicinity of the Sabi Reserve to lend him land which eventually gave him a huge landscape, spread out in a remote corner in the Transvaal. This new land extended the original 3 100 square kilometres to 36 000 square kilometres, creating what is today the Kruger National Park. Wildlife could now roam safely from Crocodile Bridge to the Limpopo River. Up to this point it was still known as a reserve but in 1912, Stevenson Hamilton presented his idea to nationalise the reserve and transform it to a national park.
In order to do this he needed the support of the public and therefore the reserve was opened to the public. His idea was put on hold by Wold War 1. Encouraged by Stevenson-Hamilton, Piet Grobler established the National Parks board in 1926 in parliament and the dream of Paul Kruger turned into the Kruger National Park. The Kruger National Park was officially opened to the public in 1927.
After 44 years of service to the Kruger National Park, James Stevenson-Hamilton retired and settled in White River, where he passed away on the 10 December 1957 at the age of 90.