One cannot pass through the quaint little town of Napier in the Overberg without synchronising your time with the giant sundial, generally accepted to be the largest sundial as well as the only vertical one in South Africa. It stands as beacon next to one of the municipal offices.
It was when he read an article written by CJ Langenhoven on sundials that had been reprinted in Die Burger in 1936, that Danie Du Toit’s interest was piqued. This sparked in him a special desire to create his own sundial.
CJ Langehoven has drawn up plans for a sundial as far back as in 1926. This replica of his design was erected on his farm Arbeidsgenot in the Oudtshoorn Municipality
Since Danie Du Toit’s early years, the observations of the stars sparked an interest in everything celestial. He developed a sharp sense of interpreting the movements of the sun and the shadows it cast and researching the stars. It was this ability, that has not faded with the time, that made him noticed that one pillar at the Napier station where he was then employed was longer in winter.
Danie also noticed that the shadow fell at the same place at four times a year. This meticulous observation and the article written by Langenhoven was all the inspiration he needed to build his own sundial.
Cecil Fick was the town clerk of the Napier Municipality in 1965. With foresight and a love for the town, he made a decision to help to establish an iconic landmark for this little village in the Overberg. Danie Du Toit could build his sundial. Jan Engel, a local craftsman, was assigned to the plastering job and the municipality supplied all the materials.
By studying the midday shadows, Danie could establish north and south without a compass. He then built an east to west line. When the ‘gnomon’ – the metal rod- was in position, he started making marks; one for every two minutes.
It took him 18 months just to complete the markings for each minute, based solely on his observations of the shadow on the dial. Using his table, which explains the corrections between the sundial’s time and standard time, the time of day can still be determined within an accuracy of 30 seconds!
When Danie Du Toit died in 1974, this man with no training in his field, left this delightful little village a legacy that became a lasting monument to his ingenuity.
Credits: SJ Du Toit & Napier Municipality & various websites