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Celebrating David & Tessa Hartley


David Seaton Hartley, the founder of Hartley’s Safaris, passed away on the 15th July this year in hospital in Gaborone, Botswana.

David was a multi-talented man, always innovative, determined and passionate. He was a gregarious person who loved chatting and debating, particularly about Africa, her wildlife and wilderness but he was also just as comfortable and knowledgeable talking about stock markets, politics and any number of other subjects.

Always willing take an idea and run with it he was a pioneer of the safari tourism industry in Botswana and initiated many practices and ideas that are now followed throughout the industry. He was the first to introduce the use of VHF radios as the standard form of communication for tourism staff scattered across remote parts of Botswana’s Okavango Delta and was the first to keep his camps open during the end of year rainy season, something that no other safari operator had considered feasible.

David was born in the small South African town of Magaliesberg on 19 October, 1941. He married Tessa Barlowat the St Mary’s Church in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on the 20th April 1968, and they formed a strong team, in both life and business, until Tessa’s death in 1999.  While David was the more flamboyant partner, Tessa always provided the quiet, solid support essential in effective teamwork. When Tessa became gravely ill David handed many of his business duties to colleagues so that he could nurse her through her final months.

David and Tessa are survived by their daughter Caroline, who inherited their love of animals and is devoted to her dogs, cats and horses.

In keeping with his broad array of interests David, with Tessa at his side, participated in many business projects and, at various times, was a farmer in the Cape Province, a sheep farmer, ran large irrigation schemes and ventured into many other projects as an entrepreneur.

One of their first forays into the tourism industry in Botswana was to form a partnership with Tim and June Liversedge in the building of a houseboat, dubbed the Sitatunga Houseboat, which was launched on the Okavango River near Shakawe in 1973. This was the only houseboat tourism operation on the Okavango at the time.

Although he was still busy with his projects in South Africa David also began building some of the first formal photographic-tourism safari camps in the Okavango Delta. Determined to fill his camps he did what came naturally to him – he rose to the challenge and started Hartley’s Safaris to ensure he attracted sufficient guests. Once Hartley’s started achieving this goal he then decided that best way of getting his visitors to some of the more remote spots was to fly them in – so he started anaircraft charter operation, one which is still in operation today. David himself, was a very competent flight having logged many hours flying for the South African Airforce and then later using his Beechcraft Baron as his main means of transport between his lodges in Botswana, South Africa and when exploring new destinations.

His love of Africa’s wilderness and wildlife was boundless and it was in wild places that he really felt at home. Although he and Tessa owned a beautiful homestead in Maun, Botswana, David preferred to live in a safari tent in the garden because it was closer to nature.

He never tired of finding new and remote places to visit and although he could have stayed with friends and colleagues at comfortable lodges all over Botswana he often chose to camp simply in small tents. On one memorable evening a lion decided to pop its head into David’s tent, an intrusion to which David responded by bashing the lion on the head with a heavy torch, sending the lion scurrying away.

His love of the wilderness is perhaps unsurprising because his great-great grandfather was the explorer and hunter Henry Hartley, who some historians believe visited the Victoria Falls before the famous David Livingstone. Livingstone is usually credited as being as the first European man to see the Falls and report on their existence to people in Europe and elsewhere.

Despite his gregarious nature David was also a maverick, and even his friends acknowledged that at times he could be difficult to deal with. This he countered through a fabulous sense of humour and strength of character, and a genuine love of entertaining guests from all walks of life and introducing them to the African bush.

Over the years he hosted many celebrities including Britain’s Prince Charles and Prince Bernard of the Netherlands.

David and Tessa ashes are buried together in the Hartley family cemetery on top of a hill in the Magaliesberg Mountains.

David Seaton Hartley - 19 Oct 1941 – 15 July, 2018.
Tessa Hartley - 26 May 1945 – 24 August, 1999.

Jann Kingsley – friend, business partner and Director at Hartley’s Safaris.

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