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An automaton (plural: automata or automatons) is a self-operating machine. The word is sometimes used to describe what later became known as a Robot, more specifically an "autonomous robot". The reference may also be to life-size Automaton figures, worked automatically through wires, gears, ropes, steam or by someone inside the huge mechanical puppets. The latter were particularly popular in the 19th century, though the practice is much older than that.

Automata in South Africa

The first appearance in South Africa appears to have been a brief visit by an M. Decanis, who showed one figure in June 1837 at 84 Long Street, Cape Town. It is described as "An Automaton Figure, which speaks and moves" and was on show for a month.

In November 1837 the magician and puppeteer W.F.H. Parker arrived at the Cape, with Mr Parker's Theatre of Mechanics, which had a number of figures (puppets). He was in South Africa between 1837 and 1848. In 1837 they impressed Cape Town audiences with the huge, life-size Automaton figures. They “worked automatically through wires, ropes, steam” or someone inside the huge puppets. Some sources claim that this may have been the first recorded puppet displays in Cape Town.


"Automaton" in Wikipedia at

"Robot" in Wikipedia at

F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

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