Corona Elizabeth Gurney was born on 7 July 1911 in Norfolk, England. She was born a Gurney of the Gurney Bank in Norwich, which merged after 40 years to form what is now Barclays Bank. She lost two brothers in tragic circumstances.
When she was nine, her father, Phillip, taught her to fish with a fly, and on her 14th birthday she was given a double-barrelled .410 shotgun. By the age of 17, she was shooting regularly and her interests were mostly sporting. She could speak French.
She married Nigel Thornycroft of Hertfordshire in 1937 . Nigel had written a book while in a Gestapo prisoner-of-war camp – “ Fowlers Moon” – published in 1955, and Corona illustrated this with her elegant line drawings.
After World War II, Nigel and Corona moved to what is now Zimbabwe and established a tobacco, game and cattle farm, which they named Merrhill, after the Hertfordshire wood that had given them so much shooting pleasure. The farm was in Wedza, Marondera, and grew to almost 10 000 hectares.
Merryhill’s rolling savannah and granite kopjies , was home to kudu, reedbuck, bushpig, duiker and babooon, and for many years, also to Googly, a hippopotamus, who used to play hide and seek with the farm dogs and follow Corona in her canoe when she regularly fished for bream of an evening.
Corona started a business, using pressed flowers and grasses to decorate cards, pictures and fire screens, giving employment to five women, and bringing income to help support schooling for their five sons.
Corona was an extraordinarily active person: she regularly played the organ in church, hosted bridge evenings, attended to farm workers’ family needs,was secretary to the local cricket association, helped cater Wedza Country Club functions, and was an amateur archaeologist and artist.
Her archaeological discovery of a burial with gold, radiocarbon dated to 1450 AD, on a kopjie on the neighbouring Imire farm is still on display in the Harare National Museum. The gold was in the form of arm and leg bangles and hair decorations.
Perhaps her greatest passion was for the San rock art of the area in which she lived. She devoted much of her time to finding and recording rock painting sites throughout central Zimbabwe, particularly in the Wedza and Marondera areas.
One one of these occasions, she had to hide in the hole she was excavating when a rabid jackal passed. From then on, she always took a gun with her.
She used photography and watercolour copies to record the paintings. Many of her rock art finds were reported in a series of site reports that she published in the journals: Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) Prehistory, Pictogram and The Digging Stick.
In 1988, at the age of 77, she was asked to deliver a paper at the Rock Art Congress in Darwin, Australia. It was here that she received the news of Nigel’s death. She continued to be active after Nigel’s death, studied the names of trees down the Zambezi, taught herself to speak some Portuguese, and continued to paint.
Her rock art work continued until 2002, when after 55 years on the farm, and well into her nineties, she was forced off the land by farm invaders. She went to live in Borradail Retirement Village, where she continued to walk for miles each day, despite failing eyesight.
Her rock art recordings were rushed off the farm to protect them, and were donated to the Rock Art Research Institute for safekeeping. The collection contains 204 colour copies along with records of more than 240 rock art sites; it is the primary resource on rock art from this part of Zimbabwe.
She died on 30 May 2007 aged 96.