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President Martinus Theunis Steyn (1857 – 1916)

Pres. M.T. Steyn (1857 - 1916)

Pres. M.T. Steyn (1857 – 1916).

Martinus (or Marthinus) Theunis Steyn was a South African lawyer, politician, and statesman, sixth and last president of the independent Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902.

Steyn was born at Winburg in the Orange Free State. After finishing his studies at Grey College, he went to the Netherlands where he studied law at Leiden University. Later he moved to England where he studied at the Inner Temple and was called to the English bar in November 1882. After his return to South Africa he set up practice as barrister in Bloemfontein. In 1889 Steyn was appointed state attorney of the Orange Free State. A few months afterwards he became second puisne judge, and in 1893 first puisne judge of the high court. His decisions won him a reputation for ability and sound judgment.

From early on, Steyn, along with many other prominent Freestaters, came under the influence of a clever German named Borckenhagen, editor of the Bloemfontein Express newspaper, and in 1881 he had joined Borckenhagen in founding the Afrikaner Bond.

In 1895, upon the resignation of state president F.W. Reitz, Steyn was the candidate of the pan-Dutch party for the vacant post. The election was held in February 1896 and resulted in a decisive victory for Steyn, and he assumed office as president. The beginning of the South African War (Second Boer War) in 1899, caused Steyn to link the fortunes of his state with those of the Transvaal, allying with them against the British Empire. While the Orange Free State was under British occupation, Steyn ran his government from the field, playing a key role in continuing Boer resistance and the coordination of guerrilla warfare that made up most of the Boer War from 1900 onwards.

Regarded as one of the most irreconcilable of the Boer leaders, he took part, however, in the preliminary peace negotiations at Klerksdorp in April 1902, but was prevented by illness from signing the Treaty of Vereeniging at Pretoria on 31 May. The treaty ended the independence of the Orange Free State and Steyn’s term as its president. By 1902 Steyn was suffering from myasthenia gravis brought on by his constant exertions; and in July 1902 he sailed for Europe, where he remained until the autumn of 1904.

He then took the oath of allegiance to the British crown, and returning to South Africa partially restored to health resumed an active participation in politics. In 1908–1909 he was vice-president of the Closer Union Convention, where he was distinguished for his statesmanlike and conciliatory attitude, while maintaining the rights of the Boer community. In the South African Union he was a co-founder of the South African Party which he left in 1914 with James Barry Munnik Hertzog and Christiaan Rudolf de Wet to found the National Party.

While addressing a meeting in Bloemfontein in November 1916, he collapsed and died of a heart attack, he was only 58 years old.

Emily Hobhouse (1860 – 1926)

Emily Hobhouse (1860 - 1926)

Emily Hobhouse (1860 – 1926)

Emily Hobhouse was a British welfare campaigner, who is primarily remembered for bringing to the attention of the British public, and working to change, the deprived conditions inside the British concentration camps in South Africa built for Boer women and children during the Second Boer War. Born in St. Ive, near Liskeard in Cornwall, she was the daughter of Caroline Trelawny and Reginald Hobhouse, an Anglican rectorand the first Archdeacon of Bodmin. She was the sister of Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, the noted social liberal. She was a second cousin of the important British peace activist Stephen Henry Hobhouse and was a major influence on him.

Her mother died when she was 20, and she spent the next fourteen years looking after her father who was in poor health. When her father died in 1895 she went to Minnesota to perform welfare work amongst Cornish mineworkers living there, the trip having been organised by the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There she became engaged to John Carr Jackson and the couple bought a ranch in Mexico but this did not prosper and the engagement was broken off. She returned to England in 1898 after losing most of her money in a speculative venture.

Her wedding veil (that she never wore) hangs in the head office of the “Oranje Vrouevereniging” (Orange Women’s Society) in Bloemfontein, the first women’s welfare organisation in the Orange Free State, as a symbol of her commitment to the uplifting of women.

When the Second Boer War broke out in South Africa in October 1899, a Liberal MP, Leonard Courtney, invited Hobhouse to become secretary of the women’s branch of the South African Conciliation Committee, of which he was president.

Hobhouse wrote:





She set up the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children and sailed for the Cape Colony on 7 December 1900 to supervise its distribution. She wrote later:





When she left England, she only knew about the concentration camp at Port Elizabeth, but on arrival found out about the many other camps (34 in total). Hobhouse had a letter of introduction to the governor, Alfred Milner, from her aunt, the wife of Arthur Hobhouse, himself the son of Henry Hobhouse, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office under Sir Robert Peel, and who knew Milner. From him she obtained the use of two railway trucks, subject to the army commander, Lord Kitchener’s, approval. She received Kitchener’s permission two weeks later, although it only allowed her to travel as far as Bloemfontein and take one truck of supplies for the camps, about 12 tons.

When she returned to England she received scathing criticism and hostility from the British government and many of the media, but eventually succeeded in obtaining more funding to help the victims of the war. The British Liberal leader at the time, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, denounced what he called the “methods of barbarism”. The British government eventually agreed to set up the Fawcett Commission to investigate her claims, under Millicent Fawcett, which corroborated her account of the shocking conditions.

Hobhouse returned to Cape Town in October 1901, was not permitted to land and eventually deported five days after arriving, no reason being given. She then went to France where she wrote the book “The Brunt of the War and Where it Fell” on what she saw during the war. Her mission was to assist in healing the wounds inflicted by the war and to support efforts aimed at rehabilitation and reconciliation. With this object in view, she visited South Africa again in 1903. She decided to set up Boer home industries and to teach young women spinning and weaving when she returned once more in 1905. Ill health, from which she never recovered, forced her to return to England in 1908.

She travelled to South Africa again in 1913 for the inauguration of the National Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein but had to stop at Beaufort West due to her failing health.


Francois Soff (1867 – 1936)

Francois Soff was born in 1867 in Amsterdam, Netherlands and died in Hall 6, Pretoria General Hospital on 25 January 1936. Soff is buried at the “Nuwe Begrafplaas” in Pretoria, grave number 2704 Dutch B. His will, set up on 28 December 1935 in Pretoria, determined that his personal effect, including his clothes, books and tools should go to the farmer Jan de Braal and the rest of his estate should go to his friend Robert Frederik Francis Jr, working at the Department of Public Works.

Soff worked as an architect in Amsterdam and was regularly commissioned as an artist. It is widely believed that he was influenced by Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856 – 1934), one of the Netherlands most influential architects who among others designed the famous Merchant Exchange (presently known as “de Beurs van Berlage”). It is likely that Soff was one of Kruger’s Dutchmen and came to South Africa in the early 1890′s as an architect. He moved in architectural social circles in Pretoria where he met Pierneef, van Wouw, de Zwaan and others.

In 1895 Soff partnered with architect W.J. de Zwaan to design the Hollard House for advocate Hollard in Jacob Marestraat 249. Construction costs amounted to £10,000 with Mr. Turner employed as contractor. As a member of the Pretoria Club, Soff and de Zwaan was assigned to design the new wing of the club (Old Ivory and Roses). In 1904 he designs the Reserve Investment Building, Kerkplein 2, Pretoria, presently known as Café Riche. Meiring suspects that de Zwaan and Soff were also responsible in 1904 for the mansion in Park Street, Arcadia (presently the Courtyard Hotel) on the corner of Hill Street. De Zwaan and Soff had offices in Banklaan, Kerkplein, Pretoria. The partnership lasted from 1895 to 1923.

In 1913, in co-operation with Anton van Wouw, Soff submits a design for the National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein and his design is selected as the winning proposal. In 1918 he receives an assignment from the firm Lewis & Marks to design an L-shaped building on the South-West corner of Market (presently Paul Kruger) and Pretorius Street, Pretoria. The longer side of the L-shape was on Market Street and the shorter side on Pretorius, with shops on the ground floor and two floors of offices on top. The sketches of this design still exists and is protected in the estate of Walter Rodger Architects, a branch of the Moerdijk & Watson firm.

On 26 October 1926 negotiations with the construction masters responsible for designs of the Women’s Memorial started regarding the addition of a museum close to the monument. On 23 December, 1929, the museum was approved. The Construction Committee of the National Women’s Memorial consisted of Prof. Ds. J.D. Kestell, sen. W.J.C. Brebner, Mr. Gordon Fraser and H.J. Otto. It was decided that the monument will be built against the slope of the hill, west of the road near the grounds. To ensure that the building style os the museum matched the style of the monument, the design of the museum was again entrusted to architect Frans Soff. The foundation stone laying ceremony took place on Saturday morning, 26 April 1930 and sen. W.J.C Brebner laid the cornerstone of the Anglo-Boer War Museum of the Boer Republics. The official opening took place on 30 September 1931. Ds. J.D. Kestell opened the proceedings with prayer after which genl. J.B.M. Hertzog delivered a speech. In 2012, the museum was renovated and upgraded to cater for disabled patrons.

Danie de Jager (1936 – 2003)

Danie de Jager (1936 - 2003)

Danie de Jager (1936 – 2003)

Danie de Jager, die kleinseun van ‘n Boerekommandant, is op 21 Junie 1936 in die distrik van Germiston gebore.

Sy liefde vir diere begin toe hy by  Thabazimbie in die Bosveld opgroei. In 1952 begin sy opleiding in kuns aan die Johannesburg Kunsskool en werk daarna as handelskunstenaar. Hy ontvang sy eerste groot opdrag tydens die Uniefees van 1960 toe hy 85 karnavalkoppe moes skep.

Met aanmoediging van Anna Neethling-Pohl en Elsa Rautenbacht met wie hy later getroud is, wy hy hom voltyds toe aan beeldhou. As 24-jarige verwerf hy in 1961 die tweede prys vir die internasionale prysvraag kompetisie om ’n Smuts-beeld in Kaapstad. In 1968 word sy voorstel vir die Hertzog Monument in Bloemfontein as wenner aangewys. Met sy roem gevestig maak hy beelde van allerlei temas (diere, volksleiers, ’n militêre paneel en ook drie groot beelde vir die Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke) in verskeie style, hetsy realisties of abstrak.

In sy leeftyd het hy meer as sewentig groot beelde voltooi. Sy laaste en grootste opdrag, die voorarm vir die beoogde Vryheidsmonument, sou hy egter nooit enduit kon sien nie weens sy dood.