Friday, June 17, 2011

Jock of the Bushveld, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and the Sundays River Valley

This picture is one of those happy accidents which sometimes occur. The book resting on the wall above the plaque is not Jock of the Bushveld, but my son Doug happened to have left it lying there when I took this picture in the Sundays River Valley, which is displayed behind. Click on the picture to see the image in large format.

Do yourself a favour and go to Google Earth and "visit" the citrus wonderland along the Sundays River Valley. When I hear politicians like Julius Malema badmouthing white farmers my blood boils. It is thanks to pioneers like Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who was one of those who organised that Lake Mentz be built to irrigate the area, that this country has a first world commercial farming sector. It is no use owning land unless you know what to do with it. But what of Sir Percy?

The animated movie of Jock of the Bushveld, released in mid-2011, will surely again focus global attention on its author, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.

The main entrance to The Look Out.

It is a probably not widely known that Sir Percy was a proud product of the Eastern Cape, and that he and his wife are buried in a pristine part of the Sunday River Valley, where Sir Percy played a key role in the establishment of the thriving citrus industry.

A perusal of Wikipedia and other websites reveals that he was one of the major players in the South African political landscape at the turn of the last century.

The plaque on the right hand side of the gate.

Born in King William’s Town on July 24, 1862, to an Irish immigrant couple – his father was a judge of the Supreme Court of the Cape Colony – he was initially named James Peter Fitzpatrick, but later opted for Percy. Indicative of the hard lives these pioneer settler folk endured, Wikipedia tells us that he lost both his brothers in battle, one in the Matabele Rebellion and the other in the second Anglo-Boer War.

Percy was educated in Bath, England, and at St Aidan’s College, Grahamstown, but left college to help his widowed mother. It was the eastern Transvaal goldfields which drew him north in 1884.

Much has been made of late of the Addo thicket, which is said to be such a powerful sequester of carbon dioxide. Aloes stand among dense thicket, much of it spekboom, inside the monument site.

Here, says Wikipedia, he worked as a storeman, prospector’s assistant, journalist and as an ox-wagon transport rider between the then Lourenco Marques and Lydenburg and Barberton.

And it was of course these experiences which led to him writing the famed Jock of the Bushveld, which was published in 1907 – thanks to the encouragement of his friend, another iconic colonial-era author, Rudyard Kipling. Wikipedia tells us that it was Kipling who encouraged him to have the book published. It has since run through 91 editions and impressions.

The graves of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his wife, Elizabeth.

After becoming editor of the Gold Field News in Barberton, it seems he got increasingly involved in politics, and especially the plight of the Uitlanders in the then South African Republic of Paul Kruger. He unashamedly campaigned for full political rights for the thousands of people who had arrived in the Boer republic during the great gold rush of the late 19th century.

Working closely with Cecil John Rhodes and Leander Starr Jameson, Fitzpatrick was captured during the abortive Jameson Raid aimed at toppling Kruger in 1895 and, with others, charged with high treason. Incredibly, he was given a two-year jail term and 2000 pound fine, but was freed after just a few months.

Sir Percy's gravestone.

He helped establish the Imperial Light Horse Regiment during the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War, but due to ill health did not serve with them, instead working in Britain as an adviser to the war effort. He was knighted in 1902.

Then he served as one of the eight Transvaal delegates to the Union Convention in 1908 – where he would probably have met up with my great-grandfather, Yorkshireman Colonel Edward Greene (KC CMG), who was one of the Natal delegates. Fitzpatrick was also elected MP for Pretoria in 1906 and 1910. Wikipedia says he and General J B M Hertzog worked out an agreement recognising English and Afrikaans as the official languages.

"Lady Fitz's" gravestone.

Johannesburgers would be interested to know that his hunting trips in the area of what is now Zoo Lake yielded many of the first animals used to stock the Johannesburg Zoo.

Another claim to fame is that it was Sir Percy who recommended to King George V in 1919, after the end of the First World War a year earlier, that a moment of silence should be observed annually at 11.11am on November 11 – Armistice Day.

My son, Douglas, with his latest bit of reading matter, seen at the top of this post. Notice on the left of the stairs leading up to the Look Out post a plaque, which will be revealed below.

There is not much online that I could find about his life in the Sundays River Valley, but Wikipedia tells us he died of unknown causes at the age of 69 at Amanzi near Uitenhage. Amanzi means water in Xhosa and I believe is the name of the farm he and his wife, Elizabeth (Lady Fitz), farmed in the fertile Sundays River Valley near Addo.

This is a plaque in memory to Sir Percy's eldest son, Nugent, who was killed in the First World War. Note the two coats of arms, top left and right. Details of them are shown below.

Having lost his brothers very young, Sir Percy and Elizabeth were to lose all three of their sons, too. Their eldest son, Nugent, was killed fighting in the First World War in 1917 and Alan and Oliver died within a week of each other in 1927, according to the Siyabonga Africa website. Alan died in an accident in Johannesburg and Oliver of typhoid fever in Mexico. That left just his daughter, Cecily, who married Jack Niven in 1923, the same year Sir Percy’s wife died.

A detail from the Nugent plaque, which shows incredible crafsmanship.

After being dealt so many blows, it is probably not surprising that this man, who led such an adventurous life, died just a few years later, in 1931, at Amanzi. Both he and Elizabeth were buried at The Lookout, overlooking the scenic Sundays River Valley, which is where we took these pictures during a visit back in April, 2009.

There is something very South African about that springbok head. I firmly believe all our national sports teams should go back to being Springboks.

The view downriver from The Look Out.

Son Doug heralds the vista.

Classic Eastern Cape vegetation. Note the spekboom in the foreground, alongside euphorbia and aloes.

The view upriver.

A closer view of that virgin vegetation, busily sequestering dangerous carbon dioxide.

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