Francis William Reitz

Francis William Reitz. Youngest son of Jan Fredrik Reitz (1761-1824) and Barabara Jacoba van Reenen (1777-1818). He was born in Cape Town on December 31, 1810 and died in Cape Town on May 26, 1881. He was born in his parents' house in the Heerengracht, opposite the Groote Kerk, and was baptised on January 21, 1811 in the house of Pieter Lourens Cloete, a partner of Jan Frederik Reitz's in a whaling enterprise.
The baptismal witnesses were Catharina Maria Cloete (daughter of Pieter Lourens Cloete), and Baron Francois Willem Fagel, a Cape judge, one time Dutch and British naval officer, and a friend of Jan Fredrik's. Family legend states that he was to have been christened Francois Guillaume after his father's friend F.W. Fagel, but the British garrison chaplain the Reverend Robert Jones, who performed the ceremony objected to 'francophile' names and insisted upon anglicizing them! (Reitz 1943)
He went to school in Cape Town, where he spent a few years at the Riebeek Instituut, a well-known school run by the Reverend A. Faure and Dr. D.F.Berrange'. In April 1826 he went to Scotland to study agriculture at Edinburgh. In Scotland he met leading anatomists and not only learned about horse sickness and animal husbandry but developed a marked liking for Scottish literature, which undeniably contributed to his sensitivity to language.
In 1828, some years after his fathers death, the historic 6000 morgan Rhenosterfontein farm on the Breede River was bought for him and ten year old Michiel van Breda (whose uncle Michiel van Breda, acted as his guardian), from the bankrupt estate of Reitz's grandfather, D.G.Van Reenen.
In 1830, his studies behind him he toured Europe with the intention of acquainting himself with the latest developments in agriculture. Among the places he visited were the Prussian royal stables at Dresden, merino stud farms in Nantes and Italian irrigation projects. Years later he wrote and spoke of the latter with enthusiasm.
His education in Scotland and experiences in Europe became the basis of the broad scientific approach that made him the premier agricultural reformer of the Cape Colony...'he was the uncrowned king of the Cape agriculture' (Burrows 1952). Returning to the Cape, Francis William attained his majority in 1831 and simultaneously became a partner in the extensive farming enterprise which had developed the year before from his father's partnership of 1817, when he had farmed sheep on the farm Zoetendals Vallei on the strandveld of the Agulhas coast with his brother-in-law, Michiel van Breda, of Oranjezicht.
Though van Breda remained the senior partner until his death in 1847, F.W. Reitz was one of the two managing directors of the comprehensive agricultural firm, Reitz, Breda, Joubert and Co. After van Breda's death he was the senior partner until the dissolution of the partnership in 1851.
Marrying in 1833, he had established himself at Rhenosterfontein in 1835; because of his enthusiasm and knowledge this farm attained the same importance east of the Breede River as did Zoetendals Vallei to the west. Living more than thirty years on the farm, and as a result of his scientific approach to farming, he gloriously revived traditions dating back to his great-grandfather Dirk Gysbert Van Reenen, and his uncle Daniel van Reenen, of Rhenosterfontein.
Initially horse-breeding had given the farm its reputation, but Reitz was more interested in sheep and developed a merino flock which came to rival that of Zoetendals Vallei itself. He created a model farm and in time his Groot Huis and farmstead attracted the interest of every important visitor to the Overberg and Swellendam.
In March 1832 he founded the Swellendam Agricultural Society (Swellendamsche Genootschap van landbouw), the first agricultural association in the country. A brief book, his first, soon followed: "Observations on the Merino", containing a brief account of the methods by which that animal had been brought to its present state of perfection in Germany, and intended for the consideration of wool-growers at the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town, 1834). He remained actively interested in agricultural research and kept in touch with breeders, the latest developments in the breeding of sheep and horses, and agriculture in generally. The book club which he started after 1834 in his home-town, Swellendam, developed into a local library. He also built up a considerable private library, which included many agricultural works left by his grandfather, D.G. Van Reenen. Among his contemporaries, F.W. Reitz became known as a man of comprehensive knowledge, particularly well acquainted with the contents of his own collection of books. In 1849 he was co-editor of the short-lived journal, The South African Agricultural News. In Cape Town he gave a comprehensive review of Cape agriculture in lectures later published as Cape Agriculture: two lectures delivered at the Cape Town mechanics' institute on the 1st and 15th May, 1857 (Cape Town, 1857).
Several of his contributions on agriculture appear in the Cape Monthly magazine: "The Angora goat and the South African Agricultural Society" (Jan-June, 1857); "Irrigation" (Jan-June, 1857 and Jan-June, 1861); "Hints on statistics of the Colony" (June-Dec, 1871); and "South African agriculture" (July-Dec, 1871). From the thirties he was secretary of the Swellendam Agricultural Society and as a writer, encouraged the change from local into regional agricultural shows such as the one held with great success at Swellendam in 1864.
In 1862 came recognition of his selfless services to farming when his friend, Sir George Grey, Governor of the Cape Colony, entrusted him with exhibiting the products of the Colony at the international exhibition at Kensington, London.
From about 1850 he interested himself in politics but remained the center of organized Cape agriculture and his lectures and publications were considered authoritative. Later he became an enthusiastic advocate of irrigation and his articles were widely read. When, in 1878, J.H. Hofmeyr founded "Het Zuid-Afrikaansche Tijdschrift", F.W. Reitz became co-editor and agriculture became his sphere.
But his interests were not confined to agriculture. He became a political leader in 1849 when he spoke for the Overberg districts at the great Anti-Convict Meeting in Cape Town, and enthusiastically supported responsible government. As an enlightened leader of great integrity he soon earned the regard of both the English and Dutch speaking people. On June 23, 1850 the Governor appointed him to the Legislative Council but three months later he and fellow members, J. Fairburn, A. Stockenstrom and C. Brand, resigned as a protest against the delay in the drafting of a representative government constitution. When the Cape Parliament met in 1854 he became one of the youngest members and for ten years he rendered valuable service as a member for the Western Province (1854-1863).
He was the sole supporter of Saul Solomon's "voluntary principal" in rural voting. As acceptance of that principal envisaged the separation of church and state, Reitz's speeches and lectures brought the wrath of the clerical party on his head. Examples of his publications dealing with this controversial questionare: "Antwoord van den edelen heer F.W. Reitz aan Presbyter" (Cape Town, 1855) and the more detailed "moet de regering zich met de kerkelijke zaken inlaten? Eene voorlezing over het Vrywillig stelsel, gehouden in de Kaapstad in het jaar 1859" (Cape Town, 1861).
In 1863 a series of financial setbacks and the economic depression of the sixties convinced him that he should retire from public life and he eventually sold Rhenosterfontein to Thomas Barry in 1869. Meanwhile he settled nearer the village of Swellendam on the far smaller but historic old loan farm, Kliprivier. His proverbial honesty, progressive outlook and warm humanity earned him the regard of his fellow citizens and in 1869 he was elected to Parliament as member for Swellendam.
On his retirement on May 30, 1873 he was appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, a position which kept him in touch with current affairs, without burdening him with parliamentary duties and left him free to pursue his patriarchal life at Kliprivier, where many families met to celebrate his birthday at the end of each year.
He married in Swellendam on July 9, 1832 Cornelia Magdalena Deneys, the fifth daughter of Gerhardus Cornelius Deneys, the district secretary of Swellendam. She was baptized on March 7, 1813, died on September 5, 1893 in Cape Town and buried in Mowbray.

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