1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Merriman, John Xavier
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Merriman, John Xavier
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MERRIMAN, JOHN XAVIER (1841- ), South African statesman, was born on March 15 1841 at Street, Som., England. He was a son of Nathaniel James Merriman (1810-82) who in 1841 had become vicar of Street, and was afterwards archdeacon of Grahamstown, dean of Cape Town and, from 1871, Bishop of Grahamstown. The family removed to South Africa in 1849. John Xavier was educated at the Diocesan College, Rondesbosch, and later at Radley College, England. He returned to South Africa in 1861 and became a farmer.
Merriman began his political career in 1869, when Cape Colony was in the transition stage of representative government. In temperament and outlook an aristocrat of the Whig school his subtle mind brought him in turn into coöperation with opposing parties, but he was always a champion of personal liberty and an advocate of native rights. In 1872, despite his opposition, the Cape obtained self-government, and in 1875 Merriman joined the Molteno Ministry as commissioner of public works. He was already distinguished for his energy and capacity, and when in 1877 war with the Galeka Kaffirs broke out Merriman became virtually Secretary for War in the Cabinet. In this work he came into collision with the governor, Sir Bartle Frere, who complained of Merriman's “insane attempt to ape Gambetta,” and insisted that he (Frere) alone had the right to direct the war. Molteno supported Merriman; in the result Frere dismissed the Cabinet, Feb. 1878.
Merriman came into office again in the Scanlen Ministry (1881-4), and again as commissioner of public works. It was a period of great difficulty following the Majuba campaign and the retrocession of the Transvaal. In the Cape the Afrikander Bond had been formed, and its more than dubious attitude to the British connexion alienated Merriman from the Dutch extremists. “My quarrel with the Bond,” he said in a speech at Grahamstown in 1885, “is that it stirs up race differences. Its main object is to make the South African Republic (the Transvaal) the paramount power in South Africa.” The Bond had caused the fall of the Scanlen administration because the Ministry opposed the attempt of the Transvaal Boers to seize Bechuanaland. In the last few weeks of its existence Merriman and Cecil Rhodes had been colleagues and when Rhodes formed a Ministry in 1890 Merriman joined it as treasurer-general. Meanwhile the Bond, under the guidance of Jan Hofmeyr, had adopted a constitutional programme, and 1890 saw a drawing-together of the Dutch and British elements at the Cape. But the uitlander troubles in the Transvaal became acute, and in 1893 Merriman resigned. In Dec. 1895 came the Jameson Raid. Merriman, who was chairman of the Cape parliamentary committee which inquired into the raid, and drew up its report, desired reforms in the Transvaal, not its absorption into the British Empire. “The greatest danger to the future,” he declared in a letter to President Steyn (dated March 11 1898), “lies in the attitude of President Kruger and his vain hope of building up a State on a narrow, unenlightened minority.”
The general election in Cape Colony in the latter half of 1898 gave the Bond a very narrow victory, and P. W. Schreiner became Prime Minister, with Merriman (treasurer-general again) and J. W. Sauer as his chief colleagues, though none of them was members of the Bond. This was the Ministry in office when the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 broke out (see 5.244). Merriman was among the ministers who in 1900 opposed the measure to disfranchise the Cape rebels; this opposition led Schreiner to tender the resignation of the Cabinet. Later Merriman and Sauer came to England to plead for the restoration of the independence of the Boer republics. At the general election of 1904 Merriman was defeated, but was return shortly afterwards at a by-election. He led the opposition during the Ministry of Dr. Jameson and in Jan. 1908 succeeded him as Prime Minister and treasurer-general (see 5.247).
Merriman lent the weight of his great authority to the movement for unification and was a member of the national convention which hammered out the new constitution. He was one of the delegates who came to London in connexion with the passing of the South Africa Act as well as a delegate to the imperial conference on naval and military defence of 1909, on which occasion he was made privy councillor. When on the establishment of the Union in 1910 the Cape Parliament ceased to exist he did not join the Union Ministry under Botha (see article South Africa, section History). He remained a somewhat detached member of the South African party and a not infrequent critic of ministers. Holding that as an equal member of the British commonwealth South Africa had found its proper place, he opposed the disruptive policy of Hertzog as strongly as he had formerly supported the independence of the Boer republics. He married, in 1874, Agnes, daughter Mr. L. Vintcent, a member of the Cape Legislative Council.
- (F. R. C.)