1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pretorius

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Pretorius, the family name of two of the early leaders of the “Trek” Boers—Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius and Marthinus Wessels Pretorius, father and son.

1. Andries Pretorius (1799–1853), a Dutch farmer of Graaff-Reinet, Cape Colony, and a descendant from one of the earliest Dutch settlers in South Africa, left his home in the Great Trek, and by way of what is now the Orange Free State crossed the Drakensberg into Natal, where he arrived in November 1838, at a time when the emigrants there were without a recognized leader. Pretorius was at once chosen commandant general and speedily collected a force to avenge the massacre of Piet Retief and his party, who had been treacherously killed by the Zulu king Dingaan the previous February. Pretorius’s force was attacked on the 16th of December (“Dingaan’s Day”) by over 10,000 Zulus, who were beaten off with a loss of 3000 men. In January 1840 Pretorius with a commando of 400 burghers helped Mpande in his revolt against his brother Dingaan and was the leader of the Natal Boers in their opposition to the British. In 1842 he besieged the small British garrison at Durban, but retreated to Maritzburg on the arrival of reinforcements under Colonel (subsequently Sir) Josias Cloete and afterwards exerted his influence with the Boers in favour of coming to terms with the British. He remained in Natal as a British subject, and in 1847 was chosen by the Dutch farmers there to lay before the governor of Cape Colony the grievances under which they laboured owing to the constant immigration of natives, to whom locations were assigned to the detriment of Boer claims. Pretorius went to Grahams Town, where Sir Henry Pottinger (the governor) then was; but Sir Henry refused to see him or receive any communication from him. Pretorius returned to Natal determined to abandon his farm and once more trek beyond the British dominions. With a considerable following he was preparing to cross the Drakensberg when Sir Harry Smith, newly appointed governor of the Cape, reached the emigrants’ camp on the Tugela (Jan. 1848). Sir Harry promised the farmers protection from the natives and persuaded many of the party to remain, but Pretorius departed, and on the proclamation of British sovereignty up to the Vaal fixed his residence in the Magalisberg, north of that river. He was chosen by the burghers living on both banks of the Vaal as their commandant-general. At the request of the Boers at Winburg Pretorius crossed the Vaal in July and led the anti-British party in their “war of freedom,” occupying Bloemfontein on the 20th of the same month. In August he was defeated at Boomplaats by Sir Harry Smith and thereupon retreated north of the Vaal, where he became leader of one of the largest of the parties into which the trans-Vaal Boers were divided, and commandant-general of Potchefstroom and Rustenburg, his principal rival being Commandant-General A. H. Potgieter. In 1851 he was asked by the Boer malcontents in the Orange River Sovereignty and by the Basuto chief Moshesh to come to their aid, and he announced his intention of crossing the Vaal to “restore order” in the Sovereignty. His object, however, was rather to obtain from the British an acknowledgment of the independence of the Transvaal Boers. The British cabinet having decided on a policy of abandonment, the proposal of Pretorius was entertained. A reward of £2000 which had been offered for his apprehension after the Boomplaats fight, was withdrawn, Pretorius met the British commissioners at a farm near the Sand River, and with them concluded the convention (Jan. 17, 1852) by which the independence of the Transvaal Boers was recognized by Great Britain. Pretorius recrossed the Vaal and at Rustenburg on the 16th of March was reconciled to Potgieter, the followers of both leaders approving the convention, though the Potgieter party was not represented at the Sand River. In the same year Pretorius paid a visit to Durban with the object of opening up trade between Natal and the new republic. He also in 1852 attempted to close the road to the interior through Bechuanaland and sent a commando to the western border against Sechele. During this expedition David Livingstone’s house at Kolobeng was looted. Pretorius died at his home at Magalisberg on the 23rd of July 1853. He is described by Theal as “the ablest leader and most perfect representative of the Emigrant Farmers.” In 1855 a new district and a new town were formed out of the Potchefstroom and Rustenburg districts and named Pretoria in honour of the late commandant-general.

2. Marthinius Pretorius (1819–1901), the eldest son of Andries, was appointed in August 1853 to succeed his father as commandant-general of Potchefstroom and Rustenburg, two of the districts into which the Transvaal was then divided. In 1854 he led his burghers against a chief named Makapan, who had murdered a party of twenty-three Boers, including ten women and children. The natives were blockaded in a great cave in the Zoutpansberg and about 5000 were starved to death or shot as they attempted to escape. Having thus chastised Makapan’s clan, Pretorius turned his energies to the creation of a strong central government, and from 1856 onward his dominating idea appears to have been the formation of one Boer state to include the Orange River burghers. In December 1856 representatives of the districts of Potchefstroom, Rustenburg and Pretoria met and drew up a constitution and on the 6th of January the “South African Republic” was formally constituted Pretorius having been elected president on the previous day. Though the Boers of the Lydenburg, Utrecht and Zoutpansberg districts refused to acknowledge the new republic, Pretorius, with the active co-operation of Commandant Paul Kruger (afterwards President Kruger), endeavoured (1857) to bring about the union of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, and a commando crossed the Vaal to support Pretorius. The attempt at coercion failed, but in December 1859 the partisans of Pretorius in the Free State secured his election as president of that republic. Pretorius had just effected a reconciliation of the Lydenburg Boers with those of the other districts of the Transvaal, and hoping to complete his work of unification he accepted the presidency of the Free State, assuming office at Bloemfontein in February 1860. But the condition of anarchy into which the Transvaal fell shortly afterwards effectually weaned the Free State burghers from any thought of immediate amalgamation with their northern neighbours. Pretorius however continued to intervene in the affairs of the Transvaal and at length (April 15, 1863) resigned his Free State presidency. Acting as mediator between the various Transvaal parties Pretorius in January 1864 succeeded in putting an end to the civil strife and in May following once more became president of the South African Republic—now for the first time a united community. Conciliation was a marked feature of his character and to Pretorius more than any other man was due the welding of the Transvaal Boers into one nation. Pretorius shared the ideas of his father and the Emigrant Farmers generally concerning the title of the state to indefinite expansion north, east and west. Although he had much difficulty in maintaining the authority of the republic over the natives within its recognized borders, yet in April 1868, on the report of gold discoveries at Tati, he issued a proclamation annexing to the Transvaal on the west the whole of Bechuanaland and on the east territory up to and including part of Delagoa Bay. As to Delagoa Bay Portugal at once protested and in 1869 its right to the bay was acknowledged by Pretorius, who in the same year was re-elected president. The right of the Boers to the whole of Bechuanaland was not pressed by Pretorius in the face of British opposition, but in 1870, when the discovery of diamonds along the lower Vaal had led to the establishment of many diggers’ camps, an attempt was made to enforce the claims of the Transvaal to that district. Pretorius aroused the hostility of the diggers by granting an exclusive concession to one firm. Realizing his mistake, the concession was cancelled and in September 1870 he issued a proclamation notable as offering to the diggers very large powers of self-government. Pretorius went to the western frontier and in repeated conferences with the Bechuana chiefs attempted to get them to acknowledge the Boer contention and by joining the Transvaal to “save” their territory from the British. His diplomacy failed, and finally, without consulting his colleagues, he agreed to refer the question of the boundary to the arbitration of Mr R. W. Keate, then lieutenant-governor of Natal. The award, given on the 17th of October 1871, was against the Boer claims. Pretorius loyally accepted the decision, but it aroused a storm of indignation in the Transvaal. The Volksraad refused to ratify the award and Pretorius resigned the presidency (November 1871).

From this time Pretorius took little further part in public affairs until after the first annexation of the state by Great Britain. In 1878 he acted as chairman of the committee of Boer leaders who were seeking the restoration of the independence of their country, and for his action in that capacity he was arrested in January 1880 by order of Sir Garnet Wolseley on a charge of treason. (See the Blue Book [C. 2584] of 1880 for details of this charge.) He was admitted to bail and shortly afterwards urged by Wolseley to accept a seat on the executive council. This offer Pretorius declined, but he consented to tour the country with a proclamation by Wolseley counselling the Boers to submit, and promising them self-government. In December of the same year he was appointed, with Paul Kruger and P. Joubert, to carry on the government on the part of the insurgent Boers. He was one of the signatories to the Pretoria Convention and continued to act as a member of the Triumvirate until the election of Kruger as president in May 1883. He then withdrew from public life; but lived to see the country re-annexed to Great Britain, dying at Potchefstroom on the 19th of May 1901. He is stated to have disapproved the later developments of Krugerism, and within four months of his death visited Louis Botha and Schalk Burger, on behalf of Lord Kitchener, with the object of bringing the war to an end.

For the elder Pretorius see G. M. Theal, Compendium of the History and Geography of South Africa, 3rd ed. (London, 1878), and History of South Africa, vol. iv. [1834–1854] (London, 1893). For the younger Pretorius see vol. v. of the same series.