SIR JAMES PERCY
FITZPATRICK, K.C.M.G., was a foremost statesman,
politician, author and pioneer of the fruit industry.
He was born in King WiIIiam's Town, British Kaffraria
(Cape Colony). South Africa, on 24.7.1862.
His publications include THE OUTSPAN, THROUGH MASHONALAND
WITH PICK AND PEN, THE TRANSVAAL FROM WITHIN, JOCK OF
THE BUSHVELD, and SOUTH AFRICAN MEMORIES, which appeared
He was the eldest son of James Coleman FitzPatrick,
Judge of the Supreme Court, Cape Colony, and Jenny FitzPatrick,
both from Ireland. Of Judge FitzPatrick's four sons,
two were killed in action: Tom in the Matabele Rebellion,
and George (serving with the I.L.H.) in the South African
War. Percy FitzPatrick was educated at St. Gregory's
College, Downside, England; later at St. Aidan's College,
Grahamstown and South African College School, Cape Town.
On his father's death (1880) he
left college in order to support his mother and her family.
In 1882 he went to the Eastern Transvaal goldfields where he
worked his way - as storeman, prospector's hand, journalist
and finally "transport rider" from Lourenco Marques by ox-wagon
to Lydenburg and Barberton. His adventures during this time
of his life, when he was pioneering in the Bushveld, are vividly
described in his book JOCK OF THE BUSHVELD which is generally
accepted as South Africa's classic. In the early 1900's he used
to recount the adventures of his dog Jock, in the form of bedtime
stories to his four children. Rudyard Kipling, an intimate friend,
used to take part in these story telling evenings and he it
was who persuaded FitzPatrick to put the stories together in
book form. Having done this, FitzPatrick searched for a suitable
artist to illustrate the book and eventually came across Edmund
Caldwell in London and brought him to South Africa to visit
the Bushveld and make the drawings on the spot. The book which
appeared in 1907 for the first time, was an immediate and overwhelming
success, being reprinted four times in that year. From that
day it has remained a first favourite in South Africa and is
also widely read abroad. It has appeared in several forms and
languages and has altogether run through 91 editions and impressions.
In 1886 he married Elizabeth Lilian Cubitt (who was born in
Potchefstroom, Transvaal, 30th May, 1870), only daughter of
pioneer John Cubitt, who was killed during the S.A. Republic's
campaign against the native Chief, Sekukuni.
In 1889 FitzPatrick went to the Witwatersrand and in 1891 led
Lord Randolph Churchill's expedition through Rhodesia (see THROUGH
MASHONALAND WITH PICK AND PEN) and prepared the way for Alfred
Beit's journey to Lo Bengula's land. In 1892 he returned to
the Rand as head of the Intelligence Department of Herman Eckstein
and Company (a branch of Wernher, Beit of London), afterwards
famous as the CORNER HOUSE.
Under the Kruger regime, FitzPatrick became a vital force behind
the demand for franchise rights and citizen status for the Uitlanders,
becoming secretary of the Reform Committee in 1895. He acted
as intermediary between the Reform Committee on the Rand and
Rhodes and Jameson at Groote Schuur. On the collapse of the
Jameson Raid at Doornkop, FitzPatrick (who declared that Jameson's
precipitate action was absolutely against the wishes of the
Reform Committee) was arrested with many others, imprisoned
and tried for High Treason. (Imprisonment under bad conditions
permanently affected his health). Bail was refused and FitzPatrick
was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and to pay a fine of
2,000 pounds. However, he was released in May, 1896, being bound
over not to take part in politics for three years.
Debarred from politics he turned his energies to the development
of the gold industry, becoming a partner in Herman Eckstein
and Chairman of Rand Mines. One day, von Veldtheim, a desperado,
made political overtures to him in his office while toying with
a revolver in a sinister way; two days later Woolf Joel was
shot dead in his office by the same man.
Meanwhile, FitzPatrick was writing his personal, private record
of public affairs in the Transvaal. In observance of his
given word this book was withheld from publication until three
years were up and it appeared in September, 1899, one month
before the outbreak of hostilities. THE TRANSVAAL FROM WITHIN
was an immediate and overwhelming success running through seven
large editions in four months. Alfred Harmsworth (afterwards
Lord Northcliff) offered FitzPatrick the editorship of the London
DAILY MAIL "on your own terms", but the offer was declined,
although FitzPatrick did much editorial work for Harmsworth
over the following few months.
On the outbreak of war, FitzPatrick directed the establishment
of the Imperial Light Horse. A commission was offered to him
but Lord Salisbury (the British Prime Minister) and Lord Balfour
made urgent personal appeals to him to remain in England as
extra Official Adviser on South African Affairs to the British
Government, and, as such, was frequently consulted by
the War Office, his knowledge of topography throughout
South Africa being unique. A breakdown in health kept him from
active service with the I.L.H.
When the war ended, FitzPatrick threw all his energies into
the reconstruction of the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies
and also began to turn his mind to unification. He was an unofficial
member of the Transvaal Legislative Council and served on the
Inter-Colonial Council which was responsible for the S.A. Railways.
He was knighted for these services in 1902. He later became
President of the Chamber of Mines.
FitzPatrick played a great part in the creation of the Union
of South Africa as a delegate from the Transvaal to the National
Convention. He aced as liaison between Generals Botha and Smuts
and the Transvaal; and he and General Hertzog, in private, worked
out the agreement for full language equality.
During his parliamentary career he successfully fought two memorable
elections in defence of his Pretoria seat - first in 1906 against
Sir Richard Solomon, and again in 1910 against General Botha,
the Prime Minister of the first Union Parliament. He was
created K.C.M.G. in 1910.
During the 1914/18 War FitzPatrick was sent by General Smuts
on a country-wide tour, lecturing on the reasons and causes
of the war. When it ended he conceived the idea of the TWO MINUTES
SILENCE on Armistice Day, and the suggestion was adopted and
acknowledged by King George V. The idea of the National South
African War Memorial at Delville Wood was his and he was Chairman
of that committee.
FitzPatrick, ever since he met H. E. V. Pickstone in 1885, had
been keenly interested in Land Settlement, and after the 1914/1918
War he gave up all public commitments to work for this.
Realising its potentialities for a citrus growing project in
the Sundays River Valley he and his friends spent 450,000 pounds
(R900,000) on developing for irrigation 5.000 acres in the lower
valley. He visited America to study citrus culture and introduced
to South Africa the practice of bud-selection in the propagation
of citrus trees, importing many new varieties. He also introduced
modern pack-house machinery and, with H. E. V. Pickstone, was
the driving force behind the cooperative movement and the formation
of the S.A. Co-operative Citrus Exchange.
FitzPatrick had a most engaging personality and a sunny and
optimistic nature, but his later life was clouded by a series
of personal tragedies. His wife died in 1923. His eldest son,
Nugent, had been killed in France in 1917 and his other two
sons died within a week of each other at Christmas 1927: Alan
from an accident in Johannesburg and Oliver from typhoid fever
in Mexico. This left him only his daughter who married in 1923
to Jack Niven. (They had three sons: Patrick, Dan and Desmond).
These tragic blows, though borne with great courage, shortened
his life and he died at Amanzi in January 1931 at the
age of sixty-nine. He is buried on The Outlook overlooking the
Sundays River Valley. His burial place has been declared a National