Doornkloof – the humble home of Jan Smuts, father of holism

We are one with nature

“Among the great gaps in knowledge those which separate the phenomena of matter, life, and mind still remain unbridged.” - Jan Christiaan Smuts: Holismand Evolution, 1926.

This is the opening sentence of Jan Smuts's great book in which he introduced to the world the philosophical concept of “holism.” The sentence reveals his concern with the inter-connectedness of life. As he said, “We are indeed one with nature.”

It was perhaps his love of nature which led him to buy a farm called “Doornkloof (Thorn Valley)” in the little town of Irene just to the south of Pretoria in the early years of the 20th Century.

In 1908 he bought a wood and iron building formerly used as an officers' mess in Middleburg and had it transported to Doornkloof as the farmhouse. It still stands as it did when Smuts and his family took occupation in the middle of 1909. It is now a museum and memorial to one of the least understood, yet greatest, of South African leaders.

Bust of Smuts
Bust of Smuts
Bust of Isie Smuts (Ouma)
Bust of Isie Smuts (Ouma)
Front of the Smuts House Museum
Front of the Smuts House Museum
Reflecting Smuts's military career, this field cannon stands in the fron garden of the Doornkloof homestead
Reflecting Smuts's military career, this field cannon stands in the fron garden of the Doornkloof homestead
Maquette of the statue of Smuts by Ivan Mitford-Barberton which stands next to the house
Maquette of the statue of Smuts by Ivan Mitford-Barberton which stands next to the house
Smuts's desk in his study, surrounded by some of his huge collection of books
Smuts's desk in his study, surrounded by some of his huge collection of books

Brief background to Smuts

Smuts was twice Prime Minister of the then Union of South Africa, the second time during the trying years of World War II, when he was simultaneously contributing to the war effort of the allies and fending off those in South Africa who were against the war effort and wanting to support Hitler against the “English”.

Born on a farm in Malmesbury in the then Cape Colony on 24 May 1870, he only started going to school at the age of 12 when his older brother died. His formidable intellect and self-discipline ensured that he caught up to his fellows within four years and went on to University at the age of 16. He graduated with double firsts in literature and science, gaining him access to a scholarship which enabled him to go to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read law and wrote a book on Walt Whitman called Walt Whitman: A Study in the Evolution of Personality which was, for various reasons, not published until 1973.

In 1894 Smuts entered the Middle Temple but felt the need to return to South Africa rather than follow a legal career in London. In 1895 he returned to the Cape.

N 1897 Smuts married Isie Krige whom he had met while studying at Stellenbosch. In 1898 Smuts was invited by President Paul Kruger of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR – South African Republic) to be the country's State Attorney. Smuts was a long-time supporter of Southern African unity and worked hard to bring it about, even while working within the rather narrow political confines of the ZAR.

In 1902 Smuts wrote: “When Mr Cecil Rhodes appeared on the scene in 1889 as Premier of the Cape Colony under Bond auspices, with a platform of racial conciliation, political consolidation of South Africa and northern expansion, my natural bias as well as the glamour of magnificence which distinguished this policy from the 'parish pump politics' of his predecessors, made me a sort of natural convert to his views. I began to dream of a great South Africa in which the English and the Boer peoples would dwell together in happy concord."

During the South African War (the Boer War) Smuts displayed his military genius and kept the British Army busy long after the British had captured all the cities and towns in the Orange Free State and the ZAR. His leadership and legal skills also meant that he was called upon to help with the drafting of the peace accord that finally ended the conflict. It was his first, and certainly not his last, contribution to international affairs.

In the years after the war the movement for South African unity grew and Smuts was again at the front of his people. When Union finally came in 1910 he was appointed to the first Cabinet of the new country by Prime Minister Louis Botha, a friend and colleague from the days of the ZAR.

When World War I broke out in 1914 Smuts helped to create the South African Defence Force which he, along with Botha, led into the then German South West Africa (now Namibia), where they defeated the German forces.

In 1916 he was put in charge of defeating the German forces in German East Africa. In 1917 he was invited by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George to join the Imperial War Cabinet, in which position he was instrumental is forming the Royal Air Force as an independent military organisation.

After the defeat of the German forces Smuts and Botha were part of the negotiating team at Versailles, where they argued forcefully, though unsuccessfully, for reconciliation and a limitation on war reparations. Smuts was the only person to sign both the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I and the Paris Peace Treaties of February 1947 which formally ended World War II.

Botha died in 1919 and Smuts became Prime Minister until 1924 when he was defeated by the Nationalist Party under General I.B.M.Hertzog. Smuts retired to Doornkloof to write his magnum opus, Holism and Evolution.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The grassy koppie which Oubaas used to loveThe memorial obelisk at the top of the koppie where Oubaas loved to sit and look out at the viewThe view that Oubaas loved. Of course in his day there were no houses to be seen thereWild flowers are abundant on the koppieThe Place of Quiet dedicated to all who in silence seek harmony and peace for all mankind.
The grassy koppie which Oubaas used to love
The grassy koppie which Oubaas used to love
The memorial obelisk at the top of the koppie where Oubaas loved to sit and look out at the view
The memorial obelisk at the top of the koppie where Oubaas loved to sit and look out at the view
The view that Oubaas loved. Of course in his day there were no houses to be seen there
The view that Oubaas loved. Of course in his day there were no houses to be seen there
Wild flowers are abundant on the koppie
Wild flowers are abundant on the koppie
The Place of Quiet dedicated to all who in silence seek harmony and peace for all mankind.
The Place of Quiet dedicated to all who in silence seek harmony and peace for all mankind.

Back to Doornkloof

And so it is to Doornkloof that this Hub returns.

It is still a beautiful place, with lovely views and lush grass covering a 'koppie' on which the Oubaas (literally Old Boss, a term of endearment used by large numbers of his followers and associates) used to take long walks and where he continued his habit of acute botanical observation. He was intensely interested in grasses, writing, “Directly or indirectly, all life is grass...the whole future of the human race...is dependent on our grass resources.”

Smuts found peace and inspiration in Doornkloof. It was his refuge and solace in the many vicissitudesof an active political life.

Famous people came to stay with the Smuts's. During World War II when Smuts was again Prime Minister. The Greek Royal family settled in South Africa and Princess Frederica stayed with the Smuts family, in the so-called “Best Bedroom.” Her last child was born in South Africa and Christened “Irene” with Smuts as godfather.

King George VI also visited the farm when he toured South Africa with his family in 1947.

Smuts lived simply on Doornkloof, surrounded by his extensive library and his family. And it was here that he died in 1950 after suffering a coronary thrombosis.

His legacy lives on especially in the Pre-amble to the Charter of the United Nations which he helped to draft in San Francisco in May 1945.

He had been determined that the United Nations would not suffer from the same structural defects that the League of Nations, which he also helped to form, had suffered from.

But perhaps most important is the legacy which one touches at Doornkloof, the spirit of peace and reflection, of oneness with all of life, the oneness he wrote so eloquently about in Holism and Evolution.

On the farm there is now a Place of Quiet “dedicated to all who in silence seek harmony and peace for all mankind.” A profound legacy indeed.

His spiritual and optimistic voice can be heard in some of the final sentences from Holism and Evolution which express his profound hope for humanity: “Wholeness, healing, holiness – all expressions and ideas springing from the same root in language as in experience – lie on the rugged upward path of the universe, and are secure of attainment – in part here and now, and eventually more fully and truly. The rise and self-perfection of wholes in the Whole is the slow but unerring process and goal of this Holistic universe.”

A gallery of photos of the interior of the big house

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Oubaas would often sleep on this bed on a screened in verandaThe simple bath and showerPerhaps indicative of his need to be in touch with his country and people all the time this telephone was installed in the bathroom!Smuts's bedroom with his uniform jacket on the chairThe "best bedroom" where Princess Frederica of Greece sleptWash stand in the "best bedroom" - note the "guzunder"!Isie Smuts's favourite corner on the glassed-in front verandahThere is a lovely tea garden under the trees to the side of the house. This is Jostina serving me my cream scones. They were delicious!About 30 cats roam the garden. This one befriended me (though I'm not sure whether I or the cream on my scones was the main attraction!)
Oubaas would often sleep on this bed on a screened in veranda
Oubaas would often sleep on this bed on a screened in veranda
The simple bath and shower
The simple bath and shower
Perhaps indicative of his need to be in touch with his country and people all the time this telephone was installed in the bathroom!
Perhaps indicative of his need to be in touch with his country and people all the time this telephone was installed in the bathroom!
Smuts's bedroom with his uniform jacket on the chair
Smuts's bedroom with his uniform jacket on the chair
The "best bedroom" where Princess Frederica of Greece slept
The "best bedroom" where Princess Frederica of Greece slept
Wash stand in the "best bedroom" - note the "guzunder"!
Wash stand in the "best bedroom" - note the "guzunder"!
Isie Smuts's favourite corner on the glassed-in front verandah
Isie Smuts's favourite corner on the glassed-in front verandah
There is a lovely tea garden under the trees to the side of the house. This is Jostina serving me my cream scones. They were delicious!
There is a lovely tea garden under the trees to the side of the house. This is Jostina serving me my cream scones. They were delicious!
About 30 cats roam the garden. This one befriended me (though I'm not sure whether I or the cream on my scones was the main attraction!)
About 30 cats roam the garden. This one befriended me (though I'm not sure whether I or the cream on my scones was the main attraction!)

Copyright notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 16 comments

Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

Very informative.......... thank you, and yes, I agree, still a very beautiful place!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Kaie - thanks for the visit and the comment - I really do appreciate it that you took the time.

Love and peace

Tony


lisadpreston profile image

lisadpreston 6 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

What a remarkable man and a beautiful place. I'm so glad that you got to see it. Maybe someday I will be able to see it also.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Lisa - thanks reading and commenting. I live about 20 minutes drive away from Doornkloof and really love going there. I is a place of great peace (though the day I went this week to take the pix there were lawnmowers going all over the place!)

Thanks for dropping by.

Love and peace

Tony


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Nice photos and great hub. It's a bit sad though that he like most of the folks of that era were segregationists, or at much as they were, it seems. The first mention of apartheid was attributed to him. It's not clear how much he wanted to elevate the status of all people. But that was a wild era. Thanks Tonymac.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Mickey - Smuts was so much a person of his time, in spite of his brilliance. I have always found it strange that the person who could write so eloquently about the connectedness of all could still be so trapped by the separateness of some. It is a contradiction at quite a deep level. But then who is ever fully consistent? I know that I'm not and so while I don't like his segregationist position I cannot judge him either, just agree to disagree with him. I have some similar qualms about Smuts's sometime antagonist Gandhi, too.

I'm preparing a Hub looking a bit more deeply at Smuts's philosophy which I hope to have ready in a week or two. His complexity certainly makes him a fascinating subject.

Thanks for reading and commenting

Love and peace

Tony


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

A fascinating read, coupled with the pictures , made it very enjoyable. I love the way you write. Thanks again, as always . love and peace,,, Dim


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Dim - you are kind and I thank you sincerely!

Love and peace

Tony


Hummingbird5356 profile image

Hummingbird5356 6 years ago

As usual, a very good hub. It was not unusual for people to appear to hold contradicting views in those days. It was the same with the Victorians. Philanphropists would help to rescue people from poverty but still expected them to keep the place that their birth had alotted them. It is only since the second world war that people have finally decided that they do not need to spend their whole life following in their parents' footsteps but can carve their own niche in society.

It does not mean that we have a perfect society now, but there is more acceptance of other people and also other nationalities. We should not look at another person's colour or nationality but at the person him/herself.

As you can see, segregation was practiced world wide, it just had another name, the class system or in India the caste system. It is just a matter of recognising it.

Keep writing hubs like this.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thank you Hummingbird (what a lovely name, BTW) for your encouraging comments. I really do appreciate them. Racism and prejudice are indeed pervasive and destructive. They are also a kind of blindness which hampers the clarity of vision one would expect from a thinker like Smuts (or Gandhi, for that matter).

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Love and peace

Tony


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

You always write about unusual and interesting subjects and places Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Ethel - thanks so much. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

Love and peace

Tony


caretakerray 6 years ago

tonymac04:

Thanx for another great hub! I always enjoy the history you present. :)

caretakerray


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Ray - thanks for the read and the comment. Come back friend - I'm missing you here!

Love and peace

Tony


Jannie D profile image

Jannie D 5 years ago from Parys, Free State, South Africa

Thanks for an interesting hub Tony. As a fellow South African I find your writing interesting and inspiring.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jannie, and a big, warm South African welcome to HubPages. I hope you will find many beautiful people and beautiful things here.

Love and peace

Tony

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