Set in the midst of sleepy fields, and under the whispering leaves of tall trees, is Doornkloof – home to General Jan Christiaan Smuts for over 40 years. It is now the Smuts Museum.
Built as a prefabricated wood and iron officers’ mess in Britain, it was used in India by the British Army, then sent to South Africa, where it was bought by Smuts in 1908, from an auction of military property in Middelburg, for £300. It was re-erected on his farm in Irene.
The house is furnished as it was. Some rooms are set aside for photographic displays, stories, busts, portraits and mementos of the life and times of the ‘Oubaas’. I particularly liked his study, which was large and airy, with book-lined walls, large desks and a deep couch. Smuts was obviously a man of great intellect, with many interests and activities – soldier, scholar, statesman and philosopher, and with a passionate interest in botany.
Born on 24 May 1870, he’d had only five years of formal schooling when he matriculated with distinction. He went on to excel academically both at the University of the Cape of Good Hope and at Christ’s College, Cambridge. After practising law for a while he became State Attorney under President Paul Kruger, at the age of 28.
In the Second Anglo-Boer war he made a name for himself as a military strategist. He attended the Vereeniging Peace Conference in 1902, and later was largely responsible for the drafting of the Constitution of the Union of South Africa. He was appointed minister of interior, defence and mines in the first cabinet. Later, Jan Smuts was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 to 1924, and again from 1939 to 1948.
During the First World War he was, from 1917 to 1919, one of 5 members of the British War Cabinet. Here he was instrumental in the creation of the Royal Air Force. In the Second World War he was promoted to Field Marshall of the British Army. He served on the Imperial War Cabinet under Winston Churchill, and contributed significantly to the policy –making decisions of the Allied forces.
He radiated vigour and energy, and inspired confidence – particularly in Britain as she lived through her ‘dark days’. He was the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both the First and Second World Wars, and the only person to sign the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.
One of many photographs shows a meeting between Smuts and Wavell, when the latter was the General Officer Commanding Middle-East Operations. They shared an interest in poetry. Smuts had written a book, which remained unpublished, on the work and poetry of Walt Whitman. Wavell had compiled an anthology of poetry – all of which he was said to know by heart – entitled ‘Other Men’s Flowers’. This would have appealed to the botanist in Smuts.
A later Smuts book was his philosophical work entitled ‘Holism and Evolution.’ On the world stage he was hugely significant. In South Africa a SABC opinion poll in 2004 saw him voted sixth of the top hundred Greatest South Africans of all time.
The garden is a spacious natural park with ‘thousands of trees and shrubs.’ There is a tea garden, and a footpath up the hill, behind the house, to a memorial.
Twice a month – on the second and last Saturdays, from 09h00 to 14h00 – the extensive and popular Irene Village Market meets in the grounds, offering numerous food stalls and over 300 exhibits with wares ranging from art and craft to clothing, delicacies, antiques, flowers and curio. See more on www.irenemarket.co.za
• Parking: R5
• Entrance to the House: R10
• Hours: Mon-Fri: 09:30 – 13:00 / 13:30 – 16:30
Weekends: 9:30 – 13:00 / 13:30 – 17:00
For further information follow the links alongside.
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