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John de Villiers, 1st Baron de Villiers

John Henry de Villiers, 1st Baron de Villiers KCMG PC (15 June 1842 – 2 September 1914), was a Cape lawyer and judge. He was Attorney-General in the Molteno Government, Chief Justice for the Cape Colony, and later the first Chief Justice for the Union of South Africa.[1]


The Lord de Villiers

John Henry De Villiers - Baron and Attorney General - Cape Colony.jpg
Chief Justice of South Africa
In office
1910–1914
MonarchKing George V
Preceded byNew position
Succeeded byJames Rose Innes
Chief Justice of the Cape Colony
In office
1874–1910
Succeeded byposition replaced by Chief Justice of South Africa
Attorney General of Cape Colony
In office
1872–1874
MonarchQueen Victoria
Preceded byWilliam Porter
Succeeded bySimeon Jacobs

Early life and legal careerEdit

John de Villiers was the son of Charles Christian de Villiers, of Paarl, Cape of Good Hope and his wife Dorothea Retief. His family was of French Huguenot descent and had arrived in the Cape four generations before in 1689.

His father's dying wish had been that he become a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, however after 18 months study he found that he had no true calling to the church, and switched to studying law. He studied in Berlin and London (where he read law at the Inner Temple), was called to the English bar in 1865 and the Cape bar the next year. William Porter, the Attorney General at the time, became his legal mentor and soon afterwards he entered parliament representing Worcester.

In parliament, he and Porter supported John Molteno's movement for responsible government in 1872, even helping to draft the bill that secured it.[2]

Attorney-General of the Cape Colony (1872-1874)Edit

In November 1872, after the Cape successfully attained self-government, the country's unpopular Attorney General William Griffith was retired. John de Villiers was called upon to replace him as Attorney-General of the Cape Colony in Molteno's cabinet. He served for only two years, from 1872 to 1874.

He was thus the first Attorney-General of the Cape under responsible government. At the time it was still legal to have a private practice, and de Villiers did so. However this work in addition to his work as legal adviser to the government and drafting parliamentary bills put severe strain on his health.

Chief Justice (1874-1914)Edit

 
Statue of John Henry de Villiers as Chief Justice

In 1874, on Molteno's insistence, he agreed to take the office of Chief Justice of the Cape Colony - a job he performed with great dedication and skill until the act of Union in 1910. After the Union of South Africa was created, he went on to serve as Chief Justice of South Africa from 1910 to 1914.

Altogether, he served as Chief Justice for 40 years, with "...an ever-growing reputation of the highest character for independence, legal ability, and irreproachable impartiality."[3] Although he had represented Worcester in Parliament and was very much interested in politics, John de Villiers chose not to pursue political power any further. His reserved and sensitive personality, together with a weak physical constitution and his lack of outward charisma, made him ill-suited to the rough world of politics. However his academic ability, progressive thinking, huge range of intellectual interests and driving work ethic served to make him peerless in the judiciary.[4]

Titles and later lifeEdit

He was admitted to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1897 and in 1910 he was raised to the peerage as Baron de Villiers, of Wynberg in the Province of the Cape of Good Hope and the Union of South Africa. He was South African Freemason.

Lord de Villiers married Aletta Johanna, daughter of Jan Pieter Jordaan, in 1871. He died in September 1914, aged 72, and was succeeded in the barony by his son Charles Percy de Villiers. Lady de Villiers died in 1922.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Bisschop, W. R. (1915). "The Right Hon. Baron De Villiers of Wynberg, K.C.M.G.". Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, New Series. British Institute of International and Comparative Law. 15 (1): 2–4. JSTOR 752642.
  2. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20100917190044/http://ancestry24.com/de-villiers-johan-hendrik/. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ P. A. Molteno: The life and times of Sir John Charles Molteno, K. C. M. G., First Premier of Cape Colony, Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1900. p.201.
  4. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20120304024602/http://ancestry24.com/de-villiers-johan-hendrik/. Archived from the original on March 4, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)

ReferencesEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
???
Representative for Worcester
???-???
Succeeded by
???
Preceded by
William Downes Griffith
Attorney General of the Cape Colony
1872–1874
Succeeded by
Simeon Jacobs
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Sidney Bell
Chief Justice of the Cape of Good Hope
1874–1910
Succeeded by
Office ended with Union
Preceded by
New office
Chief Justice of South Africa
1910–1914
Succeeded by
Sir J. Rose-Innes
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron de Villiers Succeeded by
Charles Percy de Villiers