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was authorised by Mr. Chabaud to ask that it might
be returned.

The Speaker handed the letter back, and when
the House met at two o'clock the next day stated
the facts. The Constitution Ordinance provided,
however, that " it shall be lawful for any member
of the House, by writing under his hand addressed
to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, to resign
his seat ; and upon such resignation the seat of such
member shall become vacant." Then arose a conun-
drum : When is a member not a member ? Had
Mr. Chabaud the right to withdraw his resignation
once it had been sent to the Speaker ?

A Select Committee was appointed to find the
answer, but after sitting for four days and cross-ex-
amining the Speaker, the President and the Attorney-
General, as well as others who were concerned, it could
only report that it was unable to solve the riddle or
even express an opinion.

The report was considered on the 28th of June,
and Mr. Scanlen moved that it was not in the discretion


of the House to reinstate Mr. Chabaud. But matters
had now taken a new turn, and the Speaker's conduct
was seriously criticised. Mr. Solomon, ever the
Speaker's champion, tried his utmost to keep the debate
within its proper limits, but many hard things were
said against the veteran in the Chair. At last the
House divided, and it was found that nineteen were
for the motion and nineteen against, so that once more
the Speaker was called upon to give his casting vote.
He carried out the painful duty with the utmost fear-
lessness. He saw no means of keeping the question
open and so, according to the rules not rules of the
House, but rules of action which Speakers usually
adopt he gave his honest and conscientious personal
opinion, which was with the " Noes." Shortly after
the decision had been given Mr. Chabaud resumed
his seat amidst the cheers of a few of the Western

But in reality things had gone from bad to worse,
and two days later Mr. Painter, seconded by Mr.
Scanlen, moved a substantive motion to the effect
that the Speaker had failed in his duty to the House.
The House went into Committee on the motion, and
the Speaker, exercising his undoubted right, attended
the Committee in his capacity of a member and made
a most powerful speech in defence of his conduct.
It was said by his contemporaries that Sir Chnstoffel
was not a polished orator, and that he was at all times


placed at a disadvantage when he spoke in English,
but on this occasion he totally eclipsed the speakers
who had arrayed themselves against him. He handled
the case as only a lawyer could, deprecated the un-
mannerly tone of the attacks made against him, and
concluded by declaring that if the House adopted
the resolution he would resign on the following morning.
I thank the Committee," he said, " for allowing
me to say this much in vindication of my character
a character which, whatever may be the result of
this discussion, I have maintained unblemished during
the ten years that I have faithfully, honestly and
fearlessly served the House." The result was that the
motion before the House was negatived and a vote
of confidence, proposed by Mr. Solomon, was carried.

There can be no doubt that by the efforts of a
few members, aided by the Editor of the Qreal pastern
(R. W. Murray), a mountain had been made out of
a molehill, and when his first wife died suddenly four
years later the House showed both respect and sympathy
by adjourning for two days directly it received the
sad intelligence.

And there was no doubt as to his fourth, and,
alas, his last election to the Chair in 1874. Mr. Fair-
bridge, who had seconded his election twenty years
before, referred in glowing terms to the services he
had rendered the House, and Mr. P. J. A. Watermeyer,
who had been in the House for sixteen years, bore


testimony to the regard in which they always held that
" much respected gentleman."

But Sir ChristofTel was not long to preside over their
deliberations. He looked well enough when Parliament
met, but his hearing had lately been growing bad,
and now, nearly seventy-eight years old, his health
failed him. On the 15th of June of the same year he
wrote that he was prevented by illness from attending
the House, and two days later he wrote from Madeira
House resigning his office. A vote of thanks for his
great services was almost immediately proposed and
passed amidst mingled feelings of pride in the Speaker,
that had so long upheld the reputation of the House,
and regret at the loss sustained.

Parliament also marked its sense of appreciation
of his valued services by passing an Act bestow-
ing on him a pension of 1,000 a year, which
was equal to the salary he had been drawing.
Well wrapped up he was able before the close of the
session to attend in his place as a member and express
his grateful acknowledgments, but he enjoyed the
pension for less than a year.

He grew weaker every day, and while the House
was sitting on the 19th of May, 1875, news was received
that he had " departed this life at a quarter past
four ' that afternoon in his rooms at Madeira House.
Both Houses of Parliament adjourned for the day of
the funeral, when his remains, followed by a procession


over a mile long, were conveyed to the underground
family vault (since plundered by godless thieves)
in the Dutch Reformed burial grounds in Somerset

Sir Christoffel Brand was the highest Mason in
South Africa, and it is reported that he held this position
in greater pride than any other he had occupied, but
there are many who will remember him not for this
position or because he was a great lawyer, or because
of his many covert acts of kindness, or even because
he was the first Speaker of the Cape House, but because,
as Speaker, he laid the foundation of the great repu-
tation for orderliness and decorum which the House
always maintained.




Sir David





Speaker of the House of Assembly, 1874 -1896.

IV.iwn from pWciKiaphs.


The Honourable Sir David Tennant,


IN the Hofmeyr collection there is a curious old draw-
ing, entitled " De Kaapstad of Tafel Valey." It
shows the upper part of Cape Town as it was a
hundred years ago : a handful of whitewashed houses,
sheltered by clusters of foliage. Under the houses are
the names of the owners many of them well-known
Cape families, such as Brand, Hofmeyr, de Kock,
Brink, Dempers, Smuts, and van Breda and on the
extreme left of the picture, under the homestead known
as " Zonnebloem," the name 'Tennant' is easily

It was here, on the slopes of the Devil's Peak,
overlooking the little town and the broad sweep of
Table Bay, with its tall East Indiamen, that Alexander
Tennant, the " Singing Sannock " of Burns' " Epistle
to James Tait of Glenconnor,"" settled down at the
close of the eighteenth century. Generous and warm-
hearted, with left eyebrow slightly raised, he was a

" And, Lord, remember Singing Sannock.
Wi' hale breeks. saxprnce and a bannock. "


Tennant all over one of those Tennants of Glenconnor
among whose descendants are numbered the late Sir
Charles Tennant and his daughter Mrs. Asquith.

Alexander Tennant was on his way to India, but,
like a wise man, altered his plans. He remained at the
Cape, married, and had eight children. His second
son, Hercules, sometime Civil Commissioner and
Resident Magistrate at Uitenhage, married Sir
Chnstoffel Brand's sister, and it was their son David
who eventually became Speaker.

Although there was some talk of his entering the
Church, David Tennant was one of the four out of
five Cape Speakers who adopted law as a profession.
He was born in Cape Town on the 10th of January,
1829, and, having been articled to Mr. John Reid
("Honest Johnny"), was at the age of twenty admitted
to practise as an attorney of the Supreme Court.

As a boy he had been industrious ; as a man he
now showed himself to be indefatigable. 'Deus dabit
vela (God will fill the sails) was the family motto,
and by dint of sheer industry David Tennant made his
own sails and then trimmed them to catch the breeze.
Combining office and residence under one roof in
Grave Street, he literally lived with his work, while
in addition to his profession he was, among other
things, confidential and legal adviser to the Bishop
of Cape Town, Registrar of the Diocese as well as
Registrar of the Province of South Africa, a member

Q UALIF1CA TIONfi. 1 1 7

of the University Council, and chairman of the South
African College Council. He carefully edited the
valuable " Notary's Manual," compiled by his father,
and in 1866 was elected a member of the House of
Assembly for the electoral division of Piquetberg, a
constituency which he continued to represent until his
retirement from Parliament thirty years later.

Before 1875 a Chairman of Committees was
appointed each time the House went into Committee,
but in the eight years during which Mr. Tennant sat
in the House under the Speakership of his uncle, Sir
Chnstoflel Brand, he came to be appointed to that
position far oftener than any other member ; moreover,
when on a holiday in Europe in 1872, he had been able
to study the manners and customs of several European
Parliaments. Consequently, when Sir Chnstoffel wrote
in 1874 to say that he was prevented by illness from
attending the House, Mr. Tennant was appointed
Acting Speaker without opposition, and when a few
days later Sir Chnstoffel resigned, David Tennant
was unanimously elected to fill his place.

The sails he had so carefully trimmed were now
well filled, but still he allowed himself no rest.
Immediately severing his connection with his old work,
he devoted the whole of his time to the work of the
House, even going so far as to keep, in his own neat
hand, records that might easily have been delegated
to others, and soon became, as Mr. Porter had said


of his predecessor, " as familiar with May and Gushing
as with van der Linden and Voet."

Sir ChristoffeFs long term of office had covered
only two years of responsible government, and the
practice of the House had still to be adapted to the
new conditions, while the growth of business further
demanded modifications and additions to the rules.
With great zeal Mr. Tennant set about revising the
existing rules, and at the beginning of the next year
(1875) was able to lay the result of his labours on the
Table. In 1881 he drew up rules for the guidance of
Select Committees. In 1883 he filled a long felt want
by framing rules for the Committee of Ways and
Means as well as suggesting further additions to the
Standing Rules and Orders. In 1885, when the office
of the Parliamentary Draftsman was transferred from
the department of the Attorney-General, he drafted
rules to be observed by that officer, and three years
later laid down others for the guidance of the Sergeant-

So careful was the House not to make any rash
innovation, however, that eight years elapsed before
the revised rules he had laid on the Table were
adopted. One of these rules dealing with the presenta-
tion of petitions cut a great slice out of the daily
routine of the House. Until that year every petition
was read at length, and that much time was wasted
before it finally reached a resting place on the Table


is well shown by the following extract from some lines
published in the Poet's Corner of the ^rgus in 1857 :

The question was put, " Are there any petitions? "

(They come down by post from the country divisions)

" Mr. Speaker," says someone, " I've one to present,

From such a division to me it was sent ;

'Tis icspectfully worded and signed, and the prayer

For relief of some sort, that the House will take care

Of him and his interests and that he alway,

As a matter of course, will continually pray " ;

I move it be read ' ' Who seconds the motion ? "
Half a dozen here rise without any notion
Of what it's about ; however, 'tis reckoned
As good as a speech to get up and second ;
So like Jacks out of boxes they jump up m rows,
But for why or for wherefore there's none of them knows :
' Those who are in favour of petition say aye ?
Those who are against it please to say nay V
The House gives its gracious consent and permission,
" Ayes " have it." The member brings up the petition.

[Here the Clerk reads the petition at length.]

The member then rises and moves that it be
Received ; then to second again two or three
Rise up while the member sits down.

After the adoption of the revised rules only the most
important petitions were read, while by a further
addition in 1896 petitions that were out of order were


rejected by the Speaker without ever having an oppor-
tunity of disturbing the calm deliberations of the House.

At the time of his election the House still held its
meetings in the Goede Hoop Lodge, but steps had
been taken to provide more suitable accommodation
and one glorious day in May of the following year
Mr. Speaker, resplendent in state gown and full-
bottomed wig, surmounted by his three-cornered black
hat, preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms, bearing the
mace of his office and followed by members, proceeded
down Government Avenue to witness Sir Henry
Barkly laying the foundation-stone of the much needed
buildings that all hoped soon to occupy. But for reasons
already given (see pp. 55-5^) several years were to elapse
and many things of importance were to happen before
the House could take up its new quarters. Two events
were of peculiar interest to the Speaker.

One was the knighthood with which his labours
were rewarded. The honour had been conferred during
the recess, and when the House met in 1878 some
particularly gratifying remarks were made by the
Premier and the leader of the Opposition, who with
the Speaker were cheered not loudly, it is said, but
with that peculiar sound that indicates the satisfaction
of the House.* The other event which took place
a little later in the same session was not so pleasant.

* On the Queen's birthday, 1892, Sir David and Mr. Abbot, the Canadian
Premier, were created Knights Commanders of the Most Distinguished Order of
St. Michael and St. George.


The Molteno ministry had been dismissed by Sir
Bartle Frere, and Mr. Mernman, in a house so crowded
that members of the Legislative Council found their
allotted seats confiscated by the gentler sex, moved a
motion, the second and third paragraphs of which
conveyed a direct censure on the Governor. Mr.
Speaker permitted the debate to continue for several
days and then ruled that as Ministers under a system
of responsible government were responsible for the
action of a Governor, the paragraphs in question were
out of order and should be discharged. The ruling
came like a bolt from the blue and several prominent
members declared they felt staggered. One expressed
pardonable surprise that the discussion had been
allowed to continue for so long, and another thought
he had a precedent that would put the Speaker in a
quandary. But Sir David, who remained calm through-
out the storm, pointed out that there was no analogy
between the case quoted and the question before them,
and reminded the House that a ruling from the Chair
admitted of no argument. If a member disagreed with
it he could put a notice on the paper to bring the
decision under review. The adjournment of the House
was moved, and criticisms came without intermission
until Mr. Solomon poured oil on the troubled waters.

Mr. Solomon was so diminutive that he had to
stand on a stool in order that his head might be above
the level of his desk, but his magnificent brain made


up for his physical shortcomings. He now suggested
that the motion should be amended and considered in
another form at a later date. One member had given
notice, at the Speaker's own instance, that the ruling
should be considered by the House, but after Mr.
Solomon's intervention the whole discussion fizzled out
and with a sigh of relief the Clerk read the next order.
Sir David naturally took a great interest in the
building of the new Houses of Parliament, and it was
with intense satisfaction that in December, 1884, he
was able, with his staff, to move into the red-brick
structure that has since become the home of the Union
Parliament. While the new buildings were being con-
structed. Sir David had been appointed one of a
committee to keep an eye on their progress, and when
the buildings were finished he continued to study the
requirements of the House. A " Suggestion Book "
was kept for members with grievances, and Sir David,
as Chairman of the Internal Arrangements Committee,
did all he could for their comfort. Matters ranging
from the steward's pantry-window and the supply of
nail-brushes to the erection of an imposing Press gallery
behind the Speaker's Chair received equal attention,
and in 1889 he was able to announce that the acoustic
properties of the House would be improved by the
addition of a flat ceiling suspended some ten feet below
the original domed roof.*

* The Debating Chamber is now used as a Dining Ror>m by the Union
Parliament, but the improvised ceiling still remains.


Sir David, indeed, by his thoughtfulness for others,
came to be regarded with much of the feeling a schoolboy
is supposed to have for his headmaster, and it must have
given him as much pain as it did Mr. Wolf when he
had to admonish that member for publishing in a
newspaper a manuscript return laid on the Table of the
House. Shortly after the offence had been committed,
Mr. Wolf absented himself on urgent private affairs ;
but the culprit was not forgotten. On his return Mr.
Speaker bade him stand up and explain himself. Mr.
Wolf said he really had not meant to do anything wrong,
that he was an ignoramus and knew nought of the
rules, so he was requested to withdraw, and Mr.
Upington suggested that an admonition might meet the
case. The duty, of course, was the Speaker's, and
Mr. Wolf being recalled, Sir David donned his three-
cornered hat and warned the member by name that he
was skating on very thin ice. A few years later he had
occasion to call the attention of the House to a sirmlar
disregard of its rules, but this time he spared the

The consideration he afforded members was always
apparent. When, for instance, Mr. le Roex in 1891 was
the subject of a motion based on an ungrounded
suspicion, Mr. Speaker asked him beforehand not to
reply to the charge, and on the following day, the
mover having expressed his regret that anything in the
motion submitted by him and adopted by the House


conveyed an imputation injurious to the character of the
gentleman concerned, Mr. Speaker said that he thought
a member displayed a proper Christian spirit when,
feeling he had wronged a fellow-member, he imme-
diately retracted the statement and asked that his
retraction should appear in the Journals of the House.
Beyond that, he added, the House could scarcely go,
but he suggested that the offensive words be expunged
from the Journals. Mr. Rhodes was quick to carry the
suggestion into effect, and when others rose to speak
Sir David tactfully remarked that further discussion
was unnecessary ; the matter would drop, and he hoped
that the good feeling which had hitherto characterised
the conduct of business would be maintained.

That his conduct in the Chair was fully appreciated
is one of those happy exceptions to the world's usual
ingratitude. He was elected Speaker five times, in
1874, 1879, 1884, 1889 and 1894, and each time had
praises showered upon him by the statesmen of the
day in an abundance that would have turned the head
of a man less experienced in the affairs of the world.
Sprigg, Merriman, Sauer, Solomon, Scanlen, Hofmeyr,
Rhodes and Fuller names to conjure with added
their meed of praise, and in 1893, when Sir David had
occupied the Chair for twenty years, tributes were paid
that gave him more pleasure than had anything before.
Mr. Rhodes, who rose amid cheers to move a vote of
thanks to the Speaker, praised Sir David's tact,


discretion and courtesy : Mr. Sauer extolled his talents,
and Mr. Hofmeyr lauded his impartiality.

Sir David modestly disclaimed the merits attributed
to him. They had overlooked his many failings, he
said, and had spoken only of that which they believed
to be of the best. " But," he added, " I have sought
to keep aloof from political parties. I have tried ever
to keep the balance steady, and, though mixing freely
with parties on both sides, never to commit myself to
either (cheers). If an honour is to be conferred upon
the Speaker, there can be none greater than that which
has just been conferred upon me." And in conclusion
he was able to say that it had never been necessary for
him to speak a harsh word to a single member a
record which spoke well not only for the orderliness of
the House, as a contemporary remarked, but for the
Speaker's urbanity. His reply was recorded in the
Journals, but his rich voice, which penetrated every
nook and cranny of the House, could only be appreciated
by those who were fortunate enough to be present.

Sir David was an intrepid guardian of those privileges
of the House which he himself had been instrumental
in placing on the Statute Book in 1883. Sometimes,
it is true, he was inclined to be a trifle pedagogic in
drawing members' attention to the rules, but he also
had the rare gift of being witty without detracting from
the respect due to his high office. The story has often
been told of how he corrected the member who, on


the motion that the House do now resolve itself into
Committee and that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, moved
an amendment that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair this
day six months. ' I trust that the honourable member
will not insist upon moving his amendment in the form
proposed," said Mr. Speaker gravely, " for if it were
agreed to the consequences to the Speaker might be
extremely inconvenient !

His uncle, Sir Christoffel Brand, had also a sense of
humour, although his grim features rarely betrayed his
amusement. When Mr. Painter, in a discussion on the
Frontier question, complained that the state of insecurity
on the frontier was such that " he and other settlers
had often gone to their daily vocations ... to return
in the evening to find their houses burnt over their
heads, their wives widows and their children fatherless,"
Sir Christoffel looked almost bored. Sir David's
features were more flexible and he was once caught off
his guard by a horrible pun concocted by Mr. Maasdorp.
A very earnest member had times out of number referred
to the wicked acts of a notorious Kafir chief named
Oba. It was Oba this and Oba that until members
were nearly frantic, and one day, when the sins of Oba
had been expatiated on with unusual vehemence, Mr.
Maasdorp jumped up. ' Mr. Speaker," he expostulated
with dramatic gravity and then after a pause for effect,
' Mr. Speakah, is this operah obah ? " The House
shouted with laughter. " Order, order," said the


Speaker, but it was with obvious difficulty that he checked
a smile that threatened to become a broad grin.

In establishing new precedents for the guidance of
the House sound knowledge of procedure in other
colonies was as indispensable as a thorough acquaintance
with the practice, both ancient and modern, of the House
of Commons, and some of the archaic precedents Sir
David applied were peculiarly apt. When, for instance,
in 1877 and again in 1894 he was disturbed by the un-
seemly rush for the door which took place at 6 p.m. and
1 1 p.m., the usual hours of adjournment, he told the
House that its behaviour was not what it should be, and
quoted for their benefit the rule of Parliament, adopted
some four hundred years before, that " The House do
alway at its rising depart and come forth in comely and
civil sort for the reverence of the House, in turning about
with a low courtesie as they make at their coming into
the House and not unseemly to thrust and throng

On the 26th of February, 1896, on Mr. Rhodes'
suggestion, Sir David assumed the position of Agent-
General in London, and at the opening of the next
session, on the 30th of April, 1896, the Clerk read to

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Online LibraryRalph KilpinThe old Cape House, being pages from the history of a legislative assembly → online text (page 7 of 12)