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the House a touching letter, in which the Speaker
resigned his office. ' In bidding farewell," ran one
paragraph, " I desire to express to members my firm
and unalterable attachment to the system of Constitu-
tional and Parliamentary Government ; and bee to


assure them that I shall always take a deep and fervent
interest in all that concerns the proceedings of Parlia-
ment . . . To yourselves and the officers of the
House I tender the best thanks for the faithful discharge
of the duties you have so zealously rendered the House."

The next day Sir Gordon Sprigg, in a voice that
was husky from the effects of the misty day or was it
from emotion ? moved a motion which placed on
record the thanks of the House for the skilful manner
in which Sir David had invariably applied his compre-
hensive knowledge to the solution of difficult questions.

Sir David had been Speaker for nearly twenty-two
years, a period that, with the exception of Sir Arthur
Onslow's remarkable term of thirty-three years, was
unsurpassed by any Speaker in the British Empire,
and on his resignation an Act was passed settling on
him a pension of 1,200 when his term of office as
Agent-General should expire. Sir David, who was
a Speaker born, was not so successful in his new
capacity, but on his retirement in 1901, when at last
he furled his weather-beaten sails, he was presented
with an appreciative address by his staff, and when he
died in London on the 29th of March, 1905, at 39,
Hyde Park Gardens, the House once more placed on
record its sense of his long and faithful services by
immediately adjourning and passing on the following
day a resolution of sympathy with the deceased Speaker's



Sir Henry
Juta, Kt.,

K.C., B.A.,




Speaker of the House of Assembly, 1896 1898.

From full-length portrait l,v P Tennyson-Cole, in the Union Hnusc^


The Honourable Sir Henry Juta,

Kt. K.C., B.A. LL.B.

GREY hairs are generally recognised as a necessary
qualification for the Speakership. Sir Chnstof-
fel Brand was fifty-eight and Sir David Ten-
nant was forty-six when elected, while Sir John Tiptoft,
who was Speaker in the English House of Commons
so far back as 1406, protested that he was altogether
too young for the position, and, being only about thirty-
one, lacked sense.

Sir Henry was only thirty-eight when elected,
but he lacked neither the sense nor the caution
associated with riper years.

He was born on the 12th of August, 1857. and
was the son of Jan Carel Juta, who came from Holland.
At the South African College, where he was educated,
he did well, passing, at the age of seventeen, eighth
on the list in the matriculation in the same year as
his predecessor, Sir David Tennant, was elected
Speaker. Two years later he took his degree and then
proceeded to London, where he took his LL.B. After
being admitted as a barrister to the Inner Temple


and called to the Bar, he returned to Cape Town in
1880 and was admitted as an advocate of the Supreme
Court. He soon built up a big practice, and in 1893,
standing for Parliament, was elected a member of
the House of Assembly for Oudtshoorn. In the same
year he took silk and was appointed Attorney-General
in the second Rhodes Ministry.

He had thus had only three years' Parliamentary
experience when the resignation of Sir David Tennant
was read to the House on its meeting in 1896. He
had, however, acted as Judge of the High Court of
Griqualand West, and Sir Gordon Spngg, who was
then Prime Minister, had no hesitation in proposing
that he should become Speaker in Sir David's place.
Sir Gordon had delved deep into Parliamentary prece-
dents and told the House that both those renowned
Speakers, Onslow and Manners Sutton, were even
younger than the present candidate for the Chair
when they had been elected. There was, moreover,
this advantage, that if a young man was put in the
Chair he would be able to occupy the position
for many years and would thus gam the experience
it was so great an advantage to possess. His nominee
had a perfect knowledge of the two languages, and
it was to be hoped that he would have as long
a tenure of the Chair as had young Speaker Onslow.
W. P. Schreiner and Juta had been at school together,
and it was with great pleasure that the former was


able to tell the House of his schoolfellow's merits.
He, too, however, felt that, coming after Sir David
(who was sixty-eight when he resigned), to be only
thirty-eight was to be a trifle young, but that, he
assured the House, was a defect which Time would

Mr. Juta thanked his proposer and seconder in
a few well-balanced sentences, and on being conducted
to the Chair, addressed the House once more in ac-
cordance with the time-honoured custom. In the
drawing-room of Government House His Excellency
the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, confirmed the
election, and Mr. Speaker Juta, debonair and alert,
returned to the House to receive its benediction at
the hands of Mr. Merriman and Mr. Theron.

That was on Thursday, the 30th of April, 1896,
and on the following day, before the Speaker had had
time to get accustomed to his wig or his conspicuous
position, he was called upon to give a ruling ! The
House had attended the opening ceremony in the
Legislative Council, and, having returned, was dis-
posing of some preliminary work when up sprang
two front-bench members of the Opposition and wanted
to know what on earth the House was doing : Mr.
Speaker was permitting matters to be dealt with before
the Governor's Speech had been communicated to
the House. From that moment the Speaker's wig
seemed to fit, and the Chair assumed the right pro-


portions. ' It is in entire accordance with precedent,
remarked the newly-elected Speaker in almost a kindly
voice, " it is in entire accordance with precedent
for business of an informal nature to be disposed of
before Mr. Speaker communicates His Excellency's
speech," and once more the machinery of the House
was set in motion.

As Speaker he had a " short life, but a gay one."
Political feeling ran high, and questions of the day
were often discussed with the greatest acrimony ;
so, although he was not frequently called upon to
decide really knotty points, he had always to exercise
the greatest tact and vigilance. ' That is a deliberate
falsehood," or " That is a he " was often substituted
by members in the heat of the moment for the Par-
liamentary expression ' That is not true," and the
Speaker had to explain the difference as delicately
as he could. It is remarkable that in times such as
these the Speaker's ruling was never questioned,
but when a daring member did occasionally indulge
in a passage at arms with the Chair it was invariably
the Speaker that pinked his man.

Add to these circumstances the fact that there
was, in some quarters, a certain amount of feeling
against his election and it will be seen that it required
more than the ordinary qualifications to give satisfaction.
The unwritten rule that any member about to raise
a question^ for Mr. Speaker's decision should give


the Chair due notice was often disregarded and points
were sprung upon the new occupant without warning.
But here again lunge was met by parry and counter
lunge. To guard himself against being unprepared
he would carefully go through the Order Paper for
the day and try to anticipate any points that might
be raised. These would be looked up and rulings
written with surprising success ; surprising to his
antagonists, for, with the quick eye of the duellist,
he frequently foresaw their methods of attack and
on one day alone was able to make use of three out
of four rulings he had prepared. And so, ever watchful,
ever alert and at all times courteous, he, by degrees,
won over his adversaries and came to be duly notified
of any points to be raised.

He was indifferent as to the person against whom
his decisions were directed, and in his first year greatly
delighted the Opposition by ruling that a notice of
motion placed at the head of the Order Paper by the
Prime Minister on a Government " Order Day '
was out of its place, and could not be taken until the
Orders of the Day had been disposed of. Both on
this occasion and in 1898, when Sir Gordon tried to
turn the tables on Mr. Schremer on a somewhat similar
matter, the Speaker considerably enlightened the
House as to its procedure. Members had often entered
the Debating Chamber primed to the hilt with knowledge
gleaned from the latest edition of ' May," only to


find that they were wrong after all. This the Speaker
explained was due to the fact that the rule providing
that resort should be had to the usage and practice of
the Imperial Parliament was last adopted in 1883, and
that changes made in the Imperial Parliament after
that date did not affect the Cape House. The statement
may make dull reading now, as the Union rules accept
a later edition of " May " (the eleventh) as the standard
of reference, but to those who were interested in the
proceedings of the House at that time it was a matter
of the first importance.

His first year of office was largely bound up with
the Parliamentary enquiry into the Jameson Raid.
He was not only entrusted with the nomination of
the members of that historical Select Committee, but
was called upon to give two important rulings, affecting
the privilege of the House, which arose out of the
Committee's investigations.

The personnel of the Committee gave the greatest
satisfaction. It included several distinguished lawyers,
yet when only three meetings had been held they
found themselves in difficulties upon doubts being
raised as to whether the head of the Telegraph De-
partment could be called upon to produce telegrams
which had passed between Rhodes and others. The
Powers and Privileges of Parliament Act provided
generally that the House could order the production
of any documents, but the Telegraph Act stated specifi-


cally that the contents of a telegram could be divulged
only before a Court of Justice. The sacred rights
of Parliament were at stake. What was to be done ?
The Speaker was asked to decide the point, and on
the 4th of June, 1896, he appeared personally before
the Select Committee. After exhaustively treating
the whole question of the production of papers before
a colonial legislature he ruled that in view of the specific
provision of the Telegraph Act it was not competent
for the Select Committee to demand the coveted
telegrams, and the end of the matter was that Parliament
had to show its supreme authority by passing a special
Act to invest the Select Committee with the requisite

But before long there arose another question. Sir
David Tennant in 1883 had drawn the attention of
the House to the fact that it could not deal with matters
in which members themselves were not the culprits,
and at his instance Parliament had passed the Powers
and Privileges Act to invest itself with the desired
authority over those who were not members. Hence,
when on the 24th of June, 1896, a Cape Town newspaper
printed a paragraph in reference to the proceedings
of the Select Committee on the Jameson Raid, Sir
Henry did not let the offence pass unnoticed, but pointed
out that this was a breach of privilege now punishable
with fine or imprisonment, and hinted darkly at what
the House would do if it happened again.


In those good days the House sat for only three
months in the year. A recess, however, has never been
the holiday it is popularly supposed to be. Questions
that have arisen as well as questions that may arise
have to be dealt with, and in order that he might not
be hampered by decisions that had been given in the
past, Mr. Speaker Juta improved the shining hour
by looking up, analysing and annotating all the rulings
given by Brand and Tennant, and by the time he had
completed his self-appointed task, members were once
more streaming into the building, and his second year
had begun.

The Opposition had become more powerful, and
on the 30th of April, 1897, tried a fall with Sprigg's
third Ministry. The motion over which members
came to grips was simply " that the Government does
not -possess the confidence of the House." All that
day and well into the night the House swayed back-
wards and forwards in fierce encounter, and at twenty
minutes to eleven, when the question had been put
and a division had taken place, Mr. Speaker informed
the House that the tussle had ended in a tie thirty-
six were for the motion and thirty-six against, so, in
order to keep the question open, he gave his casting
vote against the motion in accordance with the usual
practice. The House then adjourned, and the Speaker,
who had kept one eye on the clock for some time,
hurried off to catch his train. To him the casting vote


had been a detail, but to Sir Gordon it meant a new
lease of life, and often afterwards his Government
was twitted with being the " Speaker's Ministry."

In the small list of Diamond Jubilee honours that
year the Speaker's name figured as one upon whom
Her Majesty had been pleased to confer a knighthood,
and the House immediately took the opportunity of
congratulating Sir Henry. The agreeable duty fell to
Sir James Sivewnght, the acting Prime Minister, and
Mr. Merriman, in a speech punctuated with cheers,
expressed the hearty concurrence of those who sat on
his side of the House. The speeches were short and to
the point, but had in them that spontaneity which
clearly indicated how genuine the feeling was. That
Sir Henry was much impressed with the confidence
and goodwill he had won in so short a time was manifest
from his reply, which left members under the impression
that after all their congratulations were perhaps the
greater honour of the two.

In comparison with his predecessors, Sir Henry
did not give many rulings he was not long enough in
office but all of them had that unmistakable ring of
simplicity which is the sign of clear judgment, and
there were several to which reference has frequently
been made by his successors. Particular attention was
paid to the principle that the House should not in any
way be deprived of its power over the purse. When,
for example, a customs convention with a tariff annexed


was sought to be approved without due opportunity
being given to members to reduce or expunge items
in the tariff, Sir Henry refused to allow the rights of the
House to be so curtailed. It had, moreover, been a
growing practice of the Government to present
Estimates of Expenditure containing an item of, say,
10,000, less 9,999 receipts, leaving only 1 to be
voted by the House, and Speaker Juta, holding that
this was unconstitutional as it deprived the House of
its power of reducing the 10,000 in any way it pleased,
gave notice to the Premier and the leader of the
Opposition that he could not allow the Estimates to
be presented in that form. He ceased to be Speaker
before he could give practical effect to his views, but
the means which he intended to adopt are given in his
evidence before the Select Committee on Public
Accounts in August, 1906, and a ruling based on his
evidence was delivered in the House in 1907.

These were legacies for which private members were
duly grateful, but their wives and the wives of members
to-day also owe a great deal to his protection. In Sir
David Tennant's time a Government House party had
occupied nearly all the principal seats at the spectacular,
if not highly exciting, opening ceremonies, but Sir
Henry held that the wives of men who were administering
and legislating for the country were just as much
entitled to recognition. After Sir Henry Juta had
decided upon the course to adopt, Lord de Villiers,


then President of the Legislative Council, was struck
with the idea and arranged for an interview with the
Speaker and the Clerk of the House. That there should
be a change in the plan hitherto adopted was soon
agreed to. Permanent arrangements were made for future
ceremonies and the wives of members and prominent
officials lived happily ever after.

His third session, which terminated abruptly after a
few weeks, was his last. The Opposition again
challenged the Government by once more moving in
those simple but potent words : " That the Government
does not possess the confidence of the House." This
time the Speaker's casting vote was not required. The
motion was carried by forty-one votes to thirty-six,
and Sir Gordon Sprigg announced that, after he had
been granted enough money to carry on with, the
Governor would dissolve the House.

But Sir Gordon did not forget the services of the
Speaker, and before the dissolution he rose to record
in eulogistic terms how deeply sensible the House was of
the " able, fearless and impartial " manner in which
Sir Henry had performed his duties. Mr. Mernman,
Mr. Schremer, and Mr. Theron, following Sir Gordon,
showed how united the feeling was, and Sir Henry
" suitably replied." ' I know," he said, " that during
the last few years feeling has run very high, and 1
think there can be no greater honour which I can send
down to my posterity than that in spite of all the high


feeling I still retain your confidence and esteem."
He went on to remind the House that at the general
elections about to take place he would have to fight
for his seat like the rest of them and might make remarks
that ought not to be made. Should this happen he
asked the House " to bear with him and regard it with
all softness, remembering the difficulties of the position,
and not in any way set down aught in malice but some-
thing extenuate, believing that as far as he could he would
always do the impartial duty of the Speaker."

Sir Henry, however, was not re-elected, and when
Parliament reassembled on the 7th of October, 1898,
a new Speaker had to be chosen. How Sir Henry once
more built up his extensive practice at the Bar ; how he
once more entered Parliament; and how, in 1914, he
was appointed Judge-President of the Cape Provincial
Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa and
Additional Judge of Appeal in the Appellate Division,
are matters which fall outside the scope of this sketch.
Suffice it to say that he has never lost the popularity
he won and held as the third Speaker of a critical



Sir Wm.
Bisset Berry,
Kt., M.A.,
M.D., LL.D.,


Speaker of the House of Assembly. 1898-1908.
i-'rom a photograph by Duffus, Cape Town

M.D. LL.D.

The Hon. Sir Wm. Bisset Berry,

Kt., M.A., M.D., LL.D.

SIR BISSET BERRY looked and acted the part
of Speaker to perfection. No one could have
appeared more at ease in that imposing little
procession which daily wound its way from the Speaker's
Chambers, through lobby and corridor, to the Speaker's
Chair in the House of Assembly. First came the
Sergeant~at-Arms in court dress, bearing the glittering
mace which had known every procession and state
ceremony since the days when Brand was Speaker in
the Goede Hoop Lodge. Then came the Speaker
himself in grey wig and sombre gown, inclining his head
in stately fashion to members and officials on this side
and that. Bringing up the rear of the procession, also
bewigged and begowned, were the Clerk and Clerk-
Assistant, although the Clerk and the Speaker were
often to be seen walking side by side, earnestly discussing
some point of procedure. On one person at least who
witnessed this scene every day during the session an
impression has been made that time will not efface.
Even the smile that accompanied the Speaker's bow


seemed to have about it just that old-world dignity
which distinguishes his high office from the common-

Sir Bisset had not the advantage of being a lawyer,
but he had the highly trained mind of the scientist
perfected by lifelong study of men and books. So far
as books went every branch of literature was his special
delight, and his early proclivities had soon shown that
science was his forte. He was born in Aberdeen on
the 26th of July, 1839, and after attending the Grammar
School in that city proceeded to the Marischal College.
Having won several bursaries open to the sons of the
Guildry of the city he entered the Aberdeen University,
and graduated M.A. at the age of twenty and M.D.
two years later.

At about this time the Mail Company decided to
carry surgeons on their liners, and Dr. Berry was among
the first to be taken. His appointment was on the
Athens, which now lies a wreck on the Green Point
rocks, a victim of the great gale of 'sixty-five. A
year before the disaster, however, he decided to settle
in South Africa, married and obtaining an appointment
as District Surgeon in Queenstown, practised in that
neighbourhood with increasing success.

There being no railway to Queenstown in those
days, there were no visiting theatre companies, and the
inhabitants made up for the lack of amusement by
holding what they called public meetings. A hand-bell


was loudly rung and almost the whole town would
attend what usually turned out to be a very rowdy
entertainment. Shortly after his arrival Dr. Berry
was asked to take the chair at one of these meetings
and the result probably had a great deal to do with his
subsequent career. He had been president of his
college debating society, and, thanks to his past
experience, succeeded in turning what threatened to
be an unusually uproarious evening into one of com-
parative tranquillity. The new comer, who, in one
evening, had been able to raise the level of a form of
recreation which had existed for years, was regarded
with a curiosity that soon developed into appreciation
when it was found how great an interest he took in the
local government of the town.

By familiarising himself with South African problems
he came to be a recognised authority on education and
native affairs, but it was only after he had been in the
Colony for thirty years, and had been elected Mayor
of Queenstown, that he entered Parliamentary life by
being elected a member for the Queenstown constituency
in the general election of 1894.

Being elected Speaker in 1898 he had only four
years' experience as a private member, but, notwith-
standing an innate aversion to publicity, he had in less
than that time made his mark in the House. His services
were first sought on the subjects he had specialised in,
and afterwards in an ever widening circle. His speeches


were eloquent, able and learned, and, having an incisive
delivery, he was always listened to with the greatest
attention. In the committee rooms, too, he had gained
distinction as Chairman of the Select Committees on
the Glen Grey Allotments, the Cape Town Municipal
Amendment Bill, and Agricultural Schools ; but four
years is after all a short time in which to acquaint
oneself thoroughly with the intricacies of Parliamentary
procedure, and until less than twenty-four hours of
his election he had no notion that he would be called
upon to adjudicate from the Chair upon questions
concerning the law and usage of a legislative assembly.

After the general election of 1898 it was arranged
between the Prime Minister (Sir Gordon Sprigg) and
the Opposition that the Government, which had been
returned in almost the same strength as the Opposition,
should nominate a member for the Speakership from
its own ranks. A caucus of the party was held the day
before the House met, and it is now an open secret that
when the Speakership was discussed only two names
were put forward. Dr. Berry arrived late, and learnt
with surprise that the choice lay between himself and
Mr. Hockly. It was left to the Cabinet to decide between
the two, and the same afternoon Dr. Berry was sent
for by the Prime Minister and asked whether he would
accept nomination on the morrow. By those who knew
the lucrative practice he had established on the eastern
frontier, it was realised that acceptance would mean


a considerable financial sacrifice, but he yielded to
persuasion and decided to withdraw from practice if

And so when the House met on the following day

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Online LibraryRalph KilpinThe old Cape House, being pages from the history of a legislative assembly → online text (page 8 of 12)