Remarkable People

ID #5271

Jan Smuts 2 Early Years.

He was born in 1870 on the farm Bovenplaats near Malmesbury. His family were prosperous farmers, long established and highly respected. Jan was a quiet and delicate child inclined towards solitary pursuits. He often went out alone, exploring the surrounding countryside. This awakened in him a passion for nature which he retained throughout his life. A formal education was typically the preserve of the first son. As the second son, custom dictated that he would remain on the farm. However, in 1882, when he was 12, his elder brother died and Jan was sent to school in his brother's place. Jan attended school in Riebeek West where, despite his late start, he made excellent progress and caught up with his contemporaries in four years. In 1886, he moved on to Victoria College, Stellenbosch at age sixteen.

At Stellenbosch, he studied High Dutch, German, and Ancient Greek, and immersed himself in literature, the classics, and Bible studies. His traditional upbringing and serious outlook led to social isolation from his peers. However, he made outstanding academic progress, graduating in 1891 with double First-class honours in Literature and Science. During his last years at Stellenbosch, Smuts cast off some of his shyness and reserve and met Isie Krige, whom he later married.

On graduation, Smuts won an overseas scholarship. He decided to travel to the UK to read law at Christ's College, Cambridge. Smuts felt homesick and isolated by his age and different upbringing at Cambridge. Worries over money also contributed to his unhappiness. He confided these concerns to a friend, Professor JI Marais. Professor Marais enclosed a cheque for a substantial sum and urged Smuts not to hesitate to approach him should he ever find himself in need. Thanks to Marais, Smuts's financial standing was secure.

Smuts graduated in 1893 with a double First. One of his tutors, Professor Maitland, described Smuts as the most brilliant student he had ever met. Lord Todd, Master of Christ's College said in 1970 that "in 500 years of the College's history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding: John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts"
In 1894, Smuts passed the examinations for the Inns of Court, entering the Middle Temple. His old college, Christ's College, offered him a fellowship in Law. However, Smuts turned his back on a distinguished legal career and in June 1895 returned to the Cape, determined to make his future there.

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:43
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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