Fonds BC50 - CJ Sibbett Papers

Reference code



CJ Sibbett Papers


  • 1881-1967 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

7057 items

Name of creator


Biographical history

Cecil James Sibbett was born on 16 March 1881 in Belfast and at the age of 16 he emigrated with his father to Cape Town. Shortly before the outbreak of the South African War, Sibbett founded the South African Advertising Agency, a business which in the 1930s he was to sell to I.W. Schlesinger on terms that enabled him to retire from the commercial scene and devote his time to the many public activities he had long interested himself in. Among these can be numbered the S.A. National Thrift Organization (which he set up in 1919), the 1820 Memorial Settlers' Association (of which he was long chairman) and the South African National Gallery (on whose board of trustees he sat and then chaired). Within a short time after his arrival in the Cape, Sibbett joined a local branch of the South African League, an imperialist political organization, at the head of which presided Cecil Rhodes. This association with Rhodes, which is an abiding and dominant theme of Sibbett's life, was strengthened when in the years 1901‑1902 he became Rhodes's assistant political secretary and after his master's death, he strove to keep alive the memory of Rhodes whom he had on his own admission hero‑worshipped. His important collection of Rhodeseana he presented to the University of Cape Town, where it is now displayed. Sibbett died in 1967.

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This is a large collection of private papers (7057 items) given to the University of Cape Town Libraries by the late Cecil J. Sibbett. Sibbett was a public‑spirited man whose wide-ranging interests and activities, while they occasionally touched the main arena of South African politics, can be best described as 'civic' in the widest sense of that word and the importance of the collection should be seen in that term. Sibbett himself was an active participant in local politics, particularly in the 1920s, as a staunch supporter of the S.A. Party, on which ticket he won and held a seat in the Cape Provincial Council from 1924‑1932. But his political engagements extend even earlier than this, for he was an ardent admirer of Cecil Rhodes, a self‑confessed 'hero‑worshipper' ‑ and throughout his long life he venerated the memory of Rhodes and propagated certain political ideals and ideas which he derived from the Rhodes tradition. He was assistant to Rhodes's wizard political secretary C.A. Owen Lewis in 1901‑1902, and played also a prominent local role in the work of the imperialist South African League, over which Rhodes presided. During the South African War, Sibbett did duty as a newspaper correspondent on the front. From this critical period in the history of South Africa, there exist in the collection valuable and historically interesting pamphlet literature, newspaper reprints, lectures and addresses, as well as a number of ephemeral items and those of great period interest. The more obviously 'political' material increases in bulk during the time of Sibbett's provincial councillorship when he was called upon, i.a., to serve on the Union Reparations and also the Flag Commissions in 1926. But his interest in party politics remained strong throughout his life and he kept up contacts and corresponded with such political figures as J.C. Smuts, J.H. Hofmeyr (a substantial holding of letters from Hofmeyr exists), N.C. Havenga, H.G. Lawrence, J.G.N. Strauss amongst others, and with newspaper editors such as B.K. Long and Victor Norton. But the significance of Sibbett's career lies not so much in this political dimension as in his impressive association with a whole run of public institutions, bodies and societies, to which he devoted his active life after an early retirement from a very successful advertising agency business. A mere catalogue of these is daunting. He was on the boards of trustees of the S.A. National Gallery, the S.A. Public Library and S.A. Museum and at various times their chairman, in which capacity he corresponded incessantly with J.H. Kofmeyr (then at the Treasury or else at the head of the Education Ministry) about the administrative and financial aspects of these bodies. Apart from this, Sibbett founded the S.A. National Thrift Organization in 1919 and he remained its chairman for forty years. The social significance of this semi‑public body should not be underestimated, promoting as it did the sale of Union Loan Certificates and through organized campaigns inculcated notions of thrift and possibly altered conceptions of private finance in the mind of a public that was to experience the vagaries of economic depression and uncertainty in the 1930s and 1940s. Just to indicate the range of Sibbett's civic activity, we can single out, in addition, to round off this feature of his career, the following bodies to which he belonged and in which he played an active role: The 1820 Memorial Settlers' Association; Rotary International; the Free Masons; and the S.A. Institute of International Affairs. But Sibbett's first inspiration remained his attachment to the memory of Rhodes; and it is, incidentally, from Sibbett himself that UCT acquired its valuable collection of Rhodeseana. His involvement in the setting up of the Rhodes birthplace at Bishop's Stortford and the Rhodes Cottage, Muizenberg, is well documented in the correspondence, which likewise contains a bulky collection of letters from Lord Elton of the Rhodes Trust, Oxford. As a mine of anecdotal material on Rhodes, the papers are perhaps unrivalled; but it is more interesting to my mind in the wider sense of providing an outstanding example of the legacy of the Rhodes tradition, the way Rhodes's imperial vision became transmuted, in the eyes of his legatees and spiritual heirs, into the reality of the British Empire of the twentieth century. Moreover, as an insight into the political thinking of an English‑speaking South African in the 1920s‑1940s, imbued with imperial notions of the Rhodes sort, this collection stands as a first‑rate case study. Finally, a postscript seems necessary here, merely because one cannot ignore Sibbett cast in his favourite role of Maecenas and also litterateur. In this respect, there is a sizeable correspondence with such literary and artistic figures as Roy Campbell, Francis Carey Slater, Pauline Smith, Francis Brett Young, D.G. Boonzaaier, Sir Herbert Baker and Edward Roworth.


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  • English

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  • English



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