Fonds BC112 - WP Schreiner Papers

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WP Schreiner Papers


  • 1830-1955 (Creation)

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ca.1700 items

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Biographical history

William Philip Schreiner (1857-1919) was born in the Wittebergen Reserve in the Herschel district of the Cape Colony and was educated at Bedford, the South African College and the University of the Cape of Good Hope. In 1878 he went to London University and Downing College, Cambridge where he took a First in the London LL.B. examination and was senior jurist in the Cambridge Law Tripos.
In 1882 he was admitted to the English bar and as an advocate of the Cape Supreme Court returned to Cape Town where he established a thriving law practice. In 1885 he became parliamentary draughtsman and in 1887, legal adviser to the Governor and High Commissioner. His parliamentary contacts brought him into close proximity with South African political life, reinforcing his interest in political affairs and in 1893 he entered parliament as the member for Kimberley. He became Attorney-General for the Rhodes ministry until the Jameson Raid, after which he broke completely with Rhodes and resigned with the rest of the ministry in 1896.
In 1898 he was elected member for Malmesbury and in October of that year became the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. In that capacity he strove valiantly to preserve peace between the British Government and the Boer Republics. Irreconcilable differences within his cabinet forced him to resign in June 1900 and he reverted to law, not returning to parliament until 1908 when he won the seat for Queenstown. In 1908 Schreiner was asked by J X Merriman to represent the Cape at the National Convention but declined as he was already committed to defending Dinuzulu on trial for alleged participation in the rebellion of 1906. He campaigned vigorously for political and economic federation and also for the political rights of Black people, particularly with regard to the Union Bill of 1910. After Union he was one of the first senators nominated to look after Black interests and in 1914 he accepted the position of High Commissioner for South Africa in London. He held this office until his death on 28 June 1919.
He was the younger brother to Olive Schreiner and married in 1884, Frances Hester Reitz, sister of F W Reitz, president of the Orange Free State from 1889-1895. They had two sons and two daughters.

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The W P Schreiner Papers were donated to the University of Cape Town Libraries in 1963 and 1992 by his grandsons Mr P R S Scott and Dr G S G Scott and number ca 1700 items. The Papers comprise correspondence, miscellaneous personal papers, reports, memoranda, pamphlets, speeches, articles, newspaper clippings and photographs. The correspondence constitutes a large proportion of the collection and the section of family letters is extensive and includes typescript extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters. The general correspondence, much of which is of an official nature, has amongst it letters from many prominent politicians, inter alia C J Rhodes, J X Merriman, Alfred Milner, F W Reitz, M T Steyn, J C Smuts and Richard Solomon. W P Schreiner's historic letter to Cecil Rhodes after the Jameson Raid, in which he tenders his resignation, is also in the collection. There is much highly important material relating to the months preceding the outbreak of the South African War, 1899-1902 and to the opening months of the war. Both the correspondence and the newspaper clippings provide interesting information on the Commission of Enquiry into the Jameson Raid, 1897 and the Black Franchise question just prior to Union. The collection is also a useful research source for topics like customs and railways, 1898-1899, the Customs Conference in Bloemfontein in 1896 and the trial of the Zulu chief, Dinuzulu in 1909. There are no restrictions on the use of the collection, but permission should first be obtained from the University Librarian.


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No restrictions apply

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  • English

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  • English



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