The Solomon Family
2.4 Edward Solomon Family

Rev. Edward Solomon (1820-1886)

Born on St Helena, Edward, a younger brother of Saul and Henry, studied for the church and was a follower of the outspoken Dr John Philip of the London Missionary Society. Edward was ordained at the age of nineteen. In the same year he married Jessie Mathews of Aberdeen, Scotland. The couple had a large family of nine children, most of them born under varied and difficult conditions in the many missionary locations in the Cape to which Edward was sent. He was rotund in figure and had a round full bearded face. A great reader, a good talker and an excellent correspondent. He was always witty and humorous.

Edward eventually retired to Bedford in the Eastern Province but met his death in mysterious circumstances at Clarensville. He had been looking after his brother Saul’s house and had taken a walk on the beach, where he was later found drowned and lying in the rocks at Sea Point. The only explanation was that he had slipped on the rocks and struck his head before falling into the water.

Edward and Jessie produced three prominent sons:

Sir Edward Philip Solomon (1845- 1914) was a successful attorney in the early Witwatersrand. Identifying with the “Uitlanders” he was a member of the Reform Committee sponsoring the Jameson Raid of 1895.


As a consequence of this debacle he was fined and imprisoned by Kruger’s government for a period in Pretoria. Some years later, after the Boer War, Edward joined Smuts and Botha in the Transvaal Het Volk party. After the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 Edward was elected to the Senate. He suffered ill health in his last years and died in 1914.

Sir Richard Solomon (1850-1913) initially read mathematics at Cambridge, was a barrister and subsequently a politician.

He was Attorney General for the Cape in 1898, and later legal advisor to Lord Kitchener during the Boer War. One wonders what advice Solomon gave Kitchener on the legality (not to say the morality) of the harsh and mismanaged concentration camp policy that Kitchener imposed on Boer families after 1900. No-one knows how many Boer women, children and old men died in these neglected and unsanitary camps (Thomas Packenham in his history says that estimates vary from 18,000 to 28,000) but the number far exceeded the 7,000 odd Boer men killed in the field in the entire war. We must assume Solomon went along with the concentration camp policy. Afrikaner bitterness against the British over this matter lasted for generations.

Sir Richard Solomon sat alongside General Kitchener and Sir Alfred Milner (later Viscount Milner) at the Vereeniging peace negotiations with the Boer leaders which ended the war in 1902. He was one of a committee of four (the others being Milner, Hertzog and Smuts) appointed to draft the detailed terms of the peace settlement. The peace terms the British offered the defeated Boers were surprisingly generous, although not to the black Africans who continued to be excluded from the franchise.

After the war Richard Solomon became the Attorney General of the now British Transvaal. He was credited by Lord Milner with reorganising the Statute Law of the Transvaal and bringing it into line with British conventions elsewhere. In the years that followed he, like his brother, joined the Transvaal Het Volk party of the former Boer generals Jan Smuts and Louis Botha and aspired to lead the party and to be Premier of the Transvaal. His political skills and instincts, however, were not held in high regard by either Smuts or Botha. In the event he lost his seat to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (author of Jock of the Bushveld) and Botha became Premier of the Transvaal instead.

In retrospect, all agree that Solomon, although a brilliant lawyer and administrator, was a poor politician, not at all of the same calibre as Botha and could never have carried the Transvaal with him in the creation of the Union in 1910 as Botha did. Sir Richard Solomon ended his career as the Union of South Africa’s first High Commissioner in London, a position to which his abilities were well suited.

The Rt Hon. Sir William Solomon (1852-1930) was the youngest of Edward’s sons to make his mark in South African public life. He won a scholarship to Cambridge and, like his brother Richard, took the Maths Tripos and was later admitted to the Bar.

At the age of 35 he became a Judge in the High Court of Griqualand West. Like most of the Solomons he was a small man, and he was affectionately referred to by his colleagues as “Baby”, and in later life he was called “the little Judge”. After some ten years in Griqualand West he was transferred to the Supreme Court of the Transvaal and in 1910 was appointed to the first Appeal Court of the Union of South Africa. In 1928 he became Chief Justice of South Africa and was also elected to the Privy Council in the UK to culminate an outstanding career. William Solomon retired from the Bench in 1930 after a phenomenal forty-three years as a judge. According to Allan Solomon, he is ranked with Rose-Innes, Wessels and J.G.Kotze as one of South Africa’s greatest judges.

However, the question must be asked why Solomon (and his fellow judges) did not rule against the introduction of The Natives Land Act of 1913, presuming someone raised a challenge to it. This was the Union’s first major segregationist piece of legislation and pre-dated formal apartheid by some thirty five years and must have been controversial at the time. The Act divided up South Africa on a racial, and not very fair, basis, creating reserves for blacks and prohibiting the sale of white territory to blacks and vice versa. It was a hugely significant piece of legislation. It underpinned the racial divide in the country for years and more or less inspired the fully fledged Apartheid Group Areas Act of 1950. The allegation today is that the South African judiciary was too compliant in accepting the sovereignty of parliamentary legislation without fully testing the constitutionality and natural justice of important laws such as this. The Supreme Court did in fact rule that the Natives Land Act was invalid in the Cape Province, but only in the Cape Province. And this was only because, unlike the other provinces, the Cape had a property-based qualified franchise which pre-dated the Union and which the Union of South Africa’s constitution had recognised. There was no problem in the other provinces.

In Solomon’s defence one could perhaps say that few of the other Commonwealth judiciaries of those times around the world would have challenged their country’s parliamentary laws. It was then generally accepted that parliaments made the laws and the courts applied them. I suspect that the judiciaries in most Western countries today would adopt a more interventionist stance, especially on social legislation of so critical a nature.

William Solomon’s wife Maud (nee Christian) died in 1929 and when he retired he went, a very lonely man, to England. He died at Ruthven Castle in Wales on 13 June 1930

Postscript: I found it quite interesting to note that in 1913 William Solomon had some contact with Mahatma Gandhi, world famous later for his struggle with the British for independence for India after WWII. Gandhi had previously lived 21 years in Natal getting involved with a struggle for civil rights for the large Indian community remaining in South Africa after the indentured sugar-cane labour period. To digress to this quite interesting side-line in history, Gandhi had three problems with the South African Government: a) an unfair 3 pound annual tax on previously indentured Indian labourers who had chosen to remain in South Africa, b) a ban on further immigration into Natal from India, and c) a threatened denial of legal recognition of Hindu, Moslem and Parsi marriages. Gandhi led a non-violent protest march into the Transvaal objecting to these issues, got arrested and brought out 50,000 Indian mineworkers on strike. Under pressure from the British Government and the Viceroy of India Botha and Smuts released Gandhi and appointed the Solomon Commission to look into Indian grieviences hoping, by creating this Commission, to show their good faith. But upon regaining his liberty Gandhi asserted in a public statement that the Commission "is a packed body and intended to hoodwink the Government and public opinion of both England and India." He went on to say that he "did not doubt the integrity and impartiality of the Chairman, Sir Willam Solomon" but that he had strong objections to Ewald Esselen and Colonel J.S.Whylie, the other two members of the Commission, as being clearly prejudiced against Indian interests. Smuts refused to change the Commission and Gandhi refused to cooperate with it . In the end Gandhi negotiated directly with Smuts instead, bypassing Solomon's Commission, and in the upshot achieved most of his objectives. He returned to India shortly afterwards in 1914. Smuts wrote with some relief "The Saint has left our shores, I sincerely hope for ever".

There is one other rather charming later anecdote regarding Smuts and Gandhi. Just before leaving South Africa in 1914, Gandhi gave a pair of sandals that he had made while in prison to Smuts as a gift. For many years Smuts wore them when on his farm Doornkloof near Pretoria. In 1939 as a gesture of friendship and respect to his opponent of earlier times and to mark the occasion of Gandhi's 70th birthday, Smuts returned the sandals to Gandhi. His accompanying letter ended by saying, "I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man."