General Smuts bought, for £300, the wood-and-iron building that had served as the officers’ mess. It is believed that the building was originally prefabricated in Britain, taken to India by the British Army and later shipped to South Africa. Now, once again the building was dismantled. It was brought to Pretoria by rail, and thence to the farm Doornkloof by ox wagon, where it was re-erected at the substantial cost of £1000 in 1909.
General Smuts was at sea, on the way to England as a member of the National Convention delegation, when Mrs Smuts moved her family into the house on 10 July 1909. The plan was altered on rebuilding, and as the years passed a kitchen and pantry (1918) and other rooms were added, and verandahs were enclosed (front verandah, 1942).
The Big House is, however, substantially as it was a century ago. The unpretentious building strikingly illustrates Smuts’s indifference to luxury and ease of living, and here he spent the happiest hours of his life. Among the famous guests whom Ouma, Smuts’ wife, entertained in her home were the British Royal Family, who visited them at Doornkloof while on the Royal Tour in 1947. General Smuts found his peace at Doornkloof. It was to Doornkloof that he retreated from the affairs of State which occupied so much of his life. At Doornkloof Smuts could indulge his absorbing passions for botany and philosophy. There he could enjoy the simple life of a farmer, father and grandfather.
After his death in 1950, Mrs Smuts continued to live in the only real home she had ever known, until her death in 1954. Both General and Mrs Smuts died in the Big House. Their ashes were scattered, as were those of other family members, on the top of Smuts Koppie – the rugged hill behind the house. The Smuts House also served as Lord Kitchener’s Mess in Middelburg, Transvaal.
Today the grounds operate as a museum – please visit and experience first-hand the enormous legacy left by Jan and Isie. Jan Smuts was the founding father of human rights, the League of Nations and later the Unit. Nations. He was the only world leader present at signing of three peace treaties – the end of the Anglo Boer War, World War One and World War Two.
Mrs Kitty Smuts, Smuts’ daughter-in-law, widow of Japie Smuts, inherited the Big House. Finding it difficult to maintain the old house, she offered it to various organisations, but they declined her offers. The Smuts family removed items of furniture and objects of sentimental value from the Big House while items of significant historical interest were donated to institutions best able and willing to preserve them.
There was interest in the property, the Big House was on the point of being sold to a German consortium for purposes of establishing a sanatorium at which stage it came to the notice of Guy Braithwaite who stepped in and bought the property. In July 1960, a contract was concluded whereby the Big House and 25 morgen (21 hectares or 53 acres) of surrounding land were sold for £7000 by Mrs Kitty Smuts to Mr Braithwaite, an ex-serviceman and Pretoria attorney. Mr Braithwaite personally paid the 10% deposit on the same day. He announced proudly that “Doornkloof had been secured for the nation as a permanent memorial to the Oubaas and Ouma and all the ideals which we cherished and for which we fought during the war years”.
A congress of ex-servicemen and servicewomen’s organizations was held at Doornkloof on 8 October 1960, at which it was decided that a Section 21 company (i.e. a non-profit company), to be known as the General Smuts War Veterans’ Foundation, should be registered “to hold Doornkloof in perpetuity”
The culmination of these early efforts was the declaration, in 1969, of the Big House as a National Monument by notice in the Government Gazette, No. 2551 of 31 October 1969. In 1994 the name of the General Smuts War Veterans’ Foundation was changed to The General Smuts Foundation.
The Foundation is a private not for profit organisation founded in 1961 to preserve the legacy of the Rt Hon General Jan Smuts and his wife Isle Krige Smuts. Its Board of Directors and the Executive Committee members sponsor their time and skills to keep the legacy and history available to future generations. The Foundation receives no grants, nor financial assistance from government or private quarters. We wish to appeal to the history-loving public to contribute with donations, volunteering skills and sponsorships. We are also embarking on a Patron Programme to encourage both awareness and monetary assistance. Please click here for further information.
The General Smuts Foundation is entirely dependent on donations for the perseverance and upkeep of these beautiful grounds. 11 does not receive any private or government funding. Any support be it financial, time or donation relating to the upkeep will be very mu. appreciated. Please feel free to explore the grounds, walk the trail, take your dogs for a walk, or bring your children to roam this special “farm”