Dr Thomas Smartt, who built a dam

Thomas William Smartt had such a high profile as a politician that his medical background has almost been forgotten. He was born in Trinn, County Meath, Ireland, on February 22, 1858, and he obtained his degree from Trinity College, in Dublin. He came to the Cape, was registered as a medical doctor and, in 1880, went to the little Karoo town of Britstown to start a general practice.  Smartt was a supporter of Cecil John Rhodes and in 1893, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Woodhouse. He later represented Cathcart, East London and Fort Beaufort, from 1910 to 1929, and Hopetown from 1924 to 1929. Smartt served as Colonial Secretary from 1896 to 1898. He was appointed Commissioner of Lands and Public Works in 1900 and again from 1904 to 1908.  He was a delegate at the National Convention and he served as a member of the Union House of Assembly from 1910 until May, 1929. (He died on April 17, that year.) Sir Thomas was one of the initial 121 members elected to the first Union Parliament which held its inaugural meeting on October 31, 1910. He and three other members – Leander Starr Jameson, Dr A I de Jager and Bissett Berry – had served in the Cape Parliament. In fact, Smartt served without interruption in the Cape and Union Parliaments for 35 years. Smartt became the leader of the Unionist Party in 1911 (the same year as he was knighted) and continued in this capacity until it amalgamated with the South African Party under the leadership of General Smuts in 1921. He became Minister of Agriculture in 1921 and held this position until 1924. During this time he started an agricultural syndicate at De Aar in the Karoo and one of the two dams it built was named in his honour. This syndicate planted lucerne and wheat and set up breeding and feeding programmes for sheep, karakul, goats and Clydesdale horses. It operated until 1954 when it was liquidated. The assets of this considerable enterprise were dispersed among its members. A massive flood in the Ongers River area in March, 1961, destroyed the Smartt Syndicate Irrigation Dam. A new dam was then built in 1964.


© Rose’s Roundup, November 2010(No 202)

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