Kmdt. Henning Petrus Nicolaas Pretorius
(born 1844 in Natal, South Africa; died 1897, Farm Abrahamskloof, Albanie, Cape, South Africa) nicknamed “Skote Petoors”
When a young boy, he was nearly present when his paternal grandfather was murdered in 1865 in Moorddraai, but rode ahead to see his fiancee, and therefore was saved from being murdered too. In 1876 he became and Cornet in the Z.A.R. in the Sekukune wars. His heroic conduct during the First Boer War in Elandsfontein made him famous. He was wounded twice. In 1882 he was commissioned as a Kommandant. In 1890 he was made Acting Kommandant Generaal in place in P.J. Joubert. In 1896 he was promoted to Lt. Colonel of the reorganised Artillery Corps under the new name of Staatsartillerie. He made several improvements to the Artillery, rendering them equivalent to those of most nations at the time. He died while on a mission in the Eastern districts of the Cape, while looking for the beam on which the accused were hanged in 1816 for the Slagtersnek opstand. He was buried with full military honours at the Helde-akker in Pretoria. There is a statue of him in front of Military Headquarters in Potgieter Street in Pretoria.
His father was Marthinus Wessel “Swart Martiens” Pretorius (1822-1864) born in Graaf Reinet and who died at the Battle of Silkaatsnek, during the First Boer War. Farmer in Welgegund, near Pretoria. His mother was Debora Jacoba Retief (1815-1900), born at Mooimeisjesfontein, in the Cape. She famously painted her father’s name on the cliff face of Kerkenberg in the Drakensberg. A sculpture of this deed is on display in the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Her father was Gen. Pieter Retief (1780-1838), known as Piet Retief, Voortrekker leader. Retief was born in the Cape Colony, South Africa. His family were Boers of French Huguenot ancestry, and Retief grew up on one of the vineyards established by French wine-making immigrants near Stellenbosch. After moving to the vicinity of Grahamstown Retief, like other Boers, acquired wealth through livestock, but suffered repeated losses from Xhosa raids in the period leading up to the 6th Cape Frontier War. (However, apart from such losses, Retief was also a man in constant financial trouble. On more than one occasion, he lost money and other possessions mainly through gambling and land speculation.
He is reported to have gone bankrupt at least twice, while at the colony and on the frontier. Such losses impelled many frontier farmers to become Voortrekkers (literally those who move forward) and to migrate to new lands in the north. Retief authored their ‘manifesto’, dated 22 January 1837, setting out their long-held grievances against the British government, which they felt had offered them no protection, no redress, and which had freed their slaves with recompense to the owners hardly amounting to a quarter of their value. This was published in the Grahamstown Journal on 2 February and De Zuid-Afrikaan on 17 February just as the emigrant Boers started to leave their homesteads. Retief’s household departed in two wagons from his farm in the Winterberg District in early February 1837 and joined a party of 30 other wagons. The pioneers crossed the Orange River into independent territory.
When several parties on the Great Trek converged at the Vet River, Retief was elected “Governor of the United Laagers” and head of “The Free Province of New Holland in South East Africa.” This coalition was very short-lived and Retief became the lone leader of the group moving east. On 5 October 1837 Retief established a camp at Kerkenberg near the Drakensberg ridge. He proceeded on horseback the next day to explore the region between the Drakensberg and Port Natal, now known as Kwa-Zulu Natal. Upon receiving a positive impression of the region he started negotiations with the Zulu chief, Dingane, in November 1837. Retief led his own band over the Drakensberg Mountains and convinced Voortrekker leaders Maritz and Potgieter to join him in January 1838.
On a second visit to Dingane, the Zulu agreed to Boer settlement in Natal, provided that the Boer delegation recovered cattle stolen from him by the rival Tlokwa tribe. This the Boers did, their reputation and rifles cowing the tribe into peacefully handing over the cattle. Despite warnings, Retief left the Tugela region on 28 January 1838, in the belief that he could negotiate permanent boundaries for the Natal settlement with Dingane. The deed of cession of the Tugela-Umzimvubu region, although dated 4 February, 1838, was signed by Dingane on 6 February 1838. This Dingane did by imitating writing and with the two sides recording three witnesses each. Dingane then invited Retief’s party to witness a special performance by his soldiers. However, upon a signal given by Dingane, the Zulus overwhelmed Retief’s party of 70 and their Coloured servants, taking all captive. Retief, his son, men, and servants, about a hundred people in total, were taken to Kwa Matiwane Hill in what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal, and murdered. Their bodies were left on the hillside to be devoured by wild animals, as was Dingane’s custom with his enemies.
Dingane then gave orders for the Voortrekker laagers to be attacked, which plunged the migrant movement into serious disarray. Eventually, the Retief party’s remains were recovered and buried on 21 December 1838, by members of the “victory commando” led by Andries Pretorius, following the decisive Voortrekker victory at Blood River. Also recovered was the undamaged deed of cession from Retief’s leather purse, as later verified by a member of the “victory commando”, E.F. Potgieter. An exact copy survives, but the original deed disappeared in transit to the Netherlands during the Anglo-Boer War. The site of the Retief grave was more or less forgotten until pointed out in 1896 by J.H. Hattingh, a surviving member of Pretorius’s commando. A monument recording the names of the members of Retief’s delegation was erected near the grave in 1922. The town of Piet Retief was named after him as was (partially) the city of Pietermaritzburg.
(The “Maritz” part being named after Gerrit Maritz, another Voortrekker leader.) Piet Retief married Magdalena Johanna De Wet [1782-1855; daughter of Pieter De Wet (1765-?) and Maria P Opperman (1757-?)]. Her father Pieter de Wet was in turn the son of Petrus Pieter De Wet (1726-1782) and Magdalena Fenesie Maree (1726-1770). Retief’s own parents were Jacobus Retief [1754-1821; son of Francois Retief (1708/9-1743) and Anna Marais (1722-1777)] and Debora Joubert [1749-?; daughter of Pieter Joubert (1726-1746) and Martha Du Toit (1729-1771)].
Jacobus Retief was a farmer near Wellington, his original farm was called “Soetendal”. He also bought the farm “Welvanpas”, formerly known as “De Krakeelhoek” which belonged to his grandmother Maria Mouij, of whom presently. He had eleven children. His father, Francois Retief, was the eldest son of the founding father of the Retief clan in South Africa, Hugenot emigrant Francois Retif Snr. (1663-1721). This Francois Retief fled Mer in Blois, France during the recriminations of King Louis XIV with his young sister to Holland. Since the Dutch were looking for settlers for the Cape, they joined and arrived in Cape Town in 1688. He bought a farm and called it “Le Paris” on the northern banks of the Berg River near Wemmershoek. He married Maria Mouij, (1685-?, daughter of Pierre Mouij, also of France.), 23 years his junior.
To return to Marthinus Wessel Pretorius (Swart Martiens): His father was: Councillor Henning Petrus Nicolaas Pretorius [1800-1865; son of Marthinus Wessel Pretorius (1747-?) and Susanna Elisabeth Viljoen, (1760-?), widow of J.D. Hattingh] who was a Deacon in the church and long-serving elder, as well as member of the first Voortrekker Council in Natal. He was murdered by the Sotho at Moorddraai near Harrismith with his wife, Johanna Christina Vorster [1804-1865; daughter of Barend Johannes Vorster (1771-1840) and Johanna Christina Vorster (1776-?)], two of his sons and a companion. His brother, Andries Pretorius later became the Voortrekker arch-leader and founded the capital city of Pretoria, South Africa. Barend Vorster was the son of Barend Johannes Vorster (1748-1799) and Cecilia van Heerden (1752-1789). Marthinus Wessel Pretorius was the son of Johannes Pretorius [1711-1778; son of Johannes Pretorius (1642-1694) and Johanna Victor (1640-1719)] and Johanna Bezuidenhout [1717-?; illegitimate daughter of Wynand Bezuidenhout (1674-1724) and Gerbrecht Boshouwer (1684-1772)]. Johannes Pretorius (1711-1778) farmed near Roodesandskloof with about 40 cattle and 70 sheep. His father, the elder Johannes Pretorius was born in Oudorp, Alkmaar, Noord-Holland, Netherlands and was the first to move to South Africa. His parents were: Wessel Schout Praetorius [1614-1664; son of Barend Wesselius Pretorius (1596-1668) and Aaltje Jansdochter (1596-1643)] and Josyntgen Claesdochter (1618-?). Barend’s father was Wessel Schulte (1566-?).