[KCMG] London Gazette 23 August 1901.
QSA (2) Transvaal, South Africa 1901 (Capt: & Paymr. J. Rose-Innes, Joh'burg M.R.)
Picture courtesy of Spink
James Rose Innes was born on 8 January 1855 at Grahamstown, South Africa, scion of a highly politicised family dynasty. His father James Rose Innes had served from 1880-1896 as Under Secretary for Native Affairs in the Cape Colony, whilst his grandfather, also named James Rose Innes, had been the first Superintendent-General of Education in the Cape. Going back a further generation, his great-grandfather on his mother's side of the family tree was Robert Hart of Glen Avon, the founder of Somerset East, who had landed as a member of the British Expeditionary Force in 1795. In his own forthright words:
"I should call myself an Afrikaner, were it not for the tendency to confine that term to those whose ancestors landed here before the British occupation. And to such newer arrivals as are animated by the 'South African spirit', as understood by those who extol it, implies a view on the native question which I cannot share. But I am proud to be a South African, and I claim to stand on the same national footing as if my forebears had landed with Van Riebeeck or followed Piet Retief over the Drakensberg."
Innes spent much of his early childhood following in the footsteps of his father who variously worked as a Magistrate at Riversdale, Uitenhage, Bedford, Somerset East and King William's Town. His transient life and somewhat chaotic and sporadic education ended in 1867 when he took a place at the Bedford Public School - his contemporaries including W. P. Schreiner, future Prime Minister of the Cape, later High Commissioner in London, and Leaders of the Bar J. W. Leonard and W. O. Danckwerts.
In 1874 Innes graduated Bachelor of Arts from the University of the Cape of Good Hope and took work as a teller, book-keeper and correspondence clerk in a bank. This was followed by a spell in the Native Affairs Department at Cape Town under the tutelage of Charles P. Brownlee. In 1877 he obtained his Bachelor of Law Degree and on 12 February 1878 Innes was called to the Bar of the Cape Supreme Court. His practice grew steadily and contemporaries noted his ability to 'think on his legs' and display a 'fund of quiet humour and a gentle quizzing satire'. On circuit he was said to be in the middle of any mischief.
Elected Member of the Cape House of Assembly for Victoria East in 1884, his attitude towards the native population was liberal and uncompromising, characterised by his opposition to forced removals of the Xhosa people across the Kei River:
''… the policy of repression has been tried, and it has failed. What the country requires is that the existing laws should be fairly and equitably administered, and that the Natives should cease to be subjects of rash experiments in the art of 'vigorous' government."
Appointed Attorney-General in Cecil Rhodes's government from 1890, Innes resigned three years later over the scandal of Rhodes's right-hand man, James Sivewright, giving a lucrative government railway contract to his friend and business associate James Logan without going to tender. Innes refused to work with Sivewright, with the effect that Rhodes's first ministry was forced to come to an end; Innes thereafter maintained relations with Rhodes, but was never close to him, describing him privately as:
'Entirely an opportunist and, more than that, like Napoleon he is a law unto himself and has established for himself such a position that he is able to do things which smaller men could not possibly do without losing self-respect.'
The nadir became Rhodes's involvement in the Jameson Raid, an event which, Innes said, "No one… concerned for the true interests of South Africa can recall without regret" (James Rose Innes: Chief Justice of South Africa, 1914-27, refers). In his memoirs, Innes made no secret of how he deplored the way Rhodes jettisoned his alliance with Hofmeyr's Bond - tactical though it was - for the ready fruits of jingoism, his final considered view being that Rhodes 'infected Cape public life with a harmful virus, and to South Africa he brought no peace but a sword.'
The outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War led to Innes's appointment as Attorney General for a second time on 18 June 1900 in the fourth Sprigg Cabinet. Almost at the outset, he was involved in a determined correspondence with Sir Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner, warning against the unrest and discontent stirred up by the deportation of men and children:
'Not only is the thing itself one which naturally arouses men's feelings; but it lends itself to exaggeration and mischief to a degree that hardly any other topic would.'
His views on martial law were expressed with equal clarity and force. Writing again to Milner, he said:
'As your Excellency knows I hate the thing. It is abhorrent to me.'
Innes held the office of Attorney General until 19 February 1902 and was Knighted upon the visit of the Duke of York - later King George V - to the Cape Colony. Subsequently becoming Judge President of the newly instituted Supreme Court of the Transvaal at Pretoria, Innes was made Chief Justice of the Transvaal in October 1902 and Chief Justice of the Union of South Africa on the death of Lord J. H. de Villiers in September 1914. The recipient of an honorary doctorate of Laws from the University of Stellenbosch in 1924, Innes retired at the age of 72 and founded the Non Racial Franchise Association - an association with the object of opposing differentiation on grounds of race and colour in the Cape Province. At the Association's opening function he noted:
'South Africa stands at the parting of the ways. She may take the path of repression, easy at first with its downward grade, but it leads to the abyss - not in our time, but in the time of our descendants, whose interests it is our sacred duty to guard.'
The last ten years of his life were shadowed by a loss of friends, loved ones and the failure of the Association mission, especially the stripping of black South Africans of the vote. On 11 June 1935 his only child, Dorothy, who had married the son of the Kaiser's Field Marshal, von Moltke, suddenly died; Innes in his memoirs describing 'the bottom falling out of our little world'.
Innes died on 16 January 1942, and was mercifully spared the loss of his grandson, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, a leading figure in the Kreisau Circle of young Protestant idealists, who was motivated by a similar vein of conscience and was convicted of hostility to National Socialism in Freisler's People's Court, and hanged on 23 January 1945 at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. In a letter written while in custody, von Moltke revealed to his two sons his motivation for resistance:
'Since National Socialism came to power, I have striven to make its consequences milder for its victims and to prepare the way for a change. In that, my conscience drove me - and in the end, that is a man's duty.'
The autobiography of James Rose Innes was published after his death and his archives and private correspondence remain in the S.A. Library, Cape Town, as the 'Rose Innes Collection'.
James Rose Innes: The Making of a Constitutionalist, Jeremy Gauntlett, Cape Bar.
Sir James Rose Innes, Selected Correspondence (1884-1902), Professor Harrison M. Wright.