Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Irish Statesmen Abroad - The Series

The 1916 Easter Rising generated a generation of Irish leaders and statesmen but as a small island we have punched well above our weight providing statesmen for nations across the world.                    This series published everyday over the next two weeks looks at their stories.

Episode Five - A Nation Named after an Irishman

Many Irish men have traveled away from the Emerald Isle he be part of democracies around the world but one Irishman went one step further and had a country named after him. Die Republiek van Upingtonia or the Republic of Upingtonia was a Boer republic from 20th October 1885 until 1886 when it was placed under the protection of the Germans in what was then called Damaraland.

What is now part of Nambia, the Republic of Upingtonia was named after Tomas Upington. Upington was born in Rathnee, near Mallow in Cork on 28 October 1844. He was educated at Cloyne Diocesan School, Mallow, and at Trinity College Dublin. 

In 1874 he immigrated to the Cape Colony in South Africa where four years later he was elected to the State legislature. He was immediately appointed Attorney General of the Cape Province a position he held until 1881.

He became the fourth Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1884, after the growing Afrikaner Bond Party compelled the government of Premier Thomas Scanlen, the son of Irish parents to retire. He was appointed to form a government but held office for only two turbulent and strife-torn years, in what subsequently became known as the "Warming-pan" Ministry. During his Premiership other politicians with more pro British leaning described Upington as both a Fenian and a Parnellite. While trying to push the boundaries of the economic success of the Cape Colony he was attacked from all sides of the political divide and internal conflict with Boer mini republics of Goshen and Stellaland brought an end to his Ministry in 1886, citing ill health for his resignation. He died on 10 December 1898 leaving behind a wife Elizabeth Geurin also born in Cork and four children.

In 1885, William Jordan a hunter and trader bought almost fifty thousand square kilometers of land from a local tribal chief Kambonde for three hundred pounds which was paid as twenty-five firearms, one salted horse, and a cask of brandy. Chief Kambonde had hoped to rely on the help of Jordan to defeat his rival for power, Nehale.

Between 1876 and 1879, many Boers crossed the area, heading for Angola. In 1885 some of these trekkers returned and settled at Grootfontein on farms of land given to them free of charge by Jordan in April 1885. The Republic of Upingtonia was declared on 20 October 1885 under a treaty signed by forty six Boers. At that time, the population of Upingtonia was estimated at five hundred settlers but it was rich in copper deposits. According to the book ‘A drink of Dry Land’ Upingtonia was a ‘complicated place’ and ‘a new world from restless people’.  The state was named after Upington who was by then prime minister of the Cape Colony from whom the new state was hoping for support. However, none was forthcoming. Under the influence of the Boers returning to the Transvaal in 1886 the name of the new State was changed briefly from the Republic of Upington to Lijdensrust. Upingtonia's capital was Grootfontein originally known by the locals as Leopard’s Hill, and appointed a head of State, President George Prinsloo.

The new state fought the nomadic tribesmen of the Herero tribe and according to ‘Sovereigns, Quasi Sovereigns, and Africans: Race and Self-determination’
By Siba N'Zatioula Grovogui the new state attempted to align itself with Portugal but in an alliance between the British to the South in the Cape Colony and the Germans to the north in Damaraland Upingtonia became dependent on German protection. Upingtonia had sought the assistance of the British Governor of Natal Sir Arthur Havelock but he declined and so they came under the protection of the Germans who were extending their dominion in South West Africa. In July 1886 Jordan was murdered by members of the Ovambo tribe and Kambone’s brother Nehale and the republic collapsed. The following year the area was incorporated into South-West Africa.

According to Leader newspaper in Melbourne, who took an in depth look at the Republic of Upingtonia in 1887 said that Upingtonians claimed almost an area of 33,000 square miles which was three quarters the size of The Orange Free State.

Corkonian Thomas Upington also has the South Africa town of Upington named after him and according to the town’s tourist website
‘Like Wild West towns, Upington had its share of skirmishes and its share of fortune-seeking scoundrels. One of these was a man called George St Leger Gordon Lenox, alias 'Scotty Smith'. An adventurer born in Scotland, he bought and sold illegal diamonds, stole horses and masterminded highway robberies. His gravestone is one of Upington’s tourist attractions.’

His eldest son Beauclerk who was just one years old when the family moved to the Cape was like his father educated at Trinity College Dublin and created one of the largest legal firms in South Africa and was from 1913 – 1922 President of the South African soccer federation.

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