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DE WITT, Anthony M

Born: 1854 11 16
Died: 1916 04 17

Architect


EAASA 1884; SASA 1902

Born in Dordrecht in the Netherlands, De Witt served indentures with a local architect in Holland and entered the established practice of his father, Dirk de Witt. At the age of twenty he had already executed the design of many large bridges and buildings. He came to South Africa in 1876 for health reasons, recruited to work on the projected Lebombo railway line for the South African Republic (ZAR) under President Burger (resigned as President in 1877). President Burger was in the Netherlands in 1875 trying to gain financial support for the ZAR against the impending British annexation of the Republic. He, hearing of Anthony’s problems, offered the young man a job on the proposed Lebombo Railways. The Lebombo project was abandoned but De Witt stayed in Potchefstroom until he left for Cape Town in about 1880, having spent about four years in the Transvaal. To keep the wolf from the door he became a regular contributor to Het Volksblad in Cape Town where his articles were 'eagerly awaited ... owing to his experience of the Transvaal and his knowledge of the trend of thought there' (Men Cape 1906:434). At that time he also contributed articles to the Cape Times. In Cape Town he acted as freelance draughtsman to various offices, amongst which that of C FREEMAN's office. He then branched out on his own, soon establishing a flourishing practice. He did more to show his interest in engineering by volunteering his services to the Cape Garrison Artillery, soon becoming 'Captain of the Engineers', presumably in the auxiliary forces. In this capacity he became involved in the design and construction of temporary military bridges (Bozzoli, 1997: 116).

He executed a number of commercial buildings in the city and was responsible for a number of domestic buildings. Radford characterises De Witt's domestic work as generally asymmetrical and highly eclectic, probably making use of the American pattern books of the 1880s. Apart from managing a reasonably large practice, De Witt was an enthusiastic member of the architectural profession in the Cape, becoming a founder member of the Engineer, Architect and Surveyor's Association (1894), of SASA (1898) and of the Cape Institute of Architects (1902). In 1906 De Witt returned to the Transvaal, his practice in Cape Town probably affected by the depression and was employed by the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Pretoria and became a member of the Association of Transvaal Architects. His employment with the PWD lasted until 1914. He retired and was appointed to the military post of official censor of post at the Fort Napier German prisoner of war camp in Pietermaritzburg where he appears to have remained until 1915. He seems to have returned to Pretoria where he died aged 62, his obituarist Walter REID remarking: 'his latter days were not a bed of roses' (Jnl ATA Sep 1916:27 obit).

Walker (Walker, 2011:11) states that Antony de Witt died on 17 April 1916, aged sixty-two. He died penniless, besides a few personal belongings (mainly books), at Westbury, Ottery Road, Wynberg, home of his daughter, Marie. He had, due to poor health, come down from Pietermaritzburg where he held the rank of captain, and was chief censor in the German prisoner-of-war international camp. His demise in health (he died of cancer of the throat as a result of heavy pipe-smoking) together with the death of his wife, Anna, left him spiritless and it was a sad ending to a man who at one time was one of Cape Town's outstanding architects.

According to the article on him in Men of the Times (Cape 1906), De Witt introduced the half-timber style of building, and the basement and mansard roof to commercial buildings in the Cape. It was also claimed here that he introduced 'continental renaissance' style to private house design, his own house 'Montana Vista' being cited as an example. Not content with these contributions to the Cape, De Witt was also credited with having introduced 'the American skeleton steel frame' to South Africa in about 1885, used in JW Jagger's four-storey building in Cape Town. His son Gerhard De WITT, trained as an architect.

(Afr Archt Jul 1911:33; Jnl ATA Sep 1916:27 obit; KCM 90/10 (postcard album of confiscated/censored postcards of life in the prisoner of war camp in Fort Napier 1914-1915); Men Cape 1906; SAA&B Mar 1905:122; SAWW 1908, 1910; UTD 1915)

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Books citing DE WITT

Bakker, Karel A, Clarke, Nicholas J. 2014. Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa. Pretoria: Visual Books. pp 3, 49-65

Bozzoli, GR. 1997. Forging ahead : South Africa's pioneering engineers. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. pp 114-117 (photo 115)

Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pp 40, 41, 42, 43, 80, 114, 127, 130, 264, 443

Johnson, Brian Andrew. 1987. Domestic architecture at the Cape, 1892-1912 : Herbert Baker, his associates and his contemporaries. Cape Town: Unpublished Thesis UNISA. pp

Martin, Desmond. 2007. Walking Long Street. Cape Town: Struik. pp 27, 29, 58, 105

Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1977. Victorian Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pp 7, 21, 38, 54, 56*, 57, 61, 63, 82*, 83, 84, 97, 100*, 101, 107 , 115, 116*, 117, 121, 131, 135, 139, 141, 142, 148, 149, 166, 171

Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pp 25, 40, 46, 57, 64, 91

Radford, D. 1979. The architecture of the Western Cape, 1838 1901. A study of the impact of Victorian aesthetics and technology on South African architecture. Johannesburg: Unpublished Ph.D thesis. Dept of Arch. University of the Witwatersrand. pp Various

Rennie, John for CPIA. 1978. The Buildings of Central Cape Town 1978. Volume Two : Catalogue. Cape Town: Cape Provincial Institute of Architects. pp 38-39 item 43.17; 52 item 43.52; 82 item 49.48; 149 item 56.27; 254 item 75.27; 286 item 81.3

S2A3 (Plug, C - Project Leader and main compiler). 2002-. S2A3 biographical database of southern African science. Webspace: WWW. pp Accessed 12 January 2016

Transvaal Publishing Co. 1906. Men of the Times : Old Colonists of the Cape Colony and Orange River Colony. Johannesburg, Cape Town and London: The Transvaal Publishing Co. pp 434

Walker, Michael. 2011. A Statement In Stone. Cape Town: Privately published by Michael Walker. pp 11

Walker, Michael. 2012. Early architects of Cape Town and their buildings (1820 - 1926) with postcard illustrations, The. St James: Michael Walker. pp 47-54

Walker, Michael. 2015. Old hotels of Cape Town (1890-1911), The : A history long forgotten, seldom told. St James: Published Privately. pp 25-30, 32