Botha House History

THE GIFT SUPERB

There can be no doubt but that Sir Frank Reynolds thrilled with delight and a deep, inward satisfaction, when the Prime Minister turned to him and put a question: “Could you find me two or three acres here?  I would like to put up a small cottage for Annie.”

In his early notes Sir Frank Reynolds called the residence intended for the Prime Minister, “Botha Cottage”.  Sir Frank probably used the word “cottage” because General Botha had expressed the wish to build a cottage by the sea; or he might quite well have done so in a humorous vein, as he set about erecting an elegant Cape Dutch style house, around which much of the interest in Umdoni Park revolves today. 

June 1919:  Sir Frank noted in his diary on 15 June, that the foundations had been started.  Five weeks earlier the Railway Administration had commenced building the siding.

August 1919:  The news of General Botha’s passing came less than 3 months after the start of Botha House.  He died on 27 August.

January 1920:  However, the work on the building did not falter.  By the end of January, 1920, the bricklayers and plasterers had finished and left, and Sir Frank now marked out the entrance gates.

March / April 1920:  The terrace at Botha House was started in March, and on 7 April we find Sir Frank and Molly Reynolds unpacking cases of china and glass from Harrods of London, and silver from Mappin & Webb.  All for use at Botha House.  

By 14 April, the electricians had completed their work, and on the 18th Sir Frank explained to the Railway Administration the need for what he called a “ladies’ platform” at the Umdoni Siding. During April we note a certain urgency in Sir Frank’s diary notes.  Several times he says “Pushing on with work”.  By the end of April workers were busy making roads around Botha House.

May 1920:  On 3 May, Sir Frank and Molly went to Parker, Wood & Co. in Durban to select the carpets for Botha House.  By mid-May, the house was fully furnished, and the terrace completed.

Sir Frank’s entry for 16 May strikes a note in history for the record.  “We all go down to Botha House, and I present the house to Mrs Botha for her life…”

By now Sir Frank Reynolds had converted his private ownership of Umdoni Park and its improvements to a Trust, one of the clauses was that Botha House was “to be held and maintained to the use of Annie Botha, widow of the Right Hon. Louis Botha, P.C., during her lifetime and, at her death, to the Prime Minister of South Africa for the time being, and his successors in office.  The remainder of Umdoni Park Estate to be held and maintained to the use of the public, subject to rules and regulations governing behaviour, visiting times, etc…”

Mrs Botha came every year in the winter-time to stay at Botha House.

May 1937:  During her latter years, Mrs Botha stayed permanently at Botha House until her passing on 21 May 1937.

A FINE WAR EFFORT

July 1943:  The Umdoni Park Trustees wrote to General Smuts requesting permission to use Botha House as a convalescent home for Imperial officers as there was great difficulty in securing accommodation for these officers in Natal.

September 1943:  The Prime Minister agreed at once, the facilities were to be made available to the Imperial authorities when his daughter had concluded her holiday at Botha House.

March 1946:  The convalescent home was closed on 31 March 1946

TOP SECRET

January 1952:  The following telegram was sent:

From:  Secretary for External Affairs, Pretoria.

To:  Vernon Crookes, Umdoni Park Trust, Sezela.

“Confidential.  Grateful for your immediate advice as to when and where representatives of this department could interview you and your fellow Trustees on matters of utmost importance concerning Botha House stop

A banner headline followed in the Natal Mercury:

THE KING TO VISIT NATAL

HOLIDAY AT BOTHA HOUSE WITH QUEEN AND PRINCESS MARGARET

During the days immediately following the public announcement of the King’s decision, the Trustees of Umdoni Park had a busy time.

Group Captain Peter Townsend considered the facilities offered at Umdoni Park.  Before returning to England following his few days in Natal, he told reporters that the King would probably spend about a month at Botha House.

Then on 30 January 1952 Group Captain Townsend sent a letter to Mr. Leo Grice saying “Botha House is, I am afraid, unquestionably too small, and the King was most grateful to learn of your readiness to put Lynton Hall at the disposal of the South African Government for His Majesty’s use.”

The Queen’s detective and one clerk were allocated to Botha House and one C.P.O. writer, one masseur and two hairdressers allocated to the caretaker’s cottage (adjoining Botha House).

February 1952:  The news of the King’s passing on 6 February 1952, dampened spirits throughout the world and put an end to all preparations for the royal stay at Umdoni Park.

BOTHA HOUSE TODAY

This beautiful and historic home is a bed and breakfast establishment – A true treasure for all who live in or visit South Africa.

Botha House is situated in the heart of one of KwaZulu-Natal's most pristine coastal forests providing an unforgettable experience.  We invite you to come and enjoy this tranquil setting of forest trails with exciting walking and birding opportunities.

Botha House today.  Photograph taken April 2019.

A portrait of Sir Frank Reynolds by Rowarth hangs on the wall in the lounge.

The local inhabitants named Sir Frank “Nkanyize”, an isiZulu word meaning Morning Star, acknowledging his early rising habits.

Devonshire men by origin, Sir Frank, and his brother Charles, were sent by their father in 1874 to assist in the running of the newly established Umzinto Sugar Estate.  The two brothers flourished and created an estate of thousands of hectares of sugar cane and the still fully functional Sezela Sugar Mill. Their homestead, Lynton Hall, stands as a testament to Sir Frank’s unparalleled success.

In 1918, Sir Frank’s love affair with the natural beauty of the Natal coastline resulted in the purchase of the land that is Umdoni Park today. Gaining inspiration from an equally influential Englishman, his prospect included the preservation of all naturally occurring fauna and flora within its boundaries. Today, this park is maintained in line with that vision.  Home to the Umdoni Park Golf Club and some of the most pristine and untouched coastal forests in the area.

The design of the fire screen was worked by convalescent army officers during World War II, when Botha House was placed at the disposal of the Imperial Forces.

On the steps of Lynton Hall in January 1918.  

General and Mrs Botha flank Sir Frank Reynolds and his daughter, Molly.  General Botha was the first Prime Minister to visit and walk the countryside that was to become Umdoni Park.

Sir Frank Reynolds had this tower built to carry the sails of a windmill after the style in Holland.  But the required skills to build the sails could not be found locally.  A conventional Mill-wheel with metal vanes atop the tower was used for many years to pump water up to what was then Molly’s home (now Trust Cottage).

Louis Botha, first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, was born in Greytown, Natal on 27 September 1862. He grew up in a rural, Calvinist, Afrikaans home and was largely home schooled, taught by his parents and the occasional Dutch tutor.

With the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902) he joined his fellow countrymen in the fight against the British.  From March 1900, Botha led the army of the Transvaal until the Anglo Boer War ended.  He continued to lead the Transvaal Republic until the Union of South Africa was formed with himself as its first Prime Minister.  On 28 July 1914, the Union was still under the dominion of the British and thus South Africa entered the First World War as one of the Allies under Botha's leadership.  He was present at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 where he argued strongly for compassion for the Germans; having experienced the humiliation of losing a war he well understood the ramifications of a vengeful treaty.  His advice was ignored.  After co-signing the Treaty of Versailles he returned home but fell ill on the trip, he never fully recovered and died on 25 August 1919.

He was survived by his wife Annie, the daughter of an Irish auctioneer, and their five children.

A great man of action, he was renowned for his simplicity, humanity, quick wit and good nature.  And in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, Louis Botha

                                  “…was one of the truly great men of the world.”

(Source: R Steyn, ‘Louis Botha A Man Apart ‘, Jonathan Ball Publishers, South Africa, 2018.)

Acknowledgement:  Extracts from ‘Gift to the Nation’ Published by the Umdoni Park Trust during August 1967

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