Jacobus Herculaas de La Rey

Title Military Leader/Politician
Other Names Koos
Date of Birth 1847-10-22
Date of Death 1914-09-15

Updated 13 Oct 2016

Jacobus Herculaas (Koos) de la Rey.
Born 22 October 1847, died 15 September 1914. De la Rey grew up in the Lichtenburg district and married a daughter of one of the founders of the town, Adriaan Greef. Although he had little formal education, he held a number of positions, as Surveyor, "Native" Commissioner and from 1893, as a Lichtenburg's representative to the Volksraad (Parliament) of the South African Republic.
De la Rey's military career began at the age of nineteen, when, as Veld Kornet, he took part in the Basotho campaign of 1865. He also participated in the Sekukuneland Campaign of 1876. On the eve of the South African War of 1899-1902, de la Rey, then aged 52, was appointed Combat-General and advisor to General P. A. Cronje. He fought at the battles of Kraaipan (October 1899), Graspan and Modder River (November 1899), and Magtersfontien, (December 1899). 

 After Cronje's surrender, he was appointed Assistant-General in command of part of the former western Transvaal. He led a mobile campaign against the British from 1900 to 1902. He inflicted a particularly heavy defeat on them at the Battle of Ysterspruit in 1901, where he captured Lieutenant-General Methuen. Fondly known as the "Lion of the Western Transvaal", de la Rey is remembered for his guerilla tactics and strategies during the war, in which he remained undefeated. He was a member of Boer delegation to the talks that resulted in the peace treaty at Vereeniging in 1902 between the Boers and the British.

After the war, de la Rey was part of the delegation that visited Europe to ask for funds for the relief of Boer widows and orphans, and went to India to persuade Boer prisoners to accept British rule and return home. He was a member of the Transvaal delegation to the National Convention regarding formation of the Union of South Africa. After union in 1910, he became a member of the Union Defence Council. When World War 1 broke out he was opposed to General Louis Botha's plan to occupy what was then German South-West Africa (now Namibia). However he never advocated outright rebellion. Shortly afterwards, de la Rey was shot dead at a road block at Langlaagte near Johannesburg, by police looking for a criminal gang. It is not know if the incident was a political assassination or not. De la Rey occupies an iconic place in Afrikaner history and culture. In 2007, this fact was once more emphasized by the release of a popular folk song invoking the spirit of his individualism and determination to safeguard Afrikaner interests.                  

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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