Born in Malmesbury on 18 August 1855, Prof Adriaan Moorrees holds the distinction of being the only vice-chancellor in Stellenbosch University’s history who would progress to also become one of its chancellors. Before joining the institution in 1908, he had already established himself elsewhere as a poet, preacher, linguist, academic, researcher, scientist and social rights campaigner.
After completing his studies at the South African College in Cape Town, the Theological Seminary at Stellenbosch, as well as the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, Moorrees served as minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Noorder-Paarl, Richmond and Cape Town.
Moorrees published his first book of poetry in 1908. Named Zevenjaartjes, the subject matter was largely influenced by the lush Paarl Valley and its distinct surrounding mountains. During the same year, Moorrees joined the Victoria College in Stellenbosch as a professor in theology and served as a member of its council.
Another of Moorrees’ lifelong interests was the preservation of language, in particular Dutch, which he would use as his main medium of communication until his retirement. He was one of the founders of De Zuid Afrikaansche Taalbond and chairman of De Zuid-Afrikaanse Akademie voor Taal, Letteren en Kunst. To this day, his 1937 publication Die Geskiedenis van die Ned. Geref. Kerk in Suid-Afrika is held up as a valuable contribution to the field.
When Victoria College formally became Stellenbosch University in 1918, Moorrees was appointed as the first vice-chancellor and held the position for 14 years until his promotion to chancellor in 1932. He has been awarded honorary degrees by Unisa, UCT and SU.
– By Steyn du Toit