Matie Voices

Prof HB Thom

SU Chancellor 1983 and SU Rector 1955–1969

Author, historian, cultural observer, administrator and diplomat. Prof Hendrik Bernardus (HB) Thom, known by the nickname Quintie, was born in the Eastern Cape on 13 December 1905 and first arrived at Stellenbosch University (SU) during 1924. A student in Dutch, history, economics, German, English and geography, he would later go on to continue his studies in Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam.

Away from the library he was a regular rugby and tennis player, as well as a member of the Student Representative Council. He commenced duties at SU in 1931 as lecturer in history and was promoted to senior lecturer four years later, followed by a full professorship in 1937. He held this position until he accepted the position of rector in 1955.

During Thom’s term as rector the University experienced enormous growth. Where the number of students stood at 2 355 at the beginning of 1954, it nearly trebled to 6 700 by 1966. In 1983 Thom was voted chancellor of SU, a position he held until his untimely death later that same year.

As a historian, chairman, trustee, patron and author, Thom’s contributions and influence can today be traced across many cultural spheres, including the South African Heritage Resources Agency, Simon van der Stel Foundation, Van Riebeeck Society and Stellenbosch Museum, the FAK, and the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT).

Among his list of written works are Die Lewe van Gert Maritz (1947), Die Geloftekerk en ander Studies oor die Groot Trek (1949), Jannie Marais (1950), as well as Daghregister van Jan Antonisz van Riebeeck (1952), which was translated by him and his wife Maria.

Thom received several honorary memberships to prestigious organisations during his lifetime, such as the South African Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Historical Society of South Africa, as well as a string of major awards. These include the DF Malan Medallion and the Arts and Science Award for History.

– By Steyn du Toit