S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Rissik, Mr Johann Friedrich Bernhard (surveying)

Born: 2 February 1857, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Died: 26 August 1925, Pretoria, South Africa.
Mr Johann Friedrich Bernhard Rissik

Johann F.B. Rissik, surveyor-general of the South African Republic (Transvaal), was a son of the physician Gerrit H. Rissik and his wife Neeltje Altmann. He was educated in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and emigrated to South Africa with his parents in 1876. The family settled in Pretoria and after working in his father's dispensary for some time Johann entered the civil service of the South African Republic as a clerk in February 1882. The next year he became a clerk in the office of the surveyor-general. In 1885 he was appointed acting surveyor-general for some time, though he was admitted as a land surveyor only in 1886. One of his first tasks was to conduct a survey and to allot titles to various unclaimed sections of uitvalgrond (government land between occupied farms). One such piece of land, some 30 kilometers east of Johannesburg, was very irregular in shape and difficult to survey, which led him to name the resulting government farm Benoni, meaning "the son of my sorrow".

On 3 August 1886, in his position as chief clerk and acting surveyor-general, he and Christiaan Johannes Joubert, head of the Mines Department, were appointed as commissioners to report on the newly discovered goldfields of the Witwatersrand and their exploitation, and make recommendations with regard to the establishment of a town there. They realised that mining in this region would require large capital expenditure and hence advised against a general pegging of claims and in favour of the granting of mining leases to the owners and lessees of land. This foresight was to prove very beneficial to the subsequent development of the mining industry. Another of their recommendations was that a town should be layed out on public land between the farms Turffontein and Doornfontein. Their recommendations, submitted to the Executive Council on 12 August, were accepted by the government and a town with 600 stands layed out (by the surveyor J.E. de Villiers*). The new town was named Johannesburg, after both the commissioners (Appelgryn, 1984, pp. 14-31).

In December 1887 Rissik was appointed as the official representative of the Republic to negotiate the position of the border between the Transvaal and Mozambique with the Portuguese representative, Colonel J.J. Machado*. In 1890 he was appointed assistant surveyor-general and the next year was largely responsible for writing the Transvaal Survey Law (No. 9, 1891). He became a commissioner of the Nationale Bank (State Bank) of the Republic in 1893. On 8 October 1890 he married Maria M.W. Leibrandt. They spent a long honeymoon in Europe and eventually had four sons.

In 1895 Rissik succeeded G.R. von Wielligh* as surveyor-general of the Republic. He remained in this post until the Transvaal was annexed by the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), when he saw active service under his friend, General Louis Botha. After the war he served on several commissions appointed by the British administration of the Transvaal Colony, dealing with issues such as farm occupation, railway matters, financial relations between the government and local authorities, and water conservation and irrigation. Entering politics in 1906 he was appointed minister of lands and native affairs in General Botha's cabinet in 1907. He resigned his cabinet position in May 1910 to become the first administrator of the Transvaal Province in the newly created Union of South Africa. In 1917 he resigned from this post to become commissioner for railways and harbours, a position he held until his death in 1925.

Rissik was an able administrator and popular person, who worked successfully under both the Afrikaner government of the South African Republic and the subsequent British administration of the Transvaal Colony. He was a man of integrity and tolerant views, a cultured person who loved literature and classical music and spoke fluent Dutch, English, French and German. His wide ranging interests included farming - he owned two farms in the Transvaal and one in the Free State - and early automobiles and motor cycles. He became a member of the Geological Society of South Africa in 1904, and in 1911 became a patron of the newly founded Aeronautical Association of South Africa. He is commemorated in Rissik Street, Pretoria, and the Rissik Bridge, Johannesburg.


List of sources:
Appelgryn, M.S. Johannesburg: Origins and early management. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1984.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 4, 1981.

Geological Society of South Africa. Transactions (and Proceedings), 1906, Vol. 10; 1915, Vol. 18; and 1920, Vol. 23: Lists of members.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Rissik, Johan / Rissik landmeter.

Shorten, J.R. The Johannesburg saga. Johannesburg: J.R. Shorten, 1970.

Staats-Almanak der Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, 1896, 1897, 1898.

Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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