- "Sir James Rose Innes Selected Correspondence (1884-1902)" edited by Harrison M Wright Ph D, Department of History, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, USA published by the Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town in 1972 Second Series No. 3.
Page 1 - this is a footnote about his name:
"The descendants of the first James Rose Innes (1799-1873) have never seemed to agree as to whether the family surname should be styled Innes, Rose Innes, or Rose-Innes. The confusion arises from family complications in Scotland in the late 18th century. Different members of the family currently use different forms. The subject of this volume always used James Rose Innes (never James R Innes) when he spelled his name out. But he took 'Rose' to be a given name, although apparently it had been applied to all his grandfather's children and grandchildren. When referring to him by surname only most contemporaries used Innes; and shortly after his knighthood his wife adopted Lady Innes over Lady Rose Innes, as he deemed correct. The genealogy in 'Burke's Landed Gentry' 17th ed, London, 1952 p 1352, supports him as to the correctness of this form. Therefore in this volume his surname is assumed to be Innes. (But because Innes' brother Richard preferred Rose Innes or Rose-Innes - as do his descendants, Rose Innes is, somewhat inconsistently, used when referring to him.)"
Innes was born on 8 January 1855 in Grahamstown. His father, also named James Rose Innes (1824-1906) and later to become the Cape Under secretary for Native Affairs, was then secretary to the lieutenant-governor of the Cape. His grandfather, the first James Rose Innes (1799-1873), had come to South Africa in 1822 to help organize the educational system of the Cape and had ultimately become its first superintendent-general of education. Innes' mother, born Mary Ann Fleischer (1836-1914) who was the daughter of a successful farmer of the Eastern Cape. Her great grandfather was Robert Hart, founder in the early nineteenth century, of Somerset East. (Throughout his life Innes combined pride in his British descent with a claim that he was as South African as the Afrikaners.)
In 1856 Innes' father became Magistrate at Riversdale. In 1863 he was sent in this capacity to Uitenhage, in 1867 to Bedford as Resident Magistrate and Civil Commissioner, in 1871 to Somerset East and in 1873 to King William's Town. His growing family followed him. Young Innes consequently attended a variety of schools, all heavily imbued with the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed religious principles that made up such a large part of the educational policies of his grandfather. There was no formal higher education in South Africa at the time; the University of the Cape of Good Hope was founded in 1873, but as an examining and degree-granting body only. Preparing as best he could, Innes passed his examinations for a B.A. in 1874 and for an LL.B. in 1877. Having in the meantime to support himself, he worked briefly in a bank and, after 1875, in the Native Affairs Department in Cape Town.
Innes decided to settle in Cape Town, was admitted to the Cape bar in February 1878, and took up legal practice. He rapidly became successful. His practice, his reputation, and his financial independence grew. On 18 October 1881 he married Jessie Dods Pringle, the youngest daughter of William Dods Pringle, a well known 1820 Settler and a half-brother of Thomas Pringle, the poet. Innes had known Jessie Pringle from childhood through close family connections (his great aunt having been her father's first wife) and he had spent many of his school vacations at Lynedoch (sometimes spelled Lyndoch), the Pringle farm, near Bedford. The marriage survived until Innes' death over sixty years later and was unusually close. There was one child, Dorothy, born on 25 February 1884.
Two days before Dorothy Rose Innes' birth, her father was elected as a member of the Cape House of Assembly for Victoria East, a political division situated on the Eastern frontier with a mixed constituency of Afrikaner, English-speaking and African voters.
During the eighteen years of active political life between those dates (Feb 1884 - Feb 1902) he was involved in one way or another in most of the important issues of Cape and, indeed, of South African politics.
Innes was no ordinary politician. His qualities of intellect and character were exceptional. Contemporaries acknowledged him as a man of pre-eminent fairness, honesty and sense of justice. His moral purpose was transparent; his integrity was unquestioned; his powers of analysis and debate and his capacity for work were impressive; he was clam and moderate in his habits, in his speech, and in his judgements. Political opponents expressed their admiration for him as enthusiastically as did his friends.
At the same time Innes was not, perhaps, as effective in politics as he might have been. He did not have a driving political instinct or political push. His personal and intellectual strengths tended to provide political weaknesses. His detachment, his habit of looking at all sides of every question and of judging cases on their merits, made him appear occasionally indecisive. His aims and ambitions had to operate within the constraints of an extremely high, almost inflexible, code of personal behaviour. He was reluctant to compromise on political issues even when he perceived that such a compromise might actually further the pursuit of his high-minded goals.
He did not enjoy the rough and tumble of party politics. Although frequently invited or urged to take positions of power he drew back from the kinds of commitments that were involved, from the limitations that would necessarily be place upon his freedom of action, from the threats to his moral integrity that might arise. As a result, although he served as Attorney-General in two cabinets and was the leader of the parliamentary opposition for almost a year, he was, given his exceptional capabilities and character, a politician more of promise than of fulfilment, more of reputation than of power. Only as a judge were all his qualities to be fully realized.
As the following correspondence indicates Innes was, nonetheless, in no way suffocated by his own rectitude. His manner was easy and outgoing; he had a sense of humour that was droll if not witty and a mind that was perceptive if not unusually imaginative. He was not, admittedly, as was his close friend John X Merriman, a brilliant correspondent. 'You know I am a very bad letter writer,' he once wrote, 'I can't talk on paper, I can't let my thoughts flow through my pen as I can through my tongue; the consequence is that I never end a letter without feeling that I have not said half of the things I intended to say.' But he underestimated his abilities in this respect. His letters are reflections of his personality: clear, straightforward, moderate, unpretentious and honest."