The first trust company in the world – 185 years on
Did you know that the first trust company in the world was formed in South Africa? The way this came about is fascinating and is closely linked to the early settler history of the Cape.
In the Netherlands, under Roman Dutch law, women were regarded as minors. This sounds incredibly patronising to modern ears but that is how it was. Accordingly, if a woman were widowed, officials of the court – Weeshere or Orphan Masters – administered to the sustenance and education needs of wards. This practice was transferred to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company which, in 1670, then formed the Weeskamer (Orphan Chamber) to provide for widows and orphans.
The British assumed occupation of the Cape following the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806. The Weeskamer operated until 1832 when it was abolished by William IV, King of England, and its duties were taken over by the Master of the Court. According to David Knott, a former FISA Deputy Chairperson and director of Private Client Trust, one of the reasons for this is that the British legal system did not recognize widows as minors.
With the abolition of the Weeskamer, a growing population and the British system of executorship, came the need for estates to be administered and finances attended to. This led to the formation in 1834 of the South African Association for the Administration and Settlement of Estates. In 1836, an act of parliament was published, directing the activities of the Association.
The first estate, that of Jacobus Johannes Smuts and surviving spouse Aletta Gertruida Versfeldt, was administered, in 1834 becoming the first estate in the world to be handled by a corporate body. An interesting aside is that the year 1834 also marked the abolition of slavery in the Cape.
2019 marks the 185th anniversary of the South African Association for the Administration and Settlement of Estates. According to Nedbank Corporate Secretaries, this entity still exists albeit it in a dormant form and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nedbank Trust.
From these early beginnings, other trust companies and boards of executors came into being, initially Cape based and in time elsewhere around the country.
The notion of specialised companies attending to estate administration needs then gradually spread elsewhere in the world, including Australia, Canada and America.
- Knott, David: A very brief history of Nedgroup Trust Limited
- English, Jane: The first trust company in the world – the South African Association for the Administration and Settlement of Estates. A commemorative review of the formation and growth of the trust company movement, presented by Syfrets.