Our History and Culture

From modest beginnings the firm, Scanlen & Holderness, was founded by Sir Thomas Scanlen. Born in 1834, the son of 1820 settlers, Thomas Scanlen’s early years were taken up with participating in the frontier wars in the Eastern Cape, being educated and looking after his father’s general dealer business and opening his law practice. Sir Thomas Scanlen first set foot in what was then Rhodesia in September 1894. For the previous twenty years he had been one of the most prominent personalities in the Cape. He had been a Member of Parliament from 1870 to 1895 and a Cabinet Minister for much of that time. He had been Prime Minister of the Cape from 1881 to 1884 and then the leader of the opposition for five years after stepping down as Premier. Thomas’ association with the law started in 1855 when he was admitted as Notary Public and in 1866 when he was admitted as an Attorney. He then participated in various partnerships, Scanlen and Gifillan, Scanlen and Metcalf, Fairbridge, Ardene and Scanlen and finally Scanlen and Syfret. During Scanlen’s premiership, a cabinet reshuffle took place bringing Cecil John Rhodes into Scanlen’s Ministry, as Treasurer. This event created the link, which eventually brought Scanlen up to Rhodesia in August 1894. In 1894 Rhodes offered Sir Thomas the appointment of Chief Legal Officer in Rhodesia. He was made Legal Advisor to the British South Africa Company and started his own legal firm. The firm of Scanlen and Syfret commenced business in Salisbury in October 1894. Sir Thomas was only admitted as an attorney in Rhodesia on 5 November 1894, at the first High Court Session to be held in Salisbury presided over by Judge Joseph Vincent. By the date of his admission, Sir Thomas had already executed at least two deeds of transfer on 22 October and 1 November 1894 respectively. That this was possible was due to the fact that the laws of the Cape Colony had been adopted by Rhodesia at the order of Cecil Rhodes. Hence no difficulty arose in practicing both in the Cape and in Rhodesia simultaneously. Thus the early deeds executed by Sir Thomas reflect his firm as “Scanlen & Syfret, Cape Town and Salisbury”. At this time in Salisbury there were some two hundred and fifty buildings. Of these, twenty-four were retail businesses, six were bars, nine were hotels, two were manufacturers with very limited number of professional and trades people. When Sir Thomas took up full time involvement with the Chartered Company in 1898, his son, Arthur Dennison Scanlen, who had completed his law degree at Oxford University, joined his father’s firm.

In 1908 Sir Thomas became seriously ill with malaria. He was not expected to survive, but old warhorse that he was, he did so and over the next few years travelled up the East Coast of Africa to Egypt and the following year through Palestine, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. Sir Thomas Scanlen died in Salisbury on May 15th 1912.

A New Partnership Is Born

If Sir Thomas was the seed which caused the firm to take root, and if his son Arthur was the stake which enabled the sapling to grow up straight, the enrichment and care which led to the formation of the branches and maturing and nurturing of the tree was provided by James Edmund Holderness, better known as “Jim”.

Jim was one of nine children born to Harry Hardwick Holderness, a Parish Priest of Adlingfleet, England and his wife Mary. Jim went to St. Edmund’s Clergy Orphan School in Canterbury, his father having died when he was just over three years old.

When young Jim turned 17, his uncle, Christopher (“Kit”) proposed that he should join him in Rhodesia. Jim needed little prodding and, with the Anglo Boer War coming to an end, travelling out to Cape Town by ship then took the train up to Bulawayo arriving there early in 1902. Whilst at Kimberly, Jim had seen a newspaper billboard telling of the death of Rhodes. As soon as he arrived at Bulawayo Station he bought a bicycle from Duly’s so that he could ride out to Matopos for Rhodes’ funeral.

Jim was employed as the Judge’s Clerk of Judge Joseph Vincent, who was Senior Judge of the High Court of Southern Rhodesia. Judge Vincent mentored his young clerk, took him on circuit and generally encouraged him in every way possible.

Jim had served articles with Frames and Coghlan in Bulawayo. He was taken on by Arthur Scanlen as a professional assistant on 1 January 1906. At that time, Arthur Scanlen was in partnership with “Jimmy” Nicholas, whose sister “Birdie”, was Arthur’s wife. The firm at that time was known as ‘Scanlens’ and the firm’s offices were in United Rhodesia Goldfields Offices, later known as Haddon Hall. It was situated at the southwest corner of the junction of Pioneer Street and Manica Road diagonally opposite the Queens Hotel.

In 1907, Jim was invited to join Arthur Scanlen in the partnership at which time the name Scanlen & Holderness became the style under which the practice practiced.

Around this same time, the firm moved to its second home further east along Manica Road to a building one away from the still standing, though considerably altered, Broadcasting House or Old Post Office. This was to be the firm’s home for the next 43 years. This move would have been prompted by the general move to the commercial establishment from the Kopje to what, was then called, the Causeway. Even today, most of the old buildings along Manica Road (now Robert Mugabe Road), between Kingsway (now Julius Nyerere) and First Street reflect the building boom which occurred in about 1910. Buildings such as Store Brothers, Arnold Buildings and Feredays all reflect the hope, excitement and promise of that era.

The same two partners carried forward their business from 1908 until the death of Arthur in 1936. Equal shares in the partnership were only achieved in 1928.

Following the Family Foot Steps

Following the death of Arthur, Jim toiled on as the sole partner and carried the whole burden of the firm with the help of a formidable bookkeeper/typist, Mrs. Mae Mitchel whom it was stated, doted upon and fiercely protected her boss.

Although Jim must have been under enormous pressure during these years, he seems ever to have been courteous, caring and conscientious. According to his eldest son, Richard, “all his life he was careful with money and had great sympathy for people who were hard up”.

This feeling of compassion must, no doubt, have been forged through his own childhood and sowed the seed which led his one son, Richard, going into the Ministry, even though he had completed his Law degree in anticipation of joining the firm.

The second son, John, had joined the firm as an articled clerk in 1931 obtaining admission as an Attorney, Notary, and Conveyancer in 1937.

Hardwicke Holderness having completed his schooling at Prince Edward in 1932, studied law, first at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, after which he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Then followed the Second World War. Thus, only after its close in 1945 was he in a position to return home and take up his articles in the firm.

Both John and Hardwicke joined the RAF Squadrons during the Second World War. John flew spitfires and became one of ‘the few’ of those redoubtables who flew so magnificently and courageously during the Battle of Britain. Hardwicke became a bomber pilot with Coastal Command and finished the war as a Wing Commander, and decorated with the DSO and DFC.

At the same time another Rhodes Scholar and person long rooted in Rhodesia took up articles with him. This was CPJ (Pat) Lewis, whose father had been Chief Justice and whose father was to be a Judge of Appeals. Hardwicke Holderness and Pat Lewis were to be the foundation upon which was built the next half century of legal service and practice by Scanlen & Holderness.

During the politically explosive years which followed, the firm fearlessly fought many legal battles on behalf of African Nationalists and represented most of its hierarchy. Included amongst its legal challenges were those in which the firm represented Madzimbamuto and Baron in seeking to have UDI declared illegal, and Chief Rekayi Tangwena in seeking to retain his land in the Eastern Districts of the country. This tradition is continued today as Scanlen & Holderness represents many of those affected by the abrogation of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

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