The ostrich king

By DAVID ZETLER
January 25, 2007 13:04
1 minute read.

 
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Max Rose arrived in Oudtshoorn from Shavli in 1890 at the age of 17. He set up a business as a feather buyer and soon bought his first farm, where he raised ostriches. He studied their breeding and eating habits, planting huge areas of lucerne (alfalfa) for feeding his ostriches. He was one of the first farmers to irrigate the lucerne and was soon sending railway cars of the fodder all over South Africa. He became the most successful feather buyer and farmer in the area. When the feather boom ended in 1914 he, like many others, lost all his money, but he kept his ostriches and fed them, even though at times he may not have had enough to eat himself. He believed that the ostrich industry would recover, while the other farmers slaughtered their ostriches or set them free. He was appointed by the government as a member of the commission of inquiry into the depressed state of the ostrich industry to find ways of getting the industry back on its feet. When the ostrich industry improved in the 1940s, Rose owned 20 percent of the 20,000 birds in South Africa, down from 870,000 in 1914. He was introduced to the British royal family on its visit to Oudtshoorn in 1947. The queen was partly responsible for the revival of the feather market due to her penchant for ostrich feathers. Rose, a bachelor, lived frugally at the Central Hotel in Oudtshoorn. He was up and going at 5:30 in the morning and set out for his farms. His relative Pauline Eisen, now living in Tel Mond, relates how, as a little girl in the 1930s, she used to go to Oudtshoorn with her mother to visit him. They would wait for him to return, at about nine at night and sit with him while he ate his dinner in the hotel dining room. It was said that money meant nothing to him. He would lend money to farmers without putting anything in writing. He was also a very generous man, donating thousands of pounds annually to Zionist, Jewish and local charities. He died in 1951 and is buried in the Oudtshoorn Jewish cemetery.

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