Thomas François Burgers (1834-1881), president of the Transvaal Republic, was born in Cape Colony on the 15th of April 1834, and was educated at Utrecht, Holland, where he took the degree of doctor of theology. On his return to South Africa he was ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and stationed at Hanover in Cape Colony, where he exercised his ministrations for eight years. In 1862 his preaching attracted attention, and two years later an ecclesiastical tribunal suspended him for heretical opinions. He appealed, however, to the colonial government, which had appointed him, and obtained judgment in his favour, which was confirmed by the privy council of England on appeal in 1865. On the resignation of M.W. Pretorius and the refusal of President Brand of the Orange Free State to accept the office, Burgers was elected president of the Transvaal, taking the oath on the 1st of July 1872. In 1873 he endeavoured to persuade Montsioa to agree to an alteration in the boundary of the Barolong territory as fixed by the Keate award, but failed (see Bechuanaland). In 1875 Burgers, leaving the Transvaal in charge of Acting-President Joubert, went to Europe mainly to promote a scheme for linking the Transvaal to the coast by a railway from Delagoa Bay, which was that year definitely assigned to Portugal by the MacMahon award.
With the Portuguese Burgers concluded a treaty, December 1875, providing for the construction of the railway. After meeting with refusals of financial help in London, Burgers managed to raise £90,000 in Holland, and bought a quantity of railway plant, which on its arrival at Delagoa Bay was mortgaged to pay freight, and this, so far as Burgers was concerned, was the end of the matter. In June 1876 he induced the raad to declare war against Sikukuni (Secocoeni), a powerful native chief in the eastern Transvaal. The campaign was unsuccessful, and with its failure the republic fell into a condition of lawlessness and insolvency, while a Zulu host threatened invasion. Burgers in an address to the raad (3rd of March 1877) declared "I would rather be a policeman under a strong government than the president of such a state. It is you - -you members of the raad and the Boers - who have lost the country, who have sold your independence for a drink." Sir Theophilus Shepstone, who had been sent to investigate the condition of affairs in the Transvaal, issued on the 12th of April a proclamation annexing the Transvaal to Great Britain. Burgers fully acquiesced in the necessity for annexation.
He accepted a pension from the British government, and settled down to farming in Hanover, Cape Colony. He died at Richmond in that colony on the 9th of December 1881, and in the following year a volume of short stories, Tooneelen uit ons dorp, originally written by him for the Cape Volksblad, was published at the Hague for the benefit of his family. A patriot, a fluent speaker both in Dutch and in English, and possessed of unbounded energy, the failure of Burgers was due to his fondness for large visionary plans, which he attempted to carry out with insufficient means (see Transvaal: History).
For the annexation period see John Martineau, The Life of Sir Bartle Frere, vol. ii. chap, xviii. (London, 1895).