William Porter was central to the founding of the University of the Cape of Good Hope (UCGH), which later became Unisa. He was the University’s first Chancellor and a Council member.
Porter was born in Ireland, into a well-known liberal family, and served as an advocate there until his appointment as Attorney General of the Cape Colony in 1839. Possessed of “an unspeakable hatred of oppression”, he drove the drafting of the Colony’s first constitution, which prohibited racial discrimination and provided for equal voting terms for white and black males. Porter went on to serve as a member of the Colony’s Parliament and played a critical role in the educational life of the Cape. Prior to his chancellorship at UCGH (by which time he was retired, ill and living in Ireland), he had served on the Board of Public Examiners and as Director and Council member of the Cape College. Despite his moral authority, Porter was no stiff reformer; he was noted for his “Irish wit” and barroom anecdotes.