The British Empire 
                                                              1815-1914

Cecil Rhodes

Early Life

Cecil Rhodes was born in 1853 and brought up in the market town of Bishop Stortford, thirty miles north of London. His father was the local vicar and Cecil was one of six children. He went to the local grammar school but at 16 was tutored by his father for entrance to Oxford. Before he had had time to apply the family doctor, following a brief illness, told Cecil he had consumption and prescribed a period away from the damp climate of England. So it was then that Cecil travelled to South Africa to join his brother on his cotton plantation.


South Africa

When he arrived (in September 1870), the diamond rush to Kimberley had just begun and Cecil's brother Herbert had left for the diamond fields, leaving Cecil, at the age of 17 to run the cotton farm. The farm was a disaster and although Cecil managed to improve production, it was not long before he decided to join his brother in Kimberley.


Diamonds and Gold

Herbert had three claims in the New Rush claim and Cecil got into the hard and dangerous work of diamond mining. As well as working his claims Cecil began to buy claims when they became available and began to form partnerships with people that were to last a lifetime. In 1872, at the age of 19 Rhodes suffered his first heart attack and had to leave Kimberley and travel north with his brother. It was on this journey that he first came across the lands of present Zimbabwe.


In 1875 Rhodes secured a pumping contract although he was to lose it soon after when he failed to fulfil the terms of the contract. When someone else was given the contract, the equipment of the replacement was mysteriously sabotaged-many say the work of Rhodes. Rhodes eventually got his contract back and when it was thought that the diamond field in Kimberley was exhausted Rhodes bought up numerous claims as he realised that the area has still far more diamonds. In 1880 he formed the De Beers Mining Company and the following year he stood for and won a seat in the Cape Colony parliament to be followed by the purchase of his first newspaper, The Cape Argus.


View on Empire developing

Throughout this time Rhodes had been periodically returning to England to complete the degree from Oxford which he felt was important for his future success. At Oxford Rhodes had the opportunity to mix with the country's future leaders, young men form titled and landed families. He also came under the influence of John Ruskin who in his inaugural lecture in 1870 had spoken about how Britain needed to found colonies as far and as fast as she was able and then teaching the colonies that their first duty was fidelity to Britain and their first aim was to advance the power of Britain by land and sea. In the 1870s attitudes to Africa and the Empire were changing. For 40 years or more the British had been recoiling from the crimes which had been associated with slavery and had been made public during the debates over the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Following the abolition of slavery in 1833, a new contract with the African people was called for by Thomas Buxton who had succeeded Wilberforce. He wanted to establish industry, agriculture and commerce and claim the African continent for Christ. He wanted the bible and the plough to regenerate Africa. Britain should be a temporary protector and not the exploiter of native peoples who should be taught how to improve their land and introduce modern technology. This attitude had an influence on the governors of the Cape Colony.


Racist Attitudes

By the 1870s though these attitudes were changing and in the Cape there was an increasing tendency to regard Africans as an inferior species incapable of attaining the same standards as whites. These new attitudes happened as diamonds  and later gold was being discovered and mined. These new racist attitudes were justified by the new economic situation and given ideological justification by the work of Herbert Spencer who in 1864 coined the term 'survival of the fittest' in his book, Principles of Biology. Rhodes would have been subjected to both views at Oxford. He was to enunciate his own views in his 'Confession of Faith' in 1876: Why should we not form a secret society with but one object, the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule , for the recovery of the US, for making the Anglo Saxon race but one empire? In a later addition to this will, he stated; Whites have clearly come out on top in the struggle for existence and achieved the highest standard of human existence.   Therefore I shall devote the rest of my life to God's purpose and help him make the world  English. Such views were useful to have to justify the actions that Rhodes worked to achieve whilst an MP in the Cape Parliament. In 1882, for example the Cape Parliament passed an act legitimising the compound system for Africans and in 1887 Rhodes made a blatantly racist speech in supporting the Voter Registration Act which had the effect of reducing the black franchise. In Parliament Rhodes said: Does this House think it is right that men in a state of pure barbarism should have the franchise and the vote? Treat the natives as a subject people...Be the lords over them...The native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise...We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.


Much of this was to gain the support of the Afrikaner Bond in his plans to extend his influence and economic empire to the north. With the discovery of gold in the Transvaal, it was more difficult to influence the economic conditions for the Randlords who owned the mines. The Transvaal government, particularly under Kruger, felt the gold industry was undermining the traditional way of life of the Afrikaner people. Rhodes hoped and believed he might find gold in Matabeleland and Mashonaland and sought to create a trading company which could exploit those areas. In return for his support over the Voter Registration Act Hofmeyr supported Rhodes' demands for a railway  north from Kimberley and Rhodes' scheme to take over the land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo.


Matabeleland and Mashonaland

Matabeleland had long been the target of prospectors but it was Rhodes who managed to gain a mining concession form Lobengula, the king of the Matabele, and then he petitioned the London Parliament for a royal charter. To achieve this he travelled to London and through his charm and bribery (he believed every man had his price) persuaded the House of Commons South Africa Committee of his merits. he was granted a charter to set up his South Africa Company which was given powers of government and also had the right to raise armed forces. With his concession to mine in Matabeleland and his armed forces it wasn't long before an excuse was manufactured to justify the conquest not just of Matabeleland but also of Mashonaland. In 1893, Jameson, at the head of a company army armed with maxim guns and field guns destroyed the  Matabele forces. Total Matabele losses were 3.000 to one white who was killed. The following year HM government confirmed the  jurisdiction of the Chartered Company over what became the new state of Southern Rhodesia.


In the short period of five and a half years between July 1890 and January 1896 Rhodes had established the International Diamond Syndicate that fixed prices and controlled the world's supply. He had consolidated his interests in the Wtwatersrand and built a second fortune in gold. He had occupied Mashonaland, waged war against the Portuguese and secured two of the three territories they had originally claimed as theirs. He had destroyed Matabele military power, added Barotsland (Zambia) to his company's possessions, gained exclusive mineral rights throughout Bechuanaland and effectively secured Nyasaland for Britain. He had linked his and Britain's African possessions by telegraph, pushed the railway line north from Cape Town to the Matabele frontier.


Prime Minister

Between 17 July 1890 and 12 January 1896 Cecil Rhodes was also running a country for he was Prime Minister of Cape Colony. Rhodes had long been committed to the idea of an African union of southern African states but the whole saga of deals and interconnected interests was designed to help further his business interests. Those business interests though were to be threatened by the government of Paul Kruger in the Transvaal.


As Prime Minister, Rhodes drew up a blueprint for a new South Africa-a plan devised by and for capitalists which planned to solve the nation's labour difficulties by confining rural Africans to tribal reserves and imposing a tax on every hut. To survive Africans would have to enter the cash economy and sell their labour to whites. Together with these changes Rhodes imposed apartheid in the towns-non-whites now experienced segregation in schools, prisons, hospitals, theatres and on public transport. They were disqualified from jury service and removed in their thousands form the electoral rolls.


The deep level Randlords under the leadership of Rhodes became convinced that Kruger's regime had to be overthrown. Rhodes had made his name and fortune in Kimberly, controlling 90% of the world's diamond industry before moving into gold. In 1890 he became Prime Minister of Cape Colony and used his position to advance the interests of industry. Rhodes came to use his wealth made from diamonds and gold to advance his imperial ideas. He believed that: "we are the finest race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race. Jut fancy: those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens if human beings, what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence". Rhodes ideas were well received in Britain which in the 1890s was embracing 'New Imperialism'.


The Scramble for Africa

European powers were engaged in a scramble to acquire new colonies, many of which were in Africa. One of Britain's main rivals in this competition to enlarge the Empire was Germany that already possessed South West Africa. Given the historical association between Germany and the Boers there was concern in Britain that Germany might seek to establish friendly relations with the Transvaal, especially as by 1895 there were over 5,000 Germans living in the Transvaal and formed a well established and prosperity pro Kruger community. A strong Transvaal with the support of Germany might come to dominate south Africa and become a threat to Britain's strategic position at the Cape.

With the failure of Rhodes' scheme to find sufficient quantities of gold in Matabeleland and Mashonaland, Rhodes knew that his scheme for a Cairo to Cape Town railway as the precursor to a British dominated eastern and southern Africa depended on the destruction of the Boer republics. The Transvaal under Kruger was becoming more and more economically and politically independent. A railway to Delagoa Bay was opened up in 1894 obviating the need to use Cape Town for imports and exports. To make it more difficult for the Cape Colony, Kruger imposed steep haulage tariffs on the railway between Transvaal and cape Colony and then blocked the use of the drifts across Transvaal territory.


The Jameson raid

 To try to bring  about the destruction of the Transvaal, Rhodes planned an overthrow of Kruger's regime. Rhodes got enough assurances from Uitlanders to convince himself that it was possible to overthrow Kruger by an uprising of Uitlanders and then invite Britain in to provide protection. Rhodes believed he had sufficient support within south Africa-he was after all the Prime Minister of the Cape and in alliance with the moderate Cape Afrikaner party. he believed that the English community in Natal would support him and that he had the support of the British government. He had not been discouraged by Lord Rosebery whilst he had been Prime Minister and with Salisbury and Chamberlain he thought he had the full backing of the British government.

Led by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, a  raid into the Transvaal of 500 men of the British South Africa Police, began on 31 December 1895. It was a fiasco from the beginning. The men were not equipped at all for the type of enterprise that they were engaged in and the hoped for uprising in Johannesburg did not materialise. Rhodes realised the raid was doomed but his telegram urging Jameson to postpone the mission was ignored. Jameson and his men were rounded up and sent back to Britain for trial.


The Road to War

The spectre of a German dominated Transvaal occupied the minds of the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain the Colonial Secretary in 1895, and following the Jameson Raid, the possibility of a German involvement in the Transvaal came a little closer. The failure of the uprising had huge implications for all those involved. Rhodes was forced to resign as Prime Minister of the Cape and had to give up his position in the Chartered Company which controlled Rhodesia. Jameson was eventually tried in England and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.  In England there was outrage at what people believed was Britain's involvement and a Committee of Inquiry was set up but the British establishment closed ranks and the involvement of Chamberlain was suspected but never proved. The raid had international repercussions at a time when Britain was diplomatically isolated. She was heavily criticised by her Imperial rivals France and Russia, and the Kaiser sent a telegram to Kruger congratulating him on the success with which they had dealt with the threat to their independence.


Kimberley’s diamond mine today

John Ruskin

Herbert Spencer who coined the term, ‘the survival of the fittest’

President Kruger of the Transvaal, who Rhodes  sought to remove as he was getting in the  way of economic development of the gold mines.

Lobengula, king of the Ndebele people  of Matabeleland

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand transformed the Transvaal

Groote Schuur, Cecil Rhodes’ home in Cape Town

During the scramble for Africa Rhodes acquired Northern and Southern Rhodesia for Britain

Dr Leander Starr Jameson who  led the raid into the Transvaal

Jameson’s last stand