Colour postcard depicting Rhodes as a mouse in a cage labelled Kimberley, being watched by the Afrikaaner General Cronje in the guise of a cat; published in Berlin by Eysler & Co., and posted in Vienna, 6th February 1900.
Cecil Rhodes Postcard
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) was born at Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshireand educated at Bishops Stortford Grammar School, 1861-1869, when hishealth broke down. He was sent to Natal in southern Africa in 1870 to help hisbrother Herbert grow cotton, though Herbert was increasingly occupied withdiamond prospecting. In his brother's absence, Cecil was left to run theplantation, showing an ability to manage the native Zulu labourers.
The discovery of diamonds in Orange Free State eventually led the brothers toabandon their cotton plantation and to begin prospecting in Colesberg Kopje,Kimberley. Herbert began to take an interest in pioneering and, in November1871, he handed over the working of the claim (he died accidentally in 1879while pioneering in the area west of Lake Nyasa). Rhodes again showedentrepreneurial skills as well as a marked sense of purpose and an ability toreact to new situations quickly. His claim therefore prospered despite theconditions of disease, taxation, flooding and lawlessness prevalent atKimberley, and in the high veld his health actually improved. He also madeefforts to understand the wider machinations of the stock market, etc. as hisprofits increased. In 1874 he formed a partnership with Charles Dunell Ruddand consolidated his holdings in the De Beers Mine, one of the area's largestconcerns. After the depressions of 1873 and 1882 he was able to amalgamateseveral smaller claims, and in 1880 established his concern as the De BeersMining Company. At the same time, the rival Barnato Mining Company wasformed to work the equally large Kimberley mine.
An avid classicist, in October 1873 he returned to England, matriculating atOriel College, Oxford, though a chill which spread to his heart and lungs led tothe postponement of his studies. From 1874 onwards he travelled back andforth between Kimberley and Oxford, gaining a B.A. and M.A. in 1881.During this time he also became a lifelong member of the Masonic Order,gained social contacts, and became aware of the beginnings of the ideologywhich would lead to an international scramble for colonies towards the end ofthe century.
Rhodes's greatest ambitions were political. After his first serious heart attack in1877 he made a will in which he disposed a fortune not yet amassed to theestablishment of a secret society dedicated to the extension of British ruleworldwide, and the perfecting of a system of emigration from the UnitedKingdom and the subsequent colonisation of the entire continent of Africa, theHoly Land, the Euphrates valley, Cyprus and Candia, the whole of SouthAmerica, the islands of the Pacific, the Malay Archipelago, the sea-board ofChina and Japan, as well as the ultimate recovery of the United States ofAmerica and a system of colonial representation in the British Parliament.
In 1880 he was elected as one of two members for Barkly West (nearKimberley) and took his seat in the Cape legislature a year later, retaining it forlife. As MP he cultivated the influence of key persons, including Sir HerculesRobinson, later High Commissioner for South Africa. He also gained thefriendship of General Gordon, who invited him to Khartoum in 1884.
At this time the colonists of the recently recognized Transvaal Republic, underPresident Paul Kruger, were nurturing their own ambitions for Dutchsupremacy in the Cape. In 1880 a British attempt to annexe the Transvaal ledto their expulsion the following year after the battle of Majuba Hill. At this timea number of Boer leaders emerged, such as Jan Hofmeyr, a member of theCape Parliament, while 1879 saw the formation of the Afrikaner Bond, the firstmajor Boer political party. It was Rhodes's immediate ambition to see theestablishment of a locally-governed federation of South Africa under Britishrule but with Cape Dutch assent, and also the northern expansion of thecolony, which was then bounded to the north by the Orange River and,beyond it, Bechuanaland. To this end he worked with the Dutch and withindividual Boer leaders, and with their support was elected Treasurer of theCape Colony, March-May 1884. At the same time he engineered theannexation of the territory of the Tswana people (Bechuanaland). When theDutch invaded the same territories, founding the republics of Stellaland andGoshen, the British government was slow to react, and it was only the Germanannexation of South-West Africa in 1884 that led British troops to oust theDutch, offering a protectorate to the Tswana.
By the mid-1880s, Rhodes's commercial ambitions lay in gaining control of theentire diamond mining operations at Kimberley. Utilising the advice of theGerman-born financier Alfred Beit, he continued to amalgamate smallercompanies. Meanwhile, after acquiring the patronage of the Rothschild familyand, through them, the support of Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary inLord Salisbury's government, he embarked on a lengthy but successful legalstruggle against the Barnato Mining Company. The result was the formation on13th March 1888 of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Co., with Rhodes,Barnato and Beit on the board. By 1889 Rhodes controlled the South Africandiamond mining industry, and 90% of world production. In 1886 gold wasdiscovered at Witwatersrand near Johannesburg, Transvaal. Rhodes and Ruddeventually bought deeds to eight or nine good claims and in 1887 set upanother company, Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa.
At the same time, there were rumours of gold north of the Transvaal, in theterritories of the Ndebele and Shona peoples (Zimbabwe). The king of theNdebele, Lobengula was ambivalent towards Europeans. Nevertheless,German emissaries were soon reported in Bulawayo, Lobengula's kraal and, in1887, Kruger sought his own agreement with the Ndebele ruler. Rhodes wasapprised of the developments and persuaded the High Commissioner to takeaction. John Moffat was sent as an emissary to Bulawayo, and on 11thFebruary 1888 Lobengula entered into a treaty which bound him to alienate nopart of his territory without the High Commissioner's prior sanction. Afterfurther talks, Lobengula granted Rhodes mining rights. Rhodes used this latteragreement as the legal basis to found a chartered company, the British SouthAfrica Company, on 29th October 1889. The company was roughly modelledon the old East India Company and its powers included the rights to annexeand administer land, raise its own police force and to establish settlementswithin its own boundaries. The territory immediately under its control wasnamed Rhodesia.
Through skilful use of his resources, influence and the press, Rhodes gainedwidespread public support for the British South Africa Company and for hisown colonial vision. In May 1890 he was elected Prime Minister of the CapeColony, cultivating a division between Kruger and the Cape Afrikanersconcerning a planned railway from Transvaal to Mozambique. Shortlyafterwards, he dispatched as his representative Dr. Jameson to Bulawayo, withorders to build a road through Ndebele land. Armed pioneers were sent insupport, forts were built in Shona territory, and the Union Jack finally raised inFort Salisbury (Harare) on 12th September 1890. However, a disastrous tourof southern Africa by Randolph Churchill, rumours of Jameson's administrativeincompetence, and the Company's poor financial position led to a minor crisisfor Rhodes in the early 1890s.
In November 1891 Lobengula granted Eduard Lippert, a Germanbusinessman farming rights in Ndebele territory. The British governmentarrested Lippert and his new land was receded to the Company. In 1893 to1894 war broke out between Britain and the Ndebele. After securing victory,Rhodes extended his influence northwards, creating North-West andNorth-East Rhodesia and a protectorate in Nyasaland. The war receivedwidespread support at home.
Rhodes's other activities during this period included the construction of arailway line from Kimberley northwards to Vryburg in Bechuanaland, the firststretch of his proposed Cape-Cairo railway and accompanying telegraph line.In the Cape he made efforts to develop Afrikaner farms and introduced asystem of dues favourable to Dutch farmers. Other domestic acts included theraising of the property franchise to 75 (with the ability to read and writeEnglish) and the Glen Grey Act, which divided the Glen Grey area into lots of8 acres of land to be given to African families while introducing a tax on thosewho remained landless as a stimulus to work. In June 1895 the legislatureformally pronounced the absorption of British Bechuanaland into CapeColony, while on 2nd February of the same year Rhodes was admitted to thePrivy Council.
Still afflicted by heart trouble and unsuccessful in gaining Kruger's co-operationin a system of federal government for the colony, Rhodes secretly sanctionedsupport for an Uitlander (non-Dutch) uprising in Johannesburg in 1895. Thecomplaints of the Uitlanders, who worked mainly as temporary goldprospectors, included heavy taxation and lack of voting rights. On the 27thDecember 1895 Dr. Jameson crossed the Transvaal borders with an armedforce but was defeated near Krugersdorp. Rhodes acknowledged hiscompilicity in the initial movement and resigned as Prime Minister on 6thJanuary 1896. A select committee of the Cape Parliament absolved him of anywrong motives though his action itself was condemned, while a selectcommittee of the British House of Commons on 15th July 1897 found himguilty of grave breaches of duty as Prime Minister of the Cape and actingmanager of the British South Africa Company.
Thereafter he devoted himself to the improvement of fruit and wine industries inCape Colony and to the development of Rhodesia. A new settlement waserected at Bulawayo. However, the lack of any sizeable deposits of gold ledthe influx of colonists to turn to farming. The resulting seizure of African landand cattle, together with the privations of the hut tax, led to an Ndebele revolt.This was harshly suppressed, though Rhodes persuaded the last rebels in theMatopa Hills to end the conflict peaceably, with the promise of land andsalaries to various members of the Ndebele aristocracy.
In 1899 the honorary degree of D.C.L. was conferred on Rhodes by OxfordUniversity. In the same period he fostered friendships with Kipling andKitchener, while discussions with Kaiser Willhelm II over colonial spheres ofinfluence and the planned telegraph line resulted in mutual admiration.Nevertheless, events in Rhodesia and the Transvaal served to diminish hisstanding and influence. He was a supporter of vigorous action against theTransvaal in the late 1890s at a time of the rising nationalism on both sideswhich culminated in the South African War of 1899-1902. However, hisactions in Kimberley during its siege by the Boers proved unpopular, and by1902, public opinion at home had turned against the war and against hisperceived part in its instigation. At the same time his health deteriorated, and hewas the subject of an attempt at fraud by the Russian adventuress, PrincessRadziwill. A period of travel through Great Britain and Europe without a cureended with his death on 26th March 1902 at Muizenberg on the Cape. His willbequeathed the majority of his fortune to public service, including thefoundation of 160 scholarships at Oxford, ostensibly for the education of futurecolonists, and the provision of land near Bulawayo and Salisbury for theestablishment of a university.
Conditions Governing Access
Bodleian reader's ticket required.
Collection level description created by Paul Davidson, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.
Other Finding Aids
The library holds a card index of all manuscript collections in its reading room.
Conditions Governing Use
No reproduction or publication of papers without permission. Contact thelibrary in the first instance.