Business mogul Barnett Isaacs Barnato took his own life on June 14, 1897, when he jumped overboard while traveling to England on the Scot. The ship docked at Madeira after the rescue crew found Barnato floating face down in the ocean. He was embalmed on the island by a process which both preserved his remains and destroyed any potentially controversial evidence associated with them.
An inquest was held immediately the Scot reached England. The ship’s doctor who received the body from the sea did not attend the inquest. According to the London Times the coroner felt it necessary to apologize not once but several times for his absence from the proceedings.
Barnato’s nephew Solomon Joel had been with him at the time of the suicide. Joel testified that Barnato was under constant surveillance by family and friends.
Barnato began to drink heavily after his return to Cape Town from Johannesburg in March 1897. He was also crippled by paranoia, convinced that enemies were out to get him. His anxiety was often so great that he would lose lucidity in the days before he boarded the Scot for England. Despite this, Joel maintained, his uncle showed no suicidal tendencies until the moment Barnato jumped over the ship’s railing. Joel’s own reaction to the suicide had been to cry murder as Barnato went overboard.
The American mining engineer John Hays Hammond, conversely, remembered Joel telling him that Barnato was suicidal. Hammond had been in England at the time of Barnato’s death, and he assisted with funeral arrangements.
Hammond attributed Barnato’s suicide to the decline in the Barnato Bank stock in London. The financial losses suffered by the bank were part of a general drop in stock values during 1896 and 1897. Hammond argued that the impending meeting with shareholders drove Barnato to jump overboard. He suggested that had Barnato held on for the length of the journey to England he would have arrived just as the markets began to rally.
On June 16, 1897, two days after Barnato’s suicide, the New York Times reported that Cecil John Rhodes had been asleep in a Kimberley hotel when a fire started inside his room. He was saved only by the intervention of a police officer who woke him from a deep sleep and immediately set about containing the flames. Rhodes, the dispatch continued, was calm, so calm that he assisted in putting out the fire.
Just prior to this incident, a Miss Michell asked Rhodes for his autograph. He responded by scribbling the following message onto letter paper:
Dear Miss Michell, I never understand why anyone should care about my signature especially as I myself am slowly coming to the conclusion that I am an exceedingly dangerous character: in fact it appears to me that a certain portion of the community consider it would be a worthy object to knife me. However you have made the request and so I sign myself with pleasure. Yours, C.J. Rhodes.
Rhodes and Barnato, it seemed, were suffering from contiguous and irrational paranoia, or, perhaps not. In October 1897, news reached the world that Cecil Rhodes had been attacked, allegedly, by local inhabitants outside Salisbury, Rhodesia. The injuries he sustained were not life threatening, but the shock of the assault triggered a heart attack from which Rhodes never fully recovered.
Cecil Rhodes, like Barney Barnato, began to change the course of African history almost two decades before 1897. Their paths first crossed after the discovery of diamonds to the north of the Cape Colony in an area which would become known as Kimberley.
Rhodes was an Episcopalian minister’s son sent to southern Africa under a shroud of speculation. The official story was that Africa had been a prescribed cure for his poor health. The gossip among Natal farmers ran to insobriety and unruly conduct. Rhodes, they whispered, was a remittance man. Remittance men came from good families which paid them to stay in Africa where their ungentlemanly behavior would cause no embarrassment in England.
Barnato was a Jewish commoner born Barnett Isaacs on July 5, 1852, on St. Botolph’s Street, Aldgate, London. His father died while he was still a boy. His mother Elisa fed her family by selling secondhand clothes. Barnett Isaacs paid his way by changing his name to Barney Barnato and joining his brother Harry’s comedic juggling act.
Harry was the first to leave England for the southern African diamond fields in the early 1870s. Barnato followed. Rhodes migrated to the diamond fields from his brother’s farm in Natal.
Neither Rhodes nor Barnato was a miner. Neither man liked to get his hands dirty. Their early success lay in their individual abilities to turn other men into laborers. Barnato lived by the axiom strike first. Rhodes saw no need to strike anyone because he believed that mortal men were tools to be used and discarded. Rhodes was reserved and imperial in his demeanor. He was self-assured and confident of his place in history. Barnato was amusing and easy to like, but he was insecure and fearful of failure and defeat. He re-invented himself as he climbed the social and economic ladder. Rhodes, conversely, never felt obligated to invent anything about himself. He allowed his disciples to manufacture his image for him.
On April 28, 1880, Rhodes and a group of associates founded the De Beers Company in Kimberley. Barnato capped this the following year by forming the Barnato Diamond Mining Company. The battle to control the diamond fields was leviathan and threatened to engulf both Rhodes and Barnato if some agreement could not be reached.
Barnato finally agreed to amalgamate his diamond interests into the commonly owned De Beers Consolidated Mines on March 12, 1888. The amalgamation secured British control of the southern African diamond fields which were the richest of their kind in the world.
Barnato had been seduced by the Transvaal Republic gold fever long before the diamond field amalgamation. A Boer farmer by the name of Pieter Marais had discovered alluvial gold on his farm in 1853. The Transvaal government had smothered the news, but despite the threats and the suppression orders levied against talkative Boers, the rumors persisted and caught the attention of the Empire.
Rumor was not enough reason to engage in a costly war so the British settled in to await an opportunity. The opportunity came during the presidency of Thomas François Burgers who inherited a shattered Boer economy on the brink of bankruptcy. He saw a chance to resurrect the Transvaal treasury in the late 1870s by annexing the newly discovered diamond fields which lay on the southwestern Transvaal Republic border. Boer government officials set about pondering annexation, and while they debated the Empire snatched away the lucrative source of income. Burgers, angered and embittered by Boer recalcitrance throughout his presidency, and with no other options open to him, began negotiations with the British. At the end of his presidential tenure the Transvaal Republic became an Imperial annex under the guardianship of Sir Theophilus Shepstone. The Boers resented the loss of their independence.
In December 1880, the Transvaal Republic declared war on the British Empire. A few months later the Boers won a resounding victory at Majuba. Majuba would become the clarion call for both sides during the second Anglo Boer War when the British demanded vengeance for their defeat and the Boers vowed to uphold their victory.
The British agreed to withdraw from the Transvaal Republic. They had no reason to stay. There was little to sustain Imperial interest in the isolated and wild interior of the sub-continent. The rumors of gold seemed to be just that, rumor.
In 1886, rogue prospectors delivered definitive proof of gold in the Transvaal Republic. The news seeped into the foreign papers and gold seekers from around the world invaded the quiet farmland. Mining camps sprang up thirty miles to the south of the Boer capital Pretoria. These camps merged and mingled, and eventually gave way to a town named Johannesburg.
Urban life came too quickly to the region. There were no rail links between the Transvaal Republic and the coast or the Cape Colony. The delivery of goods was confined to the speed of the ox wagon and the mail coach. Ground water was scarce. Local food sources were seasonal and depended upon regular rain and the proclivity for greed among the farmers who brought the produce to market each week.
Problems with food, water and the transport of equipment were compounded by the Boer government which wanted the foreigners out of the Transvaal Republic. The government refused to provide services, or provided only the barest minimum where profits could be made with little or no investment. Despite this, infrastructure emerged almost organically out of the wasteland. Trees were planted, streets were built, and suburbs were outlined in the dust. Shops, taverns and entertainment venues mushroomed in the fertile new town. Their funding came from foreign investors, entrepreneurs and miners. These foreigners were scornfully called uitlanders by the Boers. Loosely translated, this meant people from outside the land which, in turn, implied no rights of ownership or franchise.
The Boer government was unimpressed by the new town. Some Boer officials like the father of Deneys Reitz did not deem it worthy to visit. The government in Pretoria continued to thwart appeals for a railway extension to the Cape Colony’s border so that goods and services could be transported to Johannesburg. Officials also refused to award contracts fairly, giving concessions to friends, family and those who wheedled their way into bureaucratic favor. They continued to strangle the golden goose which brought long needed revenue into the government’s coffers.
The gold inspired economy in Johannesburg began to unravel in 1889. Ironically, the collapse was not due to the Boer government. The crisis lay in the simple fact that gold in the Transvaal Republic was not alluvial but ran in deep, inaccessible veins of earth which, even if reached, proved difficult to extract from its rock bed. In 1889, there was no apparent technology available to process the Transvaal Republic gold profitably. The inability to extract gold was off-set by the quantities of speculative capital already invested in the region.
Individual miners began to desert their claims. Investors panicked and sold their shares, mines and properties. Only one man remained buoyant about the future of the Transvaal gold fields, and that man was Barney Barnato. He insisted that the gold could be mined.
Barnato had gambled the most in the Transvaal Republic which meant that he had more to lose than his competitors. Instead of withdrawing his investments and absorbing the loss, Barnato pummeled additional money into Johannesburg. His spending spree included the purchase of the incomplete water supply system for the town and mines. Friends and enemies watched Barnato in disbelief as he fought to keep alive the dying town and its gold industry. Many felt that he had gone insane.
Cyanide extraction of gold emerged as the much talked about new invention in the mining industry during the early 1890s. John MacArthur and the brothers Robert and William Forrest, three Scots from Glasgow, had developed a method for efficient gold extraction by using cyanide. MacArthur sold the invention to investors on the Rand. This invention was the salvation of the Johannesburg gold fields, and it was Barnato’s vindication.
The MacArthur-Forrest Process required large amounts of capital and only the rich could invest for profit. The investors who spearheaded the revival of the gold industry in Johannesburg were dubbed the Randlords. The name was derived from the gold mines which lay along a ridge known as the Witwatersrand or white water ridge, shortened to the Rand. Among these Randlords were men like Abe Bailey, Lionel Phillips and Percy Fitzpatrick better remembered for his book Jock of the Bushveld. Barnato became their overlord and the King of the Kaffir Circus, a play on his early life as a performer, and a deliberate racial dig by the British and American press at the Jewish bloc behind the burgeoning gold industry in southern Africa.
The thorn in everyone’s side remained the Transvaal Republic government whose hatred of all things foreign was disproportionate to the income it made out of foreign investment in the country. If it were at all possible, the Boer bureaucrats found ways to thwart any attempt to improve infrastructure and reduce operational costs in and around Johannesburg. The foreign business community in Johannesburg continued without political representation despite the money they brought to the region, and every deal made with Boer officials carried a bribe.
Florence Phillips, the anglicized Cape Colonial wife of Lionel Phillips, was vitriolic about the Transvaal Boers whom she claimed were lazy, dirty, and barbaric. Her frustration, revulsion, and very public condemnation of the Transvaal government echoed the sentiments of Randlords and their labor alike. By 1894, it was painfully clear that matters in the Transvaal Republic could not continue as they were.
Serialization extracted from Golden Nemesis: Manifest Destiny between 1880 and 1900. Copyright Heather Vallance 2009-present. The author does not give permission for this information to be duplicated.
The seemingly straightforward chronological history of Rhodes and Barnato between the discovery of diamonds in the late 1860s, and the Transvaal Republic coup at the end of 1895, was threaded with the complexity of the ancestral baggage of their worker bees and allies. The most prominent of these were the Boers, the Americans and the Irish. The confusion of strands which bound these tenuous allies became more tangled after Rhodes’ fall from imperial grace in 1896, and Barnato’s death in 1897.
To learn more about the impact of Barnato and Rhodes’s failed coup, and the how and who of the event as it unfolded, visit http://booklocker.com/books/4133.html.
John F. Finerty recruited John Y.F. Blake for a mission to Africa to coincide with Rhodes’ bid to acquire the land north of the Zambesi River in late 1894. No extant documentation has yet been found to outline the role Blake was assigned in the impending coup. That he had a role to play is, even without tangible evidence, more than idle speculation. Blake was in the employ of Cecil Rhodes when men were being recruited from America for a plot designed by Rhodes. Like Hammond’s American recruits whom he installed on leased land outside Pretoria, Blake went to ground in Johannesburg during a significant period of planning for the coup. Blake was a trained and respected United States Army officer, and a proficient scout accustomed to evading detection in enemy territory. He was also adept at languages, a vocal social champion and, evidence suggests, not unsympathetic to the progressive Boer struggle to free itself from a corrupt government. More significantly, Blake was John F. Finerty’s friend, and loyalty was a currency both men valued.
There is some evidence when reconstructing timelines from Blake’s various statements about Rhodesia that suggests he did not fully account for his time between the end of December 1895 and late March 1896. This lost time would be unimportant if he had been a simple prospector, an adventurer moved by a whim to stop and hunt or watch the scenery. But Blake was not a simple man. He went on to contribute to the downfall of one of the greatest visionaries in Western history, and he became a somewhat incongruous cult hero for the Irish working class who were manipulated by the agendas of powerful Irish American interests. For someone such as this, a missing month or six weeks is significant.
Gustav Preller fought alongside Blake during the second Anglo Boer War. Preller was also a friend of the Marais family. He went on to become senior archivist in the South African National Archives in Pretoria.
Preller maintained that Blake made his headquarters in Johannesburg during the months he prospected in Rhodesia. What this meant in practical terms was that Blake traveled back and forth between his prospecting zone beyond the Zambesi River and Johannesburg. It also meant that Blake did so incognito, as he did not make his appearances in Johannesburg public. The implication of Preller’s statement underpins the fact that Blake knew more about the planned coup than extant documentation suggests.
There is no tangible indication that Blake was one of Jameson’s men. He himself despised the trickery of the Jameson affair. He hated the lies that were spun to make ordinary men commit a felony against an independent country. Blake would not have ridden out with a man who flagrantly misused the goodwill of his men. Blake’s testimony about events at the time of the Jameson Raid does imply that he met and spoke with, or personally knew, men associated with the raid, and that he was familiar with at least some of the planning criteria of the failed coup.
Blake’s military strength lay in his ability to work with indigenous peoples, in scouting and in that which comes naturally from scouting - short, sharp attacks. This strength came in useful during the second phase of the second Anglo Boer War, but it could have been utilized during the planned coup as well. The scope of the coup required men who were as good as the Boers at guerrilla warfare to neutralize any resistance once the new government was in place in Pretoria. Blake’s training allowed him to assess terrain in a way many other military men in the Transvaal Republic, and in Rhodesia, could not do because they had not served as scout leaders. This too, may explain why the American Consul put forward tentative feelers to discover how Indians entering the Transvaal Republic would be treated by Boer officials. The only other counter-point to effective Boer guerrilla warfare was Indian warfare. Combined with the efficiency of trained military scouts, it is unlikely that any Boer resistance would have lasted long had the Transvaal coup been successful. …
Blake assumed an Irish American identity for his mission to Africa, ostensibly representing a consortium of Irish American businessmen interested in investing in Rhodesia. Given his long history of professional and personal associations with Clan na Gael members, with those peers who knew about his mission to Africa, there would have been no illusion about who, or what, he was. This certainty of identity was not shared by the rank and file within the Clan na Gael who believed that he was the son of Irish parents, born in Northern Ireland.
He left the United States as a civilian, a gentleman traveler. He arrived in Cape Town as Colonel Blake, suggesting that part of his unstated mission included some link or service to the New Movement’s agenda.
The title Blake assumed was not a pretension as some detractors suggest. It was a legitimate rank held within the quasi-military camps associated with Masonic lodges such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a lodge of preference for Blake men. These positions of rank were often held by former United States Army soldiers. …
When Blake arrived in Johannesburg he did not book into a hotel in the city as he had done in Cape Town. His appearance did not make the society pages. Nor did he contact the American networks in the Transvaal Republic. These networks were comprised of many fellow West Point graduates and military men working as mine engineers and mining consultants, businessmen and investors in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The peer networks should have been the most natural first stop for a new man in town.
Blake went to ground in the backstreets of Johannesburg, assuming the identity of a down-and-out. He remained undercover until shortly after Rhodes announced the British South Africa Company’s acquisition of land to the north of the Zambesi River in February 1895. Blake then emerged from hiding with three companions and a pack of donkeys. They headed for the river crossing to the northeast of Pretoria which separated the Transvaal Republic from Rhodesia. …
In the wake of the failed coup, groups of discerning Johannesburg businessmen and other foreign residents living in the Transvaal Republic began to make overtures to Paul Kruger. Placating the Boers continued into January 1897, the beginning of the year in which Kruger turned seventy-one. Evelyn Moore-Brassey, a member of the Irish Ninety-Eight Centenary committee in the Transvaal Republic, was among those who penned an Address to Kruger. Moore-Brassey claimed to represent the English speaking community in the Transvaal Republic.
The Ninety-Eight Centenary celebrations were designed as a show of Irish strength, or anticipated show of Irish strength, to commemorate the 1798 Irish rebellion. John F. Finerty had called for an Irish uprising in 1898, but this dwindled to a series of patriotic Addresses and socializing among expatriate Irish in London and elsewhere. The event was, as the Pall Mall Gazette had declared it would be, on December 15, 1895, nothing more than a threat of dynamite attacks, much easier and less taxing than landing thousands of Irish Americans on Irish soil.
The Ninety-Eight Centenary committee in the Transvaal Republic was comprised of members of the Irish National Foresters and other fraternities to which expatriate Irish and Americans were drawn. The committee executive included Solomon Gillingham, Evelyn Moore-Brassey and John MacBride. …
Moore-Brassey’s Address exemplified the slow stream of ingratiation from former Rhodes co-conspirators which flowed toward Kruger’s town house in 1897. Much of this ingratiation stemmed from the Transvaal Irish.
Blake came out of hiding in early 1897. He moved to Pretoria where he rented premises and started work as a mine engineer. He was once again a middle class ex-military man with contacts and social standing, much as he had been when he arrived in Cape Town a little over two years previously. The down-and-out was a memory of the ghetto only, as was the Irish American who served drinks in Dave Norris’ bar, although Blake still retained the Irish American identity. …
Not long after he re-entered Society, Blake presented a gilt eagle to President Paul Kruger, a peace offering, as the chairman of a group of Irish Americans. This fraternal society seemingly had direct links to Chicago, implying that Blake had received new or revised instructions from John F. Finerty. …
The gilt eagle signified Blake’s coming out party in Pretoria. He had rank, credibility and sound professional credentials, all acceptable to Boer society, especially to progressive Boers. Like his position in the failed Transvaal coup, it is difficult to determine what new role John F. Finerty had assigned to him. Perhaps, as with the American fighters whom John Hays Hammond consigned to the leased land outside Pretoria, Blake’s function was simply to wait for events to unfurl.
Serialization extracted from Golden Nemesis: Manifest Destiny between 1880 and 1900. Copyright Heather Vallance 2009-present. The author does not give permission for this information to be duplicated.
The Clan na Gael, like other major nationalist organizations, knew how to pick their operatives. They knew that men like … Blake would be driven by personal impetus despite all extraneous factors. It was very much a case of set the man a task and he will finish it on his own terms. Men like … Blake could never be traced back directly to the perpetrators of plans and schemes. [But] Blake was an honorable man and saw no reason why he should not make a public assault on those who had betrayed him and that in which he believed. The Clan na Gael executive was utterly unprepared for his attack.
To learn more about how and why Blake believed he had been betrayed by the Clan na Gael visit http://booklocker.com/books/4133.html.
Blake returned to the United States for three reasons. The first was that he had been deported and was awaiting a decision on his application to return to South Africa. The second was that he genuinely wanted to see his family and friends, particularly his two sons, Aldrich and Ledyard. The third reason would become apparent later. He wanted revenge on those who had betrayed him.
On January 16, 1903, at a meeting in Boston, Blake accused the Clan na Gael executive of betrayal and corruption. He alleged that an amount of $10,000 allocated for Irish Brigade use during the war had never been sent to him. John Devoy hit back with a personal attack on Blake, accusing him of misappropriating the $10,000. But Blake had worked his magic even though it would be short-lived. The best the Clan na Gael could do was to deny the charges and drag up accounting figures which failed to address the core issues in Blake’s accusations - the Clan na Gael executive’s self-serving mandate powered by subscriptions from men whose personal cause remained unrepresented.
Blake continued to publish accusations against the Clan na Gael, stating that he wanted nothing to do with Irish society politics. Clansmen, he wrote in his book A West Pointer with the Boers. Should look out, for there is something wrong about their leaders. Had the Irish destroyed that [New Orleans] camp, it would have told England in unmistakable terms, that so long as there are Irish in America, so long will it be impossible for her to recruit horses, mules and men on our soil. England would then learn that it would be for her best interest to allow the people of Ireland to govern themselves.
Making an enemy of the Clan na Gael led directly to Blake’s slow decline and eventual death in 1907 in the Irish Harlem boarding house, but nothing that transpired could erase the personal courage and pure bloody-mindedness which drove him to confront and expose the world’s most powerful revolutionary organization. Blake may have felt as Major Ridge did when signing the Treaty of Echota in 1835, that he signed his own death warrant, but if in doing so he exposed malpractice toward the voiceless and exploited then he would take that risk.
John F. Finerty and John Y.F. Blake died within a year of each other. Blake died reportedly of accidental exposure to gas which leaked into his room from a faulty heater. The narrative told by his landlady and repeated in newspapers around the world was almost a verbatim account of a near fatal incident in Blake’s hotel room in 1876, when he traveled to New York to take his entrance examination for West Point. …
John YF Blake also contributed to the discrediting of another major player, his former ‘boss’ Cecil John Rhodes. To learn the complete story from the primary source reconstruction titled Golden Nemesis : Manifest Destiny Between 1880 And 1900, visit http://booklocker.com/books/4133.html.
Serialization extracted from Golden Nemesis: Manifest Destiny between 1880 and 1900. Copyright Heather Vallance 2009-present. The author does not give permission for this information to be duplicated.
In 1889, Rhodes received a Crown charter for land north of the Limpopo River and south of the Zambesi River which was divided into two pre-existing provinces, Mashonaland and Matabeleland. Mashonaland welcomed the potential protection against their enemies in Matabeleland, but Lobengula the ruler of Matabeleland had to be drawn into the process of opening his lands to white settlement. In 1888, Rhodes sent an old Oxford acquaintance James Rochfort Maguire and two other representatives to negotiate mineral concessions in Matabeleland. Maguire also acted as liaison between Parnell and Rhodes. In 1890, he was rewarded with an uncontested parliamentary seat in North Donegal for his loyalty and support both of Parnell and of Rhodes.
The Crown charter provided for the formation of the British South Africa Company to oversee the Charter colony and the exploitation of its mineral wealth which Rhodes touted as equal to, if not greater than, the mineral wealth of the Transvaal Republic. Rhodes was assisted indirectly in lulling his audience into credulity by Henry Rider Haggard. Haggard had been an aide to Sir Theophilus Shepstone during the British annexation of the Transvaal Republic before the first Anglo Boer War in 1880.
Haggard was a bleak man beneath whose bureaucratic facade lay a passionate adventurer. The suppressed Haggard was a writer of high fiction which romanticized African mythology and lauded the athletic British dare-it-all who thought nothing about engaging in battle with cannibals and falling in love with semi-human beauties. He published King Solomon’s Mines in 1885, and She in 1886. The stories were sold around the world.
King Solomon’s Mines reinforced the myth that the area north of the Transvaal Republic was the gold rich land of Ophir. Archaeologists and tourists reveled in the ancient stone ruins in the Charter colony, in particular the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe in what would become the Victoria district of Rhodesia. The imaginative assumptions of Victorian visitors to the region were seemingly confirmed by the numerous shallow mines which lay scattered across the landscape.
Rhodes not only floated the British South Africa Company on the Victorian myth of ancient riches which had been reinforced by Haggard’s fiction, he made sure that it reeked of respectability. He decorated the company’s Board with names such as James Duke of Abercorn, Alexander William George Duke of Fife, Edric Frederick Lord Gifford, Henry George Grey, and George Cawston, then he launched one million shares at £1 each. Many wealthy and titled men in Britain invested in the British South Africa Company based on Rhodes’ reputation, upon the reputation of his Board members, and upon the myth which underpinned the Victoria region.
The hard work Rhodes put into building the foundation for his vision during the 1880s paid off in 1890, when he was elected Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. With patience, he had obtained the position he needed to begin making his vision reality.
In mid-1890 Rhodes mobilized a largely hand picked army of men and ordered them to secure the new Charter colony against its indigenous people. The force, called the Pioneer Column, was disbanded in October 1890. Once the all clear was given Rhodes began recruiting colonists in earnest.
In Scouting on two continents, Frederick Burnham remembered Rhodes as a godlike figure who had drawn him out of America into service in Africa. He called his decision to emigrate an irresistible summons. Burnham was a man for whom exaggeration was as natural as breathing, but in this particular instance he accurately portrays Rhodes’ power of self-certainty which acted like a drug to suppress the most rational parts of his disciples’ brains.
Hundreds of men flocked to a country where disease was endemic. If they survived the bilharzia, and the untold fevers; and if they escaped the jaws of crocodiles and the spears of disaffected indigenous warriors, then they did so with a steadfast belief in Rhodes and his promise that the land was gold rich. They did so, even when their eyes told them differently.
The Charter colony shared its southern border with the Transvaal Republic, and a section of its northwestern border with German South West Africa. The acquisition of Matabeleland and Mashonaland wedged Germany out of a convenient route into central Africa. To expand beyond the German South West African border, Germany required Portuguese permission to cross its Angolan territory. It was unlikely that the Portuguese would welcome the request.
The bulk of the Charter colony’s western border ran parallel to Bechuanaland which Rhodes secured through the annexation of Bechuanaland. The colony’s only flaw was that it was land locked by Delagoa Bay, or Portuguese East Africa, which lay between the Charter land and the seaport of Beira.
Rhodes attempted to draw President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic into a coup against Delagoa Bay in 1890. Kruger rejected the scheme and Rhodes was forced to make a cash offer for the Portuguese colony in 1892. Portugal refused to sell Delagoa Bay, frustrating Rhodes because he knew that Britain would not back any aggression against the Portuguese possession instigated by the Cape Colony. The loss of a seaport for the Charter colony was a severe blow to Rhodes’ well laid plans.
The failure to secure the port of Beira was joined by two additional events which challenged the practicality and implementation of Rhodes’ vision. The first event was a rebellion; the second, a string of damning rumors.
In 1893, a ground swell rebellion among the Ndebele in the Charter colony turned into the first Matabele War. Colonial troops were sent in to quell the mounting resistance to the British South Africa Company, its officials and white settlers. The Ndebele capital was destroyed during the uprising. The land on which this capital had stood was sacred to the Ndebele, so it was cleared and the town of Bulawayo was erected in its place. The desecration by the British South Africa Company was intentional.
The actions of the troops and the heavy-handed treatment of the subjugated peoples after the uprising brought down condemnation on the British South Africa Company and upon Rhodes because they were in contravention of the Crown charter. The British public began to take an interest in the Charter colony, but for all the wrong reasons. Newspapers carried increasing and not always complimentary coverage of the colony. Philanthropic societies and a handful of parliamentarians agitated for British government intervention on behalf of the people of Mashonaland and Matabeleland.
The publicity drew speculation about the quantifiable gold lode in the Charter colony. Shareholders had seen little return on their investment since the incorporation of the British South Africa Company, and despite the loyalty of Charter colony settlers, rumors persisted. Beneath the rumors ran the belief that the British South Africa Company was not a viable business.
Rhodes’ troubles were compounded by the gold boom in the Transvaal Republic, and by the defeat of the second Home Rule bill in London. He had to find a solution to the mounting problems or fail to convert his vision for Africa into reality. He turned to an American for help.
John Hays Hammond was an ideal ally for Rhodes because he came with extensive experience in the mining industry, and with a mouth watering list of personal contacts in the United States. Hammond had been hired by Barney Barnato in 1893 to find a way to kick-start his Rand mines. While Barnato respected and liked Hammond, he refused to act upon proposals put forward by the engineer. Hammond claimed that after six months of Barnato’s inaction he resigned. Only after his resignation, Hammond argued, did Rhodes approach him for assistance. Barnato, on the contrary, died convinced that Rhodes had stolen Hammond from him.
Hammond and Rhodes toured the Charter colony in 1894. Hammond’s prognosis was not encouraging. The Charter colony lacked the commercially viable gold lode owned by the Transvaal Republic. Investments were going to take a long time to mature. In addition, Hammond, a proponent of the MacArthur-Forrest Process, predicted that its application on the Rand would spawn excellent profits and good returns for investors in the Johannesburg mines.
Hammond’s report highlighted the precarious nature of Rhodes’ vision for Africa. So much was dependent upon so many uncontrollable factors. Choices available after Hammond’s report, what there were of these, were limited and equally difficult. Rhodes chose to re-engineer the Charter colony’s image and to stage a coup in the Transvaal Republic.
Rhodes’ revisionist plan went into operation as a two-prong action. Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, Rhodes’ friend and his new Administrator of the Charter colony, put forward a motion to name the region between the Limpopo and Zambesi rivers, Rhodesia. The Cape Colonial parliament endorsed the motion.
Rhodes and Jameson then set sail for England to launch a public relations campaign, and to secure the land north of the Zambesi for the British South Africa Company. Their campaign in England was underscored by strong financial reports from colluding Rhodesian investors. The annual profit in some of these reports was escalated to ten and twenty times the return in previous years.
There is evidence to suggest that Rhodes had planned a coup of the Transvaal Republic prior to 1894, and that the coup d’état was a part of his agenda when he petitioned the British government for the Charter colony in 1889. Even if this evidence were not there, or was faulty, Rhodes had no option after Hammond’s report but to consider a coup. He had investors to placate and he had a vision to save. The coup became the second action in Rhodes’ revisionist plan.
Rhodes and Hammond formulated the rudimentary plot for a coup d’état of the Transvaal Republic after their visit to the Charter colony in 1894. What they needed to make the coup a success was money, men, arms, stated motive, and, of course, British political support.
Rhodes had the money. The stated motive hung in the air above Johannesburg like a storm cloud. The Transvaal government’s misuse of authority in its dealings with uitlanders was enough to win over the foreign vote for a coup. Most foreigners, though, would not fight under a British flag, or fight to replace a Boer bureaucratic dictatorship with a British bureaucratic dictatorship. Hammond himself refused to fight for these reasons.
Rhodes agreed that the coup had to take place under the Transvaal flag. His vision of imperial federation benefited from the potential to bring seemingly independent southern African regions under a single federal government aligned only with Empire on mutually beneficial international policy-making. This required the Transvaal Republic to remain an autonomous yet compliant country.
Rhodes’ support of a coup under the Boer flag brought home the support of the Randlords and non-British investors and businessmen in Johannesburg and Pretoria. There seems to have been no question among the co-conspirators that Rhodes would broker the British political backing he required for the attack on the Transvaal Republic.
Putting bodies in the field for the actual coup was left to the discretion of the newly formed Reform Committee whose executive was made up of Rhodes’ co-conspirators among the Randlords. Richard Harding Davis, in retrospect in an article dated September 6, 1896, and published in the New York Times, described the Reform Committee as a group of men who had the same end in view, but worked toward that end with different motives.
The Reform Committee could draw on the miners and workers in Johannesburg to secure the essential services and subdue the Boer presence in the city, but the Boer capital was protected by a small permanent force under the command of the Boer politician Piet Joubert. Part of this force was comprised of the artillery. Hammond supplied the resource to counter the Boer artillery. He rented land not far from the Boer barracks and armory where he settled a brigade of trained American fighters disguised as prospectors.
The actual military body assigned to occupy Pretoria, fell to the command of Leander Starr Jameson. Jameson would draw his men from the Charter colony police and from volunteers.
Hammond worked with Gardner Williams, another American engineer in Rhodes’ employ, to import weapons into the Cape Colony from England. These were railed from the Cape Town docks to the diamond mines in Kimberley where Williams packed them into oil drums and sent them to Hammond for storage.
A soupcon of extant documents at the South African National Archives suggests that individual Randlords such as Abe Bailey imported weapons in small enough shipments to avoid Boer detection. Time was against the importation of armaments and the quantity available for the coup fell short of the number of firearms required. This and other nagging design faults in the coup plan became cumulative triggers in its final failure.
Cecil Rhodes showed little interest in the formative years of the gold industry in the Transvaal Republic, brushing aside colleagues who insisted that he invest in potentially gold rich land before it was bought by competitors. Even when he did bend to the idea Rhodes did not engage in the gold fever with his trademark ardor. He was too busy securing his political power in the Cape Colony and internationally to be distracted by something as significant as the discovery of gold in Africa.
By 1886, Cecil Rhodes had moved beyond the acquisition of wealth into the realm where wealth is manipulated for political advantage. His apparent and somewhat surprising disinterest in the Transvaal Republic gold rush was due to this, but it did not mean that after some thought Rhodes failed to see an advantage in engaging in the gold industry in Johannesburg. By investing in the Transvaal Republic, Rhodes had direct access to President Paul Kruger, and he believed that the old Boer could be advantageously encouraged to engage in the activity of furthering his vision. Rhodes soon learned that Kruger had neither the capacity for vision nor the energy required to see opportunity before it knocked.
The 1880s was the decade in which Rhodes consolidated the disparate aspects of his vision for Africa and for himself by securing the strategic alliances required to make that vision a reality. The first Anglo Boer War exposed the Empire’s vulnerability and this did not escape Rhodes. Instead, he saw it as the itch in need of constant scratching, the scab which, if plucked and peeled for long enough, would fester with calculated intent.
Among those to whom he pandered for support was the Afrikaner Bond, the Afrikaner political party in the Cape Colony. The men of the Afrikaner Bond were educated, anglicized and well connected. Their vote and their favor would, in Rhodes’ mind, further his long term objectives in Africa.
Rhodes tested the strength of his early relationship with the Afrikaner Bond in 1883, when he became Deputy Commissioner for Bechuanaland, a loosely held British possession to the west of the Transvaal Republic where Boer bootlegging was causing unrest. Rhodes asked for Afrikaner Bond assistance to staunch the bootlegging problem. Many members of the Afrikaner Bond were related to, or socially connected with, families in Pretoria where a gentle word of reprimand, Rhodes believed, would be obliged by the cessation of belligerent activities. The Afrikaner Bond failed to bring the Boers to order. For all Rhodes’ intuitive understanding of human nature he failed to grasp the core essential of the Transvaal Boer character, the recalcitrant contempt for human authority. Transvaal Boers cared nothing about what the Empire or Rhodes or their Cape relatives thought about their behavior.
Rhodes went on to win the favor and adoration of the Cape Colony’s English speaking community by appealing to its imagination and sense of greater self. He was a lavish and expansive man who used his vision for Africa as an apostle might have used his personal testimony of Jesus to inspire conversion. Rhodes made it possible for the Cape Colonials to think beyond their mundane lives which were dependent upon the occasional glance of goodwill from the Crown. There was nothing to recommend the Cape Colony to the imagination of British bureaucrats in London who were more enamored with the explicit wealth of India and the contrasting outback of Australia. The Cape was not a forgotten colony. It was simply an unmemorable one. This fact suited Rhodes who saw himself as a potentate rather than a servant of Empire.
If there is a God, Rhodes told a reporter quoted in the Fortnightly Review of 1897. And if he cares anything about what I do, then I think I shall not be far wrong in concluding that he would like me to do pretty much as he is doing – to work on the same lines toward the same end. Therefore the first thing for me to do is to try to find out what God – if there be a God – is doing in this world; what are his instruments, what lines he is going on, and what he is aiming at. The next thing then for me to do is to do the same thing, use the same instruments, follow the same lines, and aim at the same mark to the best of my ability. … Hence – if there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is to paint as much of the map of Africa British red as possible, and to do what I can elsewhere to promote the unity and extend the influence of the English-speaking race.
Rhodes’ idea of extending the influence of the English speaking race was, according to John Hays Hammond, to form a secret society which would govern the process of colonization. At first the plan was confined to British colonists only, but Rhodes revised this to include Americans. There were so many of them, all filled to the brim with enthusiasm and energy, and Americans at the time wanted very much to be included in the network of empires. Rhodes took their desire and turned it into a vehicle of opportunity by actively recruiting Americans to his cause.
Rhodes’ vision was insatiable and a large part of its fulfillment depended upon how well he could engage the London bureaucrats in changing ancient systems of governance and doing business. He drew on the Irish for this part of his plan by soliciting the friendship and assistance of Irish Member of Parliament Charles Parnell.
Parnell was an Irish moderate who attempted to reconcile Imperial interests in Ireland with the Irish desire for independence. Parnell’s commitment to Irish Home Rule became the vehicle through which Rhodes imposed his vision of Empire on Westminster. At first skeptical, Parnell agreed to listen to Rhodes’ proposition after learning that it was backed by money for the Home Rule fund.
Home Rule, as Parnell conceived it, meant political control of Irish interests by Irish politicians who would report to the Crown. This ladder of accountability set apart Home Rule from a Free Ireland, an autonomous country ruled by the Irish for the Irish. A free Ireland in the 1880s was nothing more than the pipe dream of Irish nationalists, but Home Rule was attainable in some or other form. The danger with Home Rule was that the Irish would lose representation in the House of Commons, cutting them off from participating in the governance of the Empire. This separation of Irish participation in the central seat of Imperial power did not suit Rhodes. He wanted continued Irish participation in the House of Commons because its presence would set a precedent for Rhodes to manipulate.
Initially, Rhodes had encouraged British Liberal support for continued Irish participation in the House of Commons. He backed his encouragement, as he always did, with a financial contribution. Rhodes then took the next step. He engineered the meeting with Charles Parnell in London where he promised £10 000 to the Home Rule fund if Parnell would agree to include a little proviso in the next version of the Home Rule bill to go before Parliament. He wanted Parnell to include a clause that would set a precedent for imperial federation. The end product of this federation, as Rhodes envisioned it, was that the Empire would become an alliance of autonomous states.
The House of Commons, again, as Rhodes saw it, would attend to all political matters for the English. Each state within the Empire would have its equivalent House of Commons to govern internal matters. The House of Lords would be dissolved and in its place Rhodes envisioned a House comprised of representatives from each federation to oversee the collective interests of Empire. If Parnell included a federation proviso in the Home Rule bill then Ireland would become a test case for other colonies seeking autonomy. More importantly, Rhodes could barter autonomy for the Cape Colony under the precedent set by Irish Home Rule.
Parnell saw an opportunity for himself and for Ireland in Rhodes’ plan. Rhodes, in turn, chose not to notice that the monies he donated to Home Rule did not tally with the figures recorded in the account books of the Home Rule fund.
Rhodes was ambivalent to self-interest in others. He knew how to exploit another’s self-interest but he cared little about the moral implications. He was almost as ambivalent toward countries which could not further his vision. In his mind, these countries existed only to be colonized by his vision. Germany was different. Germany diverted his attention from the English speaking world because it was the one country with the potential to damage the progress of his vision.
Germany made no pretense about its support for the Boer republics. German South West Africa, despite its extensive desert and nonexistent road system, was a perfect launch pad for German expansion into central Africa. Any expansion in that direction by an unfriendly nation such as Germany would effectively destroy Rhodes’ plans for a great north road. Germany also dabbled in the Middle East where, again, it could stall or destroy plans to expand Rhodes’ vision of a great north road which would join the Cape Colony to the British Isles. This north road was as much a physical paved road as it was a rail link to carry Africa’s raw materials to the factories in Britain.
The Empire was struggling to support its growing colonial burden. While funds were sapped out of Imperial coffers, the more compact German economy was showing signs of strengthening. A strong Germany would only magnify all the other difficulties its presence in Africa presented to Rhodes. In retrospect, during World War I, Cornelia Steketee Hulst, a Michigan based intellectual, was convinced that Rhodes’ plans to counteract German economic power in Africa and elsewhere, had led directly to the war.
The enigma who is John Young Filmore Blake. I begin to explore the text of my original primary source reconstruction of the actual character of the commander of the combined Irish Brigade.
War correspondents and post war politics in the West, in South Africa and in Ireland distorted the actual face of the Irish Brigade which fought for the Boers during the Anglo Boer War, leaving behind a lopsided and inaccurate picture of the contribution of the Irish and of foreigners in general to the war effort.
There were 2 brigades which were combined just before deployment to Zandspruit - the Transvaal Irish Brigade under John McBride who represented the growing Irish nationalism of the time, and the Irish American Brigade which was a Clan na Gael New Movement styled brigade of just under 300 men. This is the brigade which was placed under John Blake whose Irish heritage is near nonexistent.
He had mostly Cherokee heritage and a contingent of his Irish American Brigade was from the nationalist Indian movement of the time who were being trained by the Clan na Gael in the United States. It was a case of if you help us free Ireland we’ll help you free your people from American domination. Much of this history has been erased and is difficult to find.
Irish nationalist history is complicated by the number of factions within apparently united organizations. What appears to have happened was that the more militant Clan na Gael faction ordered the amalgamation of the two brigades as a means of controlling the face of the Irish struggle.
The person who was enlisted to bring about the amalgamation was Solomon Gillingham who was a Colonial with a nonmilitant Irish father. After his father’s death Gillingham was mentored by the local town priest who was militant. Gillingham moved to the Transvaal Republic and became the individual who rallied all new Irish immigrants in the Transvaal, particularly those Irish with nationalist sentiments. Their home was the Foresters, a masonic organization based in the Transvaal Republic with strong American ties. McBride and other members of his Transvaal Irish Brigade were members. It is from within this order that McBride raised his 100 men. The original total for which McBride bartered a place in the Boer army was 200. He could not raise the total he had promised.
Gillingham seemingly was approached by the Clan na Gael recruiters in the Transvaal and he staged a coup at McBride’s public meeting in September when Blake, already in charge of the Irish American Brigade, was elected over McBride’s head to represent the combined Irish presence in the Boer ranks.
McBride rebelled and the tension between he and Blake was palpable. The Boers wanted nothing of the fight so they broke up the Irish Brigade which was 500 strong at Zandspruit. They sent McBride with a contingent of his original men to the Middelburg Commando. Blake retained some of his original brigade and inherited Irish from McBride. The remainder of the men were sent to Elandsfontein and divided among other Boer commandos.
When Blake was injured many of his men were distributed among the Orange Free State commandos and some among the Transvaal commandos. McBride was reunited with Blake during the siege of Ladysmith and they seemed from accounts to find ways to barely tolerate each other. I suspect they made some pact because they realized that the Boers would get them killed if they did not. The Irish were always sent into the worst areas of battle.
John Hassell formed the American Scouts just before the siege of Ladysmith was broken. He gathered together a number of Blake’s scattered Americans and added additional men from the Transvaal Republic.
The Chicago Brigade, funded by the militant Chicago New Movement faction of the Clan na Gael under the leadership of John Finerty, arrived in the Transvaal Republic in April. This band of Irish joined Blake and they were made up of Irish trained by the Clan na Gael and Irish Americans. Finerty formed the militant group under the noses of the placatory faction of the Clan na Gael which had sworn neutrality to the British, and which thought it was subscribing to a real Red Cross contingent.
After McBride left the Transvaal Republic, Blake and at least 40 of his original Irish American Brigade and men from the Chicago Brigade and a number of Irish remained with the Boers. Of this group around 13 were repatriated to the United States at the end of the war.
I have a list of just under 500 names I can associate with the Irish Brigades and the Chicago Brigade. This list is still a work in progress, but what seems to have been the composition of the combined Irish Brigade at Zandspruit was as follows:
Blake’s Irish American Brigade = 300 approximately.
McBride’s Transvaal Irish Brigade = 100.
Boer scouts, various foreign fighters of French, Norwegian and other origins = 100.
British soldiers at The Castle in Cape Town, Cape Colony, during the Anglo Boer War. The Castle was the headquarters of British troops during the war. The original structure was built by a bureaucrat of the Dutch East India Company during the mid 1600s. Subsequent colonial administrations added to the structure and kept it as a military facility. It was built on the shoreline of Table Bay but subsequent land reclamation has placed The Castle inland.
This photo comes from my private collection. Permission to use must be requested.
This 1889 photo of railway coach builders in South Africa is in my private collection. Most of the labor associated with the growth of railways in southern Africa were immigrants of European, British or American origin. When the Anglo Boer War started many chose sides. The English tended toward volunteering with the Colonial forces while the Irish, Scottish and Welsh split between the Boers and the British, as did the Americans. Those who did not wish to be a part of the war became refugees in the Cape Colony and sometimes returned to their places of origin. Permission to use photo is required.
This is a handwritten order from Staff Officer Count Gleichen after action in February 1900 during the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902. According to associated notes it was an authorization for a burying party.
This photo is in my private collection and can only be used with my permission.
Photo from the National Archives of the United States. Some of the Irish Brigade who fought under John YF Blake for the Boers during the Anglo Boer War moved to Nevada after their return to the United States.
This is the Preface to Golden Nemesis found on my personal blog The Write Life.
There were none more British than the British Cape Colonists. They celebrated the Crown’s victories during the Anglo Boer War, welcomed the Duke and Duchess of York on a tour of duty, built and broke down more triumphal arches than are remembered, and, to the last man and woman up to the Jameson Raid, they idolized Cecil John Rhodes. Yet they became an unlikely sacrifice in the rise of Anglo Americanism in Africa.
Photos come from my private collection.
I have always felt that the Anglo Boer War was a dress rehearsal, a strategy designed to test international allegiances and vulnerabilities. Cornelia Steketee Hulst maintained that Cecil John Rhodes and friends had an elimination time table for German power. The date she quoted was 1920.
Only, Rhodes hit the chopping block well before October 1899, and Hulst published her claims in 1917, which begs the question, “Whose pipe dream was this?”
My quest for the birth pains of the Anglo American era ends in 1900 with a tag on to 1910, the year of Union in South Africa which, in part, was the culmination of Rhodes’ dream, the beginning of African federation that would fizzle into the universal suffrage of the Commonwealth, a less than optimal alliance still under the patronage of the Crown.
Clearly, Rhodes’ vision of federation was not central to the agenda of the friends to whom Hulst alludes. They were willing to sacrifice it to the imperially bureaucratic Commonwealth to keep the Crown content and occupied with endless rounds of diplomatic visits.
There are two ways of unpacking the identity of those who carried the momentum of the plans hatched between 1880 and 1900 into the future. The first is through the web of individual identities which is guaranteed to leave the researcher ensnared and confused. The second method is to study the momentum itself and trace the coordinates of those groups which sustained it and to what degree - in other words to take the personality out of the equation and dissect what is left.
The motivation for this method is the simple fact that the Anglo American 20th century is not overtly dominated by the identities of the movers and shakers. Politico-economic figures became silent partners in a game played out undercover of political figureheads whose role was public pacification rather than statesmanship.
Rhodes’ downfall, arguably, is that he wanted a front row seat in the public eye and credit for his brilliance. His friends wanted anonymity and its attendant protection against prying eyes. They aspired to no nationality except their common language, their shared masonic huddles and their discreet dedication to the gods of prosperity - their prosperity.
What they cast aside is as important to uncover and understand as what they cultivated and brought to harvest.
An obscure Scottish-English spinster with no affiliation to any of the protagonists in my Golden Nemesis work helped me understand what it was in Rhodes’ old kingdom that his friends sacrificed for the long term gain of which he had only dreamed.
Sarah Ann Smith joined her brother Hugh in Cape Town, Cape Colony, in 1904 as the country struggled with war depleted coffers and recession, and as the colonials came to terms with a local government no longer controlled by British interests, but by the agendas of the supposedly defeated Boers.
Not long after her arrival in the Cape, Sarah met Lord Selborne, the new Governor of the then united southern African regions of the Cape Colony, the Transvaal Republic, the Orange Free State and the British annexe of Natal. The colonists feared his appointment as they believed that he could and would be easily manipulated by the Boers.
Sarah’s diary is filled increasingly with the names of Boer political wives as their husbands began to dominate the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, but earlier than this, in the midst of the novelty of her first years in Africa, Sarah attended the arrival of the South Atlantic Squadron whose captain and officers took a train to the old Transvaal Republic to celebrate the close alliance between Boers and Americans during the Anglo Boer War. They brought with them the friendly greetings of the United States people, its politicians and, less publicly, its economic community over whose initiatives the young Adelbert Stone Hay had enthused before his untimely death.
In 1914, at the start of the Great War, Cape Town was systematically denuded of its German population which formed much of the economic and philanthropic backbone of the Cape Colony. They were herded into cattle trucks without warning and railed to the Transvaal Republic where they were placed into makeshift concentration camps. Some were marginally lucky to escape with deportation.
Cape Town was never the same after the Great War, and the world in which Sarah went about her daily chores became progressively Afrikaner Nationalist.
By the end of the Great War, the Anglo American Corporation owned southern Africa, and by the 1940s African minerals were increasingly indentured to the conglomerate.
So, perhaps, it can be argued that southern African minerals and money were more easily obtained through the pliable Boers who had no allegiance to the Crown, and no moral middle class obligation to defend it. Rhodes thought this too when he orchestrated the Jameson Raid with a new Transvaal Republic under a friendly Boer Government.
Where he and his friends differed was in the fate of the Cape Colony, and of South Africa as a whole. The Cape Colony and its British colonists were sacrificed along with the Cape Germans in, perhaps, a less dramatic but equally efficient way.
Rhodes would never have sacrificed the Cape Colony.
Hulst, Cornelia Steketee. 1917. Our secret alliance.
Smith, Sarah Ann. Unpublished diary. Edited as Sara and available directly from the author, Heather Vallance.