Memories of Rhodesia



As early as the middle' eighties the miners on the Barberton goldfields were banding together in an attempt to gain some measure of civil rights from the close oligarchy that dominated the Transvaal republic. But with the development of the Reef and the growth of Johannesburg the plight of the un-enfranchised 'Uitlanders' worsened considerably, and in 1892 Charles Leonard, a clever attorney from the Cape, organized the National Union to secure some rights for the voteless white folk, those who produced the greater part of the country's wealth and paid practically all its taxes. The Union's members were drawn almost wholly from the working and middle classes; the mining houses held aloof. It is important, too, to remember that from the beginning this campaign for political recognition went hand in hand with loyalty to the republic: the plea was for citizen rights under the Transvaal flag and the existing Transvaal constitution. Reform, not revolution, was the intention.

The Boer oligarchy, jealous of its hegemony, paid no heed to the Uitlanders' modest and reasonable plea, though a liberal minority was not unsympathetic. But presently Rhodes began to take an interest in the situation. If the Uitlanders were accorded the privileges they sought, they would strengthen the republic's position against his policy of bringing the Transvaal into his federated states of South Africa. He therefore felt that the time was come for him to intervene. In 1896 he sent up his brother Frank, nominally to represent him on the South African Gold Fields management but actually to give a new twist to the Uitlander plans. The National Union became the Reform League, financed, at least to a considerable extent, by Rhodes. A Reform Committee was formed with leading mining magnates serving upon it. The older members, in alarm, asked for reassurance; did the former policy of loyalty to the Transvaal still stand? They were told, somewhat vaguely, that 'the flag was all right'. Meanwhile the attitude of Kruger and his Executive Committee, packed with his staunchest backers, hardened, and the Uitlanders were challenged to do their worst, even to an appeal to arms if they could. Civil war seemed imminent. Arms and ammunition were secretly brought into Johannesburg, though in ineffectual amounts, and there was a scheme devised to seize the State armoury in Pretoria.

To meet the possibility of open strife Jameson was stationed at Pitsani, with a force of military police from Rhodesia and Bechuanaland. They would go to the help of the Uitlanders if their plight justified armed intervention from without. Moreover, Jameson was given an undated letter by members of the Reform Committee calling upon him to ride to help the Uitlanders. Depots and remount stations were arranged along the road to the Reef. But this extreme measure of the invasion of a state under the Queen's suzerainty was only to be used as the last resort.



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Jameson, however, having succeeded in his raid into Matabeleland in 1893, felt that he could further his chief's plan by a like sortie into the Transvaal, and on Sunday 2nd December 1895 he led his men across the border. The raid was foredoomed to failure. Planned without foresight, without adequate co-ordination with the Reform Committee in Johannesburg and bungled from the start, it blundered on, fighting gallantly when it encountered the Boer forces, but presently forced to surrender at Doornkop on 2 January 1896.

The prisoners were put into Pretoria gaol, but soon they were sent over to stand their trial in England, because President Kruger had easier and more profitable victims. He arrested as many as he could of the Reform Committee, who took the Raiders' place in the capital's noisome prison, where they lived under almost incredibly unhygienic conditions and were subjected to even more trying mental and moral tortures. In the end they were arraigned on charges of sedition in the Market Hall, Pretoria, and on 27 April 1896, four of them, Lionel Phillips, Colonel Rhodes, George Farrar and Hays Hammond were sentenced to death and the rest given two years' imprisonment and a fine of £2,000 per head. The extreme penalty was commuted that same afternoon but the victims were not told until twenty-four hours later.

Meanwhile Jameson and his officers had come off lightly In June 18g6 he was given fifteen months' imprisonment without hard labour, and even this was soon softened. He was treated as a 'first-class misdemeanant' and before the year was out he was released for health reasons. Four of his chief officers were given sentences of from seven to five months' imprisonment without hard labour.

Then the Commons on 2g January 18g7 assigned a Select Committee to inquire into the origins and circumstances of the Raid. Rhodes's examination lasted from 16 February to 6 March and in the final report he was gravely censured, but no more. In the world outside he and Jameson and the Raiders were wildly acclaimed as heroes by the mass of the people who had only the vaguest and most fragmentary acquaintance with the facts. It is a tribute to the hold Rhodes had upon the folk in South Africa that with them his popularity was enhanced, though his influence south of the Limpopo could never again be what it had been.

Southern Cross

Some may watch the Southern Cross
Set stars in the Southern sky
But few that trace their circular course
Or mark how true their daily fly.

Faithful to each hour by night
A guide for every wandering soul
Comforting in its kindly sight
It shows the circle that points the pole.

Free on its circuit born by scared will
The faithful pointers trail there’s certain round
An everlasting duty to fulfill
On some appointed mission bound.

The Southern Cross on it’s circular course
Sets out some worldly plan
The powers that guide will sure decide
The destiny of living man.

A pleasing sight these stars by night
I’ve found in them a comfort little known
On lonely tramp in my quiet camp
Away from all I love and own.

Sunday 18-3-1919 – Silverside camp
Jack Carruthers


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