John Rhodes (1853-1902)
English imperialist, financier, and mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes
founded and controlled the British South Africa Company,which acquired
Rhodesia and Zambia as British territories.
was born on 5th July 1853, at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, one
of nine sons of the parish vicar. After attending the local grammar
school, his health broke down, and at 16 he was sent to South Africa.
Arriving in October 1870, he grew cotton in Natal with his brother
Herbert but in 1871 left for the newly developed diamond field at
In the 1870's
Rhodes laid the foundation for his later massive fortune by speculating
in diamond claims, beginning pumping techniques, and in 1880 forming
the De Beers Mining Company. During this time he attended Oxford off
and on, starting in 1873, and finally acquired the degree of bachelor
of arts in 1881. His extraordinary imperialist ideas were revealed
early, after his serious heart attack in 1877, when he made his first
will, disposing of his as yet unearned fortune to found a secret society
that would extend British rule over the whole world and colonize most
parts of it with British settlers, leading to the "ultimate recovery
of the United States of America" by the British Empire!
From 1880 to
1895 Rhodes's star rose steadily. Basic to this rise was his successful
struggle to take control of the rival diamond interests of Barnie
Barnato, with whom he amalgamated in 1888 to form De Beers Consolidated
Mines, a company whose trust deed gave extraordinary powers to acquire
lands and rule them and extend the British Empire. With his brother
Frank he also formed Goldfields of South Africa, with substantial
mines in the Transvaal. At the same time Rhodes built a career in
politics; elected to the Cape Parliament in 1880, he succeeded in
focusing alarm at Transvaal and German expansion so as to secure British
control of Bechuanaland by 1885. In 1888 Rhodes agents secured mining
concessions from Lobengula, King of the Ndebele, which by highly stretched
interpretations gave Rhodes a claim to what became Rhodesia. In 1889
Rhodes persuaded the British government to grant a charter to form
the British South Africa Company, which in 1890 put white settlers
into Lobengula's territories and founded Salisbury and other towns.
This provoked Ndebele hostility, but they were crushed in the war
By this time
Rhodes controlled the politics of Cape Colony; in July 1890 he became
premier of the Cape with the support of the English-speaking white
and non-white voters and the Afrikaners of the "Bond" (among
whom 25,000 shares in the British South Africa Company had been distributed).
His policy was to aim for the creation of a South African federation
under the British flag, and he conciliated the Afrikaners by restricting
the Africans' franchise with educational and property qualifications
(1892) and setting up a new system of "native administration"
end of 1895 Rhodes's fortunes took a disastrous turn. In poor health
and anxious to hurry his dream of South African federation, he organized
a conspiracy against the Boer government of the Transvaal. Through
his mining company, arms and ammunition were smuggled into Johannesburg
to be used for a revolution by "outlanders," mainly British.
A strip of land on the borders of the Transvaal was ceded to the chartered
company by Joseph Chamberlain, British colonial secretary; and Leander
Jameson, administrator of Rhodesia, was stationed there with company
troops. The Johannesburg conspirators did not rebel; Jameson, however,
rode in on 27th December 1895, and was ignominiously captured. As
a result, Rhodes had to resign his premiership in January 1896. Thereafter
he concentrated on developing Rhodesia and especially in extending
the railway, which he dreamed would one day reach Cairo.
the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899, Rhodes hurried to Kimberley,
which the Boers surrounded a few days later. It was not relieved until
16th February 1900, during which time Rhodes had been active in organizing
defense and sanitation. His health was worsened by the siege, and
after traveling in Europe he returned to the Cape in February 1902,
where he died at Muizenberg on 26th March.
Rhodes left £6
million, most of which went to Oxford University to establish the
Rhodes scholarships to provide places at Oxford for students from
the United States, the British colonies, and Germany. Land was also
left to provide eventually for a university in Rhodesia.