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Saturday, 5 August 2017

Cecil Rhodes


Cecil Rhodes was born on July 5, 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.

His father was Church of England priest Reverend Francis William Rhodes. He was a remote, blunt disciplinarian.

Rhodes as a boy

Francis Rhodes served as curate of Brentwood, Essex for fifteen years, until 1849, when he became the vicar of Bishop's Stortford, where he remained until 1876. He boasted that he never preached a sermon longer than ten minutes.

Cecil had nine brothers and two sisters.

Cecil's mother, Louisa was a sickly woman, worn out by child bearing.

Cecil was a sickly, solitary boy.  Unlike his older brothers who went to Winchester or Eton,  he attended the local Grammar School, where he only excelled at sport.

Rhodes' birthplace, now part of Bishop's Stortford Museum. By Thomas Nugent

At the age of 17 tuberculous prevented Cecil from entering Oxford University so he went to South Africa where the active lifestyle restored his health.


In 1870 Rhodes moved to South Africa where he helped on his brother, Herbert's cotton farm.

The following year, Rhodes moved to Kimberley to join in the diamond rush.

In 1873 Rhodes returned to England and Oxford. For the next seven years, he spent half of each year in Kimberley developing a diamond monopoly and the other half in England.

In 1881 Rhodes formed De Beers Diamond Producing Company, which invested in some diamond diggings in Kimberley. Rhodes quickly accumulated huge wealth through the business.

Rhodes also entered the British Parliament the same year, as the Member of Parliament for Cape Colony.

In 1882 the Boer Republic of Stellaland became unruly but owing to Rhodes' diplomacy it was pacified and annexed to the Cape Colony.

Rhodes persuaded the British to send a military expedition to South Africa to assert British sovereignty over the contested territory of Bechunaland (present day Botswana). After making treaties with several African chiefs, the establishment of a protectorate was announced in March 1885.

In 1889 Rhodes was instrumental in forming the British South Africa Company, a corporation which he led to expand British territory to the north and form the colony of Rhodesia.

Rhodes monopoly of the world's diamond supply was sealed in 1890 through a strategic partnership with the London-based Diamond Syndicate. He was now one of the richest men in the world.

In 1890 Rhodes was appointed Prime Minister of Cape Colony. His policies were instrumental in the development of British imperial policies in South Africa, such as the Hut tax.

An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company mounted a military expedition to subjugate the indigenous tribes and founded Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895.

Rhodes and the Ndebele izinDuna make peace in the Matopos Hills

In 1895 the ill-fated Jameson Raid, which was led by Rhodes' close friend Leander Starr Jameson, ignited the Boer War. It was a botched raid against the South African Republic (commonly known as the Transvaal), which was intended to trigger an uprising by the primarily British expatriate workers in the Transvaal but failed to do so.

When Rhodes complicity in the Jameson Raid was discovered, his political career was ruined. He had to resign as Prime Minister of the Cape and Director of British South Africa Co.

Rhodes was supported by the Afrikaner Bond in the Cape Colony until he betrayed them by supporting a rebellion against their relatives, the Boers of the South African Republic. After that, Rhodes was hated by the Afrikaners for his instigation of and his involvement in the Boer War.


In 1873 Rhodes left his diamond fields in the care of his partner, Rudd, and sailed for England to complete his studies. He was admitted to Oriel College, Oxford, but stayed for only one term in 1873 and only returned for his second term in 1876. His studies were severely disrupted by illness. Eventually, in 1881 Rhodes took his degrees of BA and MA simultaneously.

Rhodes was greatly influenced by John Ruskin's inaugural lecture at Oxford, which reinforced his own attachment to the cause of British imperialism.

Rhodes' university career engendered in him an admiration for the Oxford 'system' which was eventually to mature into his Rhodes scholarship scheme. The imperial adventurer and politician's scholarships from his estate, permits citizens of British colonies, the United States and Germany to study at Oxford on a scholarship if they demonstrate certain academic and character qualities.


Rhodes was very patriotic. He said to be British was to win first prize in the lottery of life.

Rhodes' dream was of forming a quasi-Masonic society, modelled on the Jesuits, which would unite the Anglo-Saxon peoples from America to Europe to Australia, in one single empire.

In his first will, written in 1877, Rhodes left money for the creation of a secret society whose purpose was to bring the entire world under British rule.

Rhodes advocated Anglo-Afrikaner co-operation, but was less alive to the rights of black Africans, despite the final 1898 final wording of his dictum: "Equal rights for every civilized man south of the Zambezi."


Rhodes never married. He pleaded busyness saying, "I have too much work on my hands" adding that he would not be a dutiful husband.

Rhodes, c. 1900

Queen Victoria once asked him if it was true that he was a woman hater. The oily Rhodes smiled and replied "How could I hate the sex which includes so gracious a Lady as your Majesty."

Once in answer to a question as to why he went to Africa, Rhodes replied it was because he "could no longer stand the eternal cold mutton."

Rhodes was fond of black velvet stout.


After retiring from public life in 1900, Rhodes' retirement home was Groote Schuuris in Muizenburg, Cape Town, the Cape Dutch house he had built to Sir Herbert Baker’s designs. He lived there quietly surrounded by male servants and his Cape Dutch furniture, china and art. Groote Schuuris, is now the South African Prime Minister's residence.

Cecil Rhodes (Sketch by Mortimer Menpes)

Rhodes was dogged by ill health throughout his relatively short life. From the age of 40, he struggled with heart problems of increasing severity until his death from heart failure on March 26,1902, aged 48, at his seaside cottage in Muizenberg.

After his death, Rhodes lay in state first at Groote Schuur and then in the Cape House of Assembly. Following that, there were funeral services at both Groote Schuur and St. George’s Cathedral.

Funeral of Rhodes in Adderley St, Cape Town on April 3, 1902

A funeral train stopped at every station on a journey from the Cape to Rhodesia, to allow mourners to pay their respects. He was finally laid to rest at World's View, a hilltop located approximately 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Bulawayo, in what was then Rhodesia. Today, his grave site is part of Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe.

Rhodes left approximately £2 million in his will in the form of scholarships, which enabled carefully selected university students to pursue postgraduate studies at Oxford. His will also enabled the establishment of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, one of the premier English-language universities in South Africa.

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