The material for this book is based on memoirs and reminiscences; on biography and autobiography; on government reports and correspondence; and on the work of several generations of historians. These chapter notes include references to books I found to be of particular interest and value. A more complete list is contained in the Select Bibliography.


Recent general histories include those by William Beinart; Rodney Davenport and Christopher Saunders; Robert Ross; Leonard Thompson; Frank Welsh; and Nigel Worden. Early Cape history is covered by Martin Hall; and by Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomee (eds.). Much has been written about the Cape’s slave society including accounts by Robert Ross; Robert Shell; and Nigel Worden; and a collection of essays edited by Nigel Worden and Clifton Crais.

A note on currency values: £1 at the end of the nineteenth century was worth 86 times £1 in 2007.

Part I

Diggers and other residents of the diamond fields produced a variety of reminiscences about the early years there. Some were written years after the events they describe and are not always reliable. Among the first accounts published were those by Charles Payton (1872); Frederick Boyle (1873); and Josiah Matthews (1887); Louis Cohen’s entertaining memoir was published in 1911; William Scully followed in 1913; and George Beet in 1931. Marian Robertson unravels the first diamond discoveries in Griqualand. Brian Roberts, in two books, provides an overall history of Kimberley and covers the careers of the diamond magnates. Studies by Rob Turrell and by William Worger give a wealth of detail about the development of the diamond mining industry.

More than thirty biographies and biographical sketches of Cecil Rhodes have been published. Three were in print before his death in 1902. Friends and acquaintances produced eulogies about his achievements. His banker, Lewis Michell, wrote an official biography in 1910. His devoted secretary, Phillip Jourdan, gave his account in 1911. Another aide, Gordon Le Sueur, followed in 1913. Rhodes’ architect, (Sir) Herbert Baker, wrote perceptively about him in his memoir published in 1934. The first historian to publish a biography was Basil Williams, the Beit Professor of Imperial History at Oxford. He too fell under Rhodes’ spell. In the introduction to his own portrait (1921) he wrote: ‘It frankly sets forth . . . the belief that [Rhodes] was, with all his grievous faults, a great man, and that at the root of his imperialism were qualities that have done good service to mankind. His character was cast in a large mould, with enormous defects corresponding with his eminent virtues.’ A more critical perspective came from William Plomer in 1933 and from John Flint in 1974. The most comprehensive account of Rhodes’ life is Robert Rotberg’s The Founder(1988). Brian Roberts deals with his entanglement with Princess Radziwill.

Part II

Britain’s ‘forward’ policy in southern Africa is examined by Cornelis de Kiewiet in The Imperial Factor; by C. F. Goodfellow; by Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher; and by Deryck Schreuder.

Kruger dictated his Memoirs to members of his staff in the form of fragmented notes at the age of seventy-six when he was living in exile in Europe. The notes were then passed to an editor, the Rev. Dr A. Schowalter, who found them far from clear and drew up a long list of questions for Kruger to answer. Schowalter then pieced together the results along with references to official documents. The original Dutch was translated first into German and then into English. Among the biographies that followed are those by Manfred Nathan; D. W. Kruger; Johannes Meintjes; and John Fisher.

Afrikaner history is covered comprehensively by Hermann Giliomee. Leonard Thompson deals with the mythology that grew up around it.

Rider Haggard based his novel She - ‘She who must be obeyed’ - on the legends surrounding Modjadji, the ‘rain queen’ of northern Transvaal, who was said to possess the secrets of rain-making and hence held the power of life and death over whole communities. The title of Modjadji has been passed down through a line of women rulers since the sixteenth century.

The fate of Sekhukhune’s Pedi state is examined by Peter Delius. Zulu history is covered by Donald Morris; John Omer-Cooper; John Laband; and Stephen Taylor. John Cope explores the origins of the Anglo-Zulu war; Saul David provides a brilliant account of the course of the war; and Jeff Guy describes the aftermath.

The first Anglo-Boer war is covered by John Laband; and by Joseph Lehmann.

Part III

Rhodes wrote his ‘Confession of Faith’ on 2 June 1877 at a time when he appeared to be searching for ‘a band of brothers’ to join. On that same day he was inducted as a member of the Oxford University Apollo Chapter of the Masonic Order. He did not regard the Freemasons with any solemnity or awe, but joined them for much the same reasons he had joined other exclusive clubs. On the day of his induction he questioned how ‘a large body of men can devote themselves to what at times appear the most ridiculous and absurd rites without an object and without an end’.

The missionary Robert Moffat was a sturdy evangelist, but despite his years of effort at Kuruman, he never gained more than seventy communicants. His son-in-law David Livingstone was even less successful. Livingstone’s successor, John MacKenzie, appointed himself both the spiritual and political guide of the Tswana, writing about his experiences in Bechuanaland in two books. His career is covered by Anthony Sillery. Kevin Shillington describes the fate of the southern Tswana. Dan Jacobson makes a modern journey along the missionary road, writing of his experiences inThe Electronic Elephant published in 1995.

Part IV

During the first gold rush to the eastern Transvaal, hundreds of prospectors made the hazardous journey from Delagoa Bay, the nearest port, to the goldfields, crossing a mountain range and then one of the roughest and most disease-ridden bushlands of Africa to get there. Among the new arrivals in 1884 was Percy FitzPatrick, a young Cape Town bank clerk. He worked first as a storekeeper at Pilgrim’s Rest, but bored with a humdrum existence took up transport-riding, plying the ‘fever’ route to Delagoa Bay for two years. Recounting his adventures to his young children years later, FitzPatrick included many tales about his dog Jock, the runt of a bull terrier litter, who became a brave and devoted companion. Encouraged by Rudyard Kipling, FitzPatrick turned the tales into what became a best-selling children’s book, Jock of the Bushveld.

A dispute over exactly who discovered the main gold reef at Johannesburg continued for many years. There were three contenders: George Harrison, George Walker and George Honeyball, an Englishman who had come from the Australian goldfields. A report by the Historical Monuments Commission in 1941 favoured Harrison, but failed to end the controversy. Eric Rosenthal examines the evidence in his history of the gold mines.

There is also some dispute about the origin of gold on the Witwatersrand. The orthodox theory is that the Witwatersrand Basin, some 210 miles long and 120 miles wide, was the site of an ancient sea around 2.75 billion years ago. Rivers running through gold-bearing hills washed sediments of sand and gravel - along with specks of gold - on to the bed of this sea. They gradually built up a four-mile-thick layer of ore-bearing conglomerate. In 2002, however, researchers from the University of Arizona argued that the gold welled up from the earth’s core some three billion years ago, making it more ancient than the Witwatersrand’s rock. Their thesis was that the gold surfaced elsewhere, and was gradually washed into the Witwatersrand Basin by ancient rivers.

More than 40,000 tons of gold have been mined on the Witwatersrand, but with considerable difficulty, as the Chamber of Mines explains:

Imagine a solid mass of rock tilted . . . like a fat 1,200 page dictionary lying at an angle. The gold-bearing reef would be thinner than a single page, and the amounts of gold contained therein would hardly cover a couple of commas in the entire book. It is the miner’s job to bring out that single page - but his job is made harder because the ‘page’ has been twisted and torn by nature’s forces, and pieces of it may have been thrust between other leaves of the book.

An estimated 40,000 tons of gold still lie underground.

There are three main contenders after whom Johannesburg was said to have been named: Johannes Meyer, the first government official to bring order to the area; Johann Rissik, head of the surveyor-general’s office; and Christiaan Johannes Joubert, the minister of mines.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft covers the careers of the Randlords; Alan Cartwright deals with Beit’s Corner House and Rhodes’ Gold Fields. Hans Sauer’s Ex Africa stands out among the memoirs of the time. Jim Taylor observed about the partnership of Beit and Wernher: ‘The combination of Wernher and Beit . . . was very successful because Beit had all the initiative and creative faculties, whilst Wernher saw to it that all their enterprises were placed on a sound financial basis with adequate reserves. No crisis ever found Wernher unprepared.’

Rodney Davenport provides a standard history of the Afrikaner Bond; Mordechai Tamarkin examines the relationship between Rhodes and the Afrikaner Bond. Biographical accounts of other Cape luminaries are also useful: Phyllis Lewsen on John X. Merriman; J. H. Hofmeyr and F. W. Reitz on Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr; Eric Walker on John de Villiers; and James Rose Innes’ autobiography.

Part V

Two of the most interesting contemporary accounts of Lobengula and his Bulawayo capital are by Frank Thompson and by John Cooper-Chadwick. Chadwick, a young Irishman, was typical of the adventurers seeking their fortune in southern Africa at the time. After military service with Warren in Bechuanaland, he tried his hand as a prospector, miner, building speculator and surveyor on the Witwatersrand before joining a concession-hunting expedition to Bulawayo. Although only a minor figure, Lobengula liked him and called him ‘Charlie’. Fred Selous and Frank Johnson provide other valuable accounts. In Crown and Charter John Galbraith examines the early years of the BSA Company. Philip Bonner charts the downfall of the Swazi state.

Part VI

Olive Schreiner began her novel Undine at the diamond fields in 1873 at the age of seventeen, but it was not published until after her death. The Schreiner family was deeply split over Rhodes. Olive Schreiner’s early infatuation gave way to bitter contempt. Olive traces the course of her relationship with Rhodes in letters to her mother and sister that are reproduced in the biography by her husband, Samuel Cronwright-Schreiner. William Schreiner became a member of Rhodes’ cabinet, staying loyal to him until overwhelmed by evidence of his complicity in the Jameson Raid. Eric Walker covers his career. Their mother remained a passionate supporter of Rhodes until the last. Arthur Keppel-Jones provides a detailed history of Rhodesia in its early years.

Part VII

Vivien Allen describes Kruger’s Pretoria; Charles van Onselen’s essays provide a wealth of detail about the early history of Johannesburg. C. T. Gordon examines the growing Boer opposition to Kruger’s regime.

Much of the evidence about the Rhodes conspiracy and Chamberlain’s involvement in it remained hidden until Jean van der Poel’s pioneering work was published in 1951. Chamberlain’s biographer, James Garvin (1934) claimed that Chamberlain ‘had not a shadow of complicity with the Raid’. In 1961, J. S. Marais followed Van der Poel with a magisterial study of the fall of Kruger’s regime. Elizabeth Longford’s 1982 narrative adds further detail. A number of contemporary accounts are invaluable: Francis Dormer; John Hays Hammond; Carl Jeppe; James Bryce; and Francis Younghusband. Edmund Garrett, editor of the Cape Times, in collaboration with E. J. Edwards, his Johannesburg correspondent, pieced together a vivid journalistic account in 1897. Percy FitzPatrick’s book is mainly a work of propaganda, but also well documented (1899). Graham Bower wrote several private versions, but his papers were not made available to researchers until 1946. His account was eventually published in 2002. A useful collection of essays, edited by Jane Carruthers, was published in 1996 as a centennial retrospective.

Terence Ranger examines the Ndebele and Shona revolts of 1896-7. Olive Schreiner took her manuscript of Trooper Peter Halket to London in January 1897, travelling on board the same boat as Cecil Rhodes who was on his way to face the Select Committee investigating the Jameson Raid. They did not speak to each other. Schreiner feared that Rhodes and the BSA Company would sue for libel. The original edition contained a frontispiece photograph of a row of Africans hanging from trees, with armed and smiling whites posed beside them. Schreiner later told a friend that the only epitaph she would like on her grave was: ‘She wrote Trooper Peter Halket’.


Controversy over the causes of the Anglo-Boer war lasted for much of the twentieth century. It started in 1900 with the publication of John Hobson’s book The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects in which he claimed that ultimately Britain had gone to war ‘to place a small oligarchy of mine-owners and speculators in power at Pretoria’. In essence, he said, the war grew out of a conspiracy by gold millionaires and Jewish financiers, aided and abetted by British politicians, aimed at making mining operations more profitable. Hobson developed this theme into a general analysis of the relationship between capitalism and imperialism in his book Imperialism: A Study, published in 1902. Hobson’s work had a profound influence on Lenin who acknowledged it in his treatiseImperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, published in 1917. It was subsequently used by generations of Marxist and left-wing writers to illustrate the evil machinations of capitalism.

Hobson’s perspective of the war, however, was limited. He had no knowledge, for example, of the role played by Milner. He had arrived in the Transvaal in mid-1899 as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian at a time when pro-Kruger newspapers such asThe Standard and Diggers’ News were full of tirades against the mining industry and the capitalists who ran it. As a result of the Jameson Raid, Kruger and his colleagues had good reason to assume that a conspiracy to overthrow his regime, organised by mining magnates with the collusion of British politicians, lay behind uitlander agitation. Smuts believed that the Jameson Raid was ‘the real declaration of war in the great Anglo-Boer conflict’. The ‘four years of truce’ that followed were merely an interim period to allow time for ‘the allied aggressors’ to find a new stratagem. In a manuscript entitled ‘Memoirs of the Boer War’, Smuts wrote:

It was the rooted conviction of the Boers generally, a conviction which was I believe shared by their responsible leaders, that the war was at bottom a mine-owners’ war, that it had its origins in the Jameson Raid - in the firm resolve of the mine-owners to get the political control of the Transvaal into their hands by fair means or foul, to shape the legislation and administration of the country along the lines dictated by their economic interests, and to destroy the Boer Government which had stupidly proved obdurate to their threats no less than to their seductions.

Smuts argued that British politicians and mine-owners used each other to attain their own ends. Lord Salisbury was well aware of this line of argument, telling his colleagues: ‘The one dangerous objection that is made to our policy is that we are doing work for the capitalists.’

But when historians later searched government archives and the private papers of politicians and magnates for evidence about the conspiracy theory, there was little to be found. Far from being a united group of conspirators using British politicians to wage war on their behalf, mining companies held disparate views. Most feared that war would disrupt their mining operations and involve potentially heavy losses and possibly long-term damage through flooding and sabotage. What they wanted was not war but reform.

The archive evidence also showed that British ministers, when taking decisions about the Transvaal in 1899, were motivated not by any concern about mining company profits or about ambitions to control the gold trade, but by the need to strengthen Britain’s political hold over the Transvaal to reinforce British supremacy in the region. Milner himself claimed responsibility for starting the war. ‘I precipitated the crisis, which was inevitable, before it was too late,’ Milner told Lord Roberts in June 1900. ‘It is not a very agreeable, and in many eyes, not very creditable piece of business to have been largely instrumental in bringing about a big war.’

The historian Iain Smith unravels the issue in his book The Origins of the South African War. Andrew Porter provides another valuable account. Smuts’ career is covered by W. K. Hancock. Two volumes of Milner’s papers were published in the 1930s, edited by Cecil Headlam.

Part IX

The best single narrative of the Anglo-Boer war is given by Thomas Pakenham. Also useful is Bill Nasson’s account and the collection of essays edited by Peter Warwick. Warwick also explores the role of the black population. There are a number of outstanding contemporary accounts, notably Deneys Reitz’s Commando and March Phillipps’ With Rimington.

When Emily Hobhouse tried to return to the war zones in October 1901, Kitchener ordered her deportation back to England. In conversation with his aides, he referred to her as ‘that bloody woman’. On her death in 1926, her ashes were buried at the foot of a memorial in Bloemfontein, erected in 1913 to commemorate the thousands of Boer women and children who died in concentration camps. At the interment ceremony, Jan Smuts addressed a huge crowd of mourners: ‘We stood alone in the world, friendless among the peoples, the smallest nation ranged against the mightiest Empire on earth. At the darkest hour, when our race almost appeared doomed to extinction, she appeared as an angel, as a heaven-sent messenger. Strangest of all, she was an Englishwoman.’

Part X

The postwar period of reconstruction is covered by Leonard Thompson; G. H. L. Le May; and Donald Denoon. John Buchan’s memoir includes some notable descriptions of the northern Transvaal. He based his character Peter Pienaar on his own encounters with Afrikaner hunters there. ‘I think I must have met the last of the great Boer hunters, whose lives were spent far beyond the edge of civilisation, and to whom the War signified nothing . . . In Pieter Pienaar I have tried to draw the picture of one of those heroes.’

Rudyard Kipling travelled to the Cape at the end of each year from 1900 to 1907 accompanied by ‘a complete equipage of governess, maids and children’. In his memoir, Something of Myself, he relates how returning by boat to England on one occasion, Dr Jameson joined him, sitting for meals at the Kipling table in the dining room. ‘A most English lady with two fair daughters had been put there our first day out, and when she rightly enough objected to the quality of the food, and called it prison fare, Jameson remarked: “Speaking as one of the criminal classes, I assure you it is worse.” At the next meal the table was all our own.’ Jameson was subsequently knighted.

Shula Marks examines the Zulu rebellion. Gandhi’s life in South Africa is covered by Robert Huttenback and by Maureen Swan. Gandhi left South Africa in 1914.


The Union’s first census, conducted in 1910, enumerated a population of 5,878,000, with 3,956,000 Africans; 1,257,000 whites, of whom about 700,000 were Afrikaners; 517,000 Coloureds; and 148,000 Asians.

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