Rhodesia in 1914

Rhodesia in 1914

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The African colony of Rhodesia was divided into Northern and Southern administrations (modern Zambia and Zimbabwe). The colony was occupied, settled and administered by the British South Africa Company after 1890. A local game hunter, Major Boyd Cunningham, established the volunteer Northern Rhodesia Rifles in 1914 and advocated that the force would support Britain in event of war with Germany.

History of Zimbabwe

Major treatment

This discussion mainly focuses on the history of Zimbabwe since the late 15th century. For treatment of earlier periods and of the country in its regional context, see Southern Africa.


…to be called Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). But the protectorate itself remained under the British crown, and white settlement remained restricted to a few border areas, after an attempt to hand it over to the company was foiled by a delegation of three Tswana kings to London in 1895. The kings,…

British South Africa Company

…colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). BSAC concession seekers operated north of the Zambezi River, their territorial acquisitions being halted only in Katanga, by rivals financed by King Leopold II of Belgium. The area that was appropriated became Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). An attempt to take control over parts of…

Butua rule

…in what is now southwestern Zimbabwe. Though called Guruhuswa in Shona tradition, the region was first mentioned in Portuguese records as Butua in 1512.

Cholera outbreak of 2008

Zimbabwe, located in southern Africa, experienced a severe epidemic of cholera from 2008 to 2009. The outbreak, which was fueled by the fragmented infrastructure of Zimbabwe’s health care system and by the unavailability of food and of clean drinking water,…

Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland membership

…colony of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and the territories of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malaŵi), which were under the control of the British Colonial Office.

…begun to consider federation with Southern Rhodesia as a response to growing African assertiveness, and support for federation increased after the war. At the same time, the growing importance of the copper industry in Northern Rhodesia attracted Southern Rhodesian whites to the idea of federation. Wartime collaboration promoted federal ideas…


…of the British colony of Rhodesia, and his subsequent efforts to topple the rebel government by the use of economic sanctions rather than by military force failed. Wilson steered Britain clear of direct military involvement in the Vietnam War, though he gave verbal support to the U.S. war effort. His…

…in the full independence of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, who in 1984 declared his intention to create a one-party Marxist state. South Africa tried to deflect global disgust with its apartheid system by setting up autonomous tribal “homelands” for Blacks, but no other government recognized them. United States diplomacy sought…

African liberation in Rhodesia was closely tied to the independence struggles in Mozambique. The election of 1962—boycotted by African nationalists—was won by the extreme right-wing Rhodesian Front (RF) party, which ran on a platform of immediate independence under white control. The Central African Federation…

International recognition

…states not to recognize the Rhodesian white-minority regime’s declaration of independence and imposed economic sanctions. Similar international action was taken in the 1970s and ’80s in response to South Africa’s creation of Bantustans, or homelands, which were territories that the white-minority government designated as “independent states” as part of its…


…by whites in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and sought to destabilize the Frelimo regime. Internal conflict raged throughout Mozambique from the late 1970s until 1992. Throughout this period Frelimo remained Mozambique’s sole political party however, multiparty elections began in 1994. Frelimo and Renamo continue to be the major parties, but there…

…to close the border with Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to implement international sanctions against the country, and to allow its guerrilla forces to develop bases in Mozambique, but these decisions proved costly when Mozambique suffered major losses of revenue and lives and the destruction of key infrastructure. Frelimo’s support for the…


…of the reconstituted state of Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. A Black nationalist of Marxist persuasion, he eventually established one-party rule in his country, becoming executive president of Zimbabwe in 1987. He resigned on November 21, 2017, after succumbing to political and military pressure.


…across the Limpopo into southwestern Zimbabwe.


…rule, who in 1965 declared Rhodesia’s independence and its subsequent withdrawal from the British Commonwealth.

Southern Africa

South Africa also had designs on Southern Rhodesia. In 1922, however, when the British South Africa Company relinquished control of Southern Rhodesia, the predominantly British settlers opted for self-government under British rule, and the territory became a self-governing colony the following year.…

Swaziland (Eswatini), Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Mozambique in order to make preemptive attacks on ANC groups and their allies in these countries. Botha kept what was then called South West Africa/Namibia under South African domination in defiance of the UN, which had withdrawn the mandate it had granted…


…1975 and in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in 1980. But warfare in Angola and South African interference continued to provide pretexts to curb internal opposition.

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1 See, principally, Shepperson , G. and Price , T. , Independent African: John Chilembwe and the Nyasaland Rising of 1915 ( Edinburgh , 2nd ed. 1987 )Google Scholar , and Rotberg , R. I. , The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa: the Making of Malawi and Zambia 1873–1964 ( Cambridge, Mass. , 1966 ), 76 – 92 .Google Scholar For an assessment of the origins of the insurrection, stressing the role of wartime conscription, see Page , M. E. , ‘ The war of Thangata: Nyasaland and the East African campaign, 1914–18 ’, J. Afr. Hist. , XIX ( 1978 ), 90 –1.Google Scholar For a brief consideration of the Northern Rhodesian perspective, see Gann , L. H. , A History of Northern Rhodesia ( London , 1964 ), 168 Google Scholar in contrast to the argument offered here, Gann contends that the Chilembwe Rising ‘found no echo in the backwoods beyond the [Nyasaland] border’.

Post U.D.I. [ edit | edit source ]

Following the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, the Rhodesia Regiment (RR) consisted of a number of territorial army battalions (1RR, 2RR, 4RR, 5RR, 6RR, 8RR, 9RR, 10RR) and 6 national service independent companies (1 Indep Coy RR, 2 Indep Coy RR, 3 Indep Coy RR, 4 Indep Coy RR, 5 Indep Coy RR and 6 Indep Coy, RR) as well as a training depot, DRR, which received and trained most of the Rhodesian Army national servicemen from the 1950s onwards. 3RR and 7RR were Northern Rhodesian (Zambia) battalions that became part of the Zambian military. After national service they were posted to a territorial battalion in or close to the town or city they hailed from.

The regiment had drill halls in the larger towns of Rhodesia, where the citizen soldiers would report when mustered. During the counterinsurgency (COIN) war the battalions of the regiment identified with a brigade HQ, as for instance 2RR, 6RR and 9RR with 1 Brigade in Bulawayo, 1RR, 5RR, 8RR and 10RR with 2 Brigade in Salisbury and 4RR with 3 Brigade in Umtali. Along with regular battalions, they formed the infantry core of the brigade, to which various specialised infantry (e.g. Fireforce) and supporting service units (e.g. Armour, Signals, Engineers) were attached at the Brigade Main HQs established in operational areas.

4RR was quartered at Grand Reef aerodrome WSW of Umtali and was responsible for the Thrasher Sector stretching from Inyanga to Chipinga. At Grand Reef, 4RR Main occupied the centre of the camp, while its companies were established in temporary operational bases, usually deserted farms or schools along the sector, in the Honde and Burma Valleys to name two such camps. 4RR, like some other battalions, had a tracking unit camped on the ground at the 4RR Main HQ next to the wet canteen and the runway, many of the members of the 'Sparrows' being founder members of the Selous Scouts tracking school.

When there was a contact or a sighting anywhere in the sector, the RR trackers were dropped on the spoor by an Alouette helicopter and did the dangerous work of follow-up. When or if they had run the enemy to ground, then the fireforce was called in to surround and eliminate them with superior numbers, firepower and air support. The Sparrows on the other hand, usually three or four, armed with FNs and an MAG, covered in green 'jungle juice', would frequently run down and then face an enemy force which usually outnumbered and out-gunned them. Many people in the Brigade HQ knew how busy they were kept with daily call-outs, and held them in very high regard. One such action which received publicity was the contact at Hill 31 on 15 November 1976. ⎠]

The Independent Companies were where conscripts ended up if they did not volunteer for more glamorous infantry or specialist units, consequently they tended to be the more conservative, long-suffering, persistent sloggers. An intake of some 300 men reporting to Depot RR would be whittled down to about 30 of these individuals, the remainder of the intake 'skiving off' to support or specialist units elsewhere in the army over the course of the first four and a half months. 1 and 4 Indeps were stationed at Victoria Falls or Wankie with 1 Indep moving to Beitbridge in late 1978, 2 Indep at Kariba, 3 Indep at Inyanga and 5 and 6 Indeps at Umtali. 1 Indep Coy formed the core of Rhodesia's fourth Fireforce unit called Fireforce Delta. For a brief time a unit of French volunteers formed 7 Indep Coy, ⎡] who wore a French tricolour backing on their beret badge. ⎢]

The RR battalions and their national service counterparts, the Independent Companies, rarely received much attention in the media but covered most of the ground that was ever covered on aggressive foot patrols by the Rhodesian Forces. They ambushed and were ambushed. When there was trouble, as often as not, it was an Bedford lorry full of RR soldiers who were first on the scene of a massacre, a contact, or an attack. It was the ordinary citizens who recognised their contribution: as it was, the regiment was peopled by the citizens and the citizens knew it from the inside and the outside. The Regiment was honoured by being given the Freedom of Towns and Cities throughout the country.

The Regiment was virtually destroyed in the last year and a half of the COIN war after being stocked by rapidly-trained African volunteers and conscripts from 'civvie street'. At the same time the experienced European members, many of them family men, were emigrating to South Africa as the end drew near, so that by December 1979 the Regiment was barely recognisable for what it had once been, all through its long association with the colony and republic of Rhodesia. Morale was shattered and the Regiment, as happened to many others, disappeared when the British peacefully took over the executive powers of the country, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, in that month. With the creation of Zimbabwe, the Rhodesia Regiment ceased by definition.

Grievances of the black majority

Black discontent had been growing in the rural areas largely because of the disruptive impact of the 1951 Land Husbandry Act. It was designed to enforce private ownership of land and improve the rural economy in the African reserves, which experienced the pressure of a growing population within fixed areas. However, its provisions violated traditional practices. Rather than expand the size of the reserves, the act limited cattle grazing in specified areas and provided for the de-stocking of African herds it allowed officials to dictate patterns of cultivation and crop growing and to fix dwelling sites on farm land it prohibited cultivating or grazing without a permit and imposed compulsory labour on unemployed rural Africans. Implementation of the act meant the depletion of highly valued herds, reduction of the land under cultivation, and the forced uprooting of families and entire villages. Discontent with socioeconomic conditions was growing among urban Africans as well. A recession in 1957–1958 hit blacks hard rising unemployment and inadequate township housing contributed to their sense of deprivation and provided ready-made issues for ANC organizers. [3]

Disturbances in what was Northern Rhodesia in 1959 and the violence against whites in the Belgian Congo and French Congo in early 1959 created a climate of fear amongst the white population. As a consequence, a security crackdown in Rhodesia occurred, which was largely a preemptive strike against further nationalist organising of blacks and against potential African unrest.

The emergency episode proved counterproductive in several respects. It ruined the prospects for genuine racial partnership, made heroes out of the detainees, and alienated moderate Africans from the Government. Indeed, black opposition at this point started to become violent. Repression of the black majority by the white minority had helped to engender the terrorism that would haunt the country for decades. To deflate the crisis atmosphere of the state of emergency and yet preserve its sweeping powers as insurance against the future, the regime sought to normalise the exceptional measures, by incorporating them in statute law. Thus institutionalised, the official emergency came to an end.

Lake Tanganyika

Traction engines used to haul boats, Lake Tanganyika, 1916. ADM 137/268

At the beginning of the war, the German Navy controlled Lake Tanganyika, where they had several gunboats. This enabled the German command to move troops rapidly, and to attack Northern Rhodesia across the lake.

In response, Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, First Sea Lord, authorised a scheme to destroy the German gunboats and seize control of the lake. Two armed motor launches were shipped to Cape Town in South Africa and then transported overland to Lake Tanganyika. Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson was placed in charge of the expedition.

The launches, named Mimi and Toutou, arrived in Cape Town and were then transported by rail to Livingstone in Northern Rhodesia, and on to Elizabethville in Belgian Katanga. Spicer-Simson supervised a haul by motor and oxen across 150 miles of wild bush country and mountains. The boats finally arrived at Lake Tanganyika after a further 400-mile journey by river and rail.

In December 1915, British vessels captured the German gunboat Kingani and sank the Hedwig von Wiessman two months later. The Germans scuttled their other ship, the Graf von Gotzen. The British forces were in command of the lake, safe from a ship-borne counter attack when they began the invasion of German East Africa in May 1916 ( ADM 137/268,ADM 137/141).


Marks, Shula and Stanley Trapido. "Rhodes, Cecil John (1853–1902)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Michell, Lewis. The Life of the Rt. Hon. Cecil John Rhodes, 1853–1902, 2 vols. London: Edward Arnold, 1910.

Rotberg,Robert,I.and Miles F. Shore. The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Tamarkin, M. Cecil Rhodes and the Cape Afrikaners: The Imperial Colossus and the Colonial Parish Pump. London: Cass, 1996.

Vindex. Cecil Rhodes, his Political Life and Speeches, 1881–1900. London: Chapman and Hall, 1900.

Rhodesia in 1914 - History

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in the Transvaal in 1886 was to draw the attention of the world to Southern Africa. It had been known that black African tribes had had access to gold of their own in trading with Arab traders on the East African Coast. What was not known was where this gold came from and how much, or little, was located in the interior. Stories of 'King Solomon's Mines' mixed with the theory of the Witwatersrand gold seam running further north to attract speculators and adventurers from around the world.

Lobengula was besieged by requests for land grants. In 1887, the Transvaal attempted to secure their own northern border by getting Lobengula to sign a treaty giving Transvaalers special privileges north of the River Limpopo under a resident Boer consul. Word of this deal got back to Cecil Rhodes in the Cape Colony. He had his own ambitions for spreading British control northwards. Indeed, he would frequently site his ambition was to build a Cape to Cairo railway passing through British controlled territory for the entire length of the line. Although a powerful diamond magnate, he had missed out on the gold rush on the Rand and hoped to gain control of them politically for Britain at the very least. His expansion north would thus achieve several strategic aims.

Rhodes encouraged the Cape's High Commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson, to proclaim that Matabeleland and Mashonaland were within the British sphere of influence. Robinson was not allowed to do this without permission from London, but as time was short he rushed Rev Moffat, the assistant commissioner in Bechuanaland, to travel to Bulawayo to protect British interests there. Moffat easily persuaded Lobengula to repudiate the Transvaal treaty which was claimed was extorted by fraud. Instead, Lobengula entered an agreement with the British whereby he would enter into no foreign correspondence nor cede any territory without the permission of the British High Commissioner. In effect, Moffat had turned Lobengula's kingdom into a British protectorate.

Cecil Rhodes despatched his own agents to Lobengula to encourage him to sell the mineral rights of his kingdom for: twelve hundred pounds a year, one thousand rifles, one hundred thousands rounds of ammunition and a steamboat for the Zambesi River. Armed with this concession, Rhodes rushed back to London to seek permission to charter a company to exploit this huge concession. He got permission for the creation of the British South Africa Company but only with firm conditions. The company was to be directly responsible to the Colonial Office for the handling of Native Affairs, it had to accept some government appointed directors, it was obliged to pay off all previous concessionnaires, it was to exercise governmental powers only with the consent of the native ruler, and it could have its charter revoked at any time. These stiff conditions were to try and mitigate the exploitation of Africans along the lines of what had happened to Africans in the Transvaal Republic.

In 1890, an armed British South Africa Company Pioneer Column advanced into the Matabele and Mashona lands. They set up a headquarters in Salisbury on 12th Sept 1890 and started selling off claims to land. The miners were to be frustrated in their search for gold. There was no golden seam running north of the Witwatersrand. They discovered that there had been gold mined by Africans from the ancient site of 'Great Zimbabwe' but the gold had been exhausted many years before. King Solomon's Mines did not exist.

Salisbury, 1896
However, although the miners were disappointed with their mineral claims, they were more pleasantly surprised by the quality of the agricultural land and the climate. Southern Rhodesia was to have some of the best quality land on the continent. Unfortunately, their concessions did not run to ownership of the land - they were for mining rights only. The BSAC had shareholders who needed to see a return on their investment. No gold meant that they would lose everything. Therefore the BSAC officials on the ground looked for an excuse to extend their rights to land ownership. They found the excuse in 1893 when the Mashona felt emboldened to withhold tribute to Lobengula's Matabele. Incensed, Lobengula sent a punitive expedition to get what he regarded as his tribute. This was the excuse the BSAC were looking for. They sold their intervention on the humanitarian grounds of fighting for the Mashona, hoping to mitigate the criticism back in London.

The BSAC had armed themselves with the latest military equipment including Maxim machine guns and modern artillery. The brave Matabele warriors were no match for the well armed forces of the BSAC although a small patrol under Maj. Alan Wilson, which had been sent to find the Matabele King Lobengula, was overwhelmed by the Matabele and all were killed. But the technological advantage was too great for the Matabele to withstand. Lobengula died in mysterious circumstances in 1894 which effectively ended central resistance to the British, although isolated skirmishes would continue for another year at least.

First Legislative Council, 1899

By 1896, Matabele religious leaders had come to form a new kind of leadership for the Matabele. They organised a rebellion taking advantage of the absence of most of the BSAC troops who had been withdrawn for the Jameson Raid. They had learned lessons from the first war and avoided full scale assaults. They murdered isolated farmers and cut off communications to Bulawayo. They enticed many of the native police to help them. The BSAC maxim guns were little use against a dispersed enemy. Rhodes personally travelled north with a relief column for the settlers wholed up in Bulawayo.

The real turning point came when two scouts learned of the hideout of the religious leader directing the campaign. They sneaked in to his cave and shot him. Rhodes would use this as an opportunity to negotiate an end to the war. He was mindful of the expenses that were accruing to his company and the bad press that was being created for the colony. He was willing to give generous terms in return for an immediate peace.

Government House
In 1899, the BSAC created a Legislative Council was created with a small number of directly elected seats. The electorate was almost exclusively comprised of white settlers, and the proportion of elected seats increased steadily over time. Before 1918, most settlers were content with company rule. But as more white settlers arrived, company rule seemed more and more anachronistic. Besides, many of the settlers were unhappy at the stipulations that protected the Black Africans. In 1920, the Legislative Council election returned a large majority of candidates from the Responsible Government Association. It was clear that the BSAC was losing the support of its customers.

Originally, opinion in Britain and South Africa favoured incorporation of Southern Rhodesia into the Union of South Africa, but this was rejected by the Rhodesians themselves in a 1922 referendum. In 1923, the BSAC handed control over to the settlers.

Opening of Parliament, 1924
With control of the executive, the settlers were free to abandon any pretences of protection for the black African subjects and passed punitive and restrictive laws. Most of these laws concerned the distribution of land, in particular reserving 50 percent of the land for the small white settler community. Needless to say, it was the best 50 percent.

Rhodesia was badly effected by the depression of the 1930s but was to resurrect its economy in World War Two by providing much needed supplies of food to the allies. This would help pay for improvements to the land and machinery and would see that the good times continued into the 1950s and 60s. For the white settler community, life was to be very good in Rhodesia.

Sir Roy Welensky
A federation of sorts was attempted in the 1950s between Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It was hoped that the relative wealth of Rhodesia could help fund infrastructure and reforms for the other two poorer colonies. This Central African Federation was to be very short lived as the black colonies of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland considered it a way of continuing white privilege and rule over them, whilst the white dominated administration of Rhodesia resented subsidising its poorer neighbours. The federation was dissolved in 1964.

Kariba Dam
The election of the Nationalist Party in South Africa in 1948 seemed to confirm a possible future for Rhodesia but in reality it would prove to be a double edged sword for the white settlers of Rhodesia. Despite deep sympathies of the white settlers for the racist policies of South Africa, the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961 would leave the humanitarian spotlight uncomfortably on the racist policies of Rhodesia. Previously, they could hide behind the even worse policies of their neighbour to the south. Now, they had nobody to hide behind. African nations who had recently received their independence from the British demanded that something be done about the racism of Rhodesia. The British felt morally compelled to back these claims and edged towards its 'No Independence Before Majority African Rule' (NIBMAR) policy. They had been embarrassed by what happened in South Africa and did not want a repeat of that performance in Rhodesia.

The Rhodesian white population however took the initiative hoping to prevent the sharing of power with its black population. In 1962 a Rhodesian Front was formed with the view of maintaining the existing settler rights that had been granted to them since 1923. Many of the settlers were concerned at the violence and difficulty of the post-independence process taking place throughout much of Africa at this time. In particular, they were horrified at the unfolding tragedy in Congo after the Belgians had left in a hurry in 1960. The thought of the same kind of violence disrupting their way of life and economic prosperity in Rhodesia was a deeply disturbing thought.

However, a newly elected Labour government back in Britain seemed even more determined to promote handing over power to black majority rule on a one person one vote basis. The Rhodesian Front won a clean sweep in elections in the following year. It was clear that the negotiating positions of Britain and of the Rhodesian settlers were polarising and seemed to be irreconcilable. Therefore, on remembrance day, 1965, the white administration in Rhodesia declared its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

Declaration of UDI
International condemnation was swift, backed principally by Britain. Britain organised the first ever United Nations use of sanctions against its renegade colony. The relatively rich colony could survive these sanctions for a while, as long as the racist South African government was able to provide support. However, over time, the sanctions did have an impact. It was possible for the Rhodesians to get around them most of the time, but usually at a very high premium. Not a single member of the UN was willing to recognise Rhodesia. Not even South Africa which did not want to heap yet more opprobrium on itself. Besides, it made a change for South Africa to not be regarded as the ultimate pariah state in Africa.

The black Africans appreciated the international support for their plight and started an insurrection of their own. This insurrection did get complicated by the politics of the Cold War when Communists vied with Nationalists to fight against the white government. Surrounding black African countries also gave military and logistical support to those fighting the regime. Although there were no large pitched battles, the constant guerilla hit and run tactics steadily wore down the resolve of at least some of the white settlers. When going to the shops became a dangerous chore, many Rhodesian whites called it quits. Some Rhodesian whites emigrated south to the more secure South Africa, others returned to Britain or went on to Australia or Canada. Many settlers remained behind but usually it was the menfolk. It was becoming a difficult place to raise a family.

The South Africans began withdrawing their support for the regime in the mid to late 1970s. The South African Boers had never completely reconciled themselves to helping the English speaking Rhodesians. Although probably it was more likely that the war in Rhodesia was destabilising the entire region and was leading to black Africans in South Africa to look to the struggle in Rhodesia for inspiration. The South African whites hoped that by abandoning Rhodesia to its fate, it would be left alone to pursue its own racist policies in a more peaceful Southern Africa. This withdrawal of economic and military support from South Africa was to make life even more difficult for the renegade province.

The end of Portuguese rule in neighbouring Mozambique in 1975 increased the isolation of Rhodesia and further restricted its communication routes. It was becoming a lonely world for Ian Smith's regime. The shooting down of two commercial airliners by guerilla surface to air missiles and the destruction of the oil reserves in Salisbury in 1978 rammed home the hopelessness of UDI. The British Government issued invitations to all parties to attend a peace conference at Lancaster House. UDI had been a long running embarrassment to the British government and had undermined their credibility with much of black Africa. The negotiations took place in London in late 1979. The three-month-long conference almost failed to reach a conclusion, due to disagreements on Land reform, but ultimately resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. UDI ended, and Rhodesia reverted to the status of a British colony. A year later, the British handed independence to a black majority government.

Rhodesia Imperial Flag
Maps of Rhodesia
Images of Rhodesia
National Archive Rhodesia Images
Significant Individuals
1894 - 1965
Rhodesia Administrators
Prime Ministers
Serving in the Public Sector in Central Africa from 1959 to 1987
David Hoskins expands upon his role as auditor in the Central African Federation, Southern Rhodesia, UDI Rhodesia and then into independent Zimbabwe in a career that spanned nearly five decades in the service of Africa.

Things That Go Bump.
Gerald Moores remembers with a shudder some of the strange and inexplicable noises that he and his co-police had to deal with whilst working in remote areas of rural Southern Rhodesia in the 1950s.

Victoria Falls
Peter Roberts explains the European discovery of these iconic falls.

A History of Rhodesia
The first history of Rhodesia, by Howard Hensman, published in 1900.

Ironing the lawn in Salisbury, Rhodesia
Guardian Article on the end of Empire, 1980

Cecil Rhodes

Some influential men have streets named in their honour, even more influential men have towns or even cities named after them, so how to compare a man after whom they named large swathes of Africa? That man was Cecil Rhodes, who founded the colonies of Southern and Northern Rhodesia, renamed Zambia in 1964 and Zimbabwe in 1980.

Born in 1853 at Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, Cecil was the sixth child of the Reverend Francis and Louisa Rhodes. A sickly child, Cecil suffered generally from a weak chest and in particular was asthmatic. It was possibly due to this ill health that he was denied the public school education that his three brothers enjoyed at Eton and Winchester, and why he was sent instead to the local grammar school.

When he was only 16, Cecil fell so ill with a suspected case of consumption that he was dispatched to recuperate in the warmer climate of the British South African Cape Colony, there to join his brother Herbert on his cotton farm. An opportune time to arrive in the colony perhaps, with the recent discovery of diamonds there. He set ashore only weeks before his 17th birthday looking every part the typical English schoolboy, in scruffy cricket flannels and an old school blazer.

The warm African sun appears to have had the desired effect on his health, as Cecil started work for the first time. He began by digging the earth, first on his brother’s cotton farm, but then more lucratively he could be found prospecting in the Kimberley diamond fields. Living alongside the native Zulus in their temporary camps, he reinvested any monies earned through his diamond finds in buying more and then still more claims.

Three years after his arrival in the colony Cecil had amassed sufficient funds from his business ventures to buy himself the ‘gentleman’s education’ he had previously been denied. And so in 1873, leaving his business partner C D Rudd to look after things in the colony, Cecil set sail for England and Oriel College, Oxford.

Over the next eight years Cecil bounced back and forth between his Greek and Latin classics studies at Oxford, and his business interests in the dust bowls of the Kimberley mines. During his stints as an undergraduate at Oxford it is said that he paid his way from a box of diamonds he kept in his pocket. By the time Cecil graduated at the age of 28 he was an extremely rich and influential man indeed. He was a member of the Cape Parliament, and through some very astute business dealings and amalgamations he had become Chairman of the De Beers diamond company.

Cecil was a firm believer in the adage that ‘to be born an Englishman was to win first prize in the lottery of life’, and he sought to bring such enlightenment to the many different states in South Africa by uniting the whole continent under British rule. To achieve this aim he realised that he needed funds on an even grander scale to pay for both military muscle and to bribe local tribal chieftains.

Such funds arrived when gold was discovered in the colony in 1886. By the time he was 34, Cecil had monopolised the control of the entire Kimberley diamond fields, with an estimated income of £200,000 from his diamond interests, and a further £300,000 from gold. As one of the richest men on earth, he devoted much of this personal wealth to acquiring territory and mining concessions for the advancement of the British Empire.

In the European ‘scramble for Africa’, Cecil was focussed on rapidly expanding British interests, at times it appeared at almost any cost. At the head of a military expedition Cecil entered Matabeleland, and through bribes and some underhand dealing he eventually founded the colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (more recently renamed Zimbabwe and Zambia). Through his vision and determination he had, almost single handily, expanded the British Empire by some 450,000 square miles.

Cecil Rhodes and Colonel Napier, Matabele/Mashona Rebellion 1896/97

Whilst still only in his mid 30s, Cecil was elected Prime Minister of the Cape in 1890. But temptation was again round the corner, or just over the border to be more precise, in the highly lucrative gold mines of the Dutch Republic of the Transvaal. In 1895, Cecil supported an attack on the Transvaal, the infamous Jameson Raid, organised in support of a rebellion that would deliver control of the regions goldmines to him. The raid was a catastrophic failure and Cecil was forced to resign as Prime Minister, bringing his political career to an abrupt end.

In addition, the Jameson Raid played an influential role in instigating the start of the 1899 Boer War. Cecil would not see its end he died of a heart attack on 26th March 1902, aged just 49. With typical English reserve and understatement, he is said to have signed off with the words: ‘So little done, so much to do.’

Funeral of Cecil Rhodes, Adderley St, Cape Town, 3rd April 1902

In his will Cecil left a fortune in excess of £3 million to fund the famous Rhodes scholarships that enable students, primarily from former British territories, to study at Oxford University. These are awarded on his wishes that “no student shall be qualified or disqualified for election … on account of his race or religious opinions”.


The wooded Kopje may be seen in the middle distance just below the power station cooling towers. The recently completed Earl Grey Building housing government offices is prominent in the centre foreground. The Monomatapa Hotel faces Salisbury Gardens to the right just in front of Livingstone House.

Below: as it was less than 90 years before.

The first camp at Salisbury, September 1890. Photo by William Ellerton Fry

Note the Kopje to the right from which many views of Rhodesia’s capital have been taken down the years.

One of the first houses in Salisbury as lived in by the early pioneers.

The materials used can clearly be seen: poles and dagga (dried mud) with a thatched roof.

Salisbury in 1895 Pioneer Street in the foreground

“Salisbury Club, boys watching Coronation Parade in Cecil Square 1902”

This is a similar view to that shown in the second photo just 13 years before. The cathedral/church is at centre left.

(Take a closer look by clicking on the picture.)

An interesting print of the capital a few years later in the early 1900s giving an impression of life at street level.

First Street, Salisbury c 1905 looking North from Manica Road

Salisbury’s fine new hospital pictured shortly after completion in 1914.

The amazingly rapid progress of civilistion is striking when compared with the first pictures at the top of this page taken a short 24 years earlier.

Meikles Hotel under construction 1914

The Club, facing Cecil Square, Salisbury 1915

Manica Road looking west, 1914

Manica Road was the principal business and shopping street at this time.

First Street slowly grew in importance and became predominant from about 1950 onwards.

Meikles Hotel, Salisbury, c 1920

One of the wards, Salisbury Hospital 1923

Manica Road, Salisbury, looking west 1923

Apart from more buildings, the main point of note is the large number of trees which have been planted.

Salisbury from the Kopje – 1930

Meikles Hotel, Salisbury, Rhodesia facing Cecil Square at the bottom right – view from the air in the early 1950s.

Salisbury in the mid 1950s

Kingsway at Jacaranda Time – looking north towards Jameson Ave.

Salisbury was founded in 1890 when it was chosen as the site for Rhodesia’s future capital. The Pioneer Column halted here on 12th September and the next day the Union Flag was formally raised. The settlement was named in honour of the then Prime Minister of Britain: Lord Salisbury. The settlement grew into a town and in 1935 it was granted the status of a city. The city lies at an altitude of about 1 472 metres / 4,829 feet above sea level.

The next two photos were taken from the top.

Montagu Avenue, Salisbury as painted by ME Halford 1932

(Marguerite was known to family & friends as “Daisy”)

below my own photograph from 1977

Terms used on this web site are those appropriate to the various times portrayed. – Home Contact

Watch the video: Life in Rhodesia 74