Rhodes the Matrix

Rhodes the Matrix

Liz Stanley, University of Edinburgh

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2013) ‘Rhodes the Matrix’ Whites Writing Whiteness www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/news-and-blog/blog/rhodes-the-matrix/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. Introduction
2. Galbraith, Crown and Charter; Maylam, Rhodes, The Tswana and the British
3. Rhodes the Matrix: Olive Schreiner’s Analysis
4. The Rhodes Papers: Traces of the Matrix
5. What Now?
6. References

1. Introduction

1.1 This blog post is a research note reflecting on some of the methodological and related issues arising from thinking about the Rhodes Papers (special collections, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford) and their relationship with J.S. Galbraith’s  (1974) Crown and Charter: The Early Years of the British South Africa Company and Paul Maylam’s (1980) Rhodes, the Tswana and the British: Colonialism, Collaboration and Conflict in the Bechuanaland Protectorate 1885-1899. It discusses these issues in the light of Olive Schreiner’s analytical examination of ‘the matrix’ of organisations and forces that Rhodes was part of and presided over. They have arisen in connection with our ongoing research on the Rhodes Papers archive collection in the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections, at the University of Oxford, and this too will be discussed.

1.2 It is also worth commenting at the outset about why a project on ‘Whites Writing Whiteness’, which is particularly concerned with exploring whiteness and its ‘others’ through long-run domestic figurations of letter-writing, might interested in the imperialist entrepreneur and politician Cecil Rhodes and the records of his activities. There are a number of interlinked reasons.

1.3 There are few areas of economic and political life in South Africa that Rhodes’ activities did not impact on, from domination of the ‘local’ and world diamond trade through De Beers, to the northwards expansionist activities of the British South Africa Company; from impacting on the character of political life, to promoting the unification of the local states in southern Africa; from streamlining fruit-growing and wine production, to the control of sheep diseases and the export of refrigerated farm produce. Such things as the recruitment of migrant labour across southern Africa, the increasing hierarchicalisation of black and white labour relations in mining, the gradual imposition of compounds and related labour controls, the widespread expropriation of land and mineral resources from black peoples, the routine use of force and violence, and the development of a ‘baas’ or boss idea of the white relationship to black people, were of course not ‘invented’ by Rhodes and the different elements of his empire. However, they were certainly central to its activities, and it streamlined and regulated these in increasingly totalising ways over time.

1.4 Anyone seeking to understand social change in South Africa particularly over the period from the 1870s to the 1900s consequently has to reckon either directly or indirectly with Rhodes, or rather with the array of organisations and activities he was associated with. This is so in particular in relation to mining and northwards expansion, but it is by no means confined to these two, in part connected, strands of activity.

1.5 The many different kinds of activities and organisations that Rhodes was involved in add up to being an ‘empire’, in the sense of cohering round a central controlling figure. These were composed by money-making ventures of different kinds and the associated growth of organisations that over time became increasingly formalised. While Rhodes himself was not a ‘writing man’, through these activities and the scale on which they operated he became surrounded by people who regularised structures and procedures and in doing so instituted record-keeping – letter books, accounts, copies of telegrams, legal documents and letters, and more – for many if not all the different parts of ‘the matrix’. Some of these organisations, such as the British South Africa Company, existed longer-term; some, like De Beers and its successor Anglo American, still flourish; others came into and went out of existence because of contextual circumstances; yet others were brought to an end with the death of Rhodes. However, from their inception in the 1870s up to Rhodes’ death in March 1902, they provide a means of examining a hydra-headed set of activities that significantly contributed to economic and other change in South Africa over this thirty-year period.

1.6 In addition, thinking comparatively about the early days of capitalist production in the UK in relation to cotton, and the early days of capitalist development in South Africa in relation to diamonds, suggests an interesting similarity alongside the obviously important many differences. This concerns the role of households and domestic figurations in its beginning stages of production.



1.6 Rhodes entered the scene at this early stage in the development of the capitalist enclaves in South Africa around diamonds then gold and other forms of mining. So too did many other individuals and family groups, with various of these (again, with similarities to the UK situation) developing as family-based operations. The Barnato brothers and nephews who became key figures in the consolidation of diamond mining interests, the Struben brothers who first established the extensiveness and character of the gold-reef on the Rand, David Forbes and sons whose minerals interests moved from New Rush and diamonds to Swaziland and gold, and the Oppenheimer dynasty in Anglo American and De Beers, are cases in point here, with all four, from small family beginnings, giving rise to corporate capitalist organisations with different degrees of longevity. It is also worth noting that Rhodes was the public face and head of such a family venture, working in close association with his brothers Frank and Ernest (and before his early accidental death, Herbert) and also his sister Edith.

1.7 The ‘family firm’ for many of those involved was the working unit in early diamonds production; and for some, family remained important within later corporate organisations, some of which still dominate parts of South African industry, including De Beers, Anglo American and Syfrets. In addition, the composition and contents of the Rhodes Papers, as discussed later, indicate that ‘the matrix’ has some similar attributes to those of ‘family firms’.

1.8 Rhodes has been a continuing source of interest and indeed fascination, with attention focusing on Rhodes the man, his career, character and motivations (for early examples, see Millin 1933, Marlowe 1972). In recent years, a number of influential political and other biographies of Rhodes have appeared (eg. Roberts 1987, Rotberg 1988, Thomas 1996). They were preceded by two important books concerned not with personalities but with spheres of activity associated with Rhodes, rather than ‘Rhodes the man’. These are J.S. Galbraith’s Crown and Charter, published in 1974; and Paul Maylam’s Rhodes, the Tswana and the British, published in 1980. They throw interesting light on the Rhodes Papers and the relation of these to the matrix of organisations and involvements Rhodes was connected with.

2. Galbraith, Crown and Charter; Maylam, Rhodes, The Tswana and the British

2.1 Galbraith’s Crown and Charter is a detailed research-based investigation of the early years of the British South Africa Company, more often referred to as the ‘Chartered Company’ or ‘Rhodes’ Chartered Company’. This was the body that was responsible for the initial ‘northwards expansion’ into the territories then known as Matabeleland and Mashonaland, later called Southern Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe; and Northern Rhodesia and now Botswana. In doing so, Galbraith utilised the papers of the BSAC collection held in the National Archives of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as his key source. There are some references in the book to a BSAC collection and the Rhodes Papers in Oxford; however, the relationship of these to the BSAC collection in the NAZ is not discussed or raised as an issue, nor whether these might provide additional or different information concerning the BSAC.

2.2 The impression gained by the reader is that the BSAC records are coterminous with the NAZ collection, and that what is in Oxford are some subsidiary BSAC papers, with the Rhodes Papers being the papers of Rhodes as a person. However, that this is how the book sees the relationship between these collections is actually quite difficult to figure out. Galbraith has an account to assemble from the records concerning the development of the BSAC, and his references are provided in support of this. Consequently such basics as, is all the relevant research material in fact in the NAZ collection, what is the relationship of this collection to those elsewhere, and do these provide information about the same events or different ones, are left unexamined because non-issues for the task in hand.

2.3 Maylam’s Rhodes, the Tswana and the British is an exploration of colonialism and imperialism ‘on the ground’ and the process of expansion as evidenced in the activities of Rhodes and the Charter in its northwards activities. Aptly, Maylam calls it a case study of the ‘men-on-the-spot’. Its appendix of manuscript sources lists both Rhodes House collections (Rhodes, Frank Rhodes, Cawston, Bower Papers) and NAZ ones (BSAC: Cape Town office and London office; and the Colenbrander, Grey, Jameson, Johnson, Moffat, Newton and Rudd papers). In discussing the BSAC, Maylam provides predominantly Rhodes Papers references. However, as with Galbraith, what the relationship of the BSAC materials and Rhodes Papers in Oxford is to the BSAC collection in the NAZ is not discussed. Again, this is because Maylam has an account to assemble and the references are given in support of this, rather than the research materials being reflected on in their own right.

2.4 But why should this matter, and what difference would it make if the relationship between these various collections is explored? After all, both books are good, detailed research-based accounts. In response, a number of points can be made. Firstly, in these more methodologically-attuned days 40 years on from Galbraith’s and 35 years on from Maylam’s work, it seems an intellectual lack that these researchers do not explore the ramifications for the knowledge they are producing of ‘the data’ they use and how it relates to other related materials. Secondly, the activities of Rhodes were of course not confined to the BSAC – even a cursory perusal of the research literature suggests considerable overlaps of personnel, ambitions and activities across a range of concerns and a number of organisations through which he pursued these. In turn, this suggests that relating the BSAC collections to each other and to the related collections might be useful. And thirdly, comparing the materials that Galbraith references to the NAZ collection with the inventory of the Rhodes Papers collection immediately shows the existence of duplications and overlaps, suggesting the possibility of inter-related office procedures and duplicates made in different parts of organisational structures, perhaps by different offices in different locations, and certainly something interesting to explore.

2.5 Galbraith’s focus is on the early years of the BSAC up to 1901, how it was formed, and of what combination of interests. Maylam’s is on the Bechuanaland Protectorate and the changing relationship from 1885 to 1899 between the ‘imperial factor’ of Britain and its diplomatic and also on the spot interventions, the ‘colonial factor’ formed by Rhodes and the BSAC, and the Tswana people. What neither is concerned with is how the BSAC and the Bechuanaland Protectorate figured in the bigger but still contained picture of the overall activities and organisations that Rhodes was involved in and presided over. The methodological lacunae, then, has substantive and epistemological consequences – the things that each book are concerned with were part of something bigger, though still focused around Rhodes, but this lies outside of the frame and beyond their respective concerns.

2.6 Perhaps a concern about this reflects a more sociological than historical way of thinking, that it is not just ‘the papers’ that are important and the organisational structures and practices that these emanated from need to be understood before the meaning of ‘the papers’ and their detail can be fully grasped. It is also in some respects the product of the accumulation of subsequent research on Rhodes and the different tentacles of his activities (Chapman 1985; Innes 1984; Kanfer 1993; Keppel-Jones 1983; Litvin 2003; Newbury 1981, 2009; Tamarkin 1996; Turrell 1982, 1987), which has resulted in a better appreciation of just how complex and also how nefarious these were.

2.7 In addition, there was an earlier analysis of this by Olive Schreiner in essays and other published work (eg. Schreiner 1891, 1896, 1897) and also in the many letters which concern her unfolding and hard-gained knowledge of what Rhodes was about and the ethical and political as well as economic and social consequences of this (Olive Schreiner Letters Online 2012). This composed what Schreiner termed as a ‘matrix’ of forces, power structures and corrupt practices that had come to characterise public life in South Africa more generally.

3. Rhodes the Matrix: Olive Schreiner’s Analysis

“..The only big man we have here is Rhodes, & the only big thing the Chartered Company. … I feel a curious & almost painfully intense interest in the man & his career. I am so afraid of his making a mistake, as he would do, I think, if he accepted the Prime Ministership of this Colony, as there is some talk of his doing. I don’t see how he can play the hand of the Chartered Company & the hand of the Colony at the same time, & I should so regret his putting himself in a position in which he was obliged to be false to the interest of one or the other. I’ve never met him though I have often seen him….” (To William Thomas Stead, 12 July 1890: T120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/8- pages 66-9 & 227-8)

“…I sometimes fear Rhodes is coming near the end of his course. And it need not have been! He might have all that was best & greatest in South Africa to his side. ‘We that would have loved him so, honoured him, followed him!” – but he has chosen, not only to choose the worst men as his instruments, but to act on men always through the lowest sides of their nature, to lead them through a narrow self-interest instead of animating them with large enthusiasms….” (To William Philip Schreiner, 13 August 1895: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold2/1895/9)

“…I am more grieved with more or less friendly remarks, which seem to imply that I do not see the great & the good points in Rhodes. One knows it was well that narrow philistine Wellington conquered at Waterloo; I suppose one would have fought on his side! – But ones heart goes with the little fugitive who sat with a bent head eating his supper in the little inn that night, when they whispered “It is Napoleon!” There is something almost agonising from my point of view in seeing such powers & virtues as those of Rhodes wasted on the ^such^ – from my point of view – miserably small objects. I never gave up all hope of him until one day in Matjesfontein station when he & Sievewright & Logan were talking together. I didn’t even say good bye to them I just went back to my house. ^One day you will turn around as I did then.^…” (To William Philip Schreiner, 30 August 1895: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold2/1895/12)

“…The future of South Africa lies largely in the ^hands of^ England of now; if the English public & the English Government do not make it perfectly ^clear^ that they unrestrictedly & entirely condemn the action of Rhodes, & do not take away the Charter & remove Rhodes from all positions of trust there will never be rest & trust of England in this country….” (To William Thomas Stead, January 1896: T120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/64- pages 247-8)

“…Since I came out from England primed il with Stead’s stories about Rhodes as the lover of Humanity, the ideal millionaire-leader-of the people, & found when I got to know Rhodes personally, that he was none of these things, I shall have had no blow of disappointment equal to ^that^ which I shall feel, if you really – after all the evidence which I know you have in your hand – back up Rhodes & the Chartered Company. This is our one chance of crushing the powers which are corrupting our public life. Passed it will never come back again….” (To James Rose Innes, 7 May 1896: James Rose Innes MSC 21/2/1896:55)

“…I have been copying out a little bit of my Allegory story about Mashonaland. It’s curious but I would give hundreds of pounds if that story had never come to me, & yet now I feel I must publish it. It will make Rhodes & the Chartered Company very bitter against me & all conflict is so terrible….” (To Betty Molteno, 30 September 1896: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold3/1896/29)

“…when on board ship Garrett told me jeeringly when I mentioned ^J.W.^ Sauer that he would never dare to oppose Rhodes from the shoulder because he (Sauer) had made more money out of Rhodes than any other man in South Africa, When that Rhodes had his thumb on him. When I said I did not believe it, he said he had it from Rhodes. He also in his sneering way that said that other people Hofmeyer & others were in the same boat. …it this that makes association with him so morally dangerous to best ^the^ men; they see him gain his ends by these means – wriggling wriggling wriggling – & they get to feel that that is how things are gained in life, not realizing it’s only money & the rotten little fame of a day that’s got so. A man may wriggle & wriggle & wriggle, & creep safe out of every thing, & with his skin whole, but in the process he may have squeezed out of himself everything that makes life worth living, honour manhood, courage, he had better have died in the process. There is some absolute failure that is better than success….” (To William Philip Schreiner, 9 March 1897: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold4/1897/4)

“…We fight Rhodes because he means so much of oppression, injustice, & moral degradation to South Africa; – but if he passed away tomorrow there still remains the terrible fact that something in our society has formed the matrix which has fed, nourished, & built up such a man! It is the far future of Africa during the next twenty-five or fifty years which depresses me. I believe we are standing on the top of a long down-ward slope….” (To John X. Merriman, 3 April 1897: John X.Merriman MSC 15/1897:17)

“…Mr Cornwall, who is really only Mr Rhodes instrument is taking legal action against Cron ^for what he said^, & they have secured Mr Dick Solomon as their council barrister. Of course we shall lose the case, as we can’t fight the powerful combination & Cron will las but it may do good….” (To Betty Molteno, November 1897: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold4/1897/23)

“…If only Dutchmen Englishmen & Natives would all see where the common danger lies & combine against the common enemy, which is not a person; but a system. If Rhodes were to die tomorrow, we should be free of the most energetic of the capitalists, but capitalism would be with us still! And after all, is it not we who have brought the disease on ourselves?…” (To Betty Molteno, 1 March 1898: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold5/1898/1)

“…I find that the Rhodesian curs of Adderly St have been diverting themselves by Premier bating! Both there & in England it is the Rhodesite money that is at work….” (To William Philip Schreiner, 1900: Olive Schreiner BC16/Box 12/Fold1/Undated/18)

3.1 As these short quotations from a number of Olive Schreiner’s letters will suggest, her over-time developing analysis was that Rhodes’ activities were complex and, like the hydra, many-headed, and also they ‘add up’ to something with coherent effect. In particular, her perception was that there was a matrix of interrelated organisations and sets of people whose activities reinforced or underpinned each other’s, while being formally constituted as independent; there were interlinking syndicates and cartels; their composing elements could at times act as an intermediary or a front on behalf of other parts of the matrix; there was also the systematic buying up or corruption of potentially opposing organisations and voices through ‘squaring’ people; share dealing was importantly involved; there was extensive use of ‘the tip direct’ in buying people with insider knowledge and also artificially low-priced shares; and many other ways of buying or constraining adherence to the Rhodes’ matrix line were also involved, including through engineered friendship and trust, and the use of forms of violence from minor to major. For Schreiner, this was also not just about Rhodes, for the veniality and corruption that underpinned, indeed helped structure, the matrix of his activities had become endemic in South Africa.

3.2 With Schreiner’s analysis in mind, it is useful to think about the structure of the Rhodes Papers collection at Rhodes House (NB. doing this regarding the BSAC collection in the NAZ will occur a later stage, following a research visit to the Zimbabwean archives). Simply put, what this indicates is indeed the existence a matrix of overlapping activities and organisational structures, some with Rhodes at the centre, some with other ‘men-on-the-ground’ central to them, for example Alfred Beit in relation to some aspects of share dealing and finances and Gardner Williams as the General Manager of De Beers, and it bears a close relationship to the analysis Schreiner provides. At various points Schreiner indicated in passing to her correspondents that she was the recipient of private confidences and information from ‘Company men’ or ‘Rhodes men’; the accuracy of her account of ‘the matrix’ and its workings suggests that such contacts were extensive and came from well-informed sources.

4. The Rhodes Papers: Traces of the Matrix

4.1 The main components of the Rhodes Papers collection are formed by a large number of bound volumes, each comparable to the boxes of documents more ordinarily met with in archives. The main headings of these, which are sometimes represented by two or three rather than just one bound volume, and occasionally by a number of them bound into one volume, are as follows:

Letters and telegrams dispatched
Administrators (Rhodesia) 1897-1902
Cape Colony 1890-1900
Charter (Matebeleland and Mashonaland) 1889-1896
Charter (Home Board) 1897-1902
Charter (Cape Town) 1898-1901
Cold Storage 1899-1902
De Beers 1890-1902
Farms 1897-1901
Finance 1888-1899
Goldfields 1890-1902
Hawksley 1897-1908
Inyanga 1896-1901
McDonald 1897-1902
Mitchell 1897-1902
Ngami Trek 1897-1902
Northern Rhodesia 1897-1901
Rhodesian Goldfields 1898-1902
Rhodesian Railways 1897-1901
Syfret 1897-1902
Transcontinental Telegraph 1897-1902
Transvaal 1900-1902
Wernher, Beit & Co 1890-1901
Delagoa Bay 1892-1895
Personal, mainly political and business (1888-1902)

4.2 The collection is a huge one – there are well over 5000 numbered items within in, with many of these containing multiple and often very lengthy sub-items. Getting the measure of its contents, then, is a somewhat formidable task. Our work on it has involved an overviewing reading of the entire collection, recording core information for a random sample number of items, and looking in detail at a sub-set which are especially relevant for the core concerns of the Whites Writing Whiteness project.

4.3 In 1896, there was a major fire that destroyed most of Rhodes’ original house on the Groote Schuur estate near Cape Town. The fire also destroyed all the early papers that were the organisational memory of Rhodes’ activities in New Rush and Kimberley, as a politician and so on, before that date. This is one of the major structuring elements of the Rhodes Papers collection that has to be taken into consideration, for it explains the temporal dimensions of ‘the remains’. And as a consequence, this also indicates that papers in the collection from before that date are likely to have been located elsewhere and only brought together as part of ‘the collection’ at a later date.

4.4 Other important structuring factors include some expected and resounding ‘silences’ in these papers. The (almost complete but not quite) removal of documentation connected with any aspect of violence or massacres by the Chartered Company in Mashonaland, and also concerning Rhodes’ complicity in the Jameson Raid, are perhaps the key ones. However, there are others too, smaller but also privy matters, the hints and echoes of which can be ‘heard’ in traces in other collections, for example regarding Jan Hofmeyr, leader of the Afrikaner Bond, having accepted shares and also ‘taken the tip direct’ regarding investments, and the retainers paid to various leading politicians and churchmen to praise the conduct of various parts of the matrix and those involved in them.

4.5 Standing back from the accidental and the purposeful elisions and silences, what remains, ‘the Rhodes Papers’, is highly informative as to the main components of ‘the matrix’, with its different components having diverse origins. These are not the papers of Rhodes, not those of any one organisation, but documents produced, received and retained by different elements of the array of organisations and structures with which Rhodes was closely connected, and they appear to have been brought together at some point not long after his death.

4.6 The headed components of the collection listed above, then, are the records of quasi-independent organisational entities and, taken together, in large part if not in entirety they represent ‘the matrix’ that Olive Schreiner’s analytical eye was upon. A considerable number of organisational structures have papers herein, and although these were ostensibly independent, in practice they display different degrees of interconnectedness via their association with Rhodes and his inner circle of associates, acolytes and hirelings. Scanning their contents suggests some of the links across them that enabled this to work as a system, as indeed a matrix.

4.7 Rhodes presided over but was not always visible at the forefront of any of these bodies. There are many signs that he oversaw, planned, strategised and delegated, but only in relatively few instances does he directly write, comment and instruct. Many if not all of his ‘personal’ letters are, for instance, written by one of his secretaries and assistants. There was then a great deal of delegation, on a major scale and at high levels of corporate activity, aided by Rhodes’ brief instructional notes scrawled onto documents and letters or given in verbal exchanges but with the details left for others to execute.

4.8 A small number of Rhodes’ most trusted associates acted as independent agents within the overall structure – Dr Leander Starr (Jim) Jameson, his closest associate, and the financier Alfred Beit who managed his share holdings and some other financial matters, are examples here. A second tier was composed by men (literally) with an overall managerial role regarding particular parts of the matrix and with a high degree of delegated decision-making capacity, albeit to a lesser extent than Jameson and Beit, to commit themselves to high level activities in the name of Rhodes or on his behalf and without his name visibly attached. James Rochfort Maguire in relation to the activities of the BSAC from its inception on (in fact through to the 1920s) and also in relation to the Consolidated Gold Fields company is a case in point here.

4.9 Also part of an inner group or core but having what seems a very different relationship to Rhodes and the organisational activities occurring, were the various mostly younger men employed in a variety of administrative capacities, working usually at the direction of Rhodes, but with some of them having or gaining an oversight role across a number of elements of the matrix.  His secretaries, or rather his secretariat, seems to have experienced quite a degree of turnover. Marriage usually meant an exit. Also various of the men concerned moved in and out of the secretariat role, and in and out of others, for example because they acted as trouble-shooters for particular purposes or promoted new activities elsewhere in the matrix.

4.10 Not part of these central persons and organisational roles, but still having direct connections with Rhodes, were other younger men who might be termed acolytes occupying a more peripheral place within the overall structure. Many of these worked in ‘on the ground’ aspects of Rhodes-connected organisations, as troopers and settlers involved with the Chartered Company, as farmers running one of the fruit farms, and so on.  These were adventurous young men who were motivated by the imperial dream that for many of them Rhodes represented and/or by a daring-do spirit of adventure, with Rhodes acting as a helpful patron putting their enthusiasms to work – but also later disposing of their involvement if they turned out to be not up to the mark. A perhaps surprising number were requested to report direct to Rhodes at regular intervals, so they also appear to have acted an intelligencers for him in providing detailed ‘on the ground’ information independent from the more formal channels.

4.11 Money and its proxies was a powerful linking factor in making ‘the matrix’ work because it bestowed power in the form of clout of various kinds. There are many instances, from the matrix side, of ‘squaring’ possible sources of opposition by buying acquiescence or support in whatever kind of currency (shares, directorships, money, friendship, trust, imperial idealism…) was desired by the person concerned, of giving the tip direct as a bait followed by implied genteel blackmail, and of buying votes and politicians with retainers and other other forms of currency. There are also many examples from the recipient side too, of people contacting Rhodes direct as well as other parts of the matrix to make bald requests for jobs, shares, directorships, money and other forms of help in return for their agreement or support for one or other of his activities.

4.12 As might be supposed from the discussion above, and in spite of the relatively short time-frame of the Rhodes Papers records, the structure of the matrix was highly complex, and also both incremental and with major organisational changes occurring within it. New organisational components came into being, some changed their character, others ended. Some of the organisational components concerned were project- or activity-based, from opening up whole countries, to creating monopolies in the extractive industries, to organising province-wide wine/fruit farms, to encouraging and organising Boer trekkers to farm new territories. In some cases such activities and organisational entities revolved around a particular associate, like Mitchell in relation to farm properties.

4.13 Underpinning and linking these ventures, as well as being an organisation and set of activities in its own right, was strategizing and managing investments, organising and floating companies, share issues and distributions of shares. These were key concerns which enabled most of the other components of the matrix, with Beit and Syfret and the others masterminding Rhodes capital and share dealing in different ways being crucial figures in this. However, it involved others in the composing organisations too, as well as the very large number of people who wanted or permitted themselves to be bought by the financial rewards directly and indirectly on offer. Much of the Rhodes empire was built on such paper, using cross-company share flotation to stimulate wider interest and increased share prices, and also to continue operating as a cartel.

4.14 It is also useful to think about this organisational structure in terms of the more human and network aspects that composed it and made it work, standing back from the discussion so far to think about its shape and composition. Rhodes was the presiding figure, in overall charge even if not always directly in control, akin to the managing director of a very large corporate entity with many subsidiary companies. There were other senior figures operating at a quasi-directorial level, like Jameson and Beit generally, and in a more focused way Rochfort Maguire regarding the BSAC and Lord Gifford and George Cawston regarding the UK-based aspects of the Chartered Company. Some of these men were literally Directors within one of the constituent organisations, while others carried out similar functions but a more informal way in the absence of a directly connected corporate body (as with fruit farms in the Cape, and farming and mining activities in Bechuanaland). The secretariat and other young male employees at a similar level ‘did the business’ at a basic organisational level – they wrote the letters, oversaw responses, filtered and channelled information; and they also directed the activities of others even more ‘on-the-ground’ than themselves. The men who Olive Schreiner and others referred to as Rhodes’ associates – men who occupied political, governmental and other positions and who had some kind of fealty to Rhodes – including, for instance, James Sivewright (Bond politician and wheeler and dealer), Jimmy Logan (railway contractor), Moses Cornwall (Mayor and electoral returning officer of Kimberley), Sir Charles Metcalfe (an engineer) and Sidney Shippard (Administrator of the Bechuanaland Protectorate) – were in one sense on the periphery, but they were also crucial in promoting and fronting some sets of activities within the matrix and also in facilitating deals of various kinds from which they received cuts, payoffs in shares or cash or other rewards.

4.15 There were of course many more ordinary kinds of employees who worked in all the different parts of the matrix. These were the clerks, cooks, drivers, miners, farmers, farm workers, troopers and so forth who carried out the bulk of the work that made the matrix work. However, they occupied a different kind of organisational ‘place’. For the inner levels discussed above, there was some kind of personal tie to Rhodes, some interpersonal link, either a literal one like friendship or suzerainty, or an indirect one of believing in the imperial dream or in one of the activities involved, while for the ‘ordinary employees’ this is likely to have been largely absent.

4.16 The overall picture that emerges is in some respects rather like a rapidly growing and sprawling ‘family firm’. Rhodes was the patriarch of an organisational body that had mushroomed in growth and diversified into a large number of subsidiary as well as some key activities and organisations.  Power remained at the top; but in some of the sub-ventures, other ‘directors’ acted in an independent capacity, while others somewhat lower in the hierarchy remained tied to the parent company or one of its immediate subsidiaries; and many younger connections staffed lower ranked positions in the associated organisations and also provided reliable labour in more outlying activities and new ventures. This was an also patriarchal entity in the Weberian sense of a hierarchy in which age and gender was closely intertwined, with a dominant male governing the whole, younger men in subservient roles, and women almost entirely absent except at the peripheries or behind the scenes.

5. What Now?

5.1 Galbraith’s and Maylam’s books shows how fruitful a focused examination of particular aspects of Rhodes’ activities and conduct can be, as in different ways do the best of the biographies of Rhodes. In relation to the Whites Writing Whiteness project, however, the tack taken is necessarily rather different, for while Rhodes and the empire or matrix is an important part of the context and backcloth, it is only occasionally forefront to its prime concerns. Consequently it is ‘the matrix’ of Rhodes’ activities as a whole that is the focus for WWW in developing a view of the overall activities involved and their part in the changing configurations of relationships between white imperialists and colonists and black peoples.

5.2 Our work to date has involved (i) an overviewing reading of the entire collection, (ii) recording core information for a large random sample (one in five) of items drawn from within each of its major components, and (iii) looking in detail at a sub-set of materials particularly relevant to the core concerns of the Whites Writing Whiteness project. This latter has to date concerned land, labour and the terms used to indicate race and ethnicity in relation to these. However, the sample we have worked on has in addition pointed up a number of relevant more thematic or focused events and circumstances. These include, for example, the initial Chartered Company incursions into Matabeleland and Mashonaland, labour import and migrant labour in ‘Rhodesia’, and terminology used to represent the moral economy of ‘race’ in circumstances of conflict.

5.3 Points (ii) and (iii) above are at the time of writing (21 October 2013) still in progress. Eventually this information, recorded in the WWW databases for the Rhodes Papers, will be transferred to the project’s Virtual Research Environment or VRE, enabling a comparative analysis of themes and issues across the different components of ‘the matrix’ to be made. For current information on the development and trialling the database, see the September 2013 blog post on the WWW website – From Gottlob Schreiner to Cecil Rhodes via the Cape Colony Letters: the development of the WWW Project database


6. References

S. D. Chapman (1985) ‘Rhodes and the City of London: Another View of Imperialism’ Historical Journal 28: 647-66.

J.S. Galbraith  (1974) Crown and Charter: The Early Years of the British South Africa Company Berkeley: University of California Press.

Duncan Innes (1984) Anglo American and the Rise of Modern South Africa New York: Monthly Review Press.

Stephan Kanfer (1993) The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Arthur Keppel-Jones (1983) Rhodes and Rhodesia: The White Conquest of Zimbabwe 1884-1902 Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Daniel Litvin (2003) ‘A warlike tribe: Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company’ Empires of Profit: Commerce, Conquest and Corporate Responsibility New York: Texere, pp.43-70.

John Marlowe (1972) Cecil Rhodes: The Anatomy of an Empire London: Paul Elek.

Paul Maylam (1980) Rhodes, the Tswana and the British: Colonialism, Collaboration and Conflict in the Bechuanaland Protectorate 1885-1899 Westport, Conn: Westwood Press.

Sarah Gertrude Millin (1933) Rhodes London: Chatto & Windus.

Colin Newbury (1981) ‘Out of the pit: The capital accumulation of Cecil Rhodes’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 10: 25-49.

Colin Newbury (2009) ‘Cecil Rhodes, De Beers and Mining Finance in South Africa: The Business of Entrepreneurship and Imperialism’ in Raymond E. Dumett (ed.) Mining tycoons in the age of empire, 1870–1945: entrepreneurship, high finance, politics and territorial expansion, Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 85-107.

Brian Roberts (1987) Cecil Rhodes: Flawed Colossus London: Hamish Hamilton.

Robert Rotberg (1988) The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Olive Schreiner (1891) ‘Stray Thoughts on South Africa. By A Returned South African’ Fortnightly Review July 1891, vol 50, pp.53-7.

Olive Schreiner (1896) The Political Situation London: T. Fisher Unwin.

Olive Schreiner (1897) Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland London: T. Fisher Unwin.

Olive Schreiner Letters Online 2012 www.oliveschreiner.org

Mordechai Tamarkin (1996) Cecil Rhodes and the Cape Afrikaners: The Imperial Colossus and the Parish Pump London: Frank Cass.

Anthony Thomas (1996) Rhodes: The Race for Africa New York: St Martin’s Press.

Robert Vicat Turrell (1982) ‘Rhodes, De Beers and monopoly’ Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History 10 (May): 311-43.

Robert Vicat Turrell (1987) ‘Finance… the Governor of the Imperial Engine’” Hobson and the case of Rothschild and Rhodes Journal of Southern African Studies 13 (April): 417-32.

N.B. An annotated reading list providing references around the role and impact of what Olive Schreiner referred to as the ‘matrix’ of organisations, interests and power-bases that Rhodes variously founded, dominated, undermined and influenced is available here.

Last updated: 8 February 2014


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