Development of the Victoria Falls
Rhodes arrived in London in March 1889, and proceeded to consolidate his position by buying out all his rivals and anyone with mining rights. The artist Thomas Baines came forward with his concession which Lobengula granted him in 1871. Rhodes bought it. The famous African hunter Frederick Courtney Selous claimed a vague verbal promise that Lobengula had made to him in sharing all future gold rights. Rhodes wrote him a cheque for 2,000 - he might have a need for a man like Selous.
Lobbying the corridors of power in London, Rhodes motivated sufficient support for his proposal of a Chartered Company, and on 7th July 1889, Salisbury wrote to the Queen asking Her Majesty if she would "be graciously pleased to grant... a Royal Charter of Incorporation by name or title of the ‘British South Africa Company’... with limited liability, and with such powers and privileges as to Your Majesty may see fit".
The Charter detailed some of these powers:
"...the right to make and maintain roads, railways, telegraphs, harbours; to carry on mining or other industries; to carry on lawful commerce; to settle territories and promote immigration; to establish or authorize banking companies; to develop, improve, clear, plant and irrigate land; to establish and maintain agencies in Our Colonies and Possessions, and elsewhere; to grant lands in terms of years or in perpetuity."
However the Charter omitted one detail - there was, purposefully, no defining mention of a northern boundary to the territory which it covered.
The Royal Charter was eventually signed by the Queen on 29 October 1889. Rhodes has returned to Africa in August, and on the same day he signed an agreement to extend the railway north from Kimberley to Vryburg and Mafeking. Sir Charles Metcalfe had already done the surveying work, and George Pauling and his men were at work within a week.
The section was completed and opened in December 1890. Metcalfe, recalls:
"Having carried out the line to Vryburg, as demanded in the Charter, Rhodes was not inclined to go further."
"So Vryburg remained the terminus of the Bechuanaland Railway, as it was now called. On my survey plans it was called ‘The Africa Trunk Line’, but Rhodes insisted on a more local title. Later I got a tender from Messers Pauling to extend the railway, from Vryburg to Mafeking, a distance of 100 miles, for £2,000 per mile, and Rhodes was induced to accept the proposition and find finance for it. This section was accordingly constructed, and opened in the end of 1892. To Rhodes’ surprise, this section paid well from the first, but he could not be induced to go further although the settlers in Rhodesia were clambering for means of communication…"
"Instead of continuing northwards, he began the construction of a line from the east coast at Beira to Umtali and Salisbury. It was not until late in 1896... that Rhodes turned to me and said: "Metcalfe, you must have your way", and sanctioned a contract with Messers Pauling [for the extension of the line to Bulawayo]."
The Pioneer Column
In 1890 Rhodes recruited the 'Pioneer Column' to travel north and occupy Mashonaland. The plan was to avoid confrontation with Lobengula by skirting Matabeleland and striking instead for the eastern part of the territory.
The Column was raised by Rhodes and his British South Africa Company in his effort to annex the territory of Mashonaland, and consisted of a Pioneer Corps of 180 men, including lawyers, engineers, builders, bakers, butchers, printers, farmers, clergymen, and at least two physicians in addition to Dr Jameson, who was to go along with them. Among the men who were finally chosen, there were English, Dutch, Germans, and at least two Americans. It was commanded by Major Frank Johnson, included Leander Starr Jameson and was guided by none other than Frederick Courtney Selous.
Rhodes agreed to pay for an additional force of 300 Bechuanaland Police, under the command of Colonel E G Pennefather of the Inniskilling Dragoons, a leather-tough veteran of the Zulu wars, as protection. The column was armed with a general issue of Martini-Henry rifles, handguns, 7-pound field guns, maxim machine guns. They even borrowed a steam driven generator and a 10,000 candlepower searchlight from the naval depot at Simonstown; it was turned on at nightfall to discourage Matabele attacks.
The column departed with some confusion. Strage records:
On June 27th, 1890, Major General Methuen, the deputy acting Adjutant of the Cape Command, arrived, inspected the troops, and pronounced them fit to march into the teeth of some twenty of thirty thousand blood-thirsty Matabeles. There was just the matter of their orders:
‘Gentlemen, you have got your maps?’
‘Well, gentlemen, your destination in Mount Hampden. You go to a place called Siboutsi. I do not know whether Siboutsi is a man or a mountain. Mr Selous, I understand, is of the opinion that it is a man, but we will pass by that. … Mr Selous is of the opinion that Mount Hampden is placed ten miles too far to the west. You had better correct that; but perhaps on second thoughts, better not. Because you might be placing it ten miles too far to the east. Now, good morning, gentlemen.’
After these stirring words, the Pioneers and their escort saluted smartly and took off. The trip to Mount Hampden, wherever that might be, was long – 460 miles – and tedious – 13 weeks – but every mile and every day is recorded in Rhodesian legend. In addition to the Pioneers and troops, the column included 100 natives to help with the road-building and the pushing and goading of the 3,000 oxen dragging 117 wagons.
The Pioneer Corps of the British South Africa Company on the way to Mashonaland [From The Graphic, Saturday October 25th, 1890]
On July 11 the column crossed the Shashi River and entered Matabele territory proper. Instead of opting for the road through Bulawayo the column began immediately to forge a new route north-eastwards in the direction of the central plateau, effectively by-passing any populated areas of Matabeleland. The first of several hastily constructed forts was established at Tuli in country claimed by the Matabele. Baxter (2010):
This was not quite an act of war, but it was extremely close. The amaNdebele were galvanised, but did not attack, and instead a 2000 man impi under the command of the Induna Gambo was assembled and sent to shadow the column and to arrest its advance if it should show signs of diverging into or invading areas of settled amaNdebele territory.
How it was that Lobengula was able to forestall an attack by his enraged and over-confident warriors against what would seem to be an extraordinarily vulnerable body of lightly armed men is hard to say. Part of the complex mythology of this defining moment for both sides is that the powerful searchlight that probed the dark bushveld every night had a startling effect on the amaNdebele. None had ever seen anything quite like it before, none could explain it, and all tended to attribute it to a supernatural power. This could not have prevented a daytime assault, however, when the column was spread out through the veld, preoccupied with cutting the road, and at its most vulnerable.
It is also to Lobengula’s credit that no retribution was taken, or frustration acted upon against the many whites still resident in and around Bulawayo, although many tense moments were recorded, and most whites stayed near their wagons and near the centre of power where their chances of survival were greatest. Among those stationed at Bulawayo was British South Africa Company agent Johann Colenbrander who also remained unmolested, and was used as a courier alongside Cooper-Chadwick when the column was poised in the most dangerous stretch of the route, between the Lundi and Tokwe Rivers, to warn Jameson and the military commanders that they travelled in grave peril.
'Who are you and where are you going? What do you want, and by whose orders are you here? Where are you leading your young men to like so many sheep and do you think they will get back to their homes again? Go back at once, or I will not be answerable for the consequence. Do you not think that white blood can flow as well as black?'
The column did not turn back, nor alter its course, and the reply was issued not by Jameson but by the military officer commanding the column, Lt. Colonel E.G. Pennefather of the Inniskilling Dragoons, who wrote:
'I am an officer of the Queen of England, and my orders are to go to Mashonaland, and there I am going. We do not want to fight, we only want to dig for gold, and are taking this road to avoid your young men; but if they attack us, we know how to defend ourselves.'
Along the way the column also established Fort Victoria (present-day Masvingo). Strage continues:
The column trudged along, stopping finally near a substantial hill they took to be Mount Hampden. (Not that it mattered, but they were wrong; the real Mount Hampden was twelve miles way.) Because no one had remembered to bring along the Company’s own flag, Lieutenant Tyndale Biscoe hoisted the Union Jack on the straightest tree they could find. Canon Balfour said a prayer; three cheers were raised to the Queen; the Orders of the Day – September 12th, 1890 – were read: ‘It is notified that the Column, having arrived at its destination, will halt.’
A fort was started and named Salisbury, after the Prime Minister who had speeded the Charter on its way. A courier service was established and the first letter, appropriately, sent to Rhodes announcing the expedition’s safe arrival. His comment on receiving it was, ‘I do not think there was a happier man in the country than myself.’
Not a shot had been fired, not a man injured. Commenting on this good fortune, Major H L Leonard of the Police, who had been left behind to take care of supplies, noted: ‘It does not seem to be within the bounds of common sense to suppose that a nation of ferocious savages whose all-pervading instinct is blood and rapine, will allow us quietly to take possession of a country which is virtually theirs by right of conquest without in any way resenting it. To imagine it even is a direct insult.’
It had now been established that Lobengula had given strict orders that the column not be attacked. Nor was it the searchlight which provided the principal deterrent. The Matabeles would have willingly stormed it; or they could have ambushed the column in a dozen different places; or picked it to pieces. That they did none of these was not due to neighbourliness on Lobengula’s part, but to regard for self-preservation.
Throughout the 1890s BSAC envoys travelled widely in the region making deals with local chiefs and offering protection in return for mineral rights, and often duping chiefs in the process. The company had hoped to start a ‘new Rand’ from the ancient Shona gold mines, but the gold had been depleted long before.
To maintain law and order required a police force of 700 men out of a total European population of less than 3,000 and an annual expenditure of £250,000. Jameson was appointed administrator and immediately reduced expenses to £30,000 by cutting the police to 150 men, and strengthening them with volunteer patrols. As a further economy measure, he was told that ‘Mr Rhodes would like you to sweep away entirely the military regime; give each Magistrate 10 policemen, and let them run the show as civil administration, pure and simple’. The Company's rules and regulations were ruthlessly imposed.
...when some good were stolen from a settler named Bennett, Police Captain Charles Lendy arrived with a band of volunteers, and when refused – by his account – the right to search the hut of a suspect, proceeded to kill him, his son and 21 other natives. For good measure, he confiscated and took away the slain man’s 47 head of cattle. The Colonial Office complained that Lendy had acted with ‘recklessness and undue hardness’, and that ‘the punishment inflicted... appears utterly disproportionate to the original offence.’ It also pointedly observed that ‘the Natives of Mashonland are not British subjects or subjects of the British South Africa Company,’ and consequently could not be considered to have risen in insurrection – the excuse given by the Company for Lendy’s actions. But that was just Grandmamma talking; Rhodes, writing to Jameson, said ‘I am glad to hear that you are maintaining the dignity of the law.’ For his part in the affair, Lendy was promoted to be Magistrate of Fort Victoria.
By the time Rhodes arrived for his first visit, in October 1891, the pioneer settlement was in crisis. The rains had prevented supplies from being transproted along the newly cut road. Too busy prospecting for gold the pioneers ran out of food supplies, soon becoming reliant on local Mashona produce.
Having ridden off with shovels and sack in which to collect nuggets, the Pioneers had discovered that if any gold did exist in the country it was locked into massive quartz formations from which it could only be extracted with heavy stamping machinery. To frustrate them further, all around lay the traces of the mines whose output presumably had added glitter to the Queen of Sheba’s dowry. There were the burnt tips of quartz reef – the miners of the day had heated the rock, then poured cold water over it to break it up They also found huge, saucer shaped granite pans in which the quarts had been pulverized by hand. But these were the techniques of savages, not the means to get rich fast.
Nevertheless, Rhodes was in high spirits, admiring everything in sight. When shown a vacant plot and told that it was to be the site of a synagogue, he was especially impressed: ‘Ah, if the Jews are coming, my country is all right.’ He had an answer for every complaint. The rains had been unexpected, but better transport was being organised; he himself had just traced the course of a railway which would solve the problem. As for food, it would be plentiful if only they would plant the seeds they had brought with them. The other amenities? A telegraph line was being strung, and the rest would follow. The most pressing need, a wagon-load of whiskey, was already under way. They were, after all, pioneers, and had to expect to put up with some discomfort. As pioneers, they were bringing into being a great new country which soon... and here Rhodes would go off on his descriptions of sprawling townships and shiny cities. Many of his listeners seemed satisfied, even heartened, but one who had made the long trip to Salisbury from Scotland voiced a growing sentiment: ‘I would have ye know, Mr Rhodes, that we dinna come here for posterity.’
The pioneers had however, successfully established a settlement in the heart of Mashonaland, and in the process, invaded a country. Strage:
Even if it was valid, the Rudd Concession had only given him rights to look for minerals, but no right to the land itself; Lobengula would never have consented to that. The point had come up, casually, during the discussions over the Charter. Joseph Chamberlain, then an influential Liberal MP, to Rhodes: ‘Well, you have got the gold of the whole country... but I should like you to get some territorial acknowledgement form Lobengula, further strengthening you claim as a whole.’
The opportunity arose in April 1891, when Edward Lippet, one of the original suitors at Lobengula’s court, suddenly appeared brandishing a new concession which he claimed Lobengula had just signed, and which conferred ‘exclusive right, power and privilege for a full term of 100 years to lay out, grant or lease... farms, townships, building plots... to impose and levy rents, licences and taxes thereon...’ and so forth. If valid, this concession was in effect a title deed to Lobengula’s kingdom. Rhodes’s first reaction had been to challenge its validity and, for good measure, order the arrest of the agent who had brought it from Bulawayo. But reflection suggested a better idea. Lobengula could only have granted this new concession – Rhodes never doubted it validity, for it was far too brazen a bluff for Lippert to try – because he thought it might invalidate his own. Very well, let him think that he had succeeded.
Privately, Rhodes made a deal with Lippert, whose own business practices had earned him the reputation of being ‘the evil genius of the Transvaal’. If Lippert could get a new concession, duly certified by the British Resident in Bulawayo, Rhodes would not only acknowledge it, but he would buy it – for a price which one historian described as ‘an exorbitant sum’. (Actually, it was £30,000, and 15,000 shares of BSA stock, not an unreasonable price for an entire country.)
The British Resident in Bulawayo was, at the time, John Moffat. One would have supposed that he was by now well schooled in extracting royal signatures, but the British High Commissioner in Cape Town, who was in on the scheme, nonetheless spelled the situation out to him: ‘It will be undesirable that the fact of any agreement should become known until after the ratification of the concession by Lobengula, as it is likely that the King has granted [it] under the impression he is strengthening a corporation hostile to the Company, and thus dividing the white men amongst themselves.’
Moffat’s response, somewhat belatedly, was a show of indignation. He wrote to Rhodes: ‘I feel bound to tell you that I look on the whole plan as detestable, whether in the light of policy or morality.’
Still, he did what he was told, and for his service was rewarded with a cut in salary and removal to a less sensitive post. The new concession was hastily endorsed by Her Majesty’s Government.
On November 24th, 1892, Rhodes addressed the shareholders of the BSAC, assembled for their second annual meeting. Strage:
The telegraph line from the Cape had reached Salisbury, and was already earning 4% on capital... The railway, he reported, was coming along. As for another problem, which had been mentioned in the press, that was nothing to worry about, either. ‘We are’, Rhodes said, ‘on most friendly terms with Lobengula. ...I have not the least fear of any trouble in the future...’
The second part of the statement may have been true; the first was an outright lie. Far from being friendly, relations with Lobengula were deteriorating as rapidly as the Company’s agents could manage to strain them. Lobengula did not want war; he had made that plain in a dozen ways which must have been painful to his pride, and possibly risky to his tenure as monarch. But from the beginning, from the abortive conspiracy with Frank Johnson, Rhodes had determined to destroy the Matabeles and take over the entire country. In 1891, he promised a group of prospective settlers, ‘As soon as they interfere with our rights, I shall end their game, and when it is all over, I shall grant farms to those who assisted me.’
Though he had now been duped into giving away right to his land as well as to its resources, Lobengula still maintained jurisdiction over the natives who inhabited it. Of this there was no question, as the Colonial Office repeatedly reminded Jameson. Ever since the founding of the Matabele nation, a function of this jurisdiction had been the right of person over the Mashonas – the right to their women as prizes of war, and to their cattle and grain as taxes. These rights were rigorously enforced, and outside the scope of any possible commercial agreement with white men. Every year, after the rains, Lobengula sent out a dozen tax collectors, each accompanied by a party of warriors, who fanned out and simultaneously called on the principal Mashona chiefs. If any of them dares refuse to pay, the collector had only to dispatch a messenger and all the warriors could quickly be gathered to deal with the offender. This method had been effective for as long as anyone could remember, but in 1892 a Mashona chief named Mazorodze refused to pay his tribute. It is fair to assume that he had been emboldened to resist, and possibly promised protection, by the whites.
The raid against the recalcitrant Mazorodze, and others like it, were simply a way of serving notice that the coming of the white man had not affected the ancient order of tribal life.
The whites did not see it that way. On August 27th, 1892, the Rhodesian Chronicle reported ‘increasing insolence’ on the part of the Matabeles: ‘The ostensible object of these impis which regularly roam about Mashonaland... is to collect tribute from the Mashonas... It is, we contend, a disgrace that the Chartered Company to allow these raids on natives whom they have taken under their protection.’
Picking up on cue, settlers in Salisbury drafted and published a resolution stating that ‘in the event of the Company not taking the initiative, a vary large portion of the inhabitants are determined to take the matter into their own hands.’
Early in May, 500 yards of the freshly-strung copper telegraph wire to Salisbury were cut and stolen. The culprit, a petty Mashona chieftan named Gomalla, was readily traced because the evidence of his theft appeared as necklaces and bracelets on the ample bodies of some of his wives and concubines. Faced with a choice between punishment or a fine, Gomalla willingly chose the fine and handed over some cattle. The choice had been easy, for it turned out that the cattle were not his, but belonged to Lobengula, for whom he had been tending them.
Because of the special significance of royal cattle, this was not just another Mashona trick, but a direct challenge to Lobengula’s authority as king. Advising Jameson of his intention, and again assuring him that the white had no reason to be alarmed, he sent a punitive expedition to Fort Victoria, where the guilty Mashonas had taken refuge.
Matabele warriors ordered to teach their slaves a lesson do not travel on tiptoe. The impi which arrived at the gates of Fort Victoria on July 9th left behind a trail of smouldering huts, women ripped and impaled, and men and children roasted alive like meat. Still, three days later Harris [the Company’s Sectretary in Cape Town] cabled to London: ‘The incident, Mr Rhodes says, is greatly to be regretted, but it has afforded strong proof of Lobengula’s determination not to come into collision with the white man.’
Jameson, in Salisbury, concurred: the description of burning kraals and Mashonas killed was of course ‘very harrowing, but that was at first blush’. Nevertheless, he decided he had better ride down to Fort Victoria and see for himself.
Somewhere along the 188-mile trip he changed his mind, for his first cable from Fort Victoria said that ‘The labour question is the serious one. There is no danger to the whites, but... there have been so many cases of Mashona labourers killed even in the presence of the white masters that the natives will have no confidence in the protection of the whites, unless we actually drive the Matabele out.’
...Jameson briskly took charge, ordering the Matabele leader sent for, and announcing his own plan of action to Harris: ‘I intend to treat them like dogs and order the whole impi out of the country. Then if they do not go, send Lendy out with 50 mounted men to fire into them.’
... The Matabeles were told to clear out, and warned that they would be fired upon if they were not out of the country by a certain time. Soon after, Lendy – the same Lendy who had gone to look for Mr Bennett’s stolen goods – was sent to see whether they were gone. They were not, and a fight ensued – a one-sided fight in which nine Matabeles were killed, although not one of Lendy’s troopers was hurt. Because the Fort Victoria incident was soon to assume greater importance – in fact, to serve exactly the purpose intended – it eventually became the subject of an Inquiry. What, exactly, had been Jameson’s ultimatum? How much time did he give the Matabeles? How soon did Lendy charge off after them? What happened when they met? The findings did not quite answer these questions, but ‘clearly exonerated Dr Jameson and the officers of the BSA Company from all blame’ – a judgement which must be viewed in the light of the fact that the man who rendered it, F J Newton, shortly thereafter accepted appointment as Treasurer of the BSA Company.
Rhodes was in Cape Town, where Parliament was sitting. Unfortunately, there is no record of the telegram which Jameson sent to him, but the reply was to appear in every book ever written about Cecil Rhodes. ‘Read Like XIV, 31,’ he wired back to his friend. (The verse, not one of the better known, reads: Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?’)...Then Jameson sent Rhodes his answer: he had read St Luke, and it as all right.
Jameson made additional use of the new telegraphic facilities. On July 19th, the day after the incident, he suggested to Harris: ‘We have the excuse for a row over murdered women and children now, and the getting of Matabeland open would give us a tremendous lift in shares, and everything else.’
To the High Commissioner, he proposed on July 21st: ‘Should you not prohibit it, we could from Mashonaland settle the question finally.’
Obviously the Commissioner did not prohibit it, and also warned his superiors in London of what was being planned, for on September 1st, Rhodes received this message from one of the Directors if the Company in London:
‘Ripon [Lord Ripon, the new Colonial Secretary] sent for us the other day, and told us we might protect ourselves if attacked, but that we must in no case be in any way aggressive. … I gather it is your intention to find some way round the Governor’s prohibition and settle the Matabele question this September once and for all. We are in darkness as to your plans but I have the fullest confidence in any move which you and Jameson agree in there. … We will support you, whatever the issue.’
Across the Zambezi in Barotseland, north of the Falls, Litunga Lewanika felt pressured by the Portuguese on the west and the Ndebele to the south, as well as political rivals closer to home. He saw British protection as a way of protecting his interests and those of his people. Coillard, on Lewanika’s request, wrote to the British Administrator stating that the Lozi desired to be placed under British protection, and in 1890, believing he was entering into an agreement with the British Government rather than a private commercial company, Lewanika granted mineral rights over much of the Lozi domains to the BSAC. Rhodes gambled that securing these rights would lead to British support for his claims, and eventually in 1900 Barotseland became a British Protectorate.
The 1890 concession did not secure the protection Lewanika desired for his people. In the same year a draft treaty between Britain and Portugal placed the boundary between their interests along the upper Zambezi itself, effectively bisecting the Barotse region. When news of the newly secured BSAC concession reached Europe, a revised agreement was drawn up including Lewanika's lands within the area of British interest. However the actual territory involved was not defined and remained uncertain until 1905 when the King of Italy arbitrated on behalf of the two colonial powers and established the boundary as still retained today between Zambia and Angola - a position still unfavourable to Lewanika and the Lozi people.
Cecil Rhodes, drawn by Mortimer Menpes
At the time of the granting of the Charter, 'Zambesia' was put forward as a possible name for the new British possession, and other suggestions were 'Cecilia', 'Charterland' and 'Rhodesia' or 'Rhodesialand'. At first 'Zambesia' (sometimes 'Zambezia') was most popular: The Times of 15th October, 1889, carried an article entitled 'British Zambesia', and in October, 1890, a Stanford map was produced showing 'Zambesia and Matabeleland'.
The official choice of Rhodesia was not made until 1895, but it was probably first used in an article in the Cape Argus of 1891, and from October, 1892, The Mashonaland Herald and Zambesian Times became The Rhodesia Herald. In an Administrator's Proclamation of 1st May, 1895, 'Rhodesia' was adopted as the official title of the whole of the British South Africa Company's territory, with the provinces of Matabeleland. Mashonaland and Northern Zambesia. When it was replaced (by the Southern Rhodesia Boundary Regulations, 1897) 'Southern Rhodesia' and 'Northern Rhodesia' became the official names. However, the name 'Zambesia' continued to be used.
“To have a bit of country named after one, is one of the things a man might be proud of.” (Rhodes)
Baxter, P (20??) Rhodesia, Last Outpost of the British Empire (1890-1980), Galago
Strage, Mark (1973?) Cape to Cairo, Jonathan Cape
Tabler, E. C. (1966) Pioneers of Rhodesia. Cape Town: C. Struik
'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.
This website has been developed using information researched from a wide variety of sources, including books, magazines and websites etc too numerous to mention or credit individually, although many key references are identified on our References page. Many of the images contained in this website have been sourced from old photographic postcards and publications and no infringement of copyright is intended. We warmly welcome any donations of photographs or information to this website.
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