Oxford University, Cecil John Rhodes
[Cecil Rhodes Scholarships, historical biography]
Rhodes Scholarships, Kimberly diamond mines

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Cecil Rhodes
An outline historical biography

  Cecil Rhodes (Cecil John Rhodes) was born on July 5th, 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England where his father was a clergyman. The fifth son amongst a family of nine children he was afforded a grammar school education until he was diagnosed with a tubercular lung condition at age sixteen and doctors advised his parents to send him out to South Africa so as to benefit from the country's drier climate.

  In 1870 Rhodes sailed off to southern Africa where he joined his eldest brother Herbert, who was trying his hand at farming in the coastal region of Natal. In the same year, diamonds - which had unexpectedly been discovered for the first time in southern Africa two years before - were suddenly being found in staggering quantities in the inland area now known as Kimberley. When Cecil arrived in Durban in September he found that Herbert had already departed for the diamond area. When Herbert returned to where Cecil was lodging with friends he related that he had had only a very little success diamond hunting.

  In March 1871 Herbert left again for the diamond fields whilst Cecil remained tending crops expecting to earn a return sufficient to meet the cost of a university education. In happened however that crop prices fell dramatically leaving no chance of profit and in October Cecil followed Herbert in seeking his fortune as a diamond hunter.

  By 1873 Rhodes finances were sufficiently established through his involvements in the diamond fields as to fund his hoped for education and he travelled back to England to pursue studies at Oxford University's Oriel College. It happened however that his health was again very seriously threatened, this time as a result of a bout of pneumonia contracted after a wet day's rowing on the river Thames, and he had to spend some more time in Africa returning periodically to work towards his degree.

  Alongside his own control of several diamond workings Rhodes also proved to be an astute businessman. At one time he arranged for the largest capacity water pump in southern Africa to be hauled to Kimberly where it was used in keeping diamond workings open during the seasonal rains. In the dry season this pump was able to be used in the production of a scarce and desireable commodity - Ice Cream.

  Rhodes was instrumental in amalgamating the major mining interests of Kimberley into one organisation, De Beers Mining Company, which he finally established, under his own control but with a junior partner named Charles Dunell Rudd, in April 1880. A primary aim of this company being an attempt to regulate the mining and sale of diamonds. Rhodes considered that diamonds are not really intrinsically valuable and that the demand for them was essentially related to young couples looking to become engaged. Given the profusion of diamonds at Kimberly Rhodes considered that unless care were taken the market could be flooded bringing down prices.

  Rhodes finally graduated in 1881 and in that same year gained one of the newly established parliamentary seats in Barkly West, near Kimberley, that he was to hold for the remainder of his life. After this election as a member of the Cape Parliament much of Rhodes' irrepressible energy was directed towards his expansionary plans - his ultimate dream being `to paint the map (British) red' from `Cape to Cairo.'

  Other aspirations were also stirring in southern Africa. A numerous Dutch (Boer or Farmer) opinion being inclined to favour the formation of a United States of South Africa that was to include such Boer republics of the Transvaal. Rhodes strove to modify this aspiration towards any such Union operating within the British Empire. On May 2nd 1883 the first German protected territory outside Europe came into being when a young merchant named Fritz Luderitz acted on Bismarck's consent in extending such protection by running up the German flag over his own trading station on the Atlantic coast south of the Congo. The possibility of a rival Dutch or German colonisation to the north of Cape Colony allowed the British to view their own control of that area with favour. Rhodes' interest in expansionism led to his appointment in 1884 as resident deputy commissioner in Bechuanaland a territory to the north that Rhodes hoped to see attached to Cape Colony.

  In 1888 De Beers was restructured as De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. and this company has continued to exercise a monopoly over Kimberly diamond production. Rhodes also won mining rights from the Matabele King Lobengula whose domain lay to the north of Bechuanaland.

  In 1889 Cecil Rhodes formed the British South Africa Company and obtained a Royal Charter from the British Government to occupy Mashonaland. In 1890 he took office as Prime Minister of the Cape, from which office he had involvement later that year with the establishment of the British outpost of Fort Salisbury (named after the British prime minister of the day) deep in Mashonaland. By 1894 Mashonaland and neighbouring Matabeleland had been subjugated and were united under the name of Rhodesia.

  In the late 1830's a number of Boers had become frustrated with the oppressive interference of their British rulers of the Cape and made a `Great Trek' northwards across the Vaal river where they hoped to live as they themselves pleased. The original Trekkers defeated a native opposition to their presence and were later joined by many Boer migrants. All of this led up to the establishment of a Transvaal Republic in 1860. Although Rhodes viewed the Transvaal Republic as an inconvenient obstacle to British expansionism in southern Africa it was, generally speaking, of little interest to anyone but their own citizens until 1887, when fabulously rich gold reefs were discovered in the Witwatersrand area.

  The prospect of sudden and amazing wealth lured tens of thousands of non-Boers, many of them English, into the Transvaal to seek their fortunes. The Transvaal's president, Paul Kruger, refused to grant these 'uitlanders' (aliens) meaningful political rights, and Rhodes used this denial as an excuse to conspire to overthrow the Boer-dominated government.

  He organised his close friend, Dr. Leander Jameson, to lead a column of some 500 armed men to Pretoria with the aim of triggering an insurrection against the Kruger government. The Jameson Raid, which took place in December 1895, was a complete fiasco and resulted in a polarisation of animosity between Englishman and Boer throughout the country. Rhodes was severely censured by the British government for his involvement and forced to resign his premiership of the Cape in early 1896.

  In the aftermath of the Jameson Raid, Rhodes spent much of this time up in Rhodesia, where he devoted himself to the development of his beloved country. Tensions had been rapidly building up between Rhodes' pioneers and the country's indigenous Shona and Matabele population. They eventually rose up in armed revolt against the white settlers, resulting in widespread loss of life. In 1896 - in what was undoubtedly his finest hour - Rhodes and three companions rode, by invitation but unarmed, deep into a Matabele stronghold in the Matopo Hills to negotiate for peace.

  In October 1899, the simmering tensions between the British and the Boers finally resulted in the outbreak of the Boer war. Rhodes was in Kimberley at the time and was trapped there during a four month siege of the town by 5,000 Boer commandos. As well as playing an important supervisory and morale-building role in the defence of Kimberley - most of whose citizens were employed by his De Beers company - he even had his workshops manufacture a special artillery piece, called `Long Cecil', to help ward off the attackers.

  Rhodes, who had a weak and troublesome heart for much of his life, passed away at his beachside cottage at Muizenberg near Cape Town on March 26th, 1902 at the age of only 49. He died just two months before the end of the Anglo-Boer War. By the time of his death, Rhodes had been instrumental in bringing almost one million square miles of Africa under British dominion.

   At the age of 19 Rhodes had first written out his "Last Will and Testament." This brief document, prepared at a time when Rhodes' possessions were modest indeed, included, as its central objective, the furthering the interests of the British Empire. The Will that was valid at the time of Rhodes' death established the funding of 57 scholarships - now famous as the Rhodes Scholarships - as a practical way of attempting to meet such objective.

  Rhodes actually left the greater part of his vast fortune for the establishment of these scholarships at his alma mater, Oxford University. Rhodes decreed that these scholarships were to be awarded to young men in regard to:
'literary and scholastic attainments; his fondness of, and success in, manly outdoor sports; his qualities of manhood, truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for the protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship, and his exhibition during his school days of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and take an interest in his schoolmates'.

  In 1977 the British parliament legislated in relation to Rhodes' will such that more Rhodes Scholarships (94) are available and are now open to being awarded to females as well as males and also to persons of a wider range of national origins than Rhodes had himself envisaged.
Emerson's "Transcendental" approach to History


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Cecil Rhodes
An outline biography
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