This History Monday will mark the beginning of the British Colonial Rule series. We will begin looking at the controversial Rudd Concession
Rhodes faced competition for the Matabeleland mining concession from George Cawston and Lord Gifford, two London financiers. They appointed as their agent Edward Arthur Maund, who had served with Sir Charles Warren in Bechuanaland between 1884 and 1885, towards the end of this time visiting Lobengula as an official British envoy. Cawston and Gifford’s base in England gave them the advantage of better connections with Whitehall, while Rhodes’s location in the Cape allowed him to see the situation with his own eyes. He also possessed formidable financial capital and closer links with the relevant colonial administrators. In May 1888, Cawston and Gifford wrote to Lord Knutsford, the British Colonial Secretary, seeking his approval for their designs.
The urgency of negotiating a concession was made clear to Rhodes during a visit to London in June 1888, when he learned of the London syndicate’s letter to Knutsford, and of their appointment of Maund. Rhodes now understood that the Matabeleland concession could still go elsewhere if he did not secure the document quickly. “Someone has to get the country, and I think we should have the best chance,” Rhodes told Rothschild; “I have always been afraid of the difficulty of dealing with the Matabele king. He is the only block to central Africa, as, once we have his territory, the rest is easy … the rest is simply a village system with separate headmen … I have faith in the country, and Africa is on the move. I think it is a second Cinderella.”
Rhodes and Beit put Rudd at the head of their new negotiating team because of his extensive experience negotiating the purchase of Boers’ farms for gold prospecting. Because Rudd knew little of indigenous African customs and languages, Rhodes added Francis “Matabele” Thompson, an employee of his who had for years run the reserves and compounds that housed the black labourers at the diamond fields. Thompson was fluent in Setswana, the language of the Tswana people to Lobengula’s south-west, and therefore could communicate directly and articulately with the king, who also knew the language. James Rochfort Maguire, an Irish barrister Rhodes had known at Oxford, was recruited as a third member.
Many analysts find the inclusion of the cultured, metropolitan Maguire puzzling—it is often suggested that he was brought along so he could couch the document in the elaborate legal language of the English bar, and thus make it unchallengeable, but as the historian John Galbraith comments, the kind of agreement that was required was hardly complicated enough to merit the considerable expense and inconvenience of bringing Maguire along. In his biography of Rhodes, Robert I Rotberg suggests that he may have intended Maguire to lend Rudd’s expedition “a touch of culture and class”, in the hope that this might impress Lobengula and rival would-be concessionaires. One of the advantages held by the London syndicate was the societal prestige of Gifford in particular, and Rhodes hoped to counter this through Maguire. Rudd’s party ultimately comprised himself, Thompson, Maguire, J G Dreyer (their Dutch wagon driver), a fifth white man, a Cape Coloured, an African American and two black servants.
Maund arrived in Cape Town in late June 1888 and attempted to gain Robinson’s approval for the Cawston–Gifford bid. Robinson was reserved in his answers, saying that he supported the development of Matabeleland by a company with this kind of backing, but did not feel he could commit to endorsing Cawston and Gifford exclusively while there remained other potential concessionaires, most prominently Rhodes—certainly not without unequivocal instructions from Whitehall. While Rudd’s party gathered and prepared in Kimberley, Maund travelled north, and reached the diamond mines at the start of July. On 14 July, in Bulawayo, agents representing a consortium headed by the South African-based entrepreneur Thomas Leask received a mining concession from Lobengula, covering all of his country, and pledging half of the proceeds to the king. When he learned of this latter condition Leask was distraught, saying the concession was “commercially valueless”. Moffat pointed out to Leask that his group did not have the resources to act on the concession anyway, and that both Rhodes and the London syndicate did; at Moffat’s suggestion, Leask decided to wait and sell his concession to whichever big business group gained a new agreement from Lobengula. Neither Rhodes’s group, the Cawston–Gifford consortium nor the British colonial officials immediately learned of the Leask concession.