History Monday: Rudd Concession Part 5

Babayane and Mshete in England

A red castle with battlements and towers lies in the distance of the photograph. A path curves from the bottom of the picture towards it, with various people strolling along it. On either side is flat grass and green woodlands.

Windsor Castle, where Queen Victoria received the Matabele emissaries in March 1889

Following their long delay, Babayane, Mshete, Maund and Colenbrander journeyed to England aboard the Moor. They disembarked at Southampton in early March 1889, and travelled by train to London, where they checked into the Berners Hotel on Oxford Street. They were invited to Windsor Castle after two days in the capital. The audience was originally meant only for the two izinDuna and their interpreter—Maund could not attend such a meeting as he was a British subject—but Knutsford arranged an exception for Maund when Babayane and Mshete refused to go without him; the Colonial Secretary said that it would be regrettable for all concerned if the embassy were derailed by such a technicality. The emissaries duly met the Queen and delivered the letter from Lobengula, as well as an oral message they had been told to pass on.

The izinDuna stayed in London throughout the month of March, attending a number of dinners in their honour, including one hosted by the Aborigines’ Protection Society. The Society sent a letter to Lobengula, advising him to be “wary and firm in resisting proposals that will not bring good to you and your people”. The diplomats saw many of the British capital’s sights, including London Zoo, the Alhambra Theatre and the Bank of England. Their hosts showed them the spear of the Zulu king Cetshwayo, which now hung on a wall at Windsor Castle, and took them to Aldershot to observe military manoeuvres conducted by Major-General Evelyn Wood, the man who had given this spear to the Queen after routing the Zulus in 1879. Knutsford held two more meetings with the izinDuna, and during the second of these gave them the Queen’s reply to Lobengula’s letter, which mostly comprised vague assurances of goodwill. Satisfied with this, the emissaries sailed for home.

Rhodes wins the royal charter

A caricature of a bald man with a moustache, wearing morning dress and sitting astride a wooden chair, a smile on his face and a cigar in his hand.A man with blond hair and a moustache, wearing an elegant white-tie tuxedo, replete with a green sash worn beneath the jacket.A man with dark hair, sideburns and a moustache, wearing clothes of late 19th-century appearance.
Albert Grey, the Earl of Fife and the Duke of Abercorn (left to right), the three public board members recruited by Rhodes and Cawston for their prospective chartered company during early 1889, all depicted by Leslie Ward in Vanity Fair

In late March 1889, just as the izinDuna were about to leave London, Rhodes arrived to make the amalgamation with Cawston and Gifford official. To the amalgamators’ dismay, the Colonial Office had received protests against the Rudd Concession from a number of London businessmen and humanitarian societies, and had resolved that it could not sanction the concession because of its equivocal nature, as well as the fact that Lobengula had announced its suspension. Rhodes was originally angry with Maund, accusing him of responsibility for this, but eventually accepted that it was not Maund’s fault. Rhodes told Maund to go back to Bulawayo, to pose as an impartial adviser, and to try to sway the king back in favour of the concession; as an added contingency, he told Maund to secure as many new subconcessions as he could.

In London, as the amalgamation was formalised, Rhodes and Cawston sought public members to sit on the board of their prospective chartered company. They recruited the Duke of Abercorn, an affluent Irish peer and landowner with estates in Donegal and Scotland, to chair the firm, and the Earl of Fife—soon to become the Duke of Fife, following his marriage to the daughter of the Prince of Wales—to act as his deputy. The third and final public member added to the board was the nephew and heir apparent of the erstwhile Cabinet minister Earl Grey, Albert Grey, who was a staunch imperialist, already associated with southern Africa. Attempting to ingratiate himself with Lord Salisbury, Rhodes then gave the position of standing counsel in the proposed company to the Prime Minister’s son, Lord Robert Cecil. Horace Farquhar, a prominent London financier and friend of the Prince of Wales, was added to the board at Fife’s suggestion later in the year.

Rhodes spent the next few months in London, seeking out supporters for his cause in the West End, the City and, occasionally, the rural estates of the landed gentry. These efforts yielded the public backing of the prominent imperialist Harry Johnston, Alexander Livingstone Bruce (who sat on the board of the East Africa Company), and Lord Balfour of Burleigh, among others. Along with Grey’s active involvement and Lord Salisbury’s continuing favour, the weight of this opinion seemed to be reaping dividends for Rhodes by June 1889. The amalgamation with the London syndicate was complete, and Whitehall appeared to have dropped its reservations regarding the Rudd Concession’s validity. Opposition to the charter in parliament and elsewhere had been for the most part silenced, and, with the help of Rhodes’s press contacts, prominently William Thomas Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, opinion in the media was starting to back the idea of a chartered company for south-central Africa. But in June 1889, just as the Colonial Office looked poised to grant the royal charter, Lobengula’s letter repudiating the Rudd Concession, written two months previously, arrived in London.

Maguire, in London, promptly wrote to the Colonial Office, casting doubt on the letter’s character on the grounds that it lacked the witnessing signature of an unbiased missionary. He concurrently wrote to Thompson, who was still in Bulawayo, to ask if there was any sign that the king had been misled during the repudiation letter’s drafting. Around the same time, Robinson’s strident attacks on parliamentary opponents of the Rudd Concession led to Lord Salisbury replacing him with Sir Henry Brougham Loch. Rhodes claimed not to be worried, telling Shippard in a letter that “the policy will not be altered”. Indeed, by the end of June 1889, despite the removal of Robinson and the sensation caused by Lobengula’s letter rejecting the concession, Rhodes had got his way: Lord Salisbury’s concerns of Portuguese and German expansionism in Africa, coupled with Rhodes’s personal exertions in London, prompted the Prime Minister to approve the granting of a royal charter. Rhodes returned victorious to the Cape in August 1889, while back in London Cawston oversaw the final preparations for the chartered company’s establishment.

A Union Jack, emblazoned in the centre with an emblem depicting a lion holding an elephant tusk above the letters "BSAC"

Flag of the British South Africa Company

“My part is done,” Rhodes wrote to Maund, soon after reaching Cape Town; “the charter is granted supporting Rudd Concession and granting us the interior … We have the whole thing recognised by the Queen and even if eventually we had any difficulty with king [Lobengula] the Home people would now always recognise us in possession of the minerals[;] they quite understand that savage potentates frequently repudiate.” A few weeks later, he wrote to Maund again: with the royal charter in place, “whatever [Lobengula] does now will not affect the fact that when there is a white occupation of the country our concession will come into force provided the English and not Boers get the country”. On 29 October 1889, nearly a year to the day after the signing of the Rudd Concession, Rhodes’s chartered company, the British South Africa Company, was officially granted its royal charter by Queen Victoria. The concession’s legitimacy was now safeguarded by the charter and, by extension, the British Crown, making it practically unassailable.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s