One hundred and five years ago something happened in South Africa which has now largely been forgotten. The incident probably arose because of the remorseless and unnecessary need of the British to expand an already overlarge Empire.
On December 29, 1894, Dr. Leander Starr Jameson (1853 – 1917), who was an administrator in the British South Africa Company, led an armed band of 470 mounted men (whites of course) from Bechuanaland into the Transvaal. The intention was to advance 180 miles to Johannesburg, there to join the non-Boer European workers known as the Uitlanders, in their attempt to overthrow the government of Paul Kruger.
The plot failed, mostly because the Uitlanders failed to revolt. All Jameson’s force was captured only four days after crossing the frontier from British Bechuanaland.
The Raid had important political consequences: Cecil Rhodes (the great colonialist) was forced to resign as Premier of the Cape Colony, because he was up to his neck in the conspiracy. The Boers (white Dutch South Africans or Afrikaaners) discovered they were less able to deal with British forces than they had supposed. This might have been because they were falsely encouraged by the infamous ‘Kruger Telegram’ which led them to believe that they would have German military support in crushing an British attempt at invasion.
Back in Britain, a Parliamentary Inquiry exonerated the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, from participation in the conspiracy. Much later, evidence was produced that strongly suggests that he knew a great deal about the supposed revolt in Johannesburg, if not of the actual raid. We will never know the truth, a phrase inevitably connected with politics. For instance, will the world ever know the truth about the totally unexpected defeat of one leading Spanish political party by another in the general election of 2004?
Dr. Jameson served a prison sentence in Britain for his organisation and leading of the raid, but later he returned to South Africa and, founding the grand British tradition of ennobling people after first throwing them into jail . . . the good doctor became Premier of Cape Colony from 1904 – 08. He was made a Baronet in the honours list of 1911.*
* Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa both served sentences of varying lengths in prison before being made President of