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Vintage English
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!

Battles - Jameson Raid

The history of English colonialism is full of battles of a strange nature. In this issue, a minor focus shall be extended to a peculiar battle, which has come to be called as the Jameson Raid in history.

This part of history is connected to the history of South Africa. In a particular way this battle or historical incident is quite different from innumerable other battles or military actions undertaken by the English. For, this was of a failed attempt by the English. But then, in the long run, ultimately, England wins the last battle (however, they have lost in the peacetime!).

Before going on with this theme, a bit of information on South Africa may be written. South Africa is a nation with a wide diversity of culture, languages, and religious beliefs. There are currently eleven official languages. English is the common language, in official and commercial transactions. However, it is only the fifth most spoken language. Currently around 80 percent of the population is Black, but they belong to different cultural or language groups.

To speak of the colonial years in brief, those were the days of competition between the British settlers/expatriate workers and the Boers (Afrikaners or Dutch setters). At least a significant percent of the reasons of their incompatibility may be traced to issues in Europe. Other than that, there would be incompatibility issues of the social structure codes in their respective languages). However, one should not forget that this competition was in the midst of another huge population, the Blacks; mainly the Zulus, and they themselves had an antagonistic group within themselves, the Ndebele.

The cape area, which is currently the Cape Town, was where the first settlers came from the west. It started from 1652. They remained under the control of the Dutch East India Company. In 1806, the Cape was taken over by Great Britain; for it did not want it go into Napoleon’s hands. Moreover, it was on a strategic point on its trade routes with the Far East.

The vast portion of the White settlers was the Boers, or the Afrikaners, who were of Dutch descent. They did not like the British dominance. Then came another terribly irking issue. Great Britain had abolished slave trade in the year 1807. So, naturally, before long these provision could come to be enforced here also; even though, there was no immediate emancipation of slaves.

In 1828, the British authorities passed a legislation guaranteeing equal treatment before the law for all, irrespective of race. Then came a new ordinance that assured heavy penalty for harsh treatment of slaves. The most terrible thing that next came was the wholesale emancipation of slaves in 1834. The simmering anger that was generated by all this was again inflamed by the unacceptable meagreness of the compensation paid to the slave owners, as well as suspicions connected to the method of reimbursement. It is not possible to say for sure how much the British section of the local population were in support of the ethical direct interference from London.

The Boers decided to move away from the British control. They went on the Great Trek, by which they migrated en-masse to deeper areas inside Africa. They founded the Natalia Republic. It was their new homeland. Others among them went further north, and set up themselves beyond Rivers Orange and Vaal. However, Britain later in1843 annexed the former place, and it became the Crown colony of Natal. The other two remained Transvaal and Orange Free States, both technically independent of British control. However, all the four places were extremely connected, economically, culturally and socially.

The Boer government of Transvaal did not want to give franchise to the British section of its population. They made laws to this effect. The British section was ready to revolt. A raid to help them was planned by Cecil Rhodes, prime minister of the Cape Colony, around mid 1895; but it was delayed. Rhodes wanted to overthrow the Boer government and put in power a British colonial government there. A Reform committee was formed in Transvaal by the expatriate British workers. They demanded, among other things, a stable constitution, a fair franchise system, an independent judiciary and a better educational system.

A force under the command of Leander Starr Jameson, the Administrator General of the Chartered Company for Matabeleland was gathered. The strength of this group was around 600 men, of which around 200 were volunteers and the rest from the Matabeleland Mounted Police. They were armed with rifles, six Maxim Machine guns and three artillery pieces.

Before proceeding, it might be good to talk a bit about Leander Starr Jameson. He was born on the 9th of February 1853, to the Jameson family of Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Robert William Jameson (1805–1868), and Christian Pringle, daughter of Major General Pringle of Symington. Leander Starr’s parents had twelve children, of whom he was the youngest.

His father Robert William Jameson was a radical reformist writer, and an advocate of the anti-slavery movement. On the day that James was expected to be born, William was walking along a riverfront in a mood of contemplation and fell down into the water. He was rescued by an American traveller. This traveller’s name was Leander Starr. This man was immediately named as the godfather of the newborn James, and his name was given to the baby.

James got educated as a doctor. After around one year of medical practise in Britain, he moved to South Africa and settled down in Kimberley. Very soon his reputation as a doctor spread. His patients included even the Matabele Chief Lobengula and Cecil Rhodes. The Matabele Chief was grateful to him for his medical treatment, and bestowed on him the title of inDuna. Even though, James was a White man, he was allowed to undergo the traditional initiation ceremony that went along with this honour.

Many of his contemporaries have mentioned his profound personal capacity to influence, persuade, and lead others. He possessed a wonderful personal hold over his followers. Beyond that, he was very intelligent and very quick to grasp the gist of a situation or idea. He was also reputed to have a very high power of concentration, logical reasoning and very fast diagnosis. As to his personal ambitions are concerned, he was very patriotic, but had no interest in wealth, power, fame or even in leisure.

The delaying is starting the raid was frustrating. Jameson went ahead with the raid, without getting the go ahead from Rhodes. The idea was to make a dash to Johannesburg before the Boers could mobilise their fighting strength. After reaching there, spur the uprising of the British expatriate workers (reform committee) that was ready to ignite. However, the Joseph Chamberlain, who was the British Colonial Secretary, was unnerved by the raid. He commanded the local British representatives to instruct the British colonists not support the raid.

Beyond that, there was some leak in the secrecy of the raid. The Boers were ready for them. By the time, they were just twenty miles inside, they had to encounter the opposition of a well-positioned Boer soldiers. They lost men and horses in this. Jameson courageously tried to flank the Boer opposition, and get inside. Even in this, the resourceful Boers beat him. When on 2nd January Jameson and his men reached Doornkop, there were met by a full force of Boers, with artillery. It was a hopeless situation. Jameson surrendered. The raiders were jailed.

The British prisoners were given to Britain, and they were taken to London. Jameson was given 15 months imprisonment. The members of the reform committee were caught by the Boer government and jailed in appalling conditions. At first, they had been found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hanged. The US Senate urged the Boer government to pardon them. Later, this punishment was commuted to 15 years in jail. In 1896, they were all let off on paying a very heavy penalty.

The raid had other affects also. One was that Cecil Rhodes was forced to resign his Prime minister-ship. Moreover, this raid was the precursor of the Second Matabele War and also the Second Boer War. The Second Boer War was a terrible one. Not only the British, but the Boers also fought with extreme bravery and resilience. However, it was again the British who won. This war lead to the formal formation of the Union of South Africa; under British supremacy. However, democracy again gave the political power to the Boers, who were superior in number.

Book profile



Author: Somerset Maugham

The Story

Folk songs:

On the banks of Allen Water,

On the banks of Clyde

Excerpt: Magnus in The Apple Cart

English Colonial History:

Emancipation of slaves

Scientist: Sir. Isaac Newton

Geo discoverers: Captain James Cook

Film: The bridge on River Kwai

Actress: Vivien Leigh

Battle: Jameson Raid

Incidence: Nelson’s death



Popular songs: Jingle Bells

Place: Rocks of Gibraltar

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