Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

War and Peace

Meanwhile the rule of Britain was spreading rapidly over South Africa. A great tract of land called Bechuanaland had become a British Protectorate. Mr. Cecil Rhodes had helped greatly in this, and now another great tract, named after him Rhodesia, was added.

By Lobengula, the King of Matabeleland, Mr. Rhodes and some others were given the right to look for gold and other minerals in his land. Then in 1889 Mr. Rhodes started the British South African Company. It was a company like the old East India or the Hudson Bay Company, and is generally known as the Chartered Company.

It received from the Crown a Royal Charter or writing by right of which the Company might use the British flag, be under British protection, yet make its own laws, appoint its rulers, and make war against or treaties with the native tribes. Mr. Rhodes was manager of the Company and his friend Dr. Jameson became ruler of Rhodesia.

After the Company was formed its officers began to take possession of the best positions in the country and to build forts. But Lobengula did not like that. He had supposed that a few white men would come to look for gold and go away again. But instead of that they came in hundreds and seemed as if they meant to stay. So he began to fight. In various ways there was a good deal of fighting and trouble. Then the Matabeles made war on another tribe, the Mashonas. The Mashonas fled to the British for protection, and there was more trouble. But at length Bulawayo, Lobengula's capital, was taken and he fled beyond the Zambesi. There he died, and there was peace for a time in Rhodesia.

A few years later, however, the natives again rose and many white people were killed. But after a good deal of fighting, first the Matabele and then the Mashonas gave in. Since then there has been peace in Rhodesia, but as yet there are not many white people there, for the British do not care to go so far away to farm. The land is, however, rich in coal and other minerals, and will doubtless one day become a prosperous colony.

Meanwhile, the Outlanders in Johannesburg were growing more and more discontented, and at last they resolved to rise in rebellion and force the government to grant them what they wanted. Mr. Rhodes, who was now Premier of the Cape, felt with them, and Dr. Jameson, the ruler of Rhodesia, agreed to help them too.

It was arranged that Dr. Jameson with five hundred horse was to march into the Transvaal, and at the same time the discontented Outlanders were to rise. But things went wrong. The people of Johannesburg and Dr. Jameson did not act together. The Boers found out about the intended revolt, and Dr. Jameson and all his force fell into their hands. And so the Jameson Raid, as it is now called, came to nothing.

Mr. Kruger gave his prisoners up to the British, and no very heavy punishment fell upon them. Some of them were sentenced to be imprisoned for longer or shorter times, and some were fined. Dr. Jameson was no longer allowed to be ruler of Rhodesia, and Mr. Rhodes had to give up being manager of the Company and Premier of the Cape.

The Jameson Raid came to nothing, indeed, but it made matters in the Transvaal much worse. The Boers had now grown more suspicious, and they began to gather guns and ammunition, and to build fortresses and batteries. That they should arm themselves in this way made the British angry, and so the quarrels and misunderstandings grew until they ended in war.

A great many reasons have been given for this war, and the one which most people believed to be the true one was that the Outlanders were taxed and yet were not allowed to vote for members of the Raad, and so had no voice in the ruling of the land. That was doubtless very hard. Yet looking back on all the horror and the pain of the war, which seems so near us still, we ask ourselves if indeed all the reasons taken together were worth fighting about. Could the granting of all our demands, could the winning of all our desires, repay us for the loss of so many gallant men? Yet it was freedom we fought for, or so it seemed, and freedom has ever been a Briton's watchword. The Boers, too, thought they fought for freedom.

Many books have been written about this war, and I do not mean to write much about it here. In October 1899 it began. The Orange Free State joined with the Republic, and instead of being a matter of only a few weeks or a few months at most, as most Britishers believed, the war lasted for two and a half years. But when at last peace was signed, both the Orange Free State and the South African Republic had lost their freedom, and had become British possessions.

The South African war wrought much sorrow both in South Africa and in Britain. But it wrought some good, for one thing it proved to all the world was that Great Britain was no mere name. Britons from all over the world gathered to help the Mother Country in her struggle, and right or wrong, we stood together and fought and died for Our Empire.

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