Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

The Founding of Rhodesia

"We were dreamers, dreaming greatly,

in the man-stifled town;

We yearned beyond the sky-line,

where the strange roads go down."

— Kipling

L ET us see how this Cape to Cairo scheme sprung into being by the founding of Rhodesia by Rhodes.

The Transvaal State emerged from its war of independence penniless, but the old arrangements were soon set to work again, and the new President formed plans for enlarging his boundaries. Bands of Boer raiders entered the neighbouring territory of Bechuanaland to the west, and established themselves around Vryburg to the north of Kimberley and Griqualand West. This country was the open door to Central Africa discovered by Livingstone. If the Transvaal established a protectorate over Bechuanaland, what would become of Cecil Rhodes' dream of a great northern empire, stretching to the Zambesi and beyond? He now raised his voice and cried to his country to act at once.

"Soon, soon it may be too late!" he cried in tones that demanded attention.

England listened, and in 1885 proclaimed her protectorate over Bechuanaland. The road to the interior was now open.

Stretching away northwards, beyond the Limpopo or Crocodile river, which forms the northern boundary of the Transvaal, is a vast country, which now forms part of the British Empire, under the name of its founder, Rhodesia. It was little known at this time. A few explorers and hunters had brought back glowing accounts of healthy uplands, well-watered valleys, and abundance of gold. The country south of the Zambesi was inhabited by native tribes, known as the Mashonas and Matabilis, under the rule of King Lobengula.

One day in the year 1888, three adventurous young Englishmen visited him at his royal kraal at Buluwayo. They came to obtain his leave for the sole right to search for the minerals within his territory. With some difficulty they obtained it, and carried the joyful news back to Cape Colony. Preparations went forward, and a band of pioneers was soon ready to advance into the new country of Mashonaland.

In olden days the march of the Ten Thousand thrilled the ancients with admiration. In modern times no more heroic march has been performed than this by the Mashonaland Pioneers, who cut their way through a thousand miles of roadless country inhabited by a warlike and powerful race of savage tribes. Dressed in brown corduroy tunics and trousers, with leather leggings and "Buffalo Bill" hats, they started off in the summer of 1890. By May they had reached and crossed the Limpopo, and were in the country of the Matabilis. Every precaution was taken in case of attack from these savage warriors. The long train of waggons, each drawn by sixteen oxen, was led by mounted troopers. At night a laager was made of waggons, with a maxim gun at each corner, while an electric search-light lit up the dark sky and kept the terrified Matabili at a safe distance. Marching steadily forwards, the Pioneers reached the Tull river on July 1. They had now to cut their way through thick forest, till a month later, they arrived at the top of the tableland and beheld a sight which gladdened their hearts. Before them spread open grassy downs, where the town of Victoria stands to-day. Five months after leaving Cape Town, the Pioneers were in the very heart of Mashonaland, and the British flag was flying over a spot called Fort Salisbury, in honour of the Imperial Prime Minister. A rush for the gold-fields soon took place, and "Golden Mashonaland" became a second El Dorado. Old gold mines were discovered with remains of Phoenician civilisation, and the question arose: "Was not this the Ophir of Solomon's days?"

Under the Chartered Company, which resembled the old East India Company, colonisation went on apace, under the administration of Rhodes' old friend, Dr. Jameson. Till one day in July 1893, the news spread that the Matabili army had entered Mashonaland, and the white men were no longer safe. An expedition was prepared by Dr. Jameson, backed by Cecil Rhodes; and some thousand colonists in three columns marched forth against one of the most powerful tribes in South Africa. As the force advanced towards Lobengula's capital at Buluwayo, the Matabilis retreated across the Shangani river, which divided Mashonaland from Matabililand. The colonial troops were advancing, when early one morning a loud report rent the air. It was followed by huge columns of smoke rising from Buluwayo, where a store of gun-powder had been blown up by the panic-stricken inhabitants, who with Lobengula were now flying from before the face of the white men.

A party of 300 men, under Major Forbes, was at once sent in pursuit of the king. The success of the capture depended on speed. So on December 3, Major Allan Wilson, with a small party of well-mounted men, were sent on rapidly across the Shangani river in pursuit of Lobengula. He was to return before night to the camp. But when evening fell, Wilson found that the king was but six miles ahead of him, so he sent a messenger back to Forbes to beg for reinforcements without delay, as the Matabili were very strong.

The night was dark, and rain was falling fast. There was no sleep for the men of Wilson's patrol in the midst of foes, no sleep either for Forbes with preparations for an early start forwards. But at daybreak it was discovered that the Shangani had risen in the night and it was impossible to cross. Further, a large force of Matabili now attacked the men in camp, and all hopes of joining Wilson had to be given up. The little patrol party must be left to their fate. That fate was learnt later from the Matabili warriors. At dawn, Wilson had made a dash for the king's person, but a tremendous fire had suddenly opened upon the little party, from a band of Matabili hidden in the bush. The handful of Englishmen fell back on a large mound. Here they dismounted and formed a ring with their horses, behind which they took shelter. There was no request for quarter, no thought of surrender. With "iron calmness" the men fought on for two long hours, till their ammunition gave out. As soon as the supreme moment came, those who were yet able to rise, stood shoulder to shoulder and lifted their hats. Then, said the Matabili afterwards—then they joined in a song—the missionaries sang to the natives—probably "God save the Queen," and singing, died. Still one man was left, upright, hopeful, brave to the last. Alone he stood in the midst of the dead bodies of his comrades, a hero among heroes, and single-handed he fought the foe, till he too fell dead at the last. The desperate bravery of Wilson's heroic band struck the natives with awe and reverence. To-day the spot is marked by a wonderful bas-relief, sent by Cecil Rhodes, but no memorial is needed to keep the story fresh in the minds of his countrymen. "For it is by such men that the Empire has been made."

"Because on the bones of the English,

the English flag is stayed."

Soon after this Lobengula died, the Matabili submitted, and the British flag waved over Buluwayo. The new country was won and named after the man, who had not only dreamed of a northern empire, but made it possible for his country to conquer and colonise it.

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