It was about this time that a young Englishman was making his unique personality felt in South Africa. Cecil Rhodes—one of the greatest empire-builders—a name closely connected with all that was vital in that land, had come out from England in 1870, at the age of seventeen, when the voyage to Durban yet took seventy days. He had made his way to the diamond fields about Kimberley, where he not only succeeded in regaining his failing health, but in making a fortune by his industry, foresight, and prudence.
The new land fascinated him. Ever a "dreamer of dreams", he planned out his life as a ruler of men in the land of his adoption. So matured were these that in 1877 he unrolled a map of Africa, for which all the European nations were now scrambling, and pointing from the cape to the great River Zambesi, "That 's my dream," he cried—"all this to be English."
Having decided once for all on his course of action, he spared neither himself nor his money to achieve his end.
In 1889 the British South Africa Company was formed, with Cecil Rhodes as guiding spirit and managing director, in order to open up the yet unexplored lands lying at the back of beyond.
Bechuanaland, for the past the years, had been under British protection, to the annoyance the Transvaal Boers, who were now trying to get a footing in Matabeleland. Germans and Portuguese were also advancing towards the hinterland. Already, thanks to Rhodes's foresight, a treaty had been made with the great native chieftain Lo-Bengula, to whom Matabeleland and Mashonaland were subject—a treaty by which the British practically had the refusal of these vast tracts of land, which to-day we call Rhodesia.
It was now thought desirable for some white men to go up to Mashonaland and exploit the goldfields there. So some 200 British colonists, with a force of 500 armed police, set forth in the summer of 1890 to pioneer their roadless way into the new lands. Though missionaries and hunters had passed through the land, it was as yet unknown. Savage warring tribes were living in the thick bush, through which the"Mashonaland Pioneers "had to fight their way. Every night great precautions were taken: the camp was made of ox-wagons with a Maxim gun at each corner, while an electric searchlight illumined the dark night, and kept the natives at a safe distance.
And so, under the guidance of Selous, the famous lion-hunter, who knew the region better than any white man living, the pioneers reached the very heart of Mashonaland. They hoisted the British flag at a spot near Mount Hampden, which they named Salisbury, after the Prime Minister at home. Here they disbanded, for they had reached the promised land of the goldfields. They soon built the towns of Salisbury and Victoria, and more and more settlers found their way to the new country. A chartered company was formed, administered by Cecil Rhodes and his friend Dr. Jameson, and the whole was brought under British protection.
But all this displeased Lo-Bengula, and frequent Matabele raids disturbed the peace of the Mashonaland colonists. At last Jameson decided that the power of Lo-Bengula must be crushed.
In 1893 an opportunity offered. A Matabele army crossed the border, and colonists and troops were called out to war. Some thousand rallied round the flag and marched towards Bulawayo, Lo-Bengula's capital. Soon Bulawayo was in flames, and Lo-Bengula was flying panic-stricken to the north. Major Forbes, with a small force, was sent in pursuit. He followed the tracks of Lo-Bengula's wagons for some forty miles to the Shangani River, then along the river to a ford, which had evidently been crossed. Major Forbes then deputed Major Alan Wilson, with thirty-three troopers, to cross the Shangani and patrol further, intending to follow later with the main body.
The night was dark, and rain fell heavily. The river rose, and with it all possibility of return. Wilson and his handful of men were hopelessly separated from Major Forbes. A terrible tragedy was the result.
The Matabele were rallying round their king, when they discovered the white men. In the early morning Major Wilson and his thirty-three troopers were furiously attacked. They knew full well there was no escape, but that they must die as became brave men, facing certain death. 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 Matabele afterwards—then they joined in a song, and singing, died. Still one man was left, upright, brave to the end. 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 patrol struck the natives with awe and reverence. To-day the spot where they fell is marked by a granite memorial put up by Cecil Rhodes himself. The brave end of the Shangani patrol will ever stand out, not only in colonial but in imperial history, as one of Britain's famous deeds.
Mashonaland and Matabeleland both came under British protection, and were administered by the Chartered Company, under Dr. Jameson, under the name of Southern Rhodesia—which forms the fifth of the British States in South Africa.