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A Handbook of the Boer War

Which after a short sojourn in Natal he found at Kimberley


In

1871 a sickly youth named Cecil Rhodes came from England to South Africa in search of health, which after a short sojourn in Natal he found at Kimberley. The prospects of the place favourably impressed him, and he soon laid in it the foundations of his fortune; but six years later the future of Kimberley was still precarious and the discovery of gold in a remote district of the Transvaal sucked thither the greater proportion of the citizens, who, however, found that they had not bettered themselves by the change and returned to the pipes: and soon nearly a hundred companies, syndicates, and private adventurers were groping for diamonds over an area of less than two hundred acres. The waste of energy was manifest to Rhodes, who in 1888 completed, with the help of the Rothschilds, the task upon which he had been engaged for some years, the amalgamation of the conflicting and overlapping diamond interests under the name of the De Beers Consolidated Mines. It was soon found that the new industry was insufficiently protected by the existing criminal law and a new felony was created by the Illicit Diamond Buying Act.

It has been for several centuries the practice of Great Britain to entrust to private companies the imperial responsibilities which she is reluctant to assume and to let out to contractors, who can be repudiated if they fail and expropriated if they succeed, the job of expanding an Empire. Of this policy the most prominent instance is

the East India Company, a commercial venture which obtained from Queen Elizabeth a charter empowering it to trade with the East and which, though connected with Great Britain only by the slender thread of an ocean track of 12,000 miles, maintained itself for two centuries and a half with ever increasing territory and authority until it became a great military Empire. Other examples of lower degree are the Hudson's Bay Company and the Borneo Company. The De Beers Company provided out of its abundance large sums for exploration and settlement in South Africa and for the furtherance of the Imperial idea, and it is said that Rhodes spent the whole of one night in arguing with some of the materialistic magnates of Kimberley, before he could induce them to consent to the employment of the resources of the Company in the advancement of his schemes of Empire. He found, however, that these could not be satisfactorily promoted by a Company whose primary interests were commercial rather than imperial; and in 1888 he obtained a charter for the British South Africa Company, an offshoot of the De Beers Company, formed for the purpose of extending the British Empire towards the Equator.

The question of the defences of Kimberley engaged the attention of the De Beers Company some years before the outbreak of the war. Its vulnerability to attack from the Orange Free State, the border of which ran close to the town, was obvious; and in 1896 a depot of arms and ammunition was formed. A military plan of the place was sent to the Imperial authorities and a defence force was also organized. This, however, had in 1899 ceased to exist owing chiefly to the action of Mr. Schreiner, at that time the Premier of the Cape Colony, who in June refused, with complacent optimism, to furnish it with arms, saying that, "there is no reason for apprehending that Kimberley is in danger of attack," and that "the fears of the citizens are groundless and their anticipations without foundation." A battery of artillery was, however, surreptitiously brought up from King Williamstown.


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