A few hours after Jameson’s filibusters had left Pitsani, Sir Graham Bower was about to go to bed when Rhodes’ butler arrived on horseback to tell him that Rhodes was anxious to speak to him at once. Bower went round to Groote Schuur, a mile distant, and found Rhodes in his bedroom in an agitated state of mind. After spending a relaxed evening with guests, Rhodes had begun to panic. Holding Jameson’s last telegram in his hand, his face ashen, he told Bower that Jameson had invaded the Transvaal, though he had sent word to try to stop him. ‘It may yet come all right,’ he said. Sitting on the bed, he was clearly distressed, full of self-pity. ‘I know I must go,’ he said. ‘I will resign tomorrow. But I know what this means. It means war. I am a ruined man. But there must be no recrimination. I will take the blame.’
Bower was staggered by the news, but, with the telegraph office closed, considered there was nothing more to be done immediately and left at midnight. At 5 a.m. on Monday, 30 December, he sent his gardener to deliver a note for Robinson:
My dear Sir Hercules,
I hope you will come to Town early. There is, I fear, bad news from Jameson. He seems to have disobeyed Rhodes, and to have taken the bit between his teeth.
When Robinson arrived at his office at 10 a.m., having taken his usual train, Bower told him of his conversation with Rhodes. ‘But, good God,’ expostulated Robinson, ‘he has not gone in without a rising? If so, you never told me.’ Bower replied: ‘Certainly not. I had never dreamt of Jameson doing such a thing.’ Bower suggested sending a telegram to Frank Newton, the resident commissioner in Bechuanaland, instructing him to order Jameson to return. Robinson hesitated: ‘Perhaps Chamberlain has sent him in. He is such an extraordinary fellow, it is possible he may support Jameson.’ Bower disagreed and the telegram to Newton was sent.
Later in the day, having received Chamberlain’s telegram sent on Sunday, Robinson wrote an official letter to Rhodes repudiating Jameson’s action and warning him that it would probably lead to the cancellation of his Charter. When the Transvaal government asked Robinson for information about an incursion from Bechuanaland, Robinson made clear he had repudiated the action and ordered the filibusters to return.
Rhodes meanwhile remained holed up at Groote Schuur, planning his next moves. He made no attempt to send a message recalling Jameson, as Robinson had done; or to repudiate the invasion; or to resign as prime minister. Believing that Jameson would still get through to Johannesburg, he decided to whip up public support in England by making use of Jameson’s bogus ‘women and children’ letter of invitation. In a confidential message to his London agents, he sought to portray Jameson as a valiant hero riding to their rescue.
Dr Jameson moved to assist English in Johannesburg because he received strong letter begging Dr Jameson to come signed by leading inhabitants. This letter will be telegraphed to you verbatim tomorrow. Meanwhile do not refer press. We are confident of success. Johannesburg united and strong on our side.
The bogus letter was duly sent to The Times, with a few extra touches to make it more convincing, for publication on 1 January 1896.
Rhodes also sent an angry message to Flora Shaw telling her to give Chamberlain his response to the telegram he had sent threatening to cancel the Charter:
Inform Chamberlain that I shall get through all right if he supports me, but he must not send cable like he sent the High Commissioner in South Africa. Today the crux is, I will win and South Africa will belong to England.
On Monday evening, the Cape’s attorney-general, Will Schreiner, Olive’s younger brother, called by to ask whether the news about Jameson was true, unaware of Rhodes’ involvement in the plot:
The moment I saw him I saw a man I had never seen before. His appearance was utterly dejected and different. Before I could say a word he said: ‘Yes, yes, it is true. Old Jameson has upset my apple-cart. It is all true . . .’ Whatever the reason may have been, when I spoke to him he was broken down . . . He could not have acted that part . . .
SCHREINER: Why do you not stop him? Although he has ridden in, you can still stop him?
RHODES: Poor old Jameson. Twenty years we have been friends and now he goes in and ruins me. I cannot hinder him. I cannot go in and destroy him.
The impression Rhodes gave Schreiner was that his inertia was due to the shock of a friend’s betrayal and the obligations of friendship he still felt, but it was more a stratagem to give Jameson time to reach Johannesburg.
Among the Cape’s Afrikaner politicians, there was rising fury at the news. ‘If Rhodes is behind this, he is no more a friend of mine,’ said Jan Hofmeyr, and he sent Kruger a telegram expressing solidarity:
I hope your burghers will acquit themselves like heroes against Jameson’s filibusters.
On Tuesday, 31 December, Hofmeyr went to see Robinson to insist that the British government issue a public proclamation disavowing Jameson and making clear that ‘the criminal law . . . will be enforced to the utmost against him’. Robinson hesitated, uncertain whether he could do so without Chamberlain’s authority. ‘But I am afraid Pushful Joe is in it,’ Robinson told Hofmeyr. In the end he gave his assent to a proclamation, forbidding British subjects to support Jameson.
On learning about the proclamation, Rhodes dashed to Government House to plead for delay. ‘It’s making an outlaw of the Doctor,’ he complained to Robinson. In Hofmeyr’s presence, Rhodes told Bower that he had offered his resignation to the cabinet. ‘Mere resignation is not enough,’ Hofmeyr retorted. ‘You must issue a manifesto repudiating Jameson, suspending him as Administrator of Rhodesia, and declaring that the law will be set in force against him.’ ‘Well, you see,’ Rhodes replied, ‘Jameson has been such an old friend, of course I cannot do it.’
Still believing he could retrieve the situation, Rhodes tried to persuade Robinson to travel to Johannesburg and establish his authority there, as the original plan envisaged. In a final cable to Flora Shaw on 31 December - intending to shift some of the blame for failure - Rhodes wrote:
Unless you can make Chamberlain instruct the High Commissioner to proceed at once to Johannesburg the whole position is lost. High Commissioner would receive splendid reception and still turn position to England’s advantage.
When the editor of The Star, Fred Hamilton, called at Groote Schuur, Rhodes talked of a plan to travel to Pretoria himself:
RHODES: I’ll go to Pretoria to see Kruger.
HAMILTON: He’ll hang you.
RHODES: Hang me? They can’t hang me. I’m a Privy Councillor. There are only 200 of us in the British Empire.
Rhodes then dropped the idea of tackling Kruger in favour of turning the heat on Chamberlain:
RHODES: Well, anyhow, I have got Chamberlain by the short hairs . . .
HAMILTON: Then he really is in it, Mr Rhodes?
RHODES: In it? Up to the neck.
In London, Chamberlain was busy covering his tracks. On learning that Jameson had crossed the border, he had at first feared political ruin. But he soon took the initiative. At midnight on 30 December he sent a cable to Robinson, instructing him to ‘Leave no stone unturned to prevent mischief.’ On 31 December, he told Rhodes and the London directors of the BSA Company that the invasion was ‘an act of war’ that might cost them their Charter. And he wrote to Salisbury telling him of the approaching storm:
I am sorry to say the Transvaal business has entered on a more acute stage. Having failed to get up a revolution in Johannesburg Rhodes . . . has apparently sent in Dr Jameson who has crossed the border of the Transvaal with 800 armed police. This is a flagrant piece of filibustering for which there is no justification that I can see in the present state of things in the Transvaal. If it were supported by us it would justify the accusation of Germany and other powers that having first attempted to get up a revolution in a friendly State and having failed, we had then assented to an act of aggression and without any grievance of our own, had poured in British troops. It is worth noting that I have no confidence that the force now sent, with its allies in Johannesburg, is strong enough to beat the Boers - and if not we should expect that conflict would be the beginning of a race war in South Africa . . .
In an attempt to mollify Kruger, Chamberlain sent him a direct cable:
Regret to hear of Jameson’s action. Sir Hercules Robinson has sent messengers to call him back. Can I cooperate with you further in this emergency in endeavouring to bring about a peaceful arrangement which is essential to all interests in South Africa, and which would be promoted by the concessions that I am assured you are ready to make?
The first that Kruger knew about Jameson’s raid was when General Joubert, the commandant-general, walked in to a meeting of the executive council in Pretoria on Monday, 30 December, waving a telegram from Zeerust, a village near the border with Bechuanaland, warning of troop movements at the nearby settlement at Malmani. Despite weeks of preparation, Jameson’s men had failed to cut the telegraph line between Zeerust and Pretoria. The telegram had been sent by an official from Malmani relating how, at 5 a.m. that morning, 800 troops from the Chartered Company, armed with Maxim guns, had passed through Malmani heading in the direction of Johannesburg. Joubert ordered an immediate mobilisation. Within hours, hundreds of armed burghers were on their way to intercept the raiders.
In Johannesburg, news that Jameson had crossed the border reached the conspirators on Monday afternoon. ‘The contractor has started on the earthworks with seven hundred boys; hope to reach terminus on Wednesday.’ The conspirators were furious that Jameson had forced on them the prospect of a revolt, defying all the messages they had sent him insisting on postponement. The danger to their position became all the more evident when they learned that Kruger had called out the commandos.
In haste, they assembled an emergency directorate of sixty-four uitlanders - mine-owners, solicitors, doctors, engineers and company directors - naming it the Reform Committee. Many joined knowing little or nothing of the conspiracy under way. In charge was an inner group consisting of Lionel Phillips, representatives from the Gold Fields, Wernher, Beit and Farrar companies, and Percy FitzPatrick, a Cape-born adventurer. As headquarters, they used the Gold Fields building. Representatives of other companies - Barnato, Albu and J. B. Robinson - refused to participate.
The Reform Committee effectively took over the governance of Johannesburg, declaring their aim to be to preserve order and defend the town. They called on residents to commit no hostile act against the government and disavowed ‘any knowledge of, or sympathy with’ the armed incursion from Bechuanaland. To emphasise their loyalty to the Transvaal, members ostentatiously hoisted a Vierkleur flag above the Gold Fields building. But the Reform Committee also gave their support to a manifesto published by Leonard’s national union on 27 December demanding political rights. And they authorised the distribution of arms. While anxious to avoid fighting, they hoped to use the turn of events to extract maximum concessions from Kruger.
Johannesburg’s white population was at first stunned by the news of Jameson’s invasion. The Star published a special edition telling residents he had crossed the border: ‘Forces Making for Johannesburg. Conflict Lamentably Imminent’. ‘I well remember the looks of utter dumbfoundedness with which the news was received,’ wrote the Times correspondent, Francis Younghusband. ‘It simply took men’s breath away: the audacity of the move, and the awful consequences which it might involve.’ Hundreds decided to flee by train.
But as the Reform Committee took control, a sense of purpose, even excitement, spread. Volunteers drilled in the squares. Trenches were dug. Ambulance and nursing units were formed. Three Maxim guns were brought out and exhibited at the Rand Club. A mounted corps - Bettingham’s Horse - appeared.
Yet, like members of the Reform Committee, residents were keen to avoid a fight. In his report to The Times on Tuesday, Younghusband wrote: ‘The news of the advance of an armed party from Bechuanaland is not very favourably received. There is no general wish in the community to resort to arms except in defence, and equally little wish to destroy the independence of the Republic.’
Kruger, too, wanted to avoid a fight over Johannesburg. He was unsure how well armed the population was. On instructions from Pretoria, the police in Johannesburg withdrew to barracks. Key government officials in Johannesburg were told to act as a ‘Peace Committee’ in discussions with the rebels; envoys were sent from Pretoria. ‘While I am beating out the fire at the frontier,’ Kruger told them, ‘on no account let it burst out in Johannesburg.’
The Reform Committee, in turn, decided to send a deputation to Pretoria, becoming increasingly confident that Jameson’s force would soon arrive and enable them to dictate terms. Leading the deputation, Phillips told Kruger’s officials: ‘We come with the rifle in one hand and friendship in the other.’ When asked how the government could be sure that the Reform Committee represented the Johannesburg population since the identity of its members was not known in Pretoria, the deputation, with astonishing naïveté, telegraphed for a full list of members and handed it to Kruger’s officials. That list was the only evidence the government obtained on which to order the subsequent arrest of the whole Reform Committee. Assured that the government had no intention of attacking them, the rebel deputation returned to Johannesburg in high spirits.
Having defused the threat of outright rebellion in Johannesburg, Kruger still had to deal with Jameson’s advancing filibusters.
From Malmani, Jameson’s column rode eastwards towards Krugersdorp, a village twenty miles from Johannesburg, but soon discovered they had lost the advantage of surprise. After only a few hours along the route, they were shadowed by small groups of armed Boers. On Monday evening, while stopping for rest and refreshment, Jameson received a message from the local Boer commandant telling him to go back. Jameson replied: ‘I intend proceeding with my original plans’ and cited the bogus ‘letter of invitation’ as justification. His force, he said, had ‘no hostile intentions against the people of the Transvaal’, but they had come ‘in reply to the invitation from the principal residents of the Rand to assist them in their demand for justice and the ordinary rights of every citizen of a civilized state’.
Early on Tuesday morning, a messenger from Newton, the British resident commissioner in Mafeking, arrived just as the column was saddling up, having ridden through the night. He brought a sealed package with orders from Robinson instructing Jameson to go back. Jameson did not bother to reply.
On Wednesday morning, another messenger arrived, sent by the British Agent in Pretoria, Sir Jacobus de Wet, giving Jameson the same orders:
Her Majesty’s Government entirely disapprove your conduct in invading Transvaal with armed force; your action has been repudiated. You are ordered to retire at once from the country and will be held personally responsible for the consequences of your unauthorized and most improper proceeding.
Again Jameson ignored the orders. He had advanced 150 miles into the Transvaal and was now only a few miles from Krugersdorp. Though his men were tired and hungry, he was confident he could make it to Johannesburg. Apart from light skirmishing, the Boer groups trailing him had shown no inclination to engage his column.
In Krugersdorp, however, Boer commanders had assembled a force of 500 men to defend the village and held commanding positions on a ridge three miles outside it. Jameson’s military commander, Sir John Willoughby, wanted to avoid Krugersdorp; but Jameson insisted on heading there, expecting to find supplies and reinforcements from Johannesburg awaiting him. After shelling Boer positions, Willoughby ordered a frontal attack. As an advance party made their way up the ridge, they were cut down by Boer fire; about thirty men fell dead or wounded, another thirty who sought shelter were captured; the rest retreated.
Forced to skirt around Krugersdorp, harassed by Boer riflemen, Jameson’s raiders found themselves on 2 January 1896 surrounded near a hill called Doornkop. Exhausted, and with casualties mounting, they put up a brief fight, then decided to surrender, hoisting a white apron belonging to a domestic worker on a nearby property. They looked, said a Boer commandant, Piet Cronjé (of 1881 fame), dirty and miserable. Some stood around weeping. Jameson, he said, ‘trembled like a reed’. On Joubert’s orders, the wounded were taken to hospital in Krugersdorp. Jameson and some 400 other raiders were carted off to prison in Pretoria.
It was left to Sir Hercules Robinson to sort out the mess as best he could. From the time he had first learned of Rhodes’ conspiracy, he had tried to distance himself from it. ‘The whole scheme is I believe sheer piracy,’ he told Bower in November. Now, suffering from heart trouble, his legs swollen with dropsy, he was required to deal with the consequences. On the night of 2 January, he climbed on board a train leaving Cape Town for Pretoria to try to reach a deal with Kruger and avoid the possibility of war. Bower accompanied him, equally worried. ‘During the month of January 1896,’ he recalled, ‘the issues of peace and war were trembling in the balance. I could not say from day to day, or from hour to hour, which way the balance would turn.’
The crisis was indeed becoming ever more complex. In London, Chamberlain had ordered two British regiments to call at the Cape in case of an uprising in Johannesburg. In Cape Town, Hofmeyr was convinced of a British plot against the Transvaal; he told Chamberlain that Rhodes’ BSA Company was ‘a source of danger to the public peace of South Africa’ and demanded a full enquiry. Bower feared that Chamberlain would rather go to war than face an enquiry that would expose his involvement in Rhodes’ conspiracy. In Pretoria, Kruger’s commanders, having defeated Jameson, were keen to march on Johannesburg to deal with the rebels. British public opinion, meanwhile, as a result of the publication in The Times of the ‘women and children’ letter, had swung in Jameson’s favour. Chamberlain found that his decision to repudiate publicly the invasion was unpopular. In its leader on 2 January, The Times added further pressure. By repudiating Jameson, said The Times, Chamberlain had ‘saved’ the Boer government; he was therefore morally responsible for transforming it.
On 3 January, while Robinson was on the train to Pretoria, another factor exploded on to the stage: Germany. The Germans had become increasingly annoyed about British agitation against Kruger. On 24 December, the German consul in Pretoria had reported to Berlin that ‘the British party’ in Johannesburg was thought to be ‘preparing trouble in the next few days’. On 28 December, the British ambassador in Berlin was told that the German government could not accept ‘any change in the status quo [in the Transvaal] in the direction sought by Cecil Rhodes’. Chamberlain denied that he planned any change. But Jameson’s invasion from British Bechuanaland seemed to confirm German suspicions of British meddling and inflamed German public opinion. Kruger made it clear that he looked to Germany for support. Once Jameson was defeated, the Kaiser decided to send a telegram of congratulation to Kruger. It was published on 3 January:
I express to you my sincere congratulations that without calling on the aid of friendly Powers you and your people, by your own energy against the armed bands which have broken into your country as disturbers of the peace, have succeeded in reestablishing peace, and defending the independence of the country against attacks from without.
In Britain, there was uproar. The press was outraged at both what they took to be a German challenge to British supremacy in southern Africa, and by the Kaiser’s remark implying that if Kruger had needed help Germany would have given it. The folly of Jameson’s Raid was soon forgotten. What mattered now was the menace of German aggression.
Queen Victoria, the Kaiser’s grandmother, was quick to rebuke him:
I cannot refrain from expressing my deep regret at the telegram you sent President Kruger. It is considered very unfriendly towards this country, which I feel it is not intended to be, and has, I grieve to say, made a most unfortunate impression.
Kaiser Wilhelm was equally quick with a barbed response:
Most Beloved Grandmamma,
Never was the Telegram intended as a step against England or your Government. [I thought the raiders were] a mixed mob of gold-diggers . . . the scum of all nations, never suspecting that there were real Englishmen or Officers among them . . . I was standing up for law, order and obedience to a Sovereign whom I revere and adore.
Taking advantage of the popular mood, Chamberlain saw an opportunity to shake a fist at Germany and to flex his muscles with Kruger. ‘I think what is called an “Act of Vigour” is required to soothe the wounded vanity of the nation,’ he wrote to Lord Salisbury on 4 January, adding: ‘It does not matter which of our numerous foes we defy, but we ought to defy someone.’ He ordered ostentatious naval preparations. Two days later, he sent Kruger a vivid warning: ‘The President would find that the little finger of Germany is thicker than England’s loins.’
In conversation with the Kaiser three years later, Rhodes remarked: ‘You see, I was a naughty boy, and you tried to whip me. Now my people were quite ready to whip me for being a naughty boy, but directly you did it, they said, “No, if this is anybody’s business, it is ours.” The result was that Your Majesty got yourself very much disliked by the English people, and I never got whipped at all!’
By the time that Robinson’s train steamed into Pretoria station on Saturday night, the complexities of his ‘peace-making’ mission were thus considerably greater than they had been when he left Cape Town. His dropsy, meanwhile, had become so acute that he was obliged to lie on a couch during the course of his negotiations. His task was made all the more difficult by a stream of telegrams from Chamberlain insisting on the terms he wanted from Kruger. ‘It will be your duty to use firm language.’ Siding outright with the uitlanders, Chamberlain demanded the redress of all their grievances: the franchise after five years’ residence; English-medium schools; full municipal powers for Johannesburg; tax cuts; and acceptance of the Reform Committee’s manifesto. The Transvaal government, said Chamberlain, was to be reminded that ‘the danger from which they have escaped’ might recur if they were obdurate.
But, as Robinson fully recognised, Kruger, with the lives of Jameson and other prisoners in his hands and 8,000 Boer fighters at his disposal, held all the trump cards. Yet Kruger too had his difficulties. His burghers clamoured for the execution of the ringleaders. Kruger, however, saw an advantage in being magnanimous. ‘What do the lives of these people matter to us?’ he asked a council meeting on 6 January. ‘The future does. Thousands of Englishmen live in our country, and no matter how just the sentence, how well deserved the death-penalty, the seven or nine executed will be so many martyrs and will make the schism between burghers and Englishmen unbridgeable.’ What he proposed instead was to hand over the raiders to Britain to punish. If they were not punished, the Transvaal would still gain, for then Britain would be seen as the protector of criminals. As for the Reformers, the Transvaal government would deal with them separately.
In negotiations with Robinson, Kruger refused to discuss what might happen to the raiders. What he wanted, he told Robinson, was the unconditional surrender of Johannesburg within twenty-four hours. When Robinson tried to raise the issue of uitlander grievances, Kruger cut him short. Grievances would be considered only after surrender, he said. Seeing no worthwhile alternative, Robinson advised the Reform Committee to surrender unconditionally, warning that if they refused, they would ‘forfeit all claim to sympathy from Her Majesty’s Government’ and jeopardise the lives of Jameson and other prisoners. When Chamberlain telegraphed that he was thinking of ‘immediately sending large forces . . . to the Cape to provide for all eventualities’, Robinson told him curtly to ‘leave the matter in my hands’.
In Johannesburg, following the capture of Jameson, the mood resembled a mixture of ‘Armageddon and a psychopathic ward’, according to John Hays Hammond. Recriminations flew thick and fast. ‘Tonight’, Percy FitzPatrick wrote to his wife on 3 January, ‘we are all hooted and howled at by the crowd because they say we have deserted Jameson. We have done nothing of the sort but he has failed to reach [us] and, as far as we can learn has had to surrender to the Boers. It is the blackest and most cruel game of treachery every played. Chamberlain sold Jameson and the High Commissioner or Rhodes sold us both.’ Yet the conspirators had little appetite for trying to hold out. On receiving Robinson’s cable, they replied that they would lay down their arms and ‘place themselves and their interests unreservedly in the hands of Your Excellency’.
On 9 January, Kruger promised a pardon to all those who surrendered their arms, other than the leading conspirators, and simultaneously ordered the arrest of the sixty-four members of the Reform Committee whose names he had been given by their own deputation. Despite all that had happened, he said, he hoped that Johannesburg’s residents would make it possible for him to ‘forgive and forget’.
Facing ruin, Rhodes remained holed up at Groote Schuur, roaming the mountain slopes during the day, pacing up and down in his bedroom at night. His conspiracy to overthrow Kruger had ended in fiasco. It had cost him his position as prime minister and placed all his business interests in jeopardy. The charter of the British South Africa Company was under threat; De Beers was implicated in gun-running; Gold Fields had been used as the headquarters of the failed Johannesburg uprising. His fellow conspirators - including Jameson and his own brother Frank - faced long terms of imprisonment. Rhodes himself was liable to prosecution under the Foreign Enlistment Act, which made it an offence for anyone to prepare an expedition on British soil against a friendly state. His political ambitions in the Cape were in tatters. Hofmeyr and the Cape Afrikaners were bitter at his betrayal. ‘I could explain better if you had ever been a married man,’ Hofmeyr told Rhodes.
You were never married. I have not yet forgotten the relation of perfect trust and intimacy which a man has with his wife. We have often disagreed, you and I, but I would no more have thought of distrusting you than a man and his wife think of distrusting each other in any joint undertaking. So it was until now; and now you have let me go on being apparently intimate while you knew that this was preparing and said nothing.
Amid the wreckage, Rhodes resolved to ensure he kept the Charter, knowing he had enough evidence of Chamberlain’s complicity in the conspiracy to blackmail him. Rhodes was aware that a number of telegrams implicating Chamberlain were held by company officials. In all, his London solicitor, Bouchier Hawksley, assembled a dossier of fifty-nine telegrams. On 15 January, Rhodes set sail for England ready to confront Chamberlain. ‘I am going home to face the unctuous rectitude of my countrymen,’ he told a public meeting in Cape Town, with obvious disdain. Arriving in London on 3 February, he discussed tactics with Hawksley. The following day, Hawksley met Fairfield to let him know of the telegrams in his possession implicating Chamberlain. When Chamberlain asked to be shown the telegrams, Hawksley declined. ‘I think perhaps enough has been done, and we may leave matters at this point. Mr C [Chamberlain] knows what I know and can shape his course with this knowledge.’ He added smoothly: ‘As I hope I made clear to you there is not the slightest intention to make any use whatever of confidential documents.’
When Rhodes met Chamberlain on 6 February, not a word was mentioned about the telegrams. After a two-hour discussion, Rhodes left with Chamberlain’s assurance that, as far as he was concerned, the Charter was safe. The blackmail was mutual. While Rhodes used his possession of the cables to prevent Chamberlain from abrogating the Charter, Chamberlain used his power to withdraw the Charter to prevent Rhodes from publishing the cables.
The fate of the conspirators unfolded in the following months. Three weeks after his capture, Jameson was released from prison to stand trial in Britain. In England he had become a music-hall hero. In January, The Times published a ballad by Alfred Austin, the Poet Laureate, to commemorate his valiant dash for Johannesburg:
When men of our own blood pray us
To ride to their kinsfolk’s aid,
Not Heaven itself shall stay us
From the rescue they call a raid . . .
There are girls in the gold-reef city,
There are mothers and children too,
And they cry: ‘Hurry up! For pity!’
So what can a brave man do.
Jameson was charged under the Foreign Enlistment Act with preparing ‘a military expedition’ against ‘a friendly state’. While he was awaiting trial, Chamberlain paid him a secret visit in prison, presumably to ensure that he remained discreet when giving evidence. Jameson was sentenced to fifteen months’ imprisonment, but, after falling ill, served only four months.
The Johannesburg conspirators fared less well. Jameson’s raiders had been foolish enough to carry with them a host of incriminating documents, including telegrams, code books and a copy of the infamous letter of invitation. In view of the weight of evidence against them, their lawyers advised them to plead guilty to charges of treason. Four of the signatories of the ‘women and children’ letter - Lionel Phillips, Frank Rhodes, John Hays Hammond and George Farrar - were sentenced to death for treason; the fifth signatory, Charles Leonard, never returned from Cape Town and fled to England. Percy FitzPatrick, the secretary of the Reform Committee, was also sentenced to death. Other Reformers were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of £2,000 each.
The death sentences were commuted the next day. After a deluge of petitions, Kruger further reduced the sentences - ‘magnanimity by inches’, it was called - and finally opted for fines. Rhodes and Beit between them spent £200,000 settling the fines. Rhodes subsequently admitted that the Raid had cost Beit and himself £400,000 each.
In the wake of the trial, the Transvaal government published a ‘green’ book of all the evidence in its possession. Rhodes and Jameson were exposed as the main culprits behind the conspiracy, but there were also hints about British government complicity. In July, the Cape parliament published its own report on the Raid in a ‘blue’ book, adding further information. It described Rhodes, Beit, Jameson and Harris as ‘the promoters and moving spirits’ behind the plot and judged that the whole Johannesburg movement had been ‘largely financed and engineered from outside’. It laid the heaviest blame on Rhodes. It was Rhodes, said the report, who ‘directed and controlled the combination’ that had made the Raid possible.
In London, Parliament set up a committee of inquiry into the Raid that was little more than a sham. Chamberlain himself sat on the committee carefully steering it away from dangerous territory. He denied any involvement: ‘I never had any knowledge, or, until I think it was the day before the actual raid took place, the slightest suspicion, of anything in the nature of a hostile or armed invasion of the Transvaal.’ Other witnesses - Rhodes, Jameson, Willoughby, Beit, Phillips, Leonard, Hawksley and Shaw - were similarly evasive. ‘Dr Jameson went in without my authority,’ said Rhodes. Committee members appeared reluctant to probe too far, fearful of what they might find. In its conclusions, the committee gave Rhodes a slap on the wrist: he had been guilty, it said, of ‘grave breaches of duty to those to whom he owed allegiance’. Chamberlain was exonerated. ‘Neither the Secretary of State for the Colonies nor any of the officials at the Colonial Office received any information which made them or should have made them or any of them, aware of the plot during its development.’ Critics of the committee were scornful. Lord Rosebery, leader of the opposition, remarked: ‘I have never read a document at once so shameful and so absurd.’
Chamberlain compounded the sense of outrage about the whole affair by loudly praising Rhodes. ‘There has been nothing proved - and in my opinion there exists nothing - which affects Mr Rhodes’s personal position as a man of honour.’ When a move was made to deprive Rhodes of his membership of the Privy Council, Chamberlain rallied to his defence: Rhodes had been honoured, he said, ‘for invaluable services nothing can dim’.
Thus, the Rhodes conspiracy ended as it had begun: in collusion, lies and deceit.
But there were lasting repercussions. Cape Afrikaners never forgave Rhodes for his treachery. The working alliance between Afrikaners and English that had prevailed for decades was irretrievably damaged. Faced with yet another example of British aggression, Afrikaners across southern Africa - in the Cape, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State - rallied behind Kruger. Out of the ashes of the Rhodes conspiracy came a resurgence of Afrikaner nationalism, rekindled with new intensity.
In London, meanwhile, Chamberlain brooded over the unfinished business of the plot. In a ‘statement of policy’ he sent to Fairfield in April 1896, he argued that previous generosity to the Boers was a piece of Christian chivalry that had brought no benefit. He described Kruger as ‘an ignorant, dirty, cunning and obstinate man who has known how to feather his own nest and to enrich all his family and dependants’. He was mindful, he said, of the consequences of war:
I shall never go into such a war with a light heart, and at the present time we have no reason - either of right or of interest - which would justify the enterprise.
If we ever were forced into it against our will I should try to seize and defend the gold-bearing districts. This is the key of S. Africa . . .
I do not believe that there will be war - but Kruger will not be wise if he dismisses that possibility altogether from his calculations . . .
What he wanted, he claimed, was ‘a fair settlement’ between Boers and uitlanders in the Transvaal.
We shall not do it, I admit, by a policy of empty menace or arbitrary impatience - neither, I think, shall we succeed if we underestimate our reserve force and allow Kruger to have it all his own way.
Speaking in the House of Commons in May 1896, Chamberlain was more explicit about the repercussions of war.
A war in South Africa would be one of the most serious wars that could possibly be waged. It would be in the nature of a Civil War. It would be a long war, a bitter war and a costly war . . . it would leave behind it the embers of a strife which I believe generations would hardly be long enough to extinguish . . . to go to war with President Kruger, to force upon him reforms in the internal affairs of his state, with which [we] have repudiated all rights of interference - that would have been a course of action as immoral as it would have been unwise.
Yet Chamberlain himself was to preside over just such a war.
In Matabeleland and Mashonaland, meanwhile, Rhodes had left white settlers exposed to the danger of African revolt.