"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi."
In the last week of the old year we started on our journey to Kimberley, then a matter of thirty-six hours. The whole of one day we dawdled over the Great Karroo in pelting rain and mist, which reminded one of Scotland. This sandy desert was at that season covered with brown scrub, for it was yet too early for the rains to have made it green, and the only signs of life were a few ostriches, wild white goats, and, very rarely, a waggon piled with wood, drawn along the sandy road by ten or twelve donkeys. As to vegetation, there were huge clumps of mimosa-bushes, just shedding their yellow blossoms, through which the branches showed up with their long white thorns, giving them a weird and withered appearance. It must indeed have required great courage on behalf of the old Voor-trekker Boers, when they and their families left Cape Colony, at the time of the Great Trek, in long lines of white-tented waggons, to have penetrated through that dreary-waste in search of the promised land, of green veldt and running streams, which they had heard of, as lying away to the north, and eventually found in the Transvaal. I have been told that President Kruger was on this historical trek, a Voor-looper, or little boy who guides the leading oxen.
Round Kimberley the country presented a very different appearance, and here we saw the real veldt covered with short grass, just beginning to get burnt up by the summer's heat. Our host, Mr. J. B. Currey, a name well known in Diamond-Field circles, met us at the station. This is a good old South African custom, and always seems to me to be the acme of welcoming hospitality, and the climax to the kindness of inviting people to stay, merely on the recommendation of friends—quite a common occurrence in the colonies, and one which, I think, is never sufficiently appreciated, the entertainers themselves thinking it so natural a proceeding.
Kimberley itself and the diamond industry have both been so often and so well described that I shall beware of saying much of either, and I will only note a few things I remarked about this town, once humming with speculation, business, and movement, but now the essence of a sleepy respectability and visible prosperity. For the uninitiated it is better to state that the cause of this change was the gradual amalgamation of the diamond-mines and conflicting interests, which was absolutely necessary to limit the output of diamonds. As a result the stranger soon perceives that the whole community revolves on one axis, and is centred, so to speak, in one authority. "De Beers" is the moving spirit, the generous employer, and the universal benefactor. At that time there were 7,000 men employed in the mines, white and black, the skilled mechanics receiving as much as £6 a week. Evidence of the generosity of this company was seen in the model village built for the white workmen; in the orchard containing 7,000 fruit-trees, then one of Mr. Rhodes's favourite hobbies; and in the stud-farm for improving the breed of horses in South Africa. If I asked the profession of any of the smart young men who frequented the house where we were staying, for games of croquet, it amused me always to receive the same answer, "He is something in De Beers." The town itself boasts of many commodious public buildings, a great number of churches of all denominations, an excellent and well-known club; but whatever the edifice, the roofing is always corrugated iron, imported, I was told, from Wolverhampton. This roofing, indeed, prevails over the whole of new South Africa; and although it appears a very unsuitable protection from the burning rays of the African sun, no doubt its comparative cheapness and the quickness of its erection are the reasons why this style was introduced, and has been adhered to. By dint of superhuman efforts, in spite of locust-plagues, drought, and heavy thunderstorms, the inhabitants have contrived to surround their little one-storied villas with gardens bright with flowers, many creepers of vivid hues covering all the trellis-work of the verandahs.
The interest of Kimberley, however, soon paled and waned as the all-engrossing events of the Uitlander rebellion in Johannesburg rapidly succeeded each other. One sultry evening our host brought us news of tangible trouble on the Rand: some ladies who were about to leave for that locality had received wires to defer their departure. Instantly, I recollect, my thoughts flew back to the Tantallon Castle and the dark words we had heard whispered, so it was not as much of a surprise to me as to the residents at Kimberley; to them it came as a perfect bombshell, so well had the secret been kept. The next day the text of the Manifesto, issued by Mr. Leonard, a lawyer, in the name of the Uitlanders, to protest against their grievances, appeared in all the morning papers, and its eloquent language aroused the greatest enthusiasm in the town. Thus was the gauntlet thrown down with a vengeance, and an ominous chord was struck by the statement, also in the papers, that Mr. Leonard had immediately left for Cape Town, "lest he should be arrested." It must be remembered that any barrister, English or Afrikander, holding an official position in the Transvaal, had at that time to take the oath of allegiance to the Boer Government before being free to practise his calling. The explanation of the exceedingly acute feeling at Kimberley in those anxious days lay in the fact that nearly everyone had relations or friends in the Golden City. Our hosts themselves had two sons pursuing their professions there, and, of course, in the event of trouble with England, these young men would have been commandeered to fight for the Boer Government they served. One possibility, however, I noticed, was never entertained—viz., that, if fighting occurred, the English community might get the worst of it. Such a contingency was literally laughed to scorn. "The Boers were unprepared and lazy; they took weeks to mobilize; they had given up shooting game, hence their marksmen had deteriorated; and 200 men ought to be able to take possession of Johannesburg and Kruger into the bargain." This was what one heard on all sides, and in view of more recent events it is rather significant; but I remember then the thought flashed across my mind that these possible foes were the sons of the men who had annihilated us at Majuba and Laing's Nek, and I wondered whether another black page were going to be added to the country's history.
The next day, December 29, Kruger was reported in the papers to be listening to reason; but this hopeful news was short-lived, for on Monday, the 30th—as usual, a fiercely hot day—we received the astounding intelligence that Dr. Jameson, administrator of Mashonaland and Matabeleland, had entered the Transvaal at the head of the Chartered Company's Police, 600 strong, with several Maxim and Gardner guns. No upheaval of Nature could have created greater amazement, combined with a good deal of admiration and some dismay, than this sensational news. The dismay, indeed, increased as the facts were more fully examined. Nearly all the officers of the corps held Imperial commissions, and one heard perfect strangers asking each other how these officers could justify their action of entering a friendly territory, armed to the teeth; while the fact of Dr. Jameson himself being at their head heightened the intense interest. I did not know that gentleman then, but I must say he occupied in the hearts of the people at Kimberley, and, indeed, of the whole country, quite a unique position.
It was in the diamond-fields he had worked as a young doctor, usurping gradually almost the entire medical practice by his great skill as well as by his charm of manner. Then, as Mr. Rhodes's nominee, he had dramatically abandoned medicine and surgery, and had gone to the great unknown Northern Territory almost at a moment's notice. He had obtained concessions from the black tyrant, Lobengula, when all other emissaries had failed; backwards and forwards many times across the vast stretch of country between Bulawayo and Kimberley he had carried on negotiations which had finally culminated, five years previously, in his leading a column of 500 hardy pioneers to the promising country of Mashonaland, which up to that time had lain in darkness under the cruel rule of the dusky monarch. During three strenuous years Dr. Jameson, with no military or legal education, had laboured to establish the nucleus of a civilized government in that remote country; and during the first part of that period the nearest point of civilization, from whence they could derive their supplies, was Kimberley, a thousand miles away, across a practically trackless country. Added to this difficulty, the administrator found himself confronted with the wants and rights of the different mining communities into which the pioneers had gradually split themselves up, and which were being daily augmented by the arrival of "wasters" and others, who had begun to filter in as the country was written about, and its great mining and agricultural possibilities enlarged upon. Finally, goaded thereto and justified therein by Lobengula's continued cruelties, his raids on the defenceless Mashonas, and his threats to the English, Dr. Jameson had led another expedition against the King himself in his stronghold of Bulawayo. On that occasion sharp fighting ensued, but he at length brought peace, and the dawning of a new era to a vast native population in the country, which, with Mashonaland, was to be known as Rhodesia. In fact, up to then his luck had been almost supernatural and his achievements simply colossal. Added to all this was his capacity for attaching people to himself, and his absolutely fearless disposition; so it is easy to understand that Kimberley hardly dared breathe during the next momentous days, when the fate of "the Doctor," as he was universally called, and of his men, who were nearly all locally known, was in suspense.
During many an evening of that eventful week we used to sit out after dinner under the rays of a glorious full moon, in the most perfect climatic conditions, and hear heated discussions of the pros and cons of this occurrence, which savoured more of medieval times than of our own. The moon all the while looked down so calmly, and the Southern Cross stood out clear and bright. One wondered what they might not have told us of scenes being enacted on the mysterious veldt, not 300 miles away. It was not till Saturday, January 4, that we knew what had happened, and any hopes we had entertained that the freebooters had either joined forces with their friends in Johannesburg, or else had made good their escape, were dashed to the ground as the fulness of the catastrophe became known. For hours, however, the aghast Kimberleyites refused to believe that Dr. Jameson and his entire corps had been taken prisoners, having been hopelessly outnumbered and outmanoeuvred after several hours' fighting at Krugersdorp; and, when doubt was no longer possible, loud and deep were the execrations levelled at the Johannesburgers, who, it was strenuously reiterated, had invited the Raiders to come to their succour, and who, when the pinch came, never even left the town to go to their assistance. If the real history of the Raid is ever written, when the march of time renders such a thing possible, it will be interesting reading; but, as matters stand now, it is better to say as little as possible of such a deplorable fiasco, wherein the only points which stood out clearly appeared to be that Englishmen were as brave, and perhaps also as foolhardy, as ever; that President Kruger, while pretending to shut his eyes, had known exactly all that was going forward; that the Boers had lost nothing of their old skill in shooting and ambushing, while the rapid rising and massing of their despised forces was as remarkable in its way as Jameson's forced march.
It was said at the time that the proclamation issued by the Government at home, repudiating the rebels, was the factor which prevented the Johannesburgers from joining forces with the Raiders when they arrived at Krugersdorp, as no doubt had been arranged, and that this step of the Home Government had, curiously enough, not been foreseen by the organizers of this deeply-laid plot. There is no doubt that there were two forces at work in Johannesburg, as, indeed, I had surmised during our voyage out: the one comprising the financiers, which strove to attain its ends by manifesto and public meeting, with the hint of sterner measures to follow; and the other impatient of delay, and thus impelled to seek the help of those who undoubtedly became freebooters the moment they crossed the Transvaal border. Certainly Dr. Jameson's reported words seemed to echo with reproach and disappointment—the reproach of a man who has been deceived; but whatever his feelings were at that moment of despair, when his lucky star seemed at length to have deserted him with a vengeance, I happen to know he never bore any lasting grudge against his Johannesburg friends, and that he remained on terms of perfect friendship even with the five members of the Reform Committee, with whom all the negotiations had gone forward. These included Colonel Frank Rhodes, always one of his favourite companions.
As an instance of how acute was the feeling suddenly roused respecting Englishmen, I remember that Mr. Harry Lawson, who was staying in the same house as ourselves, and had decided to leave for Johannesburg as special correspondent to his father's paper, the Daily Telegraph, was actually obliged to travel under a foreign name; and even then, if my memory serves me right, he did not succeed in reaching the Rand. In the meantime, as the daily papers received fuller details, harrowing accounts came to hand of the exodus from Johannesburg of men, women, and children travelling twenty in a compartment meant for eight, while others, not so fortunate, had to put up with cattle-trucks. The Boers were said to have shown themselves humane and magnanimous. Mr. Chamberlain, the papers wrote, was strengthening the hands of the President, to avert civil war, which must have been dangerously near; but the most important man of the moment in South Africa was grudgingly admitted to be "Oom Paul." His personal influence alone, it was stated, had restrained his wild bands of armed burghers, with which the land was simply bristling, and he was then in close confabulation with Her Majesty's High Commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson, whom he had summoned to Pretoria to deal with such refractory Englishmen. The journals also took advantage of the occasion to bid Kruger remember this was the opportunity to show himself forgiving, and to strengthen his corrupt Government, thereby earning the gratitude of those Afrikanders, for whom, indeed, he was not expected to have any affection, but to whom he was indebted for the present flourishing financial state of his republic, which, it was called to mind, was next door to bankrupt when England declared its independence in 1884. If such articles were translated and read out to that wily old President, as he sipped his coffee on his stoep, with his bland and inscrutable smile, it must have added zest to his evening pipe. I read in Mr. Seymour Fort's "Life of Dr. Jameson" that the Raid cost the Chartered Company £75,000 worth of material, most of which passed into the hands of the Boer Government, while the confiscated arms at Johannesburg amounted to several thousand rifles and a great deal of ammunition. Respecting the guns taken from Jameson's force, curiously enough, we surmised during the siege of Mafeking, four years later, that some of these were being used against us. Their shells fired into the town, many of which did not explode, and of which I possess a specimen, were the old seven-pound studded M.L. type, with the Woolwich mark on them.
Died at Groot Schuurr in September, 1905.