The Rescue They Called a Raid

‘NOW HE HAS RUINED ME!’[1]

By David Snape

It was with these words Rhodes that the arch-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes reflected on the consequences of the failure of Dr Leander Starr Jameson’s attempt to overthrow the Government of the South African Republic in 1896. Towards the end of the 19th  Century the desire of European Governments to exploit the African Continent had never been stronger, nor the competition to do so fiercer. Cecil Rhodes was  described as the ‘Colossus’ because of this desire and few believed the claim that Jameson’s incursion into President Paul Kruger’s  South African Republic was a ‘Rescue and not a Raid’; hence the title of the book which was derived from a less than memorable poem by the then Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin.

I have always been fascinated with the events surrounding the Boer War and there are many who think that the Jameson Raid was its precursor. Jameson, with Rhodes’ backing, attempted, but failed, to overthrow the Government of Paul Kruger with only 500 men. The political fallout of his  failure  almost caused Salisbury’s Unionist Government to fall. Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, had to fight for his political life and Jameson and his officers together with many of the most influential men in Johannesburg were tried and imprisoned. Britain’s international reputation was sullied and she became a laughingstock in the capitals of Europe.

The origins of the book derived from a dissertation which I submitted for a MA degree at the University of Wolverhampton in 2015. I had recently retired from a career in Education and the spare time which my retirement gave me allowed me to make a serious study of Military History. I used the records of the two Select Committees into the Raid which both the Cape and the British Governments were forced to hold in order to determine responsibility. Both of them pointed the finger at Rhodes but it was Jameson and his officers who were imprisoned.

‘Rhodes must fall’ has been on many people’s lips in recent years, but the Jameson Raid had the effect of bringing him to his political knees. There is no doubt that he believed in the British Empire and its ‘civilising’ qualities. In this belief, he was not very different from the many  missionaries and explorers who went to Africa to bring ‘the advantages‘ of Europe’s culture and laws. Rhodes also had his eye on the main chance of increasing his fortune and that of his shareholders in the British South African Company which, with the Government’s permission, controlled huge swathes of Africa. It is perhaps less known that many of the Chiefs of African tribes in Rhodes’ sphere of influence sent emissaries to meet Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle  to complain at their treatment, and they were well received.

The involvement of Americans, such as John Hays Hammond, in the  promised uprising in  Johannesburg had repercussions in the United States and the efforts made to improve their  conditions in prison and Hammonds rehabilitation back into American Society is less well known. All  this at a time when Anglo-American relations over British Colonies were strained.

The overwhelming mystery about the Raid is how much did Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, know about it and to what extent was he involved. On hearing about Jameson’s impetuosity, whilst Chamberlain was dressing for the New Year’s Eve Servant’s Ball at his Highgrove home, one of his first thoughts was to resign. He quickly changed his mind and fought to save his career even appearing as a witness at the Inquiry which he had set up and was a member of. The Inquiry’s conclusions were the subject of furious debate in the House of Commons which exposed that the procedure for examining the Raid was flawed. and its conclusions were inconclusive.

This is the first full length book I have written and I have learned much about the process of writing through the support of the folks at Helion. My previous experience apart from academic  dissertations has been producing articles for variousMilitary Societies such as The Victorian Military Society, The Indian Military Society, and the Western Front Association. The VMS  was kind enough to award me the Howard Browne Medal in 2019 for a paper on Kitchener’s Indian Army reforms.

I am currently researching the Shangani Patrol and the massacre of Major Allan Wilson’s men during the Matabele War of 1893. This  was another of Rhodes’ and Jameson’s schemes to gain more land for the Empire and improve the share price of the British South Africa Company. Like the Jameson Raid, it is hard to know which motive, wealth or Empire, was their strongest. I hope this book will be published towards the end of 2021.


[1] E.A. Walker W.P. Schreiner: A South African (London: OUP, 1969), p. 91.

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