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Categories: After Livingstone | Dave Cooper

Historical Notes on Northern Rhodesia

From Great North Road

The following excerpts about Northern Rhodesia's early colonial history are taken from a catalogue of the British South Africa Company at the Empire Exhibition of 1936-1937 in Johannesburg. The piece reflects the prevailing attitudes towards Empire and the African people during the 1930s. It doesn't necessarily reflect the current attitudes of the publishers or the readers of this website.

In the 'eighties of last century the Great Powers of Europe suddenly woke up to the fact that, while every other part of the habitable globe had been pre-empted by one or another, there still remained a vast region in the centre and south of Africa which could only be vaguely described by map-makers as "under native chiefs." Apart from Cape Colony, Natal and the two Boer Republics at the south and south-east of the continent and some languishing Portuguese garrisons on the coasts and the Lower Zambesi, Africa, from the Congo southwards, was "under native chiefs." An astute monarch, Leopold, King of the Belgians, first drew attention to the possibility of tropical colonies as a source of profit, and called an International Congress which led to the foundation of the Congo Free State in 1878. From that time on attention was more and more directed to the continent, although it was still generally regarded as "Darkest Africa," and quite unfit for European settlement.

Explorers, like Livingstone and Stanley, it is true, had lifted the veil over some parts of the mysterious interior, and missionaries, undeterred by months of arduous travel and the hardships of life among savages, had penetrated from the Cape northwards to the countries of the Matabele and Barotse, and from the East Coast to Lake Nyasa, where they founded a civilised community. Baines, an indefatigable traveller and artist of the 'sixties, had brought back pictures of the Zambesi and of the plateau that lies between it and the Limpopo which were not at all like the jungle of popular imagination. Moreover, in 1866, the hunter, Hartley, took to Matabeleland and Mashonaland a young geologist, Carl Mauch, who declared that there were miles of goldfields only waiting to be exploited to realise wealth for thousands of miners. Attempts made to reach this Eldorado were, however, foiled by a lack of transport and by the hunting he had no objection to. Incoming hunters paid tribute to him and were told where to go -- "given the road" -- and his spies kept an eye on them to see they did not "dig," or collect ore.

Lewanika and the Barotse lay north-west of the Lake Country. The gap to the north had to be filled in by Rhodes, who sent Lochner and others as agents to secure concessions from the numerous local chiefs. The inaccessibility and the unhealthiness of this region, in which Livingstone spent two of the last years of his life cut off from all communication with the outer world, until Stanley relieved him, and where he ultimately died, made the work of these pioneer agents extremely difficult. Alfred Sharpe, who was in the country merely on a hunting expedition when Johnston secured his services, and Lochner, nearly lost their lives, while Wilson, another of the Chartered Company's agents died at Blantyre as the result of his efforts. That Northern Rhodesia is cut in two by Belgian territory is due to the fact that after two unsuccessful attempts by Alfred Sharpe and Joseph Thompson to secure a concession on behalf of the Chartered Company, the Katanga Company, internationally financed, was successful, in an expedition led by a British officer, Lieut. Cameron, in which the chief was killed and the country annexed for the Congo. On the directorate of the Katanga Company were several strong upholders of British prestige, including Sir W. Mackinnon -- a fact which illustrates another side of Rhodes's many-sided problems in securing Central Africa for the British Flag in the teeth of commercial opposition.

Lewanika, Paramount Chief of the Barotse, had asked in September, 1889, to be taken under the British wing, largely because he understood that Lobengula's next raid would be in his direction but also influenced by the heroic French missionary, Coillard, who, with his Scottish wife, had carried on a single-handed fight against barbarism since 1880, and who advised Lewanika to follow Khama's example. The British Government had no enthusiasm for a protectorate over Lewanika's country and gladly passed him on to Rhodes, who had the greatest difficulty in persuading Lewanika that, despite anything he might hear to the contrary, the Chartered Company and the British Government were one and the same thing.

North-Eastern Rhodesia, which was administered from Blantyre by an Imperial officer until 1894, began its independent administration under the Company in 1895 with Major Patrick Forbes as Deputy Administrator, but before civil government could function, the slave trade had finally to be suppressed, and this was not accomplished until September, 1897. A small white settlement was formed in an area held by a Company known as the North Charterland Exploration Company, in which the Chartered Company held shares, and in January 1898, the headquarters of this settlement was threatened by a rebellion of the Angoni tribe. A military expedition from the Nyasaland Protectorate, where there was a regiment of the British Central African Rifles and a Sikh detachment, was sent by Colonel Manning, the Acting Commissioner, and in a series of engagements defeated the Angoni and restored order throughout the territory, which has enjoyed a peaceful existence since that time. Robert Codrington came up as Administrator, the telegraph line reached Lake Tanganyika -- or rather a point south of it -- and courts of justice and administrative machinery were set up, but this region remained very much cut off from the rest of the world. In 1911, the two provinces were united for administrative purposes, and until the development of road communication made motoring possible the Administrator and officials going from North-Western to North-Eastern Rhodesia travelled via Southern Rhodesia and Beira to Blantyre, and thence to Fort Jameson. In these circumstances white settlement was not to be expected.

Northern Rhodesia because a territory of the Crown on April 1st, 1894 (it has not yet achieved any more definite constitutional position); Southern Rhodesia a Self-Governing Colony under the Constitution accepted by the people in October, 1923. The Southern Rhodesian Government (which was not yet in existence when the bargain was made) was to pay £2,000,000 to the Imperial Government, for which it would receive the Crown lands and public works, so that the actual cost of the whole of Northern and Southern Rhodesia to the Imperial exchequer was £1,750,000, plus the military expenditure of defending it during the Great War. No comparable portion of the British Empire can have been acquired at so small a cost to the Imperial exchequer by Rhodesian companies registered in London, so that it can be legitimately claimed that the Colony of Southern Rhodesia cost the British taxpayer nothing. Rhodes, who was some twenty years ahead of public and official opinion in this matter, succeeded, in spite of Government opposition, in enshrining the principle of Empire preference in the earliest custom tariffs, and the "Rhodes clause," although it has certainly involved the loss of revenue, has been maintained by successive Governments.

The Company's part in the war began almost at once, for in Northern Rhodesia they had a common frontier with the enemy. Attacks on frontier posts by German troops were beaten off by Northern Rhodesian forces of Rifles and Police, and afterwards with the help of Belgian troops and reinforcements from Southern Rhodesia. Owing to the activities of Von Lettow Vorbeck this frontier remained in the war zone during the whole period 1914-1918, and it was at Abercorn that the German commander surrendered after the Armistice.

In 1916, after a visit of Jameson to Rhodesia, the Company put forward a proposal for the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia under their administration. The population of Northern Rhodesia at this time did not include more than 2,000 whites, of whom a considerable proportion were civil servants, and there was not even an Advisory Council, though this was granted in 1920. The settler community in Southern Rhodesia felt that to join their comparatively developed political system with that of Northern Rhodesia would mean an indefinite delay in gaining the responsible form of government for which they had so long been asking. The Northern Rhodesian Government had a deficit each year, and its native population would add to the difficulty already expected in persuading the Imperial Government to hand over a large native population to a small number of settlers. The proposal was passed in the Legislative Council, but in deference to public opinion in Southern Rhodesia, was never put into operation.

In Northern Rhodesia the "vendor's scrip" system had not been altogether abandoned, and mining there was the subject of agreement between the parties, but mining development had been slow. With the desire to stimulate prospecting, large blocks of land were granted with exclusive prospecting rights to companies undertaking to spend specified sums in systematic and scientific examination of reserved areas, and to this new policy were mainly due the discoveries of copper which even the sober reports of mining engineers characterise as "spectacular." Among those who contributed to this special mention must be made of Dr. Bancroft, a distinguished geologist, whose services as director of these operations the Company were able to obtain.

About 40 per-cent of the world's copper supply in the first half of the nineteenth century came from the British Empire, but in the second half this had sunk to a negligible amount, until discoveries in Canada and Northern Rhodesia redressed the balance and placed British copper once more in a dominant position. The growth of Northern Rhodesia in these circumstances was phenomenal, and in a few years the mining centres which sprang up became modern towns, with well-built houses, good streets, electricity, schools, hospitals and model quarters for native employees.

Excerpts on Northern Rhodesia from The British South Africa Company Historical Catalogue & Souvenir of Rhodesia: Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg, 1936-37. Price: Sixpence.

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