Partner Leander Starr Jameson, buried together
Rhodes Arts Complex, 1-3 South Rd, Bishop's Stortford CM23 3JG, Regno Unito
University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, Regno Unito
King Edward St, Oxford OX1 4HT, Regno Unito
Brown's Hotel, Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP, Regno Unito
Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, Regno Unito
Malindidzimu Hill or World’s View, Matopo National Park, Zimbabwe
Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British businessman, mining magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after him. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate, and put much effort towards his vision of a Cape to Cairo Railway through British territory.
The son of a vicar, Rhodes grew up in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, and was a sickly child. He was sent to South Africa by his family when he was 17 years old in the hope that the climate might improve his health. He entered the diamond trade at Kimberley in 1871, when he was 18, and over the next two decades gained near-complete domination of the world diamond market. His De Beers diamond company, formed in 1888, retains its prominence into the 21st century. Rhodes entered the Cape Parliament in 1880, and a decade later became Prime Minister. After overseeing the formation of Rhodesia during the early 1890s, he was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1896 after the disastrous Jameson Raid, an unauthorised attack on Paul Kruger's South African Republic (or Transvaal). After Rhodes's death in 1902, at the age of 48, he was buried in the Matopos Hills in what is now Zimbabwe. At the time of his death he was already a very controversial figure.
One of Rhodes's primary motivators in politics and business was his professed belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote his will, "the first race in the world". Under the reasoning that "the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race", he advocated vigorous settler colonialism and ultimately a reformation of the British Empire so that each component would be self-governing and represented in a single parliament in London. Ambitions such as these, juxtaposed with his policies regarding indigenous Africans in the Cape Colony—describing the country's black population as largely "in a state of barbarism", he advocated their governance as a "subject race", and was at the centre of moves to marginalise them politically—have led recent critics to characterise him as a white supremacist and "an architect of apartheid".
Historian Richard A. McFarlane has called Rhodes "as integral a participant in southern African and British imperial history as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are in their respective eras in United States history. Most histories of South Africa covering the last decades of the nineteenth century are contributions to the historiography of Cecil Rhodes." According to McFarlane, the aforementioned historiography "may be divided into two broad categories: chauvinistic approval or utter vilification". Paul Maylam identifies three perspectives: works that attempt to either venerate or debunk Rhodes, and "the intermediate view, according to which Rhodes is not straightforwardly assessed as either hero or villain".
Rhodes never married, pleading, "I have too much work on my hands" and saying that he would not be a dutiful husband. Some writers and academics have suggested that Rhodes may have been homosexual. The scholar Richard Brown observed: "On the issue of Rhodes' sexuality... there is, once again, simply not enough reliable evidence to reach firm, irrefutable conclusions. It is inferred, but not proven, that Rhodes was homosexual and it is assumed (but not proven) that his relationships with men were sometimes physical. Neville Pickering is described as Rhodes' lover in spite of the absence of decisive evidence." Rhodes was close to Pickering; he returned from negotiations for Pickering's 25th birthday in 1882. On that occasion, Rhodes drew up a new will leaving his estate to Pickering.
Two years later, Pickering suffered a riding accident. Rhodes nursed him faithfully for six weeks, refusing even to answer telegrams concerning his business interests. Pickering died in Rhodes's arms, and at his funeral, Rhodes was said to have wept with fervour. Brown comments: "there is still the simpler but major problem of the extraordinarily thin evidence on which the conclusions about Rhodes are reached. Rhodes himself left few details... Indeed, Rhodes is a singularly difficult subject... since there exists little intimate material – no diaries and few personal letters."
Pickering's successor was Henry Latham Currey, the son of an old friend, who had become Rhodes's private secretary in 1884. When Currey became engaged in 1894, Rhodes was deeply mortified and their relationship ended.
Rhodes also remained close to Leander Starr Jameson after the two had met in Kimberley, where they shared a bungalow. Jameson nursed Rhodes during his final illness, was a trustee of his estate and residuary beneficiary of his will, which allowed him to continue living in Rhodes' mansion after his death.
In the last years of his life, Rhodes was stalked by Polish princess Catherine Radziwiłł, born Rzewuska, who had married into a noble Polish family called Radziwiłł. Radziwiłł falsely claimed that she was engaged to Rhodes, or that they were having an affair. She asked him to marry her, but Rhodes refused. In reaction, she accused him of loan fraud. He had to go to trial and testify against her accusation. She wrote a biography of Rhodes called Cecil Rhodes: Man and Empire Maker. Her accusations were eventually proven to be false.
Although Rhodes remained a leading figure in the politics of southern Africa, especially during the Second Boer War, he was dogged by ill health throughout his relatively short life.
He was sent to Natal aged 16 because it was believed the climate might help problems with his heart. On returning to England in 1872 his health again deteriorated with heart and lung problems, to the extent that his doctor, Sir Morell Mackenzie, believed he would only survive six months. He returned to Kimberley where his health improved. From age 40 his heart condition returned with increasing severity until his death from heart failure in 1902, aged 48, at his seaside cottage in Muizenberg.
Westminster Abbey, London
Rhodes decreed in his will that he was to be buried in Matobo Hills. After his death in the Cape in 1902, his body was transported by train to Bulawayo. His burial was attended by Ndebele chiefs, who asked that the firing party should not discharge their rifles as this would disturb the spirits. Then, for the first time, they gave a white man the Matabele royal salute, Bayete. Rhodes is buried alongside Leander Starr Jameson and 34 British soldiers killed in the Shangani Patrol. Despite occasional efforts to return his body to the United Kingdom, his grave remains there still, "part and parcel of the history of Zimbabwe" and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
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