Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
When I scribbled in my note-book a year ago the paragraph which ends the
preceding chapter, it was meant to indicate, in an extravagant form, two
things: the conflicting nature of the information conveyed by the citizen
to the stranger concerning South African politics, and the resulting
confusion created in the stranger's mind thereby.
But it does not seem so very extravagant now. Nothing could in that
disturbed and excited time make South African politics clear or quite
rational to the citizen of the country because his personal interest and
his political prejudices were in his way; and nothing could make those
politics clear or rational to the stranger, the sources of his
information being such as they were.
I was in South Africa some little time. When I arrived there the
political pot was boiling fiercely. Four months previously, Jameson had
plunged over the Transvaal border with about 600 armed horsemen at his
back, to go to the "relief of the women and children" of Johannesburg; on
the fourth day of his march the Boers had defeated him in battle, and
carried him and his men to Pretoria, the capital, as prisoners; the Boer
government had turned Jameson and his officers over to the British
government for trial, and shipped them to England; next, it had arrested
64 important citizens of Johannesburg as raid-conspirators, condemned
their four leaders to death, then commuted the sentences, and now the 64
were waiting, in jail, for further results. Before midsummer they were
all out excepting two, who refused to sign the petitions for release; 58
had been fined $10,000 each and enlarged, and the four leaders had gotten
off with fines of $125,000 each with permanent exile added, in one case.
Those were wonderfully interesting days for a stranger, and I was glad.
to be in the thick of the excitement. Everybody was talking, and I
expected to understand the whole of one side of it in a very little
I was disappointed. There were singularities, perplexities,
unaccountabilities about it which I was not able to master. I had no
personal access to Boers--their side was a secret to me, aside from what
I was able to gather of it from published statements. My sympathies were
soon with the Reformers in the Pretoria jail, with their friends, and
with their cause. By diligent inquiry in Johannesburg I found out
--apparently--all the details of their side of the quarrel except one--what
they expected to accomplish by an armed rising.
Nobody seemed to know.
The reason why the Reformers were discontented and wanted some changes
made, seemed quite clear. In Johannesburg it was claimed that the
Uitlanders (strangers, foreigners) paid thirteen-fifteenths of the
Transvaal taxes, yet got little or nothing for it. Their city had no
charter; it had no municipal government; it could levy no taxes for
drainage, water-supply, paving, cleaning, sanitation, policing. There
was a police force, but it was composed of Boers, it was furnished by the
State Government, and the city had no control over it. Mining was very
costly; the government enormously increased the cost by putting
burdensome taxes upon the mines, the output, the machinery, the
buildings; by burdensome imposts upon incoming materials; by burdensome
railway-freight-charges. Hardest of all to bear, the government reserved
to itself a monopoly in that essential thing, dynamite, and burdened it
with an extravagant price. The detested Hollander from over the water
held all the public offices. The government was rank with corruption.
The Uitlander had no vote, and must live in the State ten or twelve years
before he could get one. He was not represented in the Raad
(legislature) that oppressed him and fleeced him. Religion was not free.
There were no schools where the teaching was in English, yet the great
majority of the white population of the State knew no tongue but that.
The State would not pass a liquor law; but allowed a great trade in cheap
vile brandy among the blacks, with the result that 25 per cent. of the
50,000 blacks employed in the mines were usually drunk and incapable of
There--it was plain enough that the reasons for wanting some changes made
were abundant and reasonable, if this statement of the existing
grievances was correct.
What the Uitlanders wanted was reform--under the existing Republic.
What they proposed to do was to secure these reforms by, prayer,
petition, and persuasion.
They did petition. Also, they issued a Manifesto, whose very first note
is a bugle-blast of loyalty: "We want the establishment of this Republic
as a true Republic."
Could anything be clearer than the Uitlander's statement of the
grievances and oppressions under which they were suffering? Could
anything be more legal and citizen-like and law-respecting than their
attitude as expressed by their Manifesto? No. Those things were
perfectly clear, perfectly comprehensible.
But at this point the puzzles and riddles and confusions begin to flock
in. You have arrived at a place which you cannot quite understand.
For you find that as a preparation for this loyal, lawful, and in every
way unexceptionable attempt to persuade the government to right their
grievances, the Uitlanders had smuggled a Maxim gun or two and 1,500
muskets into the town, concealed in oil tanks and coal cars, and had
begun to form and drill military companies composed of clerks, merchants,
and citizens generally.
What was their idea? Did they suppose that the Boers would attack them
for petitioning, for redress? That could not be.
Did they suppose that the Boers would attack them even for issuing a
Manifesto demanding relief under the existing government?
Yes, they apparently believed so, because the air was full of talk of
forcing the government to grant redress if it were not granted
The Reformers were men of high intelligence. If they were in earnest,
they were taking extraordinary risks. They had enormously valuable
properties to defend; their town was full of women and children; their
mines and compounds were packed with thousands upon thousands of sturdy
blacks. If the Boers attacked, the mines would close, the blacks would
swarm out and get drunk; riot and conflagration and the Boers together
might lose the Reformers more in a day, in money, blood, and suffering,
than the desired political relief could compensate in ten years if they
won the fight and secured the reforms.
It is May, 1897, now; a year has gone by, and the confusions of that day
have been to a considerable degree cleared away. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Dr.
Jameson, and others responsible for the Raid, have testified before the
Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in London, and so have Mr. Lionel
Phillips and other Johannesburg Reformers, monthly-nurses of the
Revolution which was born dead. These testimonies have thrown light.
Three books have added much to this light:
"South Africa As It Is," by Mr. Statham, an able writer partial to the
Boers; "The Story of an African Crisis," by Mr. Garrett, a brilliant
writer partial to Rhodes; and "A Woman's Part in a Revolution," by Mrs.
John Hays Hammond, a vigorous and vivid diarist, partial to the
Reformers. By liquifying the evidence of the prejudiced books and of the
prejudiced parliamentary witnesses and stirring the whole together and
pouring it into my own (prejudiced) moulds, I have got at the truth of
that puzzling South African situation, which is this:
1. The capitalists and other chief men of Johannesburg were fretting
under various political and financial burdens imposed by the State (the
South African Republic, sometimes called "the Transvaal") and desired to
procure by peaceful means a modification of the laws.
2. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Premier of the British Cape Colony, millionaire,
creator and managing director of the territorially-immense and
financially unproductive South Africa Company; projector of vast schemes
for the unification and consolidation of all the South African States,
one imposing commonwealth or empire under the shadow and general
protection of the British flag, thought he saw an opportunity to make
profitable use of the Uitlander discontent above mentioned--make the
Johannesburg cat help pull out one of his consolidation chestnuts for
him. With this view he set himself the task of warming the lawful and
legitimate petitions and supplications of the Uitlanders into seditious
talk, and their frettings into threatenings--the final outcome to be
revolt and armed rebellion. If he could bring about a bloody collision
between those people and the Boer government, Great Britain would have to
interfere; her interference would be resisted by the Boers; she would
chastise them and add the Transvaal to her South African possessions. It
was not a foolish idea, but a rational and practical one.
After a couple of years of judicious plotting, Mr. Rhodes had his reward;
the revolutionary kettle was briskly boiling in Johannesburg, and the
Uitlander leaders were backing their appeals to the government--now
hardened into demands--by threats of force and bloodshed. By the middle
of December, 1895, the explosion seemed imminent. Mr. Rhodes was
diligently helping, from his distant post in Cape Town. He was helping
to procure arms for Johannesburg; he was also arranging to have Jameson
break over the border and come to Johannesburg with 600 mounted men at
his back. Jameson--as per instructions from Rhodes, perhaps--wanted a
letter from the Reformers requesting him to come to their aid. It was a
good idea. It would throw a considerable share of the responsibility of
his invasion upon the Reformers. He got the letter--that famous one
urging him to fly to the rescue of the women and children. He got it two
months before he flew. The Reformers seem to have thought it over and
concluded that they had not done wisely; for the next day after giving
Jameson the implicating document they wanted to withdraw it and leave the
women and children in danger; but they were told that it was too late.
The original had gone to Mr. Rhodes at the Cape. Jameson had kept a
From that time until the 29th of December, a good deal of the Reformers'
time was taken up with energetic efforts to keep Jameson from coming to
their assistance. Jameson's invasion had been set for the 26th. The
Reformers were not ready. The town was not united. Some wanted a fight,
some wanted peace; some wanted a new government, some wanted the existing
one reformed; apparently very few wanted the revolution to take place in
the interest and under the ultimate shelter of the Imperial flag
--British; yet a report began to spread that Mr. Rhodes's embarrassing
assistance had for its end this latter object.
Jameson was away up on the frontier tugging at his leash, fretting to
burst over the border. By hard work the Reformers got his starting-date
postponed a little, and wanted to get it postponed eleven days.
Apparently, Rhodes's agents were seconding their efforts--in fact wearing
out the telegraph wires trying to hold him back. Rhodes was himself the
only man who could have effectively postponed Jameson, but that would
have been a disadvantage to his scheme; indeed, it could spoil his whole
two years' work.
Jameson endured postponement three days, then resolved to wait no longer.
Without any orders--excepting Mr. Rhodes's significant silence--he cut
the telegraph wires on the 29th, and made his plunge that night, to go to
the rescue of the women and children, by urgent request of a letter now
nine days old--as per date,--a couple of months old, in fact. He read
the letter to his men, and it affected them. It did not affect all of
them alike. Some saw in it a piece of piracy of doubtful wisdom, and
were sorry to find that they had been assembled to violate friendly
territory instead of to raid native kraals, as they had supposed.
Jameson would have to ride 150 miles. He knew that there were suspicions
abroad in the Transvaal concerning him, but he expected to get through to
Johannesburg before they should become general and obstructive. But a
telegraph wire had been overlooked and not cut. It spread the news of
his invasion far and wide, and a few hours after his start the Boer
farmers were riding hard from every direction to intercept him.
As soon as it was known in Johannesburg that he was on his way to rescue
the women and children, the grateful people put the women and children in
a train and rushed them for Australia. In fact, the approach of
Johannesburg's saviour created panic and consternation; there, and a
multitude of males of peaceable disposition swept to the trains like a
sand-storm. The early ones fared best; they secured seats--by sitting in
them--eight hours before the first train was timed to leave.
Mr. Rhodes lost no time. He cabled the renowned Johannesburg letter of
invitation to the London press--the gray-headedest piece of ancient
history that ever went over a cable.
The new poet laureate lost no time. He came out with a rousing poem
lauding Jameson's prompt and splendid heroism in flying to the rescue of
the women and children; for the poet could not know that he did not fly
until two months after the invitation. He was deceived by the false date
of the letter, which was December 20th.
Jameson was intercepted by the Boers on New Year's Day, and on the next
day he surrendered. He had carried his copy of the letter along, and if
his instructions required him--in case of emergency--to see that it fell
into the hands of the Boers, he loyally carried them out. Mrs. Hammond
gives him a sharp rap for his supposed carelessness, and emphasizes her
feeling about it with burning italics: "It was picked up on the
battle-field in a leathern pouch, supposed to be Dr. Jameson's saddle-bag.
Why, in the name of all that is discreet and honorable, didn't he eat it!"
She requires too much. He was not in the service of the Reformers
--excepting ostensibly; he was in the service of Mr. Rhodes. It was the
only plain English document, undarkened by ciphers and mysteries, and
responsibly signed and authenticated, which squarely implicated the
Reformers in the raid, and it was not to Mr. Rhodes's interest that it
should be eaten. Besides, that letter was not the original, it was only
a copy. Mr. Rhodes had the original--and didn't eat it. He cabled it to
the London press. It had already been read in England and America and
all over Europe before, Jameson dropped it on the battlefield. If the
subordinate's knuckles deserved a rap, the principal's deserved as many
as a couple of them.
That letter is a juicily dramatic incident and is entitled to all its
celebrity, because of the odd and variegated effects which it produced.
All within the space of a single week it had made Jameson an illustrious
hero in England, a pirate in Pretoria, and an ass without discretion or
honor in Johannesburg; also it had produced a poet-laureatic explosion of
colored fireworks which filled the world's sky with giddy splendors, and,
the knowledge that Jameson was coming with it to rescue the women and
children emptied Johannesburg of that detail of the population. For an
old letter, this was much. For a letter two months old, it did marvels;
if it had been a year old it would have done miracles.