Sir Harry Johnston & the Scramble for Africa

By Roland Oliver | Go to book overview

Chapter 7 KING JOHNSTON OVER THE
ZAMBEZI

DESPITE the weight of his new responsibilities, Johnston arrived in Central Africa in a characteristically ebullient mood. He had adorned his sailor's straw hat with a white, yellow and black band to symbolize the co-operation between the European, Asian and African races upon which his régime was to be built. He had also provided himself with ample supplies of stiff, foolscap paper edged with the same daring tricolor, upon which he began without delay to report his actions and to convey his thoughts with a buoyant enthusiasm and an unprecedented freedom of expression to the Foreign Office, to Rhodes and to the London directorate of the South Africa Company. His verbal output was always immense. In later years it was to be sustained by the habit of dictation, carried out at high speed, often while painting a picture, and always while sucking innumerable sweets. 'You thought I was going to reply to the Treasury despatch by a minute, did you?' he wrote to a correspondent in 1896. 'Ha! Ha! Why, I never reply to anything in less than two volumes octavo.'1 In 1891 he was still writing all his despatches by hand, but even so he had frequently to express compassion for his readers. 'I hope', he wrote to the London Secretary, 'the British South Africa Company has given you an office chair of ivory, ebony and gold, and three assistant secretaries to enable you to cope with. . . H. H. J.'2

His first care was naturally for his communications with the sea and the outside world. He had spent the first fortnight of July at the mouth of the Zambezi, marking out on the Chinde bar a site for the British concession, provided for in the Anglo- Portuguese Convention, at which passengers and freight could be trans-shipped from ocean steamers to river vessels without the tedious assistance of Portuguese officialdom. Johnston's persuasive pen could invest even a barren sand-bank on the shores of the Indian Ocean with a certain interest. He sent home immaculate drawings, illustrating his arrangements for

____________________
1
Johnston to Farnall 9.ix.96, F.O.2.107.
2
Johnston to Weatherley from Zomba 16.xii.91, B.S.A.C. Papers.

-197-

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