Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Cricket and War in Early Rhodesia, 1890-99

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Cricket and War in Early Rhodesia, 1890-99

Article excerpt

The British South Africa Company was formed in the late 1880s to establish a new colony in the region between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. The area the Company wished to occupy was known as Mashonaland: the planned northern expansion was directed by Cecil John Rhodes, soon to be prime minister of the Cape and a businessman with the resources for empire- building. The Trust Deed of De Beers Consolidated Mines gave him the power to "annex and govern territories, raise armies and fight wars". His Company was also granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria which entitled it to exploit and extend administrative control over a vast area of southern and central Africa.

Rhodes's most daunting challenge was the actual occupation of the territory. A serious threat was posed by the warriors of the neighbouring Matabele kingdom ruled by Lobengula. The expedition contractor, Frank Johnson, had ideas of a sudden assault but the great hunter, Frederick Courteney Selous, was able to suggest a route that would skirt the southernmost region of the Matabele territory and then head northwards to an area they would call Fort Salisbury.

Selous knew the country better than anyone and Rhodes asked him to guide the expeditionary force. The two men did disagree over the hunter's view that "a large sector of Mashonaland was not within Lobengula's gift". Selous pointed out that the Matabele were "no more aborigines of the country ... than the Romans were aborigines of Britain".1 It was a view that Rhodes had to oppose because the agreement he had entered into with the imperial government "made it a matter of record that Lobengula's domain consisted not only of Matabeleland but also of Mashonaland". Rhodes argued that if "the Mashona were independent of Lobengula, then it made matters a great deal easier for the Portuguese to move in".2

The Pioneer Column

There were two thousand applicants for the Pioneer Column's two hundred places. Early advertisements called for men "who could ride and shoot" but Rhodes wanted the right balance of people, a community prepared to settle and build up the country. Women were excluded from the colonising process in which men were carefully chosen from diverse occupations and social origins. One report said they included "farmers, artisans, miners, doctors, lawyers, engineers, builders, bakers, soldiers, sailors, cadets of good family and no special occupation, cricketers, three parsons and a Jesuit"3. Rhodes wanted young men from "good families" to support his venture. He informed Johnson that if there was an attack by the Matabele, it would be "the influential fathers of the young men" who would exert pressure on the British government to provide support.4

Many of the pioneers were public school "old boys" who would advance the values of late-Victorian Britain, not least being the diffusion of its ball-games. A number of the men were brought up in South African schools where links with Tom Brown were particularly strong. Not surprisingly, sport featured in plans for the new settlement and the pioneers were accompanied by wagons carrying the paraphernalia of cricket, football and lawn tennis clubs.

Athletic distinction was especially valued in the selection process. There were rugby players and cricketers who had represented South Africa's provincial teams. An overseas contingent included Arthur Bird, a member of the Cambridge crew in the 1879 Boat Race, and Edward Pocock who had played for the Scottish XV that beat England in the first fifteen-a-side rugby international. The well-known cricketer, Monty Bowden, had played under W.G. Grace for the Gentlemen against the Australians in 1888 and was England's youngest-ever captain when he led his country to victory by an innings and 202 runs over South Africa at Cape Town in early 1889.

Bowden's high profile made him an attractive proposition for the expedition organisers. His movements were also closely followed by two influential journalists - Charles Finlason, a member of the South African cricket side and a writer for the Daily Independent, and Harry Cadwallader, founder/secretary of the South African Cricket Association who wrote for the Diamond Fields Advertiser and the Cape Times. …

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