I’ve just been reading about the (largely posthumous) cult of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), the former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony who made his fortune in diamonds.
I was interested in the book for several reasons — first, as a background to the #RhodesMustFall movement, which is a kind of countercult or anticult movement. Secondly, because of the rise of Donald Trump, another unscrupulous businessman turned politician, who is in the news right now, and thirdly because of our interest in family history, and several members of our family had links with Rhodes. I’ve already written a review of the book and dealt with the first two points in a post on my other blog – see The Cult of Rhodes. In this one I just want to point out some of the family connections.
C.J. Rhodes wasn’t related to us in any way that we know, but he came to southern Africa for his health at the age of 17 and, like many others, was drawn to Kimerley by the discovery of diamonds there in 1868.
A member of our family who was also drawn there was Henry Green, brother of Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green. The Green brothers came to the Cape Colony in about 1846, and Henry, like his father William Green, was in the commissariat department of the British army, in which capacity he accompanied the Cape Governor and High Commissioner Harry Smith to the Battle of Boomplaats, which established the present Free State as the Orange River Sovereignty. Henry became the British Resident of the Sovereignty, and after it was abandoned, went to England, and married his cousin Louisa Margaret Aitchison. He then went to Colesberg in the Cape Colony and became magistrate and civil commissioner. His wife died on the road to Cape Town, and became the family ghost. Henry married again to Countess Ida Von Lilienstein, and they had several children.
Henry Green and several associates formed the South African Diamond and Mineral Company, and when he was suspended as magistrate over some missing money, he became a diamond digger, first at Pniel and then in 1872 Henry Green moved to Kimberley and entered into a partnership with George Paton on the diggings of Colesberg Kopje. They worked claim 144 for a long time.
George Paton and Henry Green lived for a while at the Boarding House – or rather Boarding Tent — called ‘The 12 Apostles’. It was there that they got to know Cecil Rhodes who had just come out as a young lad from England for health reasons. Rhodes had a contract to pump out water that flooded the claims. The friendship seems to have continued even after Rhodes bought out all the other claim holders and established his company, De Beers, as a virtual monopoly in the diamond business.
One of Henry Green’s daughters, Ida Margaret Catherine Green, married George Arthur Montgomery Tapscott (see The Tapscott Family), and their great-granddaughter Burnett McMillan Milne recently wrote on Facebook “Henry Green’s daughter, Ida Margaret Tapscott, was a great admirer of Cecil Rhodes — the feeling was mutual, they had quite a voluminous correspondence and in one of his letters he refers to her as ‘The cleverest women in the Cape Colony’. He gave her a magnificent diamond brooch which is still in possession of the family.”
Then there was Henry Green’s nephew, Arthur Walpole Francis, son of Henry’s sister Agnes. Arthur was born and educated in Sydney, New South Wales. He came to South Africa in 1880 and farmed at Harts River, Griqualand West. He went to the Transvaal in 1886 and took up Botha’s Reef on behalf of a Kimberley syndicate and Cecil Rhodes. He was involved in the purchase of Luipaardsvlei for £60000 and a load of poplar poles. Perhaps he was introduced to Cecil Rhodes by his uncle Henry. He later went back to farming and died of bladder stones in Mariental, Namibia, in 1921. His eldest son was named Cecil.
Henry Green’s niece (Fred Green’s daughter), Alice Elizabeth Green, married John Martin Cuthbert O’Grady in Johannesburg in 1893, and they named their second son John Rhodes O’Grady, and he was known as Rhodes. They probably didn’t know Cecil Rhodes personally, but would have known of him though Alice’s cousin Arthur Walpole Francis, and perhaps admired him from afar.
The last instance I can think of is probably getting back to the cult, which is the main topic of the book. My mother’s cousin Betty Hannan married John Christian Fowler in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, in 1935, and their eldest son was named Brian Rhodes Hannan Fowler. I think by then the cult of Rhodes was in full swing.
I liked cousin Betty, and I think she was my mother’s favourite cousin, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye politically, not at all. In 1965, just after the Rhodesian UDI, Betty wrote to my mother and mentioned a mutual cousin, Willie Hannan, who was at that tome a Scottish Labour MP, and, according to Betty, “a one-man-one-vote bastard and a sick leftist”. A few weeks later I skipped South Africa to escape the clutches of the SB, and had a brief stopover in Salisbury, so I phoned Betty from the airport and she brought some of the family out to the airport to say hello. We chatted for a bit, and as we said goodbye and I was going out to the plane Betty fixed me with a beady eye and said fiercely “We’re determi9ned to see this thing through” (meaning UDI). Shortly after that I met cousin Willie at the Houses of Parliament in London, expecting, from Betty’s description, to meet a revolutionary Che Guevara-like figure. Instead he turned out to be mild and inoffensive, and indeed, very conservative (with a small c).
That was probably my closest brush with the Rhodes cult.