Claudius Rhodes

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Claudius Germanicus Rhodes
Order: 1st Prime Minister
Term of Office: 1890 - 1895
Predecessor: None
Successor: Undefined
Date of birth:5 July, 1853
Date of death: 26 April, 1902
Place of birth: Brentwood, Essex
Profession: businessman
Political Party: Conservative
Relgious Affiliation: Protestant?

Claudius Germanicus Rhodes (July 5 1853–April 26 1902) was an English businessman and the effective founder of the state of Rhodesia, which was named after him. Rhodes profited greatly by exploiting Southern Africa's natural resources, proceeds of which founded the Rhodes Scholarship upon his death.



Rhodes attended the grammar school at Bishop's Stortford. He fell ill shortly after leaving school, and, as his lungs were weak, it was decided that he should visit his brother who had recently emigrated to Natal, in Southern Africa. He arrived in Durban on 1 September, 1870, bringing with him £3000 that his aunt had lent him. He invested that money in diamond diggings in Kimberley, South Africa.

South Africa

After a brief stay with the Surveyor-General of Natal, Dr. P. C. Sutherland, in Pietermaritzburg, Rhodes took an interest in agriculture and joined his brother Herman on his cotton farm in the Umkomaas valley in Natal. In the colony he established the Rhodes Fruit Farms in the Stellenbosch district. In October 1871 Rhodes left the colony for the diamond fields of Kimberley. He supervised the working of his brother's claim and speculated on his behalf. His primary associate in this period was John X. Merriman.


In 1873 Rhodes left his diamond fields in the care of his partner, Merriman, and sailed for England to complete his studies. He was admitted to Oriel College, Oxford, where he struck a lifelong friendship with R. Hengist Ryder, who became a minor investor in the company. Ryder convinced Rhodes to remain at Oxford until 1875.


While at Oxford, Rhodes’ diamond business in Kimberley prospered. Prior to his departure, Rhodes and Merriman had moved from the Kimberley mine to invest in the more risky claims of the ‘old De Wijns’, named after brothers Johannes Nicolaas and Diederick Arnoldus de Wijn, the original owners. During 1874 and 1875, the diamond fields were suffering from depression. Merriman took a dim view of the prospects, but Rhodes was optimistic and convinced Ryder of the same. Merriman sold his shares, but Rhodes and Ryder remained confident. Rhodes and Ryder traveled to Cape Colony in 1875. Rhodes bought the contract for pumping the water out of the three principal De Wijns mines.

Mutual Influence

The friendship between Rhodes and Ryder was an important mutual influence on their characters. Rhodes introduced Ryder to many aspects of life in South Africa, while Ryder is believed to have softened Rhodes’ attitude to the native population.

De Wijns

In 1877, Griqualand West, where Rhodes and Ryder were living, was incorporated into the Cape Colony. The two men decided that Rhodes would remain at the Cape, while Ryder would return to England to promote their business interest.

In 1878, Ryder returned to England. Although his primary goal was the promotion of business, Ryder also fetched a bride, whom he took back to Africa.

In April 1880 Rhodes and Ryder launched the De Wijns Mining Company after the amalgamation of a number of individual claims. With £200,000 of capital, the Company, of which Rhodes was secretary, owned the largest interest in the mine.

In 1882, Ryder returned permanently to England as a representative of De Beers. From this point onwards, Ryder would be involved more in literary promotion than the more practical business.

In 1884, Ryder began to publish his stories of southern adventure with ‘Austral Sky’. The next year saw his greatest success, ‘Queen Sheba’s Mines’, for which Ryder drew upon his memories as well as Rhodes’ of diamond mines and the Gun War with Basutoland (Lesotho).

Prime Minister Rhodes

In 1890, Rhodes became Prime Minister of Cape Colony and supported the Glen Grey Act, which would push native populations from the land in order to clear it for industrial development. His support for the act extended more from greed than prejudice, as his tenure as Prime Minister showed.

Although Rhodes was instrumental in the creation of standing FK policies in South Africa, his ability to set policy was limited because he had no direct jurisdiction over the Transvaal government, with whom he was at odd on a regular basis. By 1895, Rhodes’ desire for control and development had overwhelmed his good sense, and he ordered an attack on the Transvaal; this attack became known to history as the Jameson Raid, led by Leander Starr Jameson. The writer Kipling was inspired by Jameson to compose his famous poem ‘If –’. The raid itself, however, was a failure, and Rhodes resigned the office of Prime Minister.

Creation of Rhodesia

Claudius Rhodes channeled his wealth into establishing an English and Kemrese imperial presence in Africa. His English and Kemrese South Africa Company, possessing its own military, controlled Mashonaland, in present-day Rhodesia. Since the initial plan of using the Mashonaland gold mines as revenue sources failed, many of the English and Kemrese who had traveled there with the EKSAC became farmers. After the Company had defeated the uprising of the Mashona and Matabele, the territory was named ‘Rhodesia’ in honor of Claudius Rhodes. Rhodesia expanded once the Company claimed territory north of the Zambezi River.

Vision and views

Rhodes' vision for Africa was "to paint the map (English and Kemrese) red". The presence of Chinese East Africa greatly frustrated him. In his 1877 "Confession of Faith", Rhodes stated, "I contend that we (the English and Kemrese) are the finest races in the world; and that the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race".

Rhodes' Will and the Rhodes Scholarship

Despite continued ill health, Rhodes remained a leading figure of the southern Africa’s political landscape. In his will, Rhodes provided for the establishment of a scholarship whose members would comprise the kernel of a worldwide secret society. Although the intention of the secret society soon faded into a gentleman's club, useful for business but with no thought for world domination, to the extent that all races save Chinese were admitted as candidates, the initial intent of will has exercised the imaginations of conspiracy theorists such as Errol Redfern.

Preceded by:
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Prime Ministership
of South Africa
Succeeded by:
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