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Cecil John Rhodes
(July 5, 1853 - March 26, 1902) U.K.

Cecil Rhodes

Colonial statesman and financier
One of the main promoters of British rule in southern Africa
Young men lover


Born the fifth son of the vicar of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire, Rhodes was sent to the grammar school in the town, disappointing his father by having no disposition to become a clergyman himself. In 1870 he was sent to live with his elder brother Herbert who was growing cotton in Natal, in the area now known as Republic of South Africa.

Cecil RhodesDiamond fields were discovered at Kimberley in Cape Colony (now in Northern Cape Province) in 1871, and the brothers staked a claim in the newly opened Kimberley diamond fields, where Cecil was to make most of his fortune. Cecil Rhodes became a diamond prospector and eventually the richest man in the Western world.. By the time he was 19 years old he had accumulated a large fortune. In 1873 he returned to England to study at the University of Oxford as he had long wanted to do. He failed to gain admittance to University College, but he then sought an interview with Edward Hawkins (1789-1882), Provost of Oriel, who accepted him, but his studies were repeatedly interrupted by visits to South Africa and he did not receive his degree until 1881 at the age of twenty-eight.

In fact, early in 1874 he fell ill after rowing and a doctor whom he consulted decided he had not 'six months to live'. He returned to South Africa where his health improved sufficiently for him to return to Oxford, dividing his time between the university and the diamond fields. A trip in 1875 through the rich territories of Transvaal and Bechuanaland apparently helped to inspire Rhodes with the dream of British rule over all southern Africa; later he spoke of British dominion from the Cape to Cairo.

His power in the diamond-mining industry developed until, in 1880, he formed the De Beers Mining Company, which was second only to that organized by Barney Barnato. His most important achievement during this period was the amalgamation of a large number of diamond-mining claims to form De Beers Mining Company, which he controlled.

Rhodes was also a shrewd and cruel politician. Given a Charter to build a colony for Britain, he dethroned native leaders, controlled the diamond trade and laid the groundwork for Apartheid.

In 1881, Rhodes entered the Parliament of Cape Colony, in which he held a seat for the remainder of his life. In Parliament he stressed the policy of containing the northward expansion of the Transvaal Republic, and in 1885, largely at his persuasion, Great Britain established a protectorate (really an annexation to the British Empire) over Bechuanaland (now Botswana) .

In 1888, with the founding of De Beers Consolidated Mines, Rhodes monopolized the diamond production of Kimberley.

In the same year he tricked Lobengula, the Ndebele (Matabeleland, now in Zimbabwe) king, into an agreement by which Rhodes secured exclusive diamond mining concessions in Matabeleland and Mashonaland. He exploited these through the British South Africa Company (organized 1889. Until 1923 the company controlled what are present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia; the region was named Rhodesia in 1894 in honor of Rhodes), which soon established complete control of the territory. In 1888, Rhodes had also secured a monopoly of the Kimberley diamond production by the creation (with Barnato) of the De Beers Consolidated Mines, which reputedly had the largest capital in the world.

Rhodes became the prime minister, and virtual dictator, of Cape Colony in 1890. He was responsible for educational reforms and for restricting the franchise to literate persons (thereby reducing the African vote). His personal and business sympathies with the Uitlanders [Afrik.=foreigners] in the Transvaal, who were mostly British and the victims of discrimination, brought him to conspire for the overthrow of the government of Paul Kruger. Five years later he therefore supported a conspiracy by British settlers in the Transvaal Republic (now Transvaal Province) to overthrow their government, which was dominated by the Afrikaners, or Boers.

The result was a revolt backed by a British South Africa Co. force led by Sir Leander Starr Jameson, British administrator of the lands constituting present-day Zimbabwe. On Dec. 29, 1895, Jameson invaded Transvaal prematurely and unsuccessfully. Although Rhodes did not approve the timing of the raid, he was so clearly implicated that he was forced to resign as prime minister in 1896.

In 1897 a committee of the British House of Commons acquitted him of responsibility for the invasion, but censured him for his role in the plot against the Transvaal government and pronounced him guilty of grave breaches of duty as prime minister. Thus the following month he was forced to resign his premiership and his role as administrator of the British South Africa Company. Thereafter he devoted himself primarily to the development of the country that was called Rhodesia (since 1980, Zimbabwe) in his honor. In the South African War he commanded troops at Kimberley and was besieged there for a time.

He had country, crown and coin, but Rhodes died at 49 at Cape Town, before the war was over, and is buried in Zimbabwe. And today, Cecil Square is one of the main gay cruising areas of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.


During his life, Rodhes surrounded himself with young men (usually with blue eyes and athletic build), from whom he demanded complete loyalty and who were rewarded with Rhodes' patronage and affection. The greatest love of Rhodes' life was Neville Pickering, the son of a clergiman, who had moved to South Africa with his family. Apprenticed to merchants, Pickering met Rodhes, four years his elder, in the early 1880s and soon was appointed secretary of De Beers.

Rodhes and Pickering lived togther in a cottage in what one government official referred to as "an absolutely lover-like friendship". Rhodes' devotion was evident when he rushed back from important negotiaions for Pickering's 25th birthday in 1882; on that occasion, Rodhes drew up a new will leaving his entire estate to Pickering.

Two years later, Pickering suffeerd a riding accident and developed a serious infection from the thorns of the bush into which he had fallen. Rodhes nursed him faithfully foe six weeks, refusing even to answer telegrams concerning his business interests. Pickering died in Rhodes' arms; at his funeral, Rodhes wept hysterically.

Rodhes subsequently had several close friendships of similar sort, though lesser intensity. Harry Currey, a handsome young man, also became a secretary to Rodhes and several of his companies, and accompanied him to London; Rodhes was extremely upset and broke with Currey when the latter married.

Another favourite was Jack grimmer, originally a junior clerk in De Beers, known as one of "Rodhes' lambs", i.e. one of about a dozen young men who went up country with Rhodes from Kimberley in the eraly days. A later secretary, Philip Jourdan, confessed in his biography that he was in love with Rodhes.

There is no evidence that Rhodes had sexual relations with any of his companions; the bonds between Rhodes and his protégés may have been fully fledged sexual unions, unconsummated love or romanic friendships. In the Victorian age, the boudaries between such diferent arrangements and sentiments were perhaps not so clearly drawn as they would later become.


Rhodes was a complicated man, as is his legacy, the Rhodes Scholarship.

Cecil RhodesRhodes left nearly all his fortune of £6 million to public service. One of his chief benefactions was the Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford - for those who wanted to build a better world.... There are some 170 scholarships for students from the (now former) British colonies, the United States, and Germany. He also left £100,000 to Oriel College.

In his early years as a politician, "he espoused the cause of the natives in what were then Basutoland and Bechuanaland (now Lesotho and Botswana)." (Encyclopedia Britannica) and he favoured negotiation with tribal chiefs over the use of force. But he rather oversimplied these negotiations. For example, when King Lobengula, signed a "peace treaty" that allowed Rhodes to "dig a big hole", he had no idea that he was giving up land and mineral rights (with no northern limits) to what is now Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.

Throughout his life, Rhodes kept the company of young men, involving them in business, government... and his bed. Mr. Rhodes wanted the administrators of his Will to seek out those qualities of excellence in young men which would contribute to "the world's fight." This was granted in his founding the Rhodes Scholarship.

The Will contains four standards by which prospective Rhodes Scholars should be judged:

  1. literary and scholastic attainments;
  2. energy to use one's talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports;
  3. truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship;
  4. moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow beings.

He also specifically directed that no candidate for a Scholarship should be qualified or disqualified on account of race or religious opinions. Yet he once defined his policy as "equal rights for every white man south of the Zambezi" and later, under liberal pressure, amended "white" to "civilized." Most people assume that "he probably regarded the possibility of native Africans becoming "civilized" as so remote that the two expressions, in his mind, came to the same thing." (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Notice, however, that he was only interested in helping young men with their education. That changed in 1976 when women were first allowed to apply.

Carellin Brooks, a self described "dyke Rhodent" was advised by faculty when applying not to say that she was gay. She decided to be open about being a lesbian, and did win the scholarship. She says

"There is an informal network of queer Rhodes Scholars, of whom there have been several. Interestingly, I know of far more lesbian than gay Rhodents. We all know each other because the gay scene at Oxford is small. And of course you know old Cecil himself preferred the company of young men. He was also an ardent misogynist, I hear, who would not let any woman - even his sisters - sleep in his house."

Sorry Cecil - however you gained it, your weath went to further the work of the best, and that includes feminists, socialists, anti-racists and of course, queer scholars.


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