Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Jameson, Leander Starr

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JAMESON, Sir LEANDER STARR, baronet (1853–1917), South African statesman, the youngest of the eleven children of Robert Jameson, writer to the signet, by his wife, Christina, daughter of Major-General John Pringle, of Symington, Midlothian, was born in Edinburgh 9 February 1853. Not long afterwards his father, having given up the practice of the law, took to journalism, and in 1860 moved with his family to London, where he died in 1868. Leander was educated at the Godolphin School, Hammersmith, and afterwards at University College, Gower Street, where he studied medicine. After qualifying himself to practise (M.R.C.S. 1875, M.D. 1877) he seemed destined for a brilliant career in the medical profession in England; but the strain of overwork threatened his health. Moreover, he had blood of the wandering Scot in his veins, and in 1878, at the age of twenty-five, having entered into partnership with a Dr. Prince, of Kimberley, he set sail for South Africa.

At this date Kimberley was a great diamond-mining camp, where a large number of independent diggers worked their individual claims, and sold the stones which they found, each man for himself. Jameson found there a restless, busy, light-hearted, cosmopolitan, gambling community, where money was made, spent, or lost with equal rapidity. He made his way rapidly, helped alike by great professional skill and daring and by a ready wit, an infectious gaiety, and an irresistible personal charm. It was not long before he was known in Kimberley as ‘The Doctor’—‘Dr. Jim’ was a later invention of the English press. But he was destined to throw up his practice, to abandon an assured professional career, and to start afresh on a very different road, as the result of the close friendship which he formed with Cecil John Rhodes [q.v.]. Rhodes, of the same age as Jameson, was already in the early 'eighties the outstanding figure on the diamond fields, and had entered the parliament of the Cape Colony in 1881. After the death (1886) of Neville Pickering, who until then had been Rhodes's most intimate confidant, Jameson took and kept till Rhodes's death the first place in his affection.

It was to Jameson that Rhodes now began to develop his ideas and to unfold his dreams for the expansion of British civilization northwards through South Central Africa to the great lakes and onwards until it should extend from the Cape to Cairo. The first step necessary was to obtain a foothold in Matabeleland and Mashonaland, now known as Southern Rhodesia, but then the territory of Lobengula, chief of the Matabele. By the end of 1888 Rhodes had amalgamated in the hands of one great company, De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, all the diverse interests in the Kimberley diamond fields; and could command ample funds for the prosecution of his objects. He had also obtained through his emissaries a concession from Lobengula of the mineral rights in that chief's territory, which was to form the original basis of the British South Africa Company, Rhodes's instrument for the expansion of the British Empire north of the Transvaal. But there were signs that Lobengula was repenting of his grant, and it was necessary to send up to him a trusted friend of Rhodes's to restore him to good humour, to keep him to his bond, and to defeat the designs of rival would-be concessionaires at his elbow. Asked by Rhodes to undertake this perilous mission, Jameson without a moment's hesitation left his patients in Kimberley to the care of a partner and, accompanied by Dr. Rutherfoord Harris, afterwards secretary to the British South Africa Company, started through the wilderness to Bulawayo, arriving there 2 April 1889.

This was the first of three such visits paid by Jameson to Lobengula between April 1889 and May 1890. The effect on the chief's mind of Jameson's winning personality was excellent; Jameson's medical skill relieved the pain of the gout from which Lobengula suffered; and, as a special mark of favour, the chief made him an ‘induna’ of one of his Matabele regiments. But, when Jameson was not actually by his side, Lobengula was prone to listen to those who warned him that in admitting the white men to dig for gold he would be giving away his country. He actually put to death the induna whom he held responsible for having advised him to grant the mineral concession; and it was not until Jameson's last interview with him (2 May 1890) that he definitely ‘gave him the road’—that is, undertook to admit into his dominions those whom Rhodes should send up to work the concession. The concession meanwhile had been acquired by the British South Africa Company, incorporated by royal charter dated 29 October 1889, and the Company's preparations for sending into Mashonaland an expedition of 200 pioneers and 500 mounted police were well advanced. This expedition, which Jameson, coming south from Bulawayo, joined in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, crossed Lobengula's border at the beginning of July 1890, guided by the well-known big-game hunter Frederick Courteney Selous [q.v.], and accompanied by Archibald Ross Colquhoun, who was designated as the first administrator of Mashonaland. Jameson was not in command of the expedition, but went with it as the personal representative of Rhodes, and inspired it with his own spirit of cheerful audacity. There was constant danger that Lobengula's authority might not suffice to restrain the Matabele from falling on the column upon its way; but the danger was averted. The column avoided entering Matabeleland proper. Marching in a north-easterly direction to the plateau of Mashonaland, it safely reached its objective and planted the Company's flag (11 September) at Fort Salisbury, where the capital of Southern Rhodesia now stands. The first great step in the occupation of Rhodes's ‘North’ had been taken. Rhodes himself had now become prime minister of the Cape Colony.

The next six months of Jameson's life were mainly occupied by two journeys of incredible arduousness. The first was undertaken to find the nearest means of access to the sea for the young community which could not for long be dependent on a land route from the Cape of nearly 2,000 miles, much of it passing through an uninhabited waste. In ill-health and with ribs broken by a fall from his horse, Jameson with his friend, Frank Johnson, made his way from Salisbury to the mouth of the Pungwe river in Portuguese East Africa, and thus marked out the route afterwards followed by the railway to Salisbury from Beira. On his second journey he obtained certain concessions for the Company from native chiefs to the eastward of Lobengula's sphere of authority. But here the Portuguese claimed sovereign rights. Jameson was arrested by the Portuguese authorities and taken as a prisoner to Delagoa Bay, whence, however, he was speedily released. The territorial dispute was settled by a treaty between Great Britain and Portugal (June 1891) which defined the spheres of the two nations in Central Africa.

From 1891 to 1893 Jameson, who had now been appointed administrator of Mashonaland in succession to Colquhoun, was engaged in establishing the nucleus of a civilized administration for the embryo colony of Rhodesia, and in cutting down the heavy expense of supplying a white settlement established in the remote wilds to such an amount as the overstrained finances of the Company could bear.

In 1893 came a new trial. The Matabele were not disposed to abandon their traditional practice of periodically raiding, slaying, and plundering their defenceless Mashona subjects. The practice was not one which a white authority, responsible for setting up an orderly administration of Mashonaland, could be expected to tolerate. Frontier incidents at Fort Victoria, and a claim by the Matabele to be allowed to slaughter some of the Mashona whom they accused of cattle-thefts, precipitated a conflict which in reality had been inevitable from the first. Jameson, hastily equipping a handful of volunteers and police, hurled them at the hitherto invincible ‘impis’ of Lobengula. The force numbered in all under 700 white men. It was commanded by Major Patrick William Forbes, and accompanied by Jameson himself as administrator but with no military authority. It was completely successful. Lobengula's best regiments were defeated in two pitched battles. Bulawayo was occupied (4 November 1893), and Lobengula himself died soon afterwards, a fugitive in the veld. The tragic fate of the Shangani patrol, under Major Allan Wilson, did not affect the completeness of the military success which had been achieved. The rule of the Matabele was at an end, and the Company's government under Jameson as administrator was, by the Matabeleland Order in Council of 1894, extended over the whole of what is now Southern Rhodesia.

Jameson, who had been Rhodes's chief instrument in the carrying out of his policy, was now at the zenith of his fame. On a visit to London at the end of 1894 he received the C.B. and could not wholly avoid, much as he disliked it, the notoriety of a popular hero. But the great catastrophe of his career was at hand.

The discontents of the ‘Uitlander’, mainly British, population of the Transvaal with the government of the South African Republic were coming to a head. By the autumn of 1895 the ‘reform committee’ in Johannesburg were making plans for the forcible overthrow of that government. Rhodes was supportig them, as he afterward said, ‘with his purse and influence’, hoping that the outcome of the movement might be the substitution for President Kruger's government of one more enlightened, which might render possible the federation, or at least the co-operation, of the South African states and colonies for common ends. Kruger had refused all proposals for reform; and an armed rising was prepared for the end of the year. To Jameson, who had returned to South Africa from England early in 1895, was allotted the task of raising a mounted force in Rhodesia and of holding it in readiness on the border of the Transvaal, to be used if events in Johannesburg should make it necessary. Accordingly, about 500 Mashonaland mounted police were by the end of October collected at Mafeking and at Pitsani Potlugo, in a portion of the Bechuanaland Protectorate which had been handed over by the imperial government to the administrative control of the British South Africa Company. For many weeks Jameson was moving backwards and forwards between Bulawayo, Johannesburg, Capetown, Kimberley, Mafeking, and Pitsani Potlugo, interviewing the various persons concerned in the prospective rising and arranging for common action. He seems to have become convinced that the Johannesburg rising could only succeed with his active intervention, and he took it as settled that the rising was to take place on a certain date at the end of December. As that date drew near, however, he began to feel, rightly or wrongly, that the reformers' counsels were divided and that, unless he himself took the initiative, their preparations would never be completed and the whole plan would end in fiasco. On 29 December, in spite of messages from Johannesburg and from Rhodes's subordinates at Capetown calling upon him to stay his hand, he entered on his famous ‘Raid’ by marching his force, under the military command of Sir John C. Willoughby, across the Transvaal border. It was doomed to disaster. Boer commandos gathered round it on its way. The force which Jameson expected to be dispatched by the reformers from Johannesburg to join hands with him was never sent, and Jameson's little band, after gallant fighting and heavy losses, was forced to surrender to the Boer commandant, P. A. Cronje, at Doornkop, fourteen miles from Johannesburg (2 January 1896).

The rash decision to invade the Transvaal, in defiance of all requests for delay, was Jameson's own, nor did he ever in after life seek to minimize his sole responsibility for it. Undoubtedly he underrated the military value of the Boer commandos, but he had often before dared and achieved the impossible. He felt that Rhodes, in his position as prime minister at Capetown, was in duty bound to tell him not to start, as no outbreak had occurred at Johannesburg, but that if he did not start against orders and succeed, a scheme on which Rhodes had set his heart would fail; whereas if he started and failed the consequences would fall upon himself alone. Afterwards he bitterly reproached himself for not having foreseen that Rhodes must be involved in those consequences.

Taken captive to Pretoria, Jameson and his officers were handed over to the British authorities and sent to England to be tried for an offence against the Foreign Enlistment Act. They were convicted, and Jameson with Willoughby was sentenced in July 1896 by the lord chief justice, Lord Russell of Killowen, to fifteen months' imprisonment, the other officers receiving shorter sentences. Broken in health by all the hardships which for years he had so cheerfully borne, Jameson nearly died in Holloway prison and was released after a few months (December 1896) in a condition of great physical weakness. His robustness never returned, but a long rest restored his activity and he was able in March and April 1897 to give his evidence before the parliamentary select committee which inquired into the origin and circumstances of the Raid. From that evidence it will be enough to quote one sentence: ‘I know perfectly well that as I have not succeeded the natural thing has happened; but I also know that if I had succeeded I should have been forgiven.’

The story of the remainder of Jameson's life is that of a marvellous recovery from a catastrophic fall. For two years he was travelling in Africa and in Europe and making some kind of return to health. Then upon the outbreak of the South African War (October 1899) he threw himself into Ladysmith. Here he nearly died of enteric fever, and was left after the relief of that town with a physique permanently broken, but with an unbroken and unbreakable spirit and with a fixed resolve to make amends for the past. In pursuance of this resolve he joined the board of De Beers Consolidated Mines and entered the Cape parliament as member for Kimberley in June 1900. He was content to sit silent under the taunts and abuse of opponents, who seemed to hold him answerable for all the troubles of South Africa, until October, when that parliament was prorogued, not to meet again till August 1902, after the close of the South African War. In March 1902 Rhodes died, and Jameson, who had nursed his friend devotedly, was left alone. But it was not long before he had succeeded him in the leadership of the progressive party at the Cape; and, his parliamentary silence once broken, he rapidly established his position in the House.

At the general election which followed the defeat of the ministry of Sir John Gordon Sprigg [q.v.] in 1903, Jameson's party obtained a majority of one in the legislative council and a majority of five in the assembly. It was a narrow majority indeed; and but for the fact that many of the Dutch voters in the Cape Colony had been disfranchised for rebellion during the South African War it is probable that there would have been no progressive majority at all. But it sufficed for the time, and, in less than eight years from the date of his conviction, Jameson, the ex-raider, became prime minister of Cape Colony (February 1904). He held office for four years at the head of a loyal party kept together mainly by his own magnetic personality. He bent his whole energies to the task of racial reconciliation; and when finally his small majority had dwindled away and the general election of March 1908 had restored his opponents to power, he had won their respect and, in many cases, their affection, and was incontestably the foremost figure in South African politics. He could feel that, in his own phrase, he had ‘got square’—at the cost of what physical suffering and what sacrifice of every personal inclination was known to few.

As prime minister, Jameson attended the Imperial Conference held in London in 1907, and worked hard, along with Alfred Deakin [q.v.], prime minister of Australia, in the then hopeless cause of imperial preference. During this visit to England he was made a privy councillor and received the freedom of the cities of London and Edinburgh. It also fell to his lot to invite the Earl of Selborne, as high commissioner for South Africa, to review the mutual relations of the South African colonies, whose internal quarrels, over such matters as customs and railway rates, appeared impossible of settlement so long as the several colonies remained politically separate. Lord Selborne's memorandum, prepared in response to Jameson's invitation, was the immediate cause of the assembling in October 1908 of the South African National Convention, of which the outcome was the scheme of South African union, which was embodied in the South Africa Act of the British parliament in 1909. By the time the Convention met Jameson had fallen from power in Cape Colony; but he retained his seat in the legislative assembly and was leader of the opposition. As such he was a member of the Convention. He was also the acknowledged leader of the British section of the whole South African population, and played, along with General Botha [q.v.] at the head of the Dutch section, the chief part in the Convention's proceedings. The two men, inspired by a common ideal of racial amity (and sharing, it may be added, a common taste for the game of bridge), became fast friends, and to their co-operation the success of the Union movement was mainly due.

When Union had been achieved, Jameson favoured the formation of what he called a ‘best man’ government, that is, a government formed of the leading men of both races, irrespective of party. Botha's personal feeling was probably in sympathy with Jameson's, but other forces were too strong for him; and when called upon to form the first government of the Union of South Africa he felt compelled to form it on the old party lines. Jameson therefore entered the first parliament of the Union in 1910 (member for the Harbour division of Capetown) as leader of the opposition, an opposition anything but factious and conducted by him with unabated personal friendliness towards General Botha. He stayed at his post till April 1912, when his constant ill-health and pain obliged him finally to retire from politics, to leave South Africa, and return to England. A baronetcy was conferred on him in 1911.

In England Jameson, who was never married, lived with his brother Middleton, who survived him. He occupied himself mainly with the affairs of the British South Africa Company, of which he had been a director since 1902. He became president on the death in 1913 of the second Duke of Abercorn. In this capacity he paid two more visits to Rhodesia, in 1913–1914 and in 1915; and his work for Rhodes's Company, into which he infused new energy and spirit, ended only with his life. In the European War, though he was almost a dying man, he added to his other labours those of chairman of the committee formed by the War Office to look after the welfare of British prisoners of war. But his strength was now spent; and after a short but terribly painful illness, he died in London on 26 November 1917. When the War was over, his remains were removed from the place of their temporary interment, and finally laid to rest by the side of Rhodes's grave in the Matoppo Hills, near Bulawayo, at the place which Rhodes had named ‘The view of the World’.

A portrait of Jameson was painted by Sir Hubert von Herkomer in 1895.

[G. Seymour Fort, Dr. Jameson, 1908; Ian Colvin, Life of Jameson, 1922; personal knowledge.]

D. O. M.