Thursday, 21 January 2016

Brobdingnagian Bagman

I prefer land to niggers...the natives are like children. They are just emerging from should kill as many niggers as possible.
Thus a petition calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, quoting Rhodes' words against him.

Or so it says.  But I'm going to try to trace the source, or sources...

The first five words are quoted twice in Felix Gross's 1956 biography of Rhodes.  The second time he gives a source: Rhodes is supposed to have made the remark to his then friend Olive Schreiner at the dinner table.  It's not clear how Gross would have known that.  Schriener herself puts the words in the mouth of her fictional character Trooper Peter Halket (whom Gross refers to, and quotes, at the beginning of his book):
...but Cecil Rhodes, he'll keep their noses to the grindstone.' 'I prefer land to niggers,' he says. They say he's going to parcel them out, and make them work on our lands whether they like it or not.
The middle passage comes from a speech given by Rhodes, as Prime Minister, in the Cape parliament in 1894:
Now, I say the natives are children. They are just emerging from barbarism. They have human minds, and I would like them to devote themselves wholly to the local matters that surround them and appeal to them...
The last eight words I can find only in various forms of the same synthetic quotation.  The earliest of them seems to Adekeye Adebajo's Opinion piece attacking Rhodes in 2006: there the three parts are separate quotations.  When the same writer recycled his work in 2011 it was a single quotation, with ellipses.  By 2015 the second ellipsis had been replaced with '[and]'.  This is not the work of  a scrupulous scholar.

But I may have traced the original in Gordon Le Sueur's account in his biography of Rhodes:
...we saw the officer in charge of police, and he said that a patrol was going out that very day to attack the kraal on the kopje under which we had spent the night. He spoke of a fight they had had a short time before, and on Rhodes asking how many were killed he replied, 'Very few, as the natives threw down their arms, went on their knees, and begged for mercy." "Well," said Rhodes, "you should not spare them. You should kill all you can, as it serves as a lesson to them when they talk things over at their fires at night. They count up the killed, and say So-and-so is dead and So-and-so is no longer here, and they begin to fear you."

Having found all this, I had the right search terms to discover that I wasn't the first.  Madeleine Briggs points out that Adebajo assembled the three (mis)quotations from Paul Maylam's biography.  Briggs reports that Schreiner apparently got her quotation from another of Rhodes' speeches in Cape House, misremembered by her.


None of this vindicates Rhodes.  Schreiner fell out with Rhodes over his support for the "Strop Bill" which would have imposed a sentence of flogging on any native servant convicted of even a minor dereliction of duty: the Bill proved too illiberal for some Boers and did not pass:
Mr Hofmeyr, leader of the Bond, opposed it with the remark that he was not going to vote for a bill which made the lashing of his old coloured servant woman compulsory if she should be convicted of bringing him his coffee half an hour late.
Rhodes' speech in 1894, horribly patronising but apparently benevolent, was in support of the Glen Grey Act, which replaced communal land ownership with smallholdings for a small number of natives, displacing the rest.  The individual titles were small enough so that they failed to meet the property requirement of Rhodes' Franchise and Ballot Act, and land accumulation was prohibited.  It was a progenitor of apartheid.


What then of the statue?  I'd keep it.  We should remember the past, and we should remember that we put up statues in celebration of it.  But that's easy for me to say: if the members of Oriel want it gone, so be it.

(h/t Tim Worstall)


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