February, 1853 dawned cold and clear in Edinburgh, Scotland. Robert William Jameson went for a walk while his wife and mother of his 11 children, a woman with the unlikely name of Christian Pringle, labored to deliver the couple’s 12th. Jameson slipped on a grassy embankment and into a frigid canal where he would have drowned, but not for the kindly stranger who came to fish him out.
The man said he was an American. Leander Starr. Before the day was over, Leander Starr would become godfather to a newborn Scottish baby boy. Leander Starr Jameson.
Forty years later and half a world away, what would one day become South Africa was divided into four entities: the two British possessions of Cape Colony and Natal, and the two Boer (Dutch) Republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, better known as Transvaal. Of the four states, Natal and the two Boer Republics were mainly agricultural, populated by subsistence farmers. The Cape Colony was by far the largest, dominating the other three economically, culturally and socially.
There was considerable friction between Dutch and English settlers, stemming largely from differing attitudes toward slavery. British authorities passed legislation back in 1828, promising equal treatment for all under the law, regardless of race. Boer farmers argued that they needed forced labor to make their farms work, and that slaveholders were too little compensated upon emancipation.
The situation was exacerbated in 1867, with the discovery of vast diamond deposits near modern day Kimberly, in Orange Free State territory. The Cape soon annexed the territory as its own, which I think is a fancy term for “stole”. The Boers found themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place, pressed by the British from the south and west and by the Zulu “Impi” (army) of King Cetshwayo kaMpande to the north.
War broke out between the two sides in 1880-’81 called the “First Anglo-Boer War” by one side, the “First Freedom War” by the other.
Gold was discovered near Johannesburg in 1886, massive amounts of it, drawing tens of thousands of “Uitlanders”: English, American and Australian foreigners, in search of fortune.
Governor of the Cape Colony Cecil Rhodes wanted to incorporate the Transvaal and the Orange Free State into a single federation under British control while the Transvaal government of Paul Kruger feared just that. Soon outnumbered by Uitlanders two to one, Transvaal limited the right to vote to those having many years’ residency, and imposed heavy taxes on gold mining profits.
By mid-1895, Cecil Rhodes had concocted a plan. In a scheme which could only be described as hare-brained, Governor Rhodes sent an armed raid into Johannesburg, inciting an uprising of Uitlanders with the aim of stepping in to take control. Back in London, the father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, thought that was a swell idea and did everything he could to encourage it.
On December 29, 1895, 400 Matabeleland Mounted Police and 200 assorted volunteers crossed from Rhodesia into Transvaal with Leander Starr Jameson, in the lead.
The raid was a humiliating failure. Transvaal authorities were tracking the raiders from the moment they crossed the border. They cut a wire believing it to be a telegraph wire but it was only, a fence. Meanwhile Chamberlain got cold feet, saying that “if this succeeds it will ruin me” and went up to London, to crush it. Chamberlain ordered Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor-General of the Cape Colony to repudiate the raid, threatening Rhodes and calling on British settlers in the Transvaal not to lend any aid to the raiders.
After several sharp encounters with dug in and well-prepared defenders, what remained of the raiders entered Pretoria on January 2, in chains. The Transvaal government received almost £1 million compensation from the British South Africa Company, turning their prisoners over to be tried by the British government. Jameson was convicted of leading the raid and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
During the whole ordeal, Jameson never revealed the degree to which politicians had supported the raid, nor the way they had betrayed him, in the end.
From his home in Vermont, the poet Rudyard Kipling was so impressed with Jameson’s display of stoicism under adversity, he wrote a poem in 1896. He later gave it to his son, Lieutenant John Kipling.
The younger Kipling would not survive his father. He entered the First World War and disappeared during the Battle of Loos, in 1915. He was last seen “staggering in the mud” with what appeared to be, a facial wound. His body was never recovered.
The elder Kipling’s gift would live on. Words of fatherly advice to an only son in a poem, called:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
On a personal note:
Yesterday, a doctor’s diagnosis did much to explain the last six days. Now, to be abed with COVID19 seems a perfectly imperfect way to close out this most wretched of years.
From the April loss of the love of my life to the day-to-day nightmares of running a small business in 2020 to the terrifying spectacle of Mom having that stroke, the day before Thanksgiving. It’s been a year.
(She was discharged on Thanksgiving Day, giving us all something to be thankful for).
Yet I write none of this in a spirit of “woe is me”. Self-pity is a waste of time. I want to say that life is good, after all. Maybe despite it all. Life is good. So, may you enjoy the love and laughter of friends and family. May you take a hike or a nap or a glass of wine, if it pleases you. May you tell someone you love them and be told the same, in return. May the New Year be all you hope it will be and may 2021 be the first, of many more.
“Cape Cod Curmudgeon”