Steve on Sunday
18 April 2021
Greetings my fellow students of history…
We learn something every day but sadly, not always to our enjoyment thereof.
Take Cecil Rhodes for example. We all know absolutely everything about him, do we not? To be brutally honest most of us know absolutely nothing about the man other than what gets stuffed down our ears regularly, and all to his and our detriment naturally.
Okay, let’s take it as a given that we know everything about Cecil Rhodes…but what do we know about his family, his parents, and his siblings? It is quite probable that you knew his father was a Church of England minister but did you know that Cecil was one of eleven children born to the union of the Reverend Francis Rhodes and his good wife Louisa (nee Peacock)?
Read on MacDuff…
The children born to the liaison were:
Herbert, (known in Africa as ‘Roza’), was born eight years before Cecil in 1845. A tall, lean hatchet-faced man whose strength was considerable, and a splendid boxer. A born leader, Herbert would go for long walks and rides with Cecil. Their mother would say that Herbert had every sense except common sense. At school he was considered clever, volatile, “…with a face like indiarubber, and extraordinary command of expression.” He was a member of the Transvaal Volksraad for Pilgrim’s Rest in 1874, but died quite tragically in *what became) Nyasaland in 1879 when a spark from his pipe exploded a demijohn of gin from which he was busy pouring a drink. Despite putting the flames out by jumping in the nearby Shire River, he succumbed to the burns shortly afterwards on 21 October. Many years later Cecil erected a headstone over Herbert’s grave.
Louisa Sophia Margaret was “small and dark, quiet, rather prim and old-maidish”, and lived most of her life at Iver in England. She was born in 1847 and died in 1923 at age 76.
Edith Caroline was similar to Cecil in many respects. An undated photograph shows the facial and physical similarities to Cecil but it was in her character that they were most marked. She was “careless in attire…displayed splendid disregard for conventionalities…freely asserted her right to independent action.” Edith once suggested to Cecil that she move into Groote Schuur with him. He was less than delighted and instructed his secretary, Gordon le Sueur, to write back declining the suggestion. “I am very fond of my sister,” he said to Le Sueur, “and it would be very pleasant to have her here, but I am afraid the house is not big enough for two of us!” She was born in 1848, and died in 1905.
Francis William (Frank), born on 9 April 1850. Probably the most well-known of Cecil’s brothers through his participation in the Jameson Raid of 1895-1896, his subsequent death sentence (later commuted), and in the siege of Ladysmith and relief of Mafeking. Frank, or Frankie as he was popularly known, served with the 1st Royal Dragoon Guards and reached the rank of Colonel, having fought at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882 as well as in Uganda. Served with Lord Kitchener in 1896 in the Sudan. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1891, and made Commander of the Order of Bath (CB) during the Anglo-Boer War. He was also the Managing Director of the African Trans-Continental Telegraph Company, and at one stage was the military secretary to the Governor of Bombay. Was Administrator of Rhodesia for a short period, and inherited Dalham Estate on brother Cecil’s death, but was not to enjoy it for long as he contracted blackwater fever while visiting Victoria Falls, and died at Groote Schuur on 21 September 1905. A book of Questions and Answers dated 14 October 1866 when Cecil was 13, where one player writes the questions and another the answers, shows that Frankie was the most loved by Cecil of all his siblings. The question on whom he loved best in the world gives Cecil’s answer as “My brother Frank”, while the question as to whom loves him best, is answered “I do not know.”
Frank also lost his commission in the British army for the role he played in the Jameson Raid fiasco. In July 1898, Cecil, knowing that his brother was upset about the loss of his commission, wrote to the then General Horatio Kitchener in Cairo: “My brother’s one idea is to regain his Commission. I do not like asking favours but please do what you can for him after Khartoum is taken.” Frank did regain his commission, Kitchener acknowledging the fact with a reply telegram, stating plainly “Frank Well. Reinstated”, and he served with distinction during the siege of Ladysmith and on the relief of Mafeking. Undoubtedly, Rhodes was extremely fond of his eldest brother Herbert and upon his death, was heartbroken. Frank, who was never serious and made friends with all, then became the closest of all the family, and wrote to his mother from New Rush in 1872 that “Nobody believes that I am older than Cecil – I don’t know whether to take it as a compliment or not.” At that early stage it can be seen that Cecil had already moved ahead of his brother in life.
Basil, who died as an infant in 1851 aged 11 days;
Ernest, the only child (barring Elizabeth), who married; He had two daughters, Georgia and Violet, both of whom never married. His siblings knew Ernest as ‘Binfield’. He resigned his commission in the British army and planned to immigrate to Australia, but was persuaded to come to South Africa. He was used by Cecil and Charles Rudd as their agent in England in order to pay off creditors, buy and sell shares as well as to smooth the progress of capital transfers, and later became Manager of the Consolidated Gold Fields Company. Kind hearted and generous, he was also a sound businessman. On the death of Frank he inherited Dalham estate, but like Frank, did not live too long to enjoy the inheritance, dying in 1904. He was born in 1852.
Cecil John, born a year later in 1853.
Baby Francis Frederick, born and died in 1854.
Elmhirst, who joined the Berkshire Regiment in 1878, specialised in signaling. He served with Lord Methuen in the Anglo-Boer war initially, and became Inspector of Signaling. He was awarded the DSO in 1886. He was born in 1858 and died aged 73 years in 1931. Considered independent and admired by Cecil for his perseverance.
Arthur Montague, who once farmed ostriches in Oudtshoorn – and failed – settled outside Bulawayo and farmed in Matabeleland for many years with land at Bembesi. Cecil would tease and argue with Arthur, his “irresponsible brother” regularly, and Arthur would not often be bested with his quick wit. Sarcastic, facetious, and eloquent, he was a ladies man and most popular. Born in 1859 and died in 1935. Arthur was considered by Cecil to be a loafer, the worst of his brothers. After the Matabele Uprising of 1896, Arthur put in a claim for damages done to his property in Matabeleland. On the claim form, Cecil wrote, “This is the most impudent claim that has yet been submitted.”
Bernard Maitland. The youngest, and according to Cecil, the laziest. “Ah, yes! Bernard is a charming fellow; he rides, shoots and fishes; in fact, he is a loafer.” He also served in the army during the Anglo-Boer war. He was born in 1861 and died in 1935.
Another little known fact is that Cecil had a half-sister.
Reverend Rhodes’ marriage to Cecil’s mother was his second such, his first marriage being to Elizabeth Sophia Menet, a woman of Swiss descent. Elizabeth, whom he married in 1833, died giving birth to Cecil’s half-sister, Elizabeth, in 1835.
Baby Elizabeth survived, and married a cousin, Thomas William Rhodes, thus retaining the surname. She died in 1886.
Here endeth the history lesson.
One hopes that some of what you eight readers have just perused, you did not know. And now you are allowed to impress your family and friends.
I thank you.