The Story of Rhodesia/Territorial Expansion

North to the Zambezi, rivalry with PortugalEdit

The projected Company sphere was initially Matabeleland and its immediate neighbours between the Limpopo River and the Zambezi. Portugal's colonies in Angola and Mozambique, coastal territories respectively to the west and east of this general area, were over three centuries old, and Lisbon's alliance with Britain formally dated back to the 1386 Treaty of Windsor. However, the exceedingly lethargic pace of local Portuguese colonisation and development was such that even in the 1880s, Portugal's dominions in Mozambique comprised only a few scattered ports, harbours and plantations, all of which were administered from the island of Mozambique, just north of the Mozambique Channel.[1] Angola differed little, with gigantic tracts of hinterland coming under the largely nominal purview of Portugal's modest colony on the coast.[2]

Rhodes quietly planned to annex some of Mozambique into the Company domain so he could establish a major port at the mouth of the Pungwe River. He thought this might make an ideal sea outlet for his proposed settlement in Mashonaland, the area directly to Matabeleland's north-east where Lobengula held dominion over many Mashona chiefs. Rhodes believed that the Portuguese claim to Mozambique was tenuous enough that he could win much of it without provoking major ire: "the occupation of the Portuguese even along the coast line is in most places merely a paper one," he wrote to Whitehall in late 1889, "and if this has not been recognised by international agreement I think it might be left open."[1] But contrary to Rhodes's opinion, general consensus at the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 had made Portugal's hold over the Mozambican coastline very secure.[1] The Portuguese had expanded inland during the late 1880s, creating Manicaland in the eastern Mashona country. They founded Beira, a port on Rhodes's proposed Pungwe site, in 1890.[1] Portugal issued the so-called "Pink Map" around this time, laying claim to the very corridor of land between Angola and Mozambique that Rhodes desired. The British government issued a firm ultimatum against the Portuguese claims in January 1890; Lisbon swiftly acquiesced and left the area open for the Company's drive north.[2]

Pioneer ColumnEdit

Officers of the Pioneer Column. The column was mostly South African and spanned almost all corners of society.[3]

The Pioneer Column, initially comprising about 100 volunteers referred to as pioneers, was raised by the Company during 1890. Led by Major Frank Johnson, a 23-year-old adventurer, the column was designed by the Company to be the instrument by which it would not only acquire Mashonaland, but also begin its development. Men from a wide variety of backgrounds therefore filled its ranks; according to one member, "prospectors predominate, but nearly every trade and profession under the sun is represented ... one troop is called the gentlemanly troop because the majority in it are brokers".[3] Most of the pioneers self-identified as South African rather than British, and many of them were Afrikaners. At Rhodes's insistence, several sons of the Cape Colony's leading families were also included. Each pioneer was promised 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land and 15 mining claims in return for his service.[3]

Lobengula gave his approval to the ostensibly non-military expedition, but many of his izinDuna (advisors) were fiercely against it, seeing it as an appropriation of Matabele territory. Wary that one or more of these izinDuna might turn rogue and attack the pioneers, the Company gradually enlarged the escorting detachment of British South Africa Company's Police until it numbered 500 men, headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Pennefather, an officer seconded from the British Army. To Johnson's chagrin, the Imperial officer was also given ultimate command of the column.[3]

The column was to move roughly east from Macloutsie, a small camp near the border of Matabeleland and Bechuanaland, and then march north to its destination. It would build a road as it went, founding minor forts along the way, and establish a major town in Mashonaland, whereupon the pioneers would be released to farm, prospect and trade.[4][5] Frederick Courteney Selous, a famed hunter with intimate knowledge of Mashonaland, was made the column's "intelligence officer". He chose as its intended destination an open patch of veld he had discovered during his travels, which he called Mount Hampden. The proposed site was about 650 kilometers (400 mi) to the north-east of Macloutsie. The column departed on 28 June 1890, and on 11 July crossed the Tuli River into Matabeleland. Its first settlement, Fort Tuli, was inaugurated near the riverbank. Though Johnson was nominally in command of the pioneers, he was generally seen as untried and green when contrasted with the experienced, respected authority of Selous. According to most contemporary accounts, Selous was effectively in control.[4] The officers were outwardly harmonious, but Johnson was privately troubled by pangs of jealousy.[4]

The Union Jack was raised over Fort Salisbury on 13 September 1890.

The column was initially accompanied by about 200 Ngwato provided by the Tswana chief Khama, who had firmly aligned his country with Britain. The Ngwato provided much assistance in building the new road, but animosity soon developed between them and the whites, principally because the latter were not used to treating blacks as equals. By mutual consent, the Ngwato returned home.[3] As the column continued its march north, Selous split off with a small section and headed east to challenge the Portuguese in Manicaland.[6] Pennefather and Johnson continued at the head of the main force and founded Fort Victoria, Fort Charter, and, on 12 September, Fort Salisbury.[4]

The site of Salisbury was a naturally flat and marshy meadow, bounded by a rough kopje. The pioneers were about 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) short of Mount Hampden, but Pennefather climbed the kopje, surveyed the open veld and insisted that it was "magnificent", so they need go no further.[7] He reported back to Rhodes in triumphant tones: "Site selected ... All well. Magnificent country. Natives pleased to see us".[7] On the morning of 13 September 1890, about 10:00, the officers and men of the Pioneer Column paraded atop the kopje before an improvised flagstaff. With the column standing to attention, Lieutenant Edward Tyndale-Biscoe hoisted the Union Jack, a 21-gun salute was fired, and three cheers were given for the Queen. Work then began on the fort, which was completed by the end of September. The Pioneer Column was then disbanded.[4]

Eastern skirmishes with PortugalEdit

Instructed by Rhodes to hurry east, Selous met with the Manica chief, Mtassa, on 14 September 1890, and agreed with him a concession whereby Mtassa promised not to ally with any other foreign power, and granted the Company exclusive rights to mine within his territory, as well as to build railways, bridges, canals and other projects typical of colonial settlement. In return, the Company gave Mtassa rifles and other equipment (worth £100 in total), and a promise of protection against attacks by the Portuguese or the neighbouring Shangaan (or Tsonga) people. Portugal despatched a small force to militarily overwhelm Mtassa and reclaim the area in early November 1890.[6]

Captain Patrick Forbes rode to Mtassa's aid from Salisbury, quickly routed the Portuguese, and thereupon advanced all the way to Beira, securing further concessions from local chiefs along the way to build a railroad. Tense negotiations between Britain and Portugal followed, finally concluding with a treaty signed in Lisbon on 11 June 1891: prominent among the numerous territorial revisions was the integration of Manicaland into the Company domain as part of Mashonaland. Britain concurrently recognised Portugal's authority over the entire Mozambican coast, putting an end to Rhodes's designs for a Company port on the Mozambique Channel.[6][8]

North to KatangaEdit

Representatives of the Company crossed the Zambezi to venture even further north. The Shire Highlands of Nyasaland, far to the north-east on the banks of Lake Nyasa, had been settled by a modest number of British missionaries for about a decade, and in Barotseland, to the north-west, King Lewanika hosted François Coillard of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society. Rhodes sent Elliot Lochner north to negotiate with Lewanika in late 1889, and in June 1890 the king signed the Lochner Concession, which gave the Company rights to mine, trade and build railways in Barotseland in return for British protection over his domain from external threats, and a British resident in Lewandika's court at Lealui. The British government thereupon chartered the Company to defend Barotseland,[9] as well as all country to the east as far as Nyasaland, and to the north as far as Lake Tanganyika and Katanga.[10]

A country where resources were scarce and tropical disease was rampant, Barotseland offered comparatively few economic opportunities for the Company and little incentive for white immigration. The main objective of Lochner's expedition was all along to clear a path towards Katanga, a mineral-rich area further north, where Msiri ruled the Yeke Kingdom.[9] Katanga was also coveted by the owner of the Congo Free State, King Leopold II of the Belgians, whose representatives Rhodes hoped to beat there.[10] "I want you to get Msiri's," Rhodes told one of his agents, Joseph Thomson; "I mean Katanga ... You must go and get Katanga."[11]

The efforts of Thomson and Alfred Sharpe to secure a Company concession over the area were furiously rebuffed by Msiri in late 1890, and ultimately foiled by the 1891–92 Stairs Expedition—a multinational force in Leopold's service, led by a Canadian British Army officer, Captain William Grant Stairs—which violently clashed with the obstreperous Msiri, and eventually shot him dead when an attempt to arrest him turned into a firefight. Msiri had been in the habit of displaying the heads of his enemies atop poles outside his boma (enclosure), and the expedition's men hoisted his own head alongside them in an attempt to strike fear into the locals. The country promptly capitulated to the Free State, ending the Company's expansion north.[11]

The Company did little to fulfil Britain's obligations to Lewandika; having failed in Katanga, its hierarchy saw Barotseland as an unworkable inconvenience that might later be exchanged with Portugal. Whitehall, by contrast, regarded Lewandika's domain as an important buffer against further Portuguese claims inland. Neither the Company nor the British government proved eager to take practical responsibility for the Barotse; in 1894, while informing Britain of his willingness to administer on Whitehall's behalf north of the Zambezi, Rhodes stressed that he would not take Barotseland. The promised British resident at Lealui remained conspicuously absent, despite Lewandika's repeated enquiries, until the appointment by Rhodes of Robert Thorne Coryndon in 1897.[9]


  1. a b c d Rotberg 1988, pp. 304–312
  2. a b Duignan & Gann 1975, p. 258
  3. a b c d e Galbraith 1974, pp. 143–153
  4. a b c d e Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 163–172
  5. Tawse-Jollie 1936, pp. 11–12
  6. a b c Rotberg 1988, pp. 312–319
  7. a b Rotberg 1988, p. 300
  8. Teresa Pinto Coelho, (2006). Lord Salisbury´s 1890 Ultimatum to Portugal and Anglo-Portuguese Relations, pp. 6-7. archived from original:
  9. a b c Okoth 2006, p. 234; Youé 1986, pp. 20–24
  10. a b Okoth 2006, p. 243
  11. a b Moloney 2007, pp. ix–x