Tag: Southern Rhodesia

The Pioneer Column

Cecil Rhodes was anxious to occupy the territories of Mashonaland and Matabeleland in Southern Rhodesia before the Germans, Portuguese or Boers could get to it. To accomplish this, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company raised the Pioneer Column.

Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes (Photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

Rhodes approached the Matabele King Lobengula and persuaded him to sign a treaty in 1888. This treaty gave Rhodes full rights to mining and administration (though not particularly to settlement), throughout the area of Mashonland. Using this Rudd Concession (as the treaty was dubbed), Rhodes approached the British government for a charter which would allow him to occupy the territory. The British South Africa Company was granted the right to form an armed body of men to protect the Pioneer Column as they travelled across Africa.

Rhodes’s military advisers were wary of how Lobengula would react when he realized that Rhodes intended not only to mine, but to occupy the land that he had granted. The military advisers were almost certain that war would break out, and estimated that it would take 2,500 men and approximately one million pounds to accomplish their goals.

A young adventurer by the name of Frank Johnson wasn’t nearly so cautious, however. He proposed to deliver the territory within nine months, for no more than £87,500, and with a mere 250 men. Johnson recruited Frederick Selous, a hunter with an excellent knowledge of the region, to act as the Column’s guide. He then began recruiting men for the expedition by offering each volunteer 15 mining claims and 3000 acres of land in the newly claimed territories.

English: Cecil Rhodes makes peace with the Nde...

They received thousands of eager applicants; however, Rhodes cleverly selected sons from rich families. He predicted that if the Column was indeed attacked and in danger, the wealthy families would be more successful in enlisting help from the British government.  The Pioneer Column was placed under the command of Irishman Lieutenant Colonel Edward Pennefather, an officer of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons.

The initial Column was made up of 180 colonists, 200 volunteers and 62 wagons. Another group soon attached themselves to the Column, adding 110 men, 16 wagons, 130 horses, and 250 cattle. They set out from Macloutsie on June 28, 1890, and arrived on September 12 at a flat, marshy meadow protected by steep rocky hills. The British flag was hoisted over the plain the following day, and settlement began.

Three towns were founded nearby: Fort Victoria (now named Masvingo), Fort Charter, and Fort Salisbury. The Pioneer Corps was disbanded and each of the members was given the promised lands on which they could begin farming.

In one fell swoop, the Pioneer Column drastically changed the destiny of this previously neglected territory. What was once an undeveloped backwater became a productive region that has achieved great things since its founding.

Britain’s Child Migrants

Toward the end of the 19th century, Britain was facing significant social and economic trouble. Deprivation, homelessness and neglect were endemic throughout Britain’s overcrowded cities, and child migration emerged as a solution.

1950 Child Migrants
1950 Child Migrants (Photo credit: theirhistory)

Britain was in the midst of empire building and the colonies not only provided enormous wealth and resources – they also provided alternative homelands for the unwanted peoples of Britain. Many Britons emigrated throughout this period of history; yet few know of the many thousands of children who were rounded up and sent abroad. Child migrants became the brick and mortar force on which the Empire could continue to expand.

Children as young as three were routinely shipped abroad – primarily to Australia and Canada – through government-sanctioned child migration schemes. Charities were even established to support the emigration efforts, as children were gathered from across the UK. They were brought to major British ports such as London, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Southampton where they were given a trunk of clothing and shipped off to their new homes. The vast majority never returned to their homeland.

Approximately 100,000 children were sent to Canada, over 7,000 to Australia, and several hundred were shipped to New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia. Prior to 1900, the majority of the children were collected from workhouses, city streets and declining rural areas where they were often found destitute and homeless. After the turn of the century the children were sent from orphanages and children’s homes. In some cases, parents were unable to provide for their children and chose to send them abroad with the migration schemes.

Australian Child Migrants leaving Alverstoke 1950
Australian Child Migrants leaving Alverstoke 1950 (Photo credit: theirhistory)

Many of the children hardly knew what to expect. They faced the future with fear, but also with excitement as in many cases they were simply leaving behind a life of neglect, hunger and hardship. They were promised new sights, new places and the excitement of exploration. They were treated to tea parties and visited by popular entertainers, powerful benefactors, and even by royalty. Each departure was highly publicized to promote the work of the various charities.

The children were actually treated very well in Britain and all throughout the voyages. They enjoyed the luxury of passenger liners, sleeping in comfortable cabins, eating hearty meals, and even enjoying games, swimming and schooling on board the ships.

Unfortunately, upon arrival in their new homes the children were faced with lands completely foreign and often harsh. In Canada, the children were distributed to rural homes where they lived and worked with farming families. Some fared better than others; however the majority faced hard physical labour in a harsh climate, compounded by the loneliness of being with a family but not being considered part of the family.

In Australia the children fared no better. Their smart wardrobes were stripped from them and exchanged for khaki work clothes and bare feet. The children were placed in religious institutions or farming schools where they were subjected to harsh discipline and backbreaking labour. The children were expected to continue in agriculture, and thus received little to no education.

At the height of the child migration scheme, as many as 300 children would travel aboard a single ship, chaperoned by staff from their designated charity. The numbers dropped lower and lower as the 20th century progressed; however, the schemes weren’t officially ended until 1967.

When the Child Welfare Act was passed in 1948, the child migration schemes came under scrutiny. Investigations were carried out and several of the participating institutions received strong condemnation. The schemes continued, however, for another decade. The last group of child migrants was sent to Australia by air in 1967, and the institutions began to close in the 1970s.


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