Cecil John Rhodes

Business Career

The son of a Hertfordshire clergyman, he first went to South Africa in 1870, joining his oldest brother, Herbert, on a cotton plantation in Natal. In 1871 the brothers staked a claim in the newly opened Kimberley diamond fields, where Cecil was to make most of his fortune. He returned to England in 1873 and entered Oxford, but his studies were repeatedly interrupted by visits to South Africa and he did not receive his degree until 1881. His power in the diamond-mining industry developed until, in 1880, he formed the De Beers Mining Company, which was second only to that organized by Barney Barnato.

In 1888 he tricked Lobengula, the Ndebele (Matabele) ruler, into an agreement by which Rhodes secured mining concessions in Matabeleland and Mashonaland. He exploited these through the British South Africa Company (organized 1889), which soon established complete control of the territory. In 1888, Rhodes had also secured a monopoly of the Kimberley diamond production by the creation (with Barnato) of the De Beers Consolidated Mines, which reputedly had the largest capital in the world.

Rhodes left nearly all his fortune of £6 million to public service. One of his chief benefactions was the Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford, administered by the Rhodes Trust. More than 90 scholarships are now awarded each year to students from the (now former) British colonies, the United States, and Germany.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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