Sir Leander Starr Jameson

Sir Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917) was a British administrator and South African statesman. He played an important role in the colonization of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and is known largely for his leadership of the abortive raid on Johannesburg.

Leander Jameson was born in Edinburgh on Feb. 3, 1853, and trained as a physician at the university medical college. He sailed for South Africa in 1878 and set up practice in Kimberley, where he met and became close friends with Cecil Rhodes, who wanted to establish a British colony stretching from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo. Jameson performed several missions for Rhodes which eventually led to the founding of the colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand had attracted large numbers of foreigners (mainly British) to Johannesburg, and these clamored for political rights to secure their economic interests. When their efforts failed, crisis followed crisis until some of them organized rifle clubs and threatened to use military force to ensure respect for their wishes.

Jameson, who had become administrator of Rhodesia, sympathized with the reformers. He believed that events in Johannesburg called for a military solution. In Rhodesia he had organized the company's police and volunteers into a fighting unit.

Some of the reformers, who included mining magnates and leaders in the business community, wanted Rhodes, then prime minister of the Cape Colony, to intervene and unite the Boer republics and the British colonies. They planned a revolt which, Jameson was led to believe, would be the signal for him to march into the Transvaal and overthrow the Boer government.

Jameson's Raid

Differences on the wisdom of a military as against a political solution, the design of the flag, and other issues forced the reformers to reconsider their plans. They asked Jameson not to march on Johannesburg until they gave him the signal. He was impatient with their wavering, and on Dec. 29, 1895, he started on the march to Johannesburg with 470 mounted men. He had covered two-thirds of the journey when the British high commissioner ordered him not to enter Boer territory. Believing that the reformers would rebel on hearing that he was on Transvaal soil, he ignored the high commissioner's instructions. The Boers converged on him, and he surrendered at Doornkop on Jan. 2, 1896.

After his arrest and release in Pretoria, Jameson returned to England, where he was tried for organizing an illegal expedition into the territory of a friendly state and sentenced to 15 months without hard labor. His health broke down in Holloway Prison. On his release he returned to South Africa, where he worked with Rhodes on the plan to link Cape Town and Cairo by telegraph.

Jameson's friends persuaded him that entering politics would enable him to accelerate movement toward union. He was elected to the Cape Parliament in 1900 and was prime minister from 1904 to 1908. He was made a baronet in 1911 and became chairman of the British South Africa Company in 1913. He died on Nov. 26, 1917.

Further Reading on Sir Leander Starr Jameson

The comprehensive biography of Jameson is the detailed work by Ian Colvin, The Life of Jameson (2 vols., 1922). Two books on Jameson's raid into the Boer territory are Hugh Marshall Hole, The Jameson Raid (1930), a full account of all the participants, and Jean Van Der Poel, The Jameson Raid (1951), which emphasizes the significance of the raid in the context of an emerging South African union. John Eric Sidney Green, Rhodes Goes North (1936), deals with Cecil Rhodes's role in the raid and its milieu.