John Rhodes life and biography

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John Rhodes biography

Date of birth : 1853-07-05
Date of death : 1902-03-26
Birthplace : Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England
Nationality : British
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-05-03
Credited as : Businessman and magnate, Politician in South Africa, Rhodes Memorial

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Cecil John Rhodes (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was an English-born businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa. He was the founder of the diamond company De Beers, which today markets 40% of the world's rough diamonds and at one time marketed 90%. An ardent believer in colonialism and imperialism, he was the founder of the state of Rhodesia, which was named after him. After independence, Rhodesia separated into the nations of Northern and Southern Rhodesia, later renamed Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively. South Africa's Rhodes University is named after him. He set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate.

Known as one of the staunchest British Imperialists of his era, Cecil John Rhodes would work his way to become one of the richest men in the world. He founded the British South Africa Company and would later leave the Rhodes scholarship as a foundation in his own memory.

Born to a parish vicar meant that Cecil’s family was on a fixed income in Hertfordshire. In school, the young John Rhodes’ health began to fail, something that would plaque him the rest of his life. After his studies, he went to South Africa to work with his brother in order to claim a stake in the diamond fields being exploited. Over the next ten years, Cecil formed the De Beers Mining Company with the De Beers brothers. It was around this time that the overworked and stressed Rhodes suffered his first heart attack.

By the early 1880s, Cecil attained his university degree and continued vying in the diamond market. His only rival was Barnie Barnato, who he eventually bought out to form the De Beers Consolidated Mines, which worked with the precedent that it should spread the British Empire as far as possible in other areas of South Africa. Through the company, Cecil John Rhodes was also able to form a country named after him – Rhodesia, or what is today Zambia and Zimbabwe. He acquired the land for his country by dealing with the King of the Ndebele.

Rhodes popularity grew and he eventually became a member of parliament in South Africa. He was also able to get the British to back the formation of what became the South Africa Company, whose goal was to put British citizens in different, albeit the farthest-flung territories. Eventually, the Ndebele fought back, but were nearly wiped out in the war of 1893. Through his policies, the Afrikaners were nearly helpless to the whims of the overseeing British flag. However, all of this was too slow going for Cecil John Rhodes whose health was failing worse than it ever had. In an attempt to see his dream realized before his death, he planned a coup d’etat against the Boer government. His attempts failed and he was removed from office. In his last days, he sought greater glory for Rhodesia, but not much came of his plans. Upon his death, he left money to Britain to form a secret imperialist society. But, the majority of it he left to Oxford in order that foreign students from the U.S. and Germany could attend the prestigious University on scholarship.

Death and legacy

Although Rhodes remained a leading figure in the politics of southern Africa, especially during the Second Boer War, he was dogged by ill health throughout his relatively short life. He was sent to Natal aged 16 because it was believed the climate might help problems with his heart. On returning to England in 1872 his health again deteriorated with heart and lung problems, to the extent that his doctor believed he would only survive six months. He returned to Kimberly where his health improved. From age 40 his heart condition returned with increasing severity until his death from heart failure. He was laid to rest at World's View, a hilltop located approximately 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Bulawayo, in what was then Rhodesia. Today, his grave site is part of Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe.

In 2004, he was voted 56th in the SABC3 television series Great South Africans.

At his death he was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world. In his first will, of 1877, (before he had accumulated his wealth), Rhodes wanted to create a secret society that would bring the whole world under British rule. The exact wording from this will is:

To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonisation by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.

Rhodes' final will left a large area of land on the slopes of Table Mountain to the South African nation. Part of this estate became the upper campus of the University of Cape Town, another part became the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, while much was spared from development and is now an important conservation area.

Rhodes Scholarship

In his last will and testament, he provided for the establishment of the famous Rhodes Scholarship, the world's first international study programme. The scholarship enabled students from territories under British rule, formerly under British rule, and from Germany, to study at the University of Oxford.


Rhodes Memorial stands on Rhodes' favourite spot on the slopes of Devil's Peak, Cape Town, with a view looking north and east towards the Cape to Cairo route. Rhodes' house in Cape Town, Groote Schuur, has recently been inhabited by the President of the R.S.A. Jacob Zuma.

His birthplace was established as a museum in 1938, now known as Bishops Stortford Museum. The cottage in Muizenberg where he died is a South African national monument.

Rhodes University College, now Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, was established in his name by his trustees and founded by Act of Parliament on 31 May 1904.

The residents of Kimberley elected to build a memorial in Rhodes' honour in their city, which was unveiled in 1907. The 72-ton bronze statue depicts Rhodes on his horse, looking north with map in hand, and dressed as he was when met the Ndebele after their rebellion.

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