It is now well over a hundred years since the death of the famous empire builder Cecil Rhodes and it may be well to remind present day readers of the great esteem in which Rhodes was held at the time of his death in 1902. Most of the following is taken from contemporary reports:

Against the advice of physicians and friends, Rhodes returned from England to Cape Town partly in order to bear witness in a fraud case against a Polish adventuress, Princess Catherine Radziwill.  Radziwill was found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment.  Seeking cool breezes, Rhodes retired to his little sea cottage at Muizenberg near Cape Town. However his health, already poor, continued to deteriorate and he died there on 26th March not yet 49 years old.

Rhodes Cottage facing the sea at Muizenberg, near Cape Town
Rhodes Cottage facing the sea at Muizenberg, near Cape Town  – from a sketch by Mrs Penstone.

The London newspapers published long obituary notices and eulogistic leaders regarding Mr. Rhodes, recording their high appreciation of the inestimable services rendered by him to the British Empire in the grandeur of his conceptions, in the courage and pertinacity with which he pursued them, and in the intensity of the patriotism which lay at the root of all his strivings. They said he had no peer and that the Empire is the poorer by the loss of the man, who will always have a place among England’s greatest sons.

It was announced from London that a great national memorial service would be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Lord Mayor and City Corporation and various government ministers will attend in state and the King and Prime Minister Lord Salisbury will send representatives. In the event, many thousands who sought to attend were unable to gain admission.

On 29th March Reuter reported that “About 15,000 people visited Groote Schuur today to view Mr Rhodes’s coffin, which was placed in the hall, through which an uninterrupted stream of people was kept up for seven hours.

Rhodes coffin in the hall at Groote Schuur, near Cape Town
Rhodes coffin in the hall at Groote Schuur, his home near Cape Town

Sir Gordon Sprigg, Prime Minister of Cape Colony received the following cable of sympathy from the Right Hon. Richard Seddon Premier of New Zealand “In the death of that great man, Cecil Rhodes, the Empire has suffered. He has done a great deal – borne a fair share of his burden. Truly there was much more to be done and he could ill be spared. In some things he was misunderstood, but his good works will live after him. Accept our heartfelt condolence.

The coffin was then taken to the parliament building in Cape Town, for a second Lying in State, where of course Mr Rhodes had presided as Prime Minister from 1890-1896. A trooper of the Cape Police stood guard at each corner of the catafalque.  A crowd estimated to exceed 25,000 persons thronged Adderley Street, Cape Town’s main thoroughfare.

Rhodes funeral procession, Adderley Street, Cape Town
Rhodes funeral procession, Adderley Street, Cape Town

Following the second Lying in State, his coffin embarked on a ceremonial train journey of over 1,400 miles to Bulawayo, stopping at almost every settlement en-route to allow the population, both white and black alike, to pay their last respects.

The train arrived in Kimberley at six o’clock am on 5th April and the procession of mourners lasted nearly five hours and it is estimated twelve to fifteen thousand people marched past; male and female of all ages and colours, followed in the most perfect order, complete solemnity pervading the scene.  Such a heterogeneous gathering has surely never been seen; white black and brown, mothers with babies in their arms, officers and soldiers of all ranks, marching side by side, absolutely irrespective of social rank, race or colour.  Amongst the mourners was Njuba, a son of Lobengula, who was educated at the expense of the deceased statesman.

Rhodes’ coffin in the railway funeral car
Arrival of Rhodes' coffin at Bulawayo station
Arrival of Rhodes’ coffin at Bulawayo station
Rhodes' funeral procession through Bulawayo
Rhodes’ funeral procession through Bulawayo
The Drill Hall, Bulawayo, during Rhodes' Lying in State
The Drill Hall, Bulawayo, during Rhodes’ Lying in State

After a further lying in state in Bulawayo the coffin was taken by gun carriage which was hauled up a newly constructed road to the summit of the hill where Rhodes had chosen to be buried.

Oxen drawing gun carriage carrying Rhodes' coffin up the hill showing the specially constructed road
Oxen drawing the gun carriage carrying Rhodes’ coffin up the hill showing the specially constructed road

The hill was referred to by Rhodes as a place where one could get “a View of the World” but the area has long been held sacred.  It was known as Malindidzimu, the place of spirits, by the Karanga before they were conquered by the Ndebele around 1840.  The Matabele however retained the sacred nature of the area and this was then similarly adopted by the whites when they in turn became the rulers of the land that came to be known as Rhodesia.

Mzilikazi, the first King of the Ndebele, who had settled in Rhodesia around 1838, is buried in a cave just a short distance away.

Numerous messages were received telling of meetings held by native chiefs with their people and expressing profound grief. The chiefs who live within a reasonable distance of “World’s View” attended the funeral accompanied by their principal headmen.  The former included Gambo, Sekombo, Faku, Mapisa, Nyamanda, Mpini, Ntola, Nhlukaniso, Mtyama, Umlugulu and others.

Some of the natives on the hill awaiting Rhodes' coffin
Some of the natives on the hill awaiting Rhodes’ coffin

The Bishop of Mashonaland, William Thomas Gaul, read the following poem specially written by Rhodes’ friend Rudyard Kipling:


(Buried April 10th 1902)

When that great Kings return to clay,
Or Emperors in their pride,
Grief of a day shall fill a day,
Because its creature died.
But we—we reckon not with those
Whom the mere Fates ordain,
This Power that wrought on us and goes
Back to the Power again.

Dreamer devout, by vision led
Beyond our guess or reach,
The travail of his spirit bred
Cities in place of speech.
So huge the all-mastering thought that drove—
So brief the term allowed—
Nations, not words, he linked to prove
His faith before the crowd.

It is his will that he look forth
Across the world he won—
The granite of the ancient North—
Great spaces washed with sun.
There shall he patient take his seat
(As when the Death he dared),
And there await a people’s feet
In the paths that he prepared.

There, till the vision he foresaw
Splendid and whole arise,
And unimagined Empires draw
To council ’neath his skies,
The immense and brooding Spirit still
Shall quicken and control.
Living he was the land, and dead,
His soul shall be her soul!

Continuing, the Bishop said: “With these words we leave our friend and chief at rest in his rocky tomb in God’s great Cathedral, with the sapphire vault of heaven above him and the old grey granite wall around him. But as we pass away let us be inspired by one thought and strengthened by one resolution: we will resolve to carry on the work, the foundations of which he laid so well, strenuously and unselfishly doing our duty day by day each for his ‘brethren and all for God'”.

Some workmen now came forward, and with difficulty rolled the huge granite slab, weighing three tons and cut from the base of the mountain, over the tomb.  Whilst this was being accomplished, “Now the labourer’s task is o’er” was sung; the Bishop gave the blessing; the watching natives at a signal from their chiefs arose as one man and for a second time and thrilled everyone with their deep melancholy farewell  as they wailed their royal salute “N’Kosi”; and all was done.

Rhodes' burial – the final ceremony in the Matopo Hills
Rhodes’ burial – the final ceremony in the Matopo Hills

The chief mourners, led by brothers Col. Frank Rhodes and Arthur Rhodes and Dr Jameson, waited until the slab was in position and cemented down. Then, with a last sorrowful gaze at the simple inscription cut in the large brass plate, “Here lie the remains of Cecil John Rhodes”, they moved slowly away, the band playing a dirge as they walked silently down the hill.

The indunas and their men, who had been waiting since dawn, filed past two and two, bareheaded and carrying sticks slightly raised as on parade, headed by chief Gambo and followed by N’Jaan, both having their breasts covered with amulets.

N’Jaan, who was Commander-in-chief in the first Matabele war, had requested to be allowed to recite praises of the dead. These he declaimed, waving his arms as he passed the tomb; but the rest of the swarthy procession passed in dignified and reverential silence. Yet they were silent only until they had reached the valley, until their feet had left the great mountain rock now made sacred.  Then arose the most wonderful chattering as they made their way up the radiating valleys and gorges leading to their camps, their high-pitched voices reaching the ears of the lingering mourners.  Never had they witnessed such a scene.  They will tell the story in their kraals and in their wanderings, and Cecil Rhodes, the great white chief, buried with Imperial pomp and amid an Empire’s sorrow, and left alone amidst gigantic mountain sentinels will live for all time in their traditions.

Secombo, the chief who was third in the procession put into words their feelings. “The bodies of Umzeligaz, the great chief, and of the great white chief ” he said “now both rest in the Matoppos.  Their spirits will range the mountains, and they will meet and hold a great indaba”.


Three weeks after the funeral in the Matopos another assembly took place on the World’s View. Colonel Rhodes, accompanied by Mr. H.J. Taylor, Chief Native Commissioner, and Mr. H.M. Jackson, of the Matopos District, met by arrangement the principal Matabele chiefs at his brother’s grave.

The chiefs appeared in state, and saluted the Colonel with profound respect.  It was a remarkable sight and a strange contrast to all that had preceded. The chiefs regarded the grave with reverential awe.  There in his tomb lay their great “Baba” (Father), and now the brother of the “Baba” had come to ask them to watch over the home of his spirit.

Colonel Rhodes, addressing the chiefs through an interpreter, said that his brother had formerly decided to be buried near the ruins of Zimbabwe; but he had learned to love this country and the inhabitants so much that he had changed his mind, and given directions that he was to be laid to rest in the Matopos.

And as a proof” continued Col. Rhodes, speaking with feeling, “that I know the white man and the Matabele will be brothers and friends for ever, I leave my brother’s grave in your hands. I charge you to hand down this sacred trust to your sons that come after you from generation to generation, and I know if you do this my brother will be pleased”.

Then the leaders amongst the chiefs advanced, and in their own tongue spoke eloquently of their love for the Great White Chief and of the honour paid to them in asking them to keep watch over his remains. They were glad to know that his spirit was with them in the Matopos, and they and their children’s children would keep their sacred trust.


Notes for those unfamiliar with native terms:
Indaba means a meeting or conference
Induna is a headman or advisor to the chief.
Matabele is the English term for what are more correctly the Ndebele people. They are an offshoot from the Zulus whose first leader Mzilikazi (also written as Umzeligaz) was forced to flee from the wrath of Chaka. In about 1838, he settled around Bulawayo from where he founded a new nation which dominated the existing Mashona tribes.  Lobengula was the second and last King.


See here for the main page about Cecil Rhodes and here for a short video showing Rhodes’ grave today