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Victorian triumph of an African chief.

When a king from Bechuana visited England in 1890s, he won friends and respect everywhere he went, and his tale cast new light on the interactions between Britain and her empire, as Neil Parsons explains.

At 11.30am on Wednesday, September 25th, 1895, a crowd of welcomers surged around a first-class carriage just arrived at Leicester's Midland station. They had come to greet the well-known `Bechuana' king or chief, Khama, and two other brother chiefs from the Bechuanaland Protectorate in southern Africa. All three were sober middle-aged men, dressed in grey suits and top hats, accompanied by an English missionary and by younger attendants who acted as their personal interpreters.

After introductions on the platform and in the street outside, the party of the Bechuana chiefs proceeded in a carriage and a two-horse wagonette to the nearby village of Enderby. As the vehicles turned into the village, they were mobbed by cheering school children running alongside. Hundreds of villagers had gathered to welcome them at the lych-gate of the parish church, including the vicar, Reverend Aylward, the squire, Captain Drummond, the village's Congregational minister, Reverend Dickenson, and a visiting (white) bishop from Trinidad.

The Leicester Daily Post of September 26th, 1895 reported that, amid `hearty cheers', Dickenson stepped up onto Khama's wagonette to deliver a little speech:

In the name of the people of Enderby I

beg to give you a very hearty welcome.

Your fame and good works have

preceded you, and we call to mind, as we

look upon you this morning,

something of the noble life you have lived,

and we congratulate you from the

depths of our hearts, and bid you a

very hearty welcome.

The vicar seconded the welcome, and the bishop added that he was the pastor of `many thousands of your race in the West Indies'. He told Khama, `I shall rejoice, when I go back, to be able to tell them I have met one of your eminent standing among their race.'

Khama's response through his missionary interpreter, Reverend Willoughby, was simple: `Thank you all very much for the cordial welcome you have given us here.'

The next part of the ceremony was the presentation to Khama of an illuminated and framed address resplendent in purple and gold, from the local Charles Brook Lodge of the main temperance movement in Britain, the International Order of Good Templars. The address expressed:

... sympathy with you in your appeal to

the British Government to prevent the

sale of intoxicating drinks being

imposed upon your country... we know

and greatly deplore the terrible evils

arising from the drink traffic in our

country, and most earnestly pray that

by the blessing of the Almighty Father

you may for ever secure the entire and

absolute prohibition of the traffic from

your own native land.

Khama replied that he would keep this `beautiful address' in `the house in which I sleep, and there I shall hang it'. (He was as good as his word: nine decades later the framed parchment still decorated the dining room of his son Tshekedi's widow's house in Botswana.)

Accompanied by cheers, the chiefs walked up the hill from the church to Reverend Dickenson's house for a wash and brush-up, and then next door to the schoolhouse attached to the Congregational chapel for lunch.

During the meal Khama was much

attracted by one of the children of the

family with whom he was soon on terms

of the greatest friendliness, nursing the

child and exhibiting a most kind and

affectionate disposition. He was also

much interested in a sketch of himself

made by Miss Sloane, and readily

attached his autograph to it.

(Leicester Daily Post)

Pride of place at Leicester station, and now at lunch in the Congregational schoolhouse, was given to members of the family of Alice Young. Alice was a missionary school teacher of the London Missionary Society in Khama's country. Khama had come to Enderby, as the second stop on a tour of the English Midlands, to fulfil a promise made to Alice that he would visit her parents in England. She had been away from home for two years, and had previously been active in Congregational church and temperance circles around Leicester, and had undergone teacher training in local Board (i.e. non-denominational) schools.

In the Young household there was a newly arrived letter from Alice Young awaiting Khama. It was read out to him. Among other news it reported the death, from smallpox, of a student teacher at Palapye. Khama `was greatly moved, and for some time could not repress his sobs'.

Khama showed much pleasure with the gift of a riding crop presented to him by the Youngs. The whole party was then photographed outside the house, before making its way down the crowded village street to the local National (i.e. Anglican) school which was opposite the parish church. People pressed in to shake their hands `and many of them were thus gratified'. The children of the school performed with songs and musical exercises under the direction of their headmaster.

The African visitors were now put in the charge of the Anglican vicar. Together with him, they paid a call on the manor-house, where they were entertained by Captain and Mrs Drummond. They were shown over the house and gardens, and `appeared to be particularly attracted by the trees laden with fruit, while Khama was delighted with the springy turf on which he walked'. After tea and fruit, and the presentation of a bouquet to Khama by Drummond's daughter, the squire led his guests to his `well-kept stables and saddle and coach-houses'. The Africans showed great interest in the horses and ponies, and in the strange type of riding saddle used in England. They were also `evidently much pleased with a visit to the laundry', perhaps because it was equipped with hissing steam presses. There was no time left to tour Rawson's granite works, the main source of local employment, where special arrangements had been made for blasting with dynamite to scare and delight the three kings. The company and its employees were greatly disappointed.

The Bechuana chiefs were handed back by the Establishment to the care of the Dissenters. Yet more tea was dispensed at the Congregational chapel or in the minister's house next door. An ancient clergyman, Reverend J.N. Robjohns, was produced in a bathchair, in which he had been wheeled from the neighbouring small village of Narborough. The chiefs enthusiastically plied the lively old man with questions interpreted by Willoughby. After tea there was an organ recital, and a large congregation came into the chapel to see and to hear the chiefs.

Khama obliged with a short speech, which was largely in praise of Miss Young `who teaches my children beautifully'. In her name, as he had promised her, he greeted `my young people' of Enderby. He had also been pained, he said, to hear today that:

... one she has taught has died. But he

was a righteous fellow. This is the work

God has done, and when God gives the

order, where is the man to object to

the order! Again, I rejoice to see you,

and greet you. (Cheers.)

The party soon afterwards drove

down the village streets on their way to

Leicester, and were loudly cheered by

the crowds of people who lined the

route, not a few waving hats and

handkerchiefs from the upper windows of

their houses. Thus ended a red-letter

day in the history of Enderby, the

inhabitants of which will not soon

forget the enjoyable visit of Khama and his

friends. (Leicester Daily Post)

This day in the life of an English village was later commemorated by a plaque, placed on the chapel lectern, recording the visit of King Khama, which can still be seen in Enderby's United Reform church. In the 1970s there was at least one old lady living in Enderby who had been a small child there on that day in 1895. She could not recall any details but just remembered the excitement of `the day a king came to Enderby'.

Khama had become quite a celebrity even before he set foot on British soil. He was seen as the king of a `native Utopia' in the still independent area of Botswana, dedicated to Christianity and temperance and struggling against Boer and Matabele encroachments from the areas of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The British had thrown the blanket of `protection' over his country in 1885, and in 1893 he had gone to war with the Matabele on the British behalf -- only to find that the keeper of the spoils was Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company.

Believing with good cause that they themselves were marked out as Rhodes' next victims, Khama and two fellow chiefs from the Bechuanaland Protectorate set sail for London in August 1895. On their arrival, the new colonial minister, Joseph Chamberlain, proved to be distinctly cool towards their plea for continuing self-government under the Queen, rather than having their lands taken over by Rhodesia. This was despite the fact that ten years earlier Chamberlain had supported their cause against the Boers with enthusiasm. Chamberlain by now almost certainly knew of Rhodes' secret plan to use newly acquired Bechuanaland as the `jumping-off ground' for a private invasion of the gold-rich Boer republic of the Transvaal -- an invasion under Dr Jameson soon to become known as the Jameson Raid.

Chamberlain went off for a six-week holiday in the western Mediterranean. The three chiefs or kings, led by Khama and accompanied by their canny missionary adviser Reverend Willoughby, started on a campaigning tour of Great Britain to arouse the conscience of the land -- to put political pressure on Chamberlain so that he would give way to them on his return.

Khama's tour of Great Britain can be reconstructed in detail from hundreds of local newspapers, because he and others had the nous to employ a press-clippings agency. 1895 was the golden age of the `new journalism', which investigated events in depth and printed interviews more or less verbatim.

The tour began in the industrial Midlands of England, the heartland of Chamberlain's own political support. The former `People's Joe', the Birmingham-based Radical leader, had become `Emperor Joe', the colonial minister within a Conservative and Unionist government. His new Unionist party was trying to hang on to the constituency of industrial classes, low and high, which it had previously represented as a faction within the Liberal Party. Hence it was that Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen found themselves at Enderby on September 25th, 1895, after spending their first night in the Midlands in the Hind Hotel at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

From Enderby that afternoon they went back to Leicester. Khama spoke twice that night in the town centre, first in a packed Baptist chapel and then in an overflowing Wesleyan chapel. A local politician kicked off the first meeting by expressing sympathy with those who `objected to being handed over to the tender mercies of a company which, to say the least, existed in the main for self-aggrandisement and paying dividends'. He added that no British government could remain long in power without the support of public opinion, and the people of Leicester should make their support for Khama clear. Khama was then introduced by an ecclesiastical warm-up man, as:

... one of the greatest triumphs of the

Gospel of Jesus Christ in heathen

lands. (Cheers.) ... [that] apostle of

social purity, that great temperance

reformer, that perfect Christian gentlemen,

that noble,

enlightened ruler

and generous

friend of missions,

who was known

among his own

people as Khama

the Good. (Cheers.)

When Khama stepped forward he hinted at the possibility even of war with Rhodes' company. The imperial government was throwing them away. Rhodes had already taken Khama's mineral rights, but would not be satisfied until he owned the land and treated its people like oxen, just as the Matabele people were now treated in Rhodesia. Khama then played his trump card, appealing to the temperance movement, which had particular strength among `respectable' working-class as well as middle-class people in industrial areas. He equated Cecil Rhodes with the liquor interest (`Bung'), which had recently caused widespread disquiet among Liberals by throwing his weight behind the Conservative electoral victory.

After the crowd in the first chapel adopted a petition to be sent to Chamberlain, Khama proceeded to the second chapel in the centre of Leicester and made much the same speech: `Was he to be given away as a dog to a master he does not know?'

The next day set a pattern that was to be repeated in many towns and cities up and down Britain. The major local newspaper, the Leicester Daily Post, came out with a strong editorial backing Khama's cause, and the local Temperance society pledged its support. The only complaining voice at Leicester seems to have been over the failure of the local chamber of commerce to show off its clothing, hosiery, boots and shoes to these representatives of the `the millions of Africa'.

From Leicester the party went on to Birmingham, in sweltering heat that they found worse than the Kalahari desert. The well-tailored Khama was a disappointment to those in the crowds at New Street station who expected `a full-blown savage in his native regimentals'. That evening the chiefs addressed a meeting in Birmingham's main Congregational church. The next day they were entertained with an official breakfast laid on by the town council, attended by such luminaries as Chamberlain's brother-in-law, Alderman William Kendrick, MP.

Their speeches were widely reported, and, after a couple of days visiting the sights of Birmingham and Bournville, the weekend national press had grown enthusiastic about their cause. Khama's `utterance gets quite impassioned in its fluency,' remarked the Illustrated London News of September 25th, 1895,

... and the moment the interpreter has

told the Audience what the

dark-skinned chief is saying, Khama hastens

on sentence after sentence in impetuous

eloquence. It is really an impressive

sight to see this fine, tall, distinguished

man addressing a great English

audience in his native tongue.

Following their attendance at a Congregational religious convention in Brighton, the next target was the city of Liverpool, after a restful night in Stockport, Lancashire. From Liverpool, where the mayor in more than one speech bewailed the local history of slave trading and ingratiated himself as a firm favourite of the Bechuana chiefs, they went on to continue the campaign as guests of religious, temperance and municipal bodies in Bradford and Leeds, before returning to London.

London was their base, but Brighton was their favourite place, because of the fresh air. From London, one chief went as far as South Wales while the other two went to East Anglia. Khama also managed a quick visit to Cornwall and two exposures to fox-hunting, which are said to have left him exhilarated by the chase but perplexed by the smallness of the quarry.

The Bechuana chiefs' last venture north was a grand circuit to Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Sheffield and Halifax, and the Staffordshire potteries. These six places were chosen as the `seats of distinct industries', which were to be visited by the chiefs -- who appear to have enjoyed being showered in sparks during the casting and rolling of iron ingots. Manchester, Edinburgh, and Glasgow gave them grand civic receptions.

From each place they visited, and apparently from many more -- from Dundee to Eastbourne -- there came forth a deluge of petitions on the Colonial Office. Rhodes' London agent warned his master telegraphically: `Country press very much in favour of Khama'. When Chamberlain returned from the Mediterranean he was obliged to concede large tracts of land to the three chiefs, who would remain under the Queen rather than be ruled by the Company. Though Rhodes was given most of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, including a border strip from which to launch the Jameson Raid, the moral victory was with Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen. Rhodes fumed: `It is humiliating to be utterly beaten by these niggers'.

The three chiefs were by now the darlings of the Anglican and Tory establishment, and were feted by lords and bishops and by military and naval personages in Knightsbridge, Woolwich and Chatham. They were guests of honour at the Lord Mayor of London's Show, and at the Royal Mint, and were encouraged to handle the gold in the vaults of the Bank of England. The climax of their visit to Britain came on Wednesday, November 20th, when they were presented to Queen Victoria at Windsor. She gave Khama a New Testament, on the flyleaf of which she had written, `The Secret of Khama's Greatness'.

The next evening the chiefs were given a farewell conversazione in the Queen's Hall, in Langham Place off Oxford Circus (destroyed by bombs in the 1940s), `a vast and beautiful hall... thronged' by an immense crowd -- `for the most part ladies of venerable aspect, and a fair sprinkling of gentlemen with a plentiful lack of hair'. The London-published monthly journal South Africa recounted in its issue of November 23rd, 1895, that the chiefs became so tired of shaking hands while standing up that they reseated themselves on the stage, `and "received" thereafter with all the dignity of an infirm European monarch.' Stewards had to remind the crowds to `shake hands gently please and pass along.'

The excitement rose considerably

when, presently, a little girl daintily

dressed in white, approached the chiefs

and presented Khama -- somewhat to

his perplexity, methought -- with a

floral offering nearly as big as herself.

The trophy was of red and white

flowers, horse-shoe fashioned, and was

`supported' by a miniature fork and

rake. Khama seized the little one's

hand and kissed it with great gravity.

When speeches were made, `old gentlemen shouted excitedly and old ladies, in a delightful state of flutter, waved their handkerchiefs at them'. The meeting ended with the singing of `God Save the Queen,' after which `Khama, Bathoen, and Sebele were, for the last time, affectionately - mobbed.'

On Saturday, November 23rd, 1895, bearing huge bouquets of flowers, the three `royal chiefs' began their long return home on a ship from Southampton. However, by the time they reached home, in the New Year of 1896, they were all but forgotten by the British press, swamped out by news and comment on the failure of the Jameson Raid.

`Khama the Good' faded from memory, like the long hot summer of 1895. But one cannot help but wonder whether the tour of the three `royal chiefs' did not strike some deeper chord in the British public. Contemporary reports suggest that Khama excited more than just `tee-total ecstasy or missionary meeting fervour'. Usually restrained middle-class sources waxed lyrical. The Daily Chronicle wrote of people's hearts leaping at Khama. Another account, published in 1900 tells how, at a great reception in Mayfair:

People very generally were inclined to

feel a kind of pity for the black men,

imagining that they would feel

miserable and uncomfortable in the

presence of the glitter, formality and dignity

of such an occasion.

But tears started to many eyes and

many hearts beat with warm admiration

when, through the great reception

hall of Grosvenor House, even though

a certain silence fell over the large

assemblage, Khama entered and moved

forward with as much ease and

composure and dignity in his manner as the

noblest there to greet his host.

Khama seems to have aroused much the same emotions in the British public as Nelson Mandela was to do a century later, both of them being credited with natural nobility as well as high moral standing.

Khama and his brother `royal chiefs' were greeted positively by the British public, in the words of the Lichfield Mercury (September 23rd, 1895), echoed by the Dundee Courier, as `a kind of middle-class royalty' who had no `side' or swagger. Even a hundred years ago, at a time when the Queen and the Prince of Wales had become remote from ordinary `respectable' people, there seems to have been a widespread hunger in Great Britain for royalty with a common touch.


Khama's mission is alluded to in Robert Ensor England 1870-1914 (Oxford University Press, paperback edn. 1992, 1st edn. 1936); Elizabeth Longford, Jameson's Raid: the Prelude to the Boer War (Granada/Panther, 1982); Peter T. Marsh, Joseph Chamberlain: Entrepreneur in Politics (Yale University Press, 1994).

Neil Parsons is Associate Professor of History at the University of Botswana. He is the author of A New History of Southern Africa (Macmillan, 1993).
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Title Annotation:visit of Bechuanan chief to England during 1890s
Author:Parsons, Neil
Publication:History Today
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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