The area around the Zambesi became known to Britain through the exploits of David Livingstone when he became the first European to see the Zambesi falls, which he christened Victoria falls. His journeys in the 1850s were avidly followed as he embodied the qualities that Victorians prized: a Devout Christian, An anti-slavery campaigner, inquisitive and wanting to discover what was on God's earth. He was the Christianity of the 3 C's of British Imperialism. It should be said that his successor Cecil Rhodes in the 1890s would bring the other 2 C's of Commerce and Civilisation.
The history of Northern Rhodesia was very much tied to the events in Southern Rhodesia. Cecil Rhodes had formed the British South Africa Company to prospect in the lands to the north of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The idea had been to see if the gold seam ran further north. Rhodes' representatives had signed mining concessions from Chief Lobengula of the Matabele. The Matabele were the dominant tribe between the River Limpopo and Zambesi. However that authority did not run far over the river Zambesi. However, as it suited their purposes the BSAC was prepared to leave the northern limit of the concession deliberately vague. This became more imperative for the company as it became obvious that there was no gold in the lands of the Matabele.
Company prospectors moved further and further north searching for the elusive gold that they had expected to find. However, those prospectors who failed to discover gold in Southern Rhodesia had been impressed by the quality of the farm land on the plateau there. Of course, their mineral rights did not give them permission to take the land for themselves. They therefore contrived a war against the Matabele supposedly in defence of the Mashona. The use of machine guns and artillery helped subdue and destroy Lobengula's mighty empire. This opened up the south to white settlement and many settlers took advantage of the newly available high quality land.
The BSAC still endeavoured to discover gold north of the Zambesi. They obtained mineral rights from the Lozi in the north west. The Ngoni in the north east resisted signing over their rights until defeated in battle by the BSAC. Again, technically the BSAC was just after the mineral rights, but in reality their technological and administrative skills gave them more than they were due. Having said that, the land and climate was not as suitable for western agriculture as that in Southern Rhodesia. This meant that the quantity of white settlers was significantly less than in the area south of the Zambesi and although some made the journey to the north, they were always a tiny minority of the total population.
In 1911, the BSAC was able to provide enough of an infrastructure to combine the north eastern and north western areas into a single administrative unit. Despite this, the much hoped for gold deposits still hadn't materialised and the BSAC began to run up considerable debts and was unable to pay much in the way of returns to its shareholders. By the 1920s the finances were precarious. The white settlers in Southern Rhodesia demonstrated their desire for their own self-government through elections to the Legislative Council there.
In 1923 the charter for BSAC rule was revoked throughout the entire area of Northern and Southern Rhodesia in return for a cash payout. With a higher density of white settlers, Southern Rhodesia was awarded a significant degree of self-government. Northern Rhodesia became a colonial office protectorate with its capital at Livingstone. It had a Legislative Council, but this had no representation from the black tribes.
The economic prospects for this colony were soon to change as copper was discovered in the north of the colony in 1928. These were huge deposits and would diversify the agrarian society to a considerable degree. Northern Rhodesia would become one of the largest producers of the copper in the world and the significance of this product would be further enhanced by the advent of the Second World War. The conditions for the African workers were harsh, the precedent for poor working conditions had been set in the gold and diamond mines further south where the companies had been paranoid about workers stealing what they found. The use of compounds, poor health and safety conditions and very low wages led to several strikes. The authorities had no compunction in using force to put these down. In 1935, 13 miners were killed. The large population of Africans meant that unruly workers could always be replaced or be undercut by others desperate for work.
Northern Rhodesia in the 1950s
The 1950s would see a re-evaluation of the role of empire and colonies. Some of the richer, more powerful colonies were granted their independence. Nigeria and Ghana were the first significant African colonies to gain their independence. The British government was aware that by making the richer colonies that were better able to support themselves independent they might be left with uneconomic colonies that it might never be able to get to a self-sufficient situation. It therefore experimented with the creation of federations of colonies. It was tried in East Africa and also then the idea was brought to Central Africa as Northern and Southern Rhodesia were to be combined with Nyasaland were formed into the Central African Federation from 1953.
This was an unhappy union from the very start. The black Africans in Northern Rhodesia were requesting the same rights as the whites had in Southern Rhodesia. The white Southern Rhodesian government resented using their wealth to pay for an infrastructure for the other two nations. Nyasaland was too poor to contribute much at all. Finally, the black Africans were becoming increasingly suspicious that the federation was a way of preserving white and colonial domination over them. In a period of rising nationalism the federation would ultimately fall apart in 1963.
The withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961 and its imposition of harsh racist laws was an accute embarrassment to the British Government. They made reassurances to the other black African leaders that they would never allow this to happen again. Representation of blacks became a priority and the Legislative Council's were adjusted to reflect this fact. A two stage election held in October and December 1962 resulted in an African majority in Northern Rhodesia for the very first time.
It was this council that requested more democratic representation and self-government. The British government was having problems clawing back some of the rights it had given to the Southern Rhodesia white government. Denying self government to a black Legislative Council would smack of racism and worry other African colonies with similar demands for independence. Britain would prefer to hand over independence in a peaceful manner. There were plenty of communists and nationalists who were running out of patience and would seize it if it were delayed too long. The British therefore granted independence to the new state of Zambia on October 24th, 1964.
A Doctor's Wife in Africa Marguerite Beet explains what family Life was like on an outstation in Northern Rhodesia in the 1940s. A nurse herself, she was married to Eric Beet who would conduct important research on Sickle Cell disease whilst at this remote settlement of Balovale in Northern Rhodesia. This article though is more about the practicalities of living, working and raising a family in one of the more remote outposts of Empire.
The Abdication and the Askari John Lawrie Boyd-Wilson explains the unexpected response of his Northern Rhodesia Regiment troops when the abdication of King Edward VIII was announced. They had firm views on the role of a king but felt that they did indeed have a personal relationship to the king that they served.
Who Could Have Known? A T de B Wilmot explains how a secure job for life in the colonial service turned out to be anything but predictable as he saw service throughout the continent of Africa, through war and beyond decolonisation and into independence. The job may not have been as secure as was promised but it was fascinating in its scope and the opportunities it provided.
The Provincial Commissioner M F Harland was an inspector in the Northern Rhodesia Police who had an unexpected meeting with the Provincial Commissioner after a storm in Ndola in 1962.
Achievements of the British Colonial Service:
A Retrospective View Ex-Northern Rhodesian Provincial Adminstrator Dr Jonathan Lawley explains the positive legacies left by the British as they were hastily rushed towards decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s. He also compares the British form of colonialism with that of the French and believes that the light touch and cultural sensitivity of the British helps explain why post-colonial relations have remained so positive amongst the majority of Commonwealth nations.
Misleading Cases in Colonial Law Gervas Clay recounts some of the stranger points of law that arose whilst he was working as a District Commissioner in Northern Rhodesia in the early 1940s.
Journey to Mongu B.H. recalls how a journey along a newly constructed road in the Western province of Northern Rhodesia nearly ended in disaster.
As I Saw It A. S. Jenkinson gives an account of his arrival in Northern Rhodesia in 1913 when it was still little more than a collection of frontier towns connected tenuously to civilisation by the newly constructed railway line.
An Outpost R. H. Fraser tells the story behind the isolated settlment of Fort Jameson in the Eastern part of Northern Rhodesia and the 'interesting' characters it seemed to encourage to settle in and around one of the remotest parts of the British Empire.
To War down the Zambesi 1914 John Heron Dickson relays the story of how much time and effort was required by his father in Northern Rhodesia to learn of the outbreak of World War One and then the lengths he had to go to in order to report to duty!
Black and White: The Chittenden Legend K. J. Forder illustrates why it was so important to get your order right, if it took six weeks to get your goods from your closest shop in Northern Rhodesia.
White Mischief Dr Robert Carr examines the role of the Central African Federation on the decolonisation process
Joy of Bushbashing Reverend John Jeremy Collingwood explains the difficulties of traversing Northern Rhodesia whilst attempting to map the territory.
The Mongu Walk Valentine Setzkorn talks about the time he undertook a very old-fashioned tour of the route taken by migrant workers to get to and from Northern Rhodesia's busy mining industries.
When Northern Rhodesia invaded Tanganyika Robert Wise recounts the events that saw a Northern Rhodesia District Commissioner incensed enough to seize a Tanganyikan who had fled across a lake to what he thought was safety.
Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church John Hannah was very much the 'man on the spot' when Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church followers brought violence and chaos in Northern Rhodesia in 1964.