The 1893 Matabeleland campaign and the roles played by Jameson, Lobengula, Loch and Rhodes

This article covers the year 1893 in detail, the preceding period is covered only generally as a lead-in to the events of that year.   

Leander Starr Jameson had succeeded A.R. Colquhoun on 18 September 1891 as chief Magistrate in Mashonaland and remained in post until 7 October 1893.[i] For successfully treating King Lobengula’s gout Jameson was given the rare status of being made an induna and went through the initiation ceremonies associated with this honour which gave him a certain importance with the amaNdebele.

King Lobengula succeeded Mzilikazi as King of the amaNdebele; his succession took place at Mhlahlandlela, one of the principal military kraals, from the 22 January 1870, with the actual succession taking place on 17 March 1870.

Sir Henry Brougham Loch was Governor and High Commissioner of Cape Colony from 13 December 1889 to 30 May 1895, succeeding Lieut.-General H.A. Smyth (officer administering)

Cecil John Rhodes was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 17 July 1890 to 12 January 1896 and also the founder and South African managing director of the British South Africa Company. He was represented on the London board of directors by Rochefort Maguire.

In October 1891 Rhodes made his first visit to Mashonaland for discussions with Jameson; Marshall Hole in Old Rhodesian Days gives a clear indication of their problem. “The company’s funds were running low, and hardly any revenue was to be expected for months to come. The most ruinous item of expenditure was the cost, amounting to about £150,000 a year for the police force, which the Imperial authorities required the Company[ii] to maintain as a safeguard against attacks from the natives, and Rhodes and Jameson put their heads together to devise some means of ridding themselves of this white elephant…There were, of course, the Matabele just over the border, but a year had passed since the occupation and they had shown no overt sign of hostility. To the majority of the settlers, the Matabele menace was a burst bubble…He [Jameson] assured everyone that King Lobengula was desperately anxious to avoid war, and that, as long as white men did not encroach upon Matabeleland proper, Lobengula would be strong enough to hold his young bloods in check….Both he and Rhodes realised, however, that the Colonial Office had to be considered and would be unlikely to consent to the disbandment or even reduction of the police, unless assured there was something to take its place…In the long run, it was arranged to raise a force of volunteers at Salisbury and Victoria and to reduce the police from 650 to 150 of all ranks. And Jameson promised Rhodes to affect the change by the end of 1891.”[iii]

   Dr L.S. Jameson and C.J. Rhodes

December 1892 - The first telegraph cutting incident

19 December 1892: Jameson wired C.R. Vigers[iv] at Victoria and asked him to send Lieut L.A. Chinery to search the kraals in the vicinity of a telegraph line break. The line had been cut at Naka Pass and local tribesmen accused two amaNdebele indunas, Chakala and Mazererree, of being the guilty parties.[v]

Jameson wired Lobengula to say he was sending Captain Lendy[vi] with a small escort to carry a letter to Gubulawayo and to give Jameson’s views on the wire-cutting incident to Lobengula. Lendy was delayed by rivers in flood but arrived at Gubulawayo on 23 January 1893 and the same afternoon interpreted Jameson’s letter to the King. Jameson was sure the King did not know about the theft but asked him to “take measures to stop them and so prevent any possibility of a collision” saying “it is more than ever important that your people should remain within the lines which you have laid down” and if the accusation proves true, “I would ask you to inflict the most severe punishment on these men.”    

Courtesy of Africana Museum Johannesburg. This is believed to be the few known photos of Lobengula with one of the traders at Gubulawayo (possibly George Westbeech)  

The King told Lendy the Maholi were to blame for the wire theft and said he did not recognise the names of the two indunas. He also asked for the thousand Martini-Henry he said was still owed[vii] and that a stop be made to shooting hippos by the settlers.  

In his report to Jameson Lendy wrote, ‘He said we complained to him of his people robbing our wagons and cutting the telegraph line and we afterwards discovered it was done by others. “My people,” he said, “have a very bad name with the public at large and although you, Captain Lendy, may believe me when I tell you that not my people, but very likely the Amaholis commit the depredations complained of, the public do not.” I said very well, we shall on future occasions endeavour to catch and severely punish offenders ourselves and he must take steps to prevent his people being implicated for they would be similarly dealt with.’[viii]

Lendy then left Gubulawayo and arrived back at Victoria on 28 March where he had been appointed as Magistrate.

Johann Colenbrander, The British South Africa Company (BSACo) agent at Bulawayo, reported to Jameson, ‘old Ben awfully pleased with you for sending and letting him know all your troubles and difficulties with the amaNdebele. For he says, “if the doctor does not tell me, how should I know of my people's misdeeds and I'm anxious that we should live peacefully together.’ Colenbrander went on to say the king was anxious to know who the people were that informed Jameson that certain amaNdebele had cut and carried away the telegraph wires. He says, “Then I can talk to them,” meaning of course, his sticks and guns would do the talking.

May 1893 – the second telegraph cutting incident

There was uproar in Gubulawayo when a party from Setoutse’s kraal arrived with news that the BSACo Police had seized cattle that belonged to Lobengula and taken away two herdsmen giving the reason that the telegraph wires had been cut again. Lobengula was enraged over the seizure of his cattle and wired Jameson[ix]Now I want to know whether it is right that you should punish these people without knowing for certain that they are the real offenders. In any case, why should you seize my cattle - did I cut your wires? It is your excuse, you accuse my people when probably the damage was done by some of your own discharged men…I also wish you to know that my people begged and prayed of me to allow them to go and fetch the cattle, but I would not allow it and prefer settling these matters amicably.’

The facts were that the theft had been traced to Gomalla’s kraal. A police officer was sent to demand either the culprits be handed over, or a fine paid in cattle. Gomalla, a petty Maholi headman under Setoutse, handed over the cattle knowing that they belonged to Lobengula, but said nothing. He then told Setoutse that the police had seized the cattle despite knowing they belonged to the King.

On 19 May, Jameson told the King he was sending the cattle back to Tuli,[x] where they could be collected and added he was not prepared to let the crime go unpunished and would send the police ‘to take Gomalla back to his kraal, there find the culprits and chastise them, or, failing that, as I look upon the chief as responsible for his people, will punish them as I think fit.’

Lobengula seemed perfectly satisfied with the explanation and the second wire cutting incident seemed settled.

Both incidents had been settled to the satisfaction of all parties without any sabre-rattling or threats. In his telegrams to Lobengula Jameson had stressed the need for the respective parties to keep to their sides of the border. AmaNdebele impis should not stray to the east of the ‘border’ and settlers should not trespass to the west.

  Map used with consent from Window on Rhodesia with the site name: from Stafford Glass – the amaNdebele border or boundary (both terms are used) as understood by Jameson along the Munyati (Umniati) a line south to the Shashe river, then along the Tokwe. Their raiding area after 1891 indicated by the pink coloured area 

June 1893 – the small amaNdebele impi raid

On the 11th of June, a tribesman came to Victoria and reported an amaNdebele raiding party of about 70 Amajoda about ten miles away. Lendy took a Sergeant, two troopers and an interpreter and chased after the impi. They came across a kraal and granary that had been fired by the raiding party and camped there overnight. Next morning  three or four men from Bere’s kraal came and reported the amaNdebele had taken all their cattle, women and children and killed several of them. It turned out about thirty Amajoda (young warriors) had been sent to punish Bere’s people for stealing some of Lobengula’s cattle.[xi]

When the impi was reached, Lendy reports, ‘they fled in all directions. Dropping whatever they might be carrying and shouting that they had only come to punish the Mashonas. We had to ride some considerable distance in pursuit before they condescended to stop and bring their headman to come and talk.’ The Induna stated Bere’s people had stolen 30 head of Lobengula’s cattle and on being told Lobengula had said, ‘Go and get the cattle back, but be very careful to touch nothing belonging to the white men.’  

Lendy gave the induna a letter detailing what he had been told and reminded Lobengula that he must keep his impis on his side of the border. Lendy did not refer to the induna telling him that Lobengula intended sending a much larger impi to teach the thieves a lesson. However, The Mashonaland Times of 20 July 1893 reported, ‘Lendy interviewed the marauders who then informed him that it was Lobengula’s intention to send a large impi to thoroughly wipe out the Makalangas, whom the King accused of crossing the Matabeleland border…and stealing cattle from outlying Matabele posts.

Jameson approved of Lendy’s ‘judicious action.’ He had warned the induna in charge of what might happen if they interfered with white men’s property and sent a letter to Lobengula but had not interfered in a ‘inter-tribal dispute.’ Matters in all three incidents so far had been settled peacefully. Stafford Glass writes that we can observe here Jameson’s policies…flogging and arrest handed out to guilty Mashona or Makalaka;[xii] gentle and tactful handling of the amaNdebele.[xiii]  

Many settlers saw this policy as weakness characterised by ‘cringing to the powerful.’ However, Jameson was not in a strong position at this time, the BSACo Police numbers were low and there was a great shortage of horses, the ‘second rand’ of gold mines had not materialised in Mashonaland and the BSACo itself was short of funds.

The amaNdebele saw increasing numbers of settlers in Mashonaland and their traditional right to extract tribute from the Mashonas increasingly curtailed, the Amajoda clamoured for action against the settlers.    

June 1893 – the big amaNdebele impi raid

In Lobengula’s view the small raid had failed in its objective to punish the Makalaka; he must satisfy the calls from his Amajoda and reassert his authority over the Makalaka around Victoria.

Colenbrander was away from Gubulawayo, so Lobengula sent for James Dawson,[xiv] on 28 June to write to Lendy stating that an impi was leaving Gubulawayo for the purpose of, ‘punishing some of Lobengula’s people who have lately raided some of his own cattle.’ The settlers are asked to understand ‘it has nothing to do with them’ and ‘not to oppose’ the impi in its work and ‘if the people who have committed the offence have taken refuge among the white men, they are asked to give them up for punishment.’

Next day after Colenbrander has returned, letters are sent to Rev J.S. Moffat, Lendy and Jameson in which Lobengula refers to the cattle that were stolen by Bere’s people and says he will send a large force to punish ‘Bere and others’ and that his people have ‘strict orders not to annoy any whites they might meet’ against whom ‘he has no hostile intentions.’[xv] 

Clearly in these raids there is no recognition of ‘Jameson’s border.’

July 1893

The impi arrived at Victoria on 9 July. Charles Vigers was riding with Lt Percy Vipond Weir of the BSACo Police around three miles from the town and was met by a ‘mob’ of people fleeing from the amaNdebele. The two horsemen rode up to a large amaNdebele party and asked the induna what they were doing, “He said they were hunting Mashona to kill them for stealing the King’s cattle. He also told us there was a letter from the King with the main body.” This was Dawson’s letter from Lobengula.  

John Meikle writes, “I was lying in bed with a bad attack of fever. From early morning I seemed to hear what appeared to be a hum of many voices and I could not think what it meant. It turned out that the noise was caused by hundreds of Mashonas coming in from outside for protection.”[xvi] The amaNdebele were hot on their heels and Meikle saw them coming down on either side of Victoria killing up to 20 unfortunate native servants they happened to come across.

The King’s letter

Meikle continues, After surrounding the town, about twenty indunas headed by the King's nephew and favourite general, came into the township bringing a letter from the king. There were on that day only about 30 white people in the town, the other residents being absent on outside work such as mining, prospecting, farming and trading. Being the only one then in town who could speak Zulu, the Civil Commissioner asked me to act as interpreter. The letter from the king was to the effect that he had sent his impi, estimated at 5,000 strong to punish certain Mashonas who had stolen his cattle but that strict instructions had been given that the soldiers were in no way to interfere with the white people. At the same time, the white people must not interfere with the impi in the execution of its duty. When the Civil Commissioner had read this communication he told them that he was only a servant of the government, and that the big chief, meaning Dr Jameson, lived in Salisbury and would be communicated with at once. In the meantime he would ask them to do nothing until the Chief’s arrival. To this, the indunas hesitatingly agreed and it was arranged they were to camp about eight miles out of town to the northwest.”[xvii]

Revd A.D. Sylvester, the Anglican minister wrote, “on Sunday July the 9th about 3 o'clock in the afternoon whilst I was holding my Sunday school, I found my church and parsonage surrounded by an impi of Matabele who were on all sides massacring the Mashonas without mercy, simply out of thirst for blood.”

When Vigers returned to Victoria he found 200 Amajoda within the town, one group near the hospital and another near the church, where they stabbed Revd Sylvester’s houseboy to death. This was the only time they entered the town itself, after this they continued their killing spree and cattle rustling on outlying kraals and settler farms.

F.C. Selous writes that more than 400 Mashona men, women and children were killed in the neighbourhood of Victoria by the amaNdebele in the raid.[xviii]

On 10 July the chief induna Manyao came into Victoria with a dozen of his men and handed Vigers the letter Dawson had written for Lobengula. Lendy was out scouting for the impi and to use up time the amaNdebele were entertained and given blankets. On Lendy’s return, Manyao asked him to give up the Mashona men, women and children sheltering inside the fort. They would then, he said, leave and not trouble the settlers further and would kill the refugees in the bush and not in the river and dirty the water.

Lendy replied that as magistrate he would not surrender the Mashona without trial, but if Manyao lodged a complaint, he would try them. Thoroughly muddled by this reply, Manyao, Umgandan, his number two, and their followers left. This gesture was reassuring for the Mashona who had been promised protection from the amaNdebele in return for working for the settlers on the farms and mines.

However the night sky continued to be lit up by burning kraals and granaries, John Meikle writing, “For 50 miles the country was laid waste and not a kraal left standing. The inmates for the most part took refuge with their flocks and herds in inaccessible places. Their greatest loss was their granaries.”

Victoria’s defences are organised

Despite the pitiful resources, 7 police and just 82 horses of which only 50 were considered any good for work, Lendy achieved a great deal and in a short time Victoria was transformed into an armed fort. The government offices, gaol, court house and stables had been built around a courtyard and linked by a wall, with a square tower at one end upon which a gatling gun was mounted that could sweep the surrounding countryside. Farmers and miners were ordered into the town, their wagons formed a laager on the south side, barbed wire entanglements encircled the fort, pickets were posted outside and at night all the townspeople were ordered inside.  

NAZ photo: from the interior of the fort at Victoria showing the wagons and tents of the settlers who came in from the outlying areas. The presence of men on the walls may indicate it was taken on 18 July 1893 during the indaba or whilst waiting for Captain Lendy’s patrol to return

Daily patrols were organised to scour the surrounding countryside, numerous mock alarms were practiced, the pickets remained alert and within a week 400 men had been organised into two forces, the Victoria Rangers under Lord Paulet and the Victoria Burghers under Commandant Judd, with Captain Lendy earning high praise for his organisational abilities. Jameson arrived at Victoria on 17 July.

NAZ photo: showing Captain Lendy addressing his mounted patrol in the afternoon of 18 July 1893 before leaving Victoria for their skirmish with Umgandan and the amaNdebele Amajoda

Economic activities come to a halt

With all the farmers and miners in Victoria and the disappearance of all the panic-stricken labourers and servants all mining and agricultural activities were halted. Transport riders coming from the south simply left their loads in the veld and turned back to Tuli.

In early August a committee of citizens urgently requested a ‘settlement of the Matabele question’ and said that “within 48 hours of the appearance of the Matabele every native had deserted and fled to his kraal.”[xix]

William Napier giving evidence to the Newton Commission of Inquiry said he led a patrol “after the affair of the 18th to see if the Matabele had already cleared…In passing our own farm I found the place had been looted of everything – cattle, goods, furniture, grain, etc. Arnold’s farm was burnt, Clarke’s and Eksteen’s looted of a lot of things. Gloag’s was also looted. I believe Parker’s too.”

John Meikle again, “the Matabele were not idle. Night after night the sky was lit up east of the town and huts were burning where the impis passed through with assegais and fire. For fifty miles the country was laid waste and not a kraal was left standing. The inmates, however, for the most part took refuge with their flocks and herds in inaccessible places. Their greatest loss was the granaries which meant they would have to go short of food until the next season's crop was harvested.”[xx]

Calls for action against the amaNdebele

On 15 July a settlers public meeting was held in the market square. Mr E.A. Slater, speaking from a wagon, said the meeting had been called to ask Dr Jameson what protection farmers, prospectors, traders and others might expect from the [Chartered] Company. A Mr Stoddart, speaking for the mining community said, “Dr Jameson must settle the Matabele question at once, now and forever.”

Were Lobengula’s ‘strict orders not to annoy any whites they might meet’ obeyed by the impi?

Overall, the answer is probably yes. They invaded settler’s farms because that’s where the Mashonas and Makalakas were to be found. Witnesses told the Newton Commission they were warned, “stand on one side, your turn is yet to come” but no settlers were killed or wounded. Nor was the loss of settler stock heavy with 50 cows and oxen, 280 sheep and goats, 10 asses and 15 pigs being reported and they may have been taken in the confusion of the raid. Manyao agreed to return any stolen settler cattle after his meeting with Lendy on 10 July.

Stafford Glass comes to the conclusion that the impi did not purposefully put the settlers in danger. However he says the presence of 2,500 armed Amajoda, plus another 1,000 Maholi collected on the way overrunning the Victoria district would have the effect of frightening the settler, damaging their property and completely paralysing all economic activities.  

Did Jameson’s ‘border’ policy have any impact?

Initially Jameson thought the reports coming from Victoria were just another ‘scare.’ They were probably exaggerated and panicky. He replied on 9 July to Colenbrander’s telegram by saying, “thank the king for his friendly message and tell him I have nothing to do with his punishing his own Maholis but must insist that his impi’s are not allowed to cross the border agreed upon between us. He not being there, they are not under control, and Captain Lendy informs me that some of them have actually been in the town of Victoria…” He was still anxious to avoid conflict and hoped he could rely on Lendy, “to get rid of the Matabele without any actual collision.

Jameson wired Harris on 10 July, “really this little trouble might be quoted by you as proof of Loben’s friendliness vide his wire on the trouble he takes to prevent raiding parties interfering with whites.”[xxi]

Harris wired the London office on 12 July , “Although the incident, Mr Rhodes says, is greatly to be regretted, it has afforded strong proof of Lobengula’s determination not to come into collision with the white men.”

Dr F. Rutherfoord Harris, BSACo Secretary at Ca                                       Sir Henry Brougham Loch, High Commissioner for

                                                                                                                                       Southern Africa 1889 - 1895

Jameson wired Loch from Fort Charter on the 14 July, “…is merely a raid against Makalakas round Victoria and not against whites. Magistrate wires me here that Matabele induna will await my arrival and then I hope to get rid of them without trouble. Will be in Victoria on Monday, then will wire you fully.”

Jameson’s border policy changes – the amaNdebele must be forced away

Even after the big amaNdebele impi raid began on 9 July Jameson believed his border policy had been largely a success, but by the 17 July, when he arrived at Fort Victoria, after seeing the Mashona kraals burning on both sides of the road, that policy had been totally ditched. All the activities of the settlers were being paralysed by these amaNdebele raids on the population of Victoria and wider afield in Mashonaland and the killing of the Mashona was a major concern.

On 17 July Jameson received the following from Harris, “yours just received. Mr Rhodes understands that you may find it necessary in the interests of the Mashonas, women and children, to drive the Matabele away, in this he thoroughly concurs, but he says if you do strike, strike hard.”

So for the first time, the news from Rhodes was similar to that of the settlers and next day was the indaba with Manyao.

The conclusion was obvious…the amaNdebele military system needed to be destroyed. For a comprehensive and more detailed discussion of events leading to this date see the article Re-examining the events leading up to the ‘Victoria incident’ under Masvingo on the website

Jameson meets the indunas Manyao and Umgandan on 18 July

The indaba was held at midday outside the gates of Fort Victoria with about 50 amaNdebele present. Jameson asked why they were killing the settlers’ servants and driving off their cattle. Had he lost control of his Amajoda? Manyao admitted he had, and Jameson told him to cross the border with those that would go and gave him an hour to make preparations and leave for border 30 miles away. The young induna Umgandan was insolent and threatening throughout their indaba.

About 2am Lendy led out a patrol of forty mounted men[xxii] after receiving Jameson’s instructions. “You have heard what I have told the Matabele. I want you to carry this out. I do not want them to think it is merely a threat. They have had a week of threat already, with very bad results. Ride out in the direction they have gone to Magomoli’s kraal. If you find they are not moving off, drive them as you heard me tell Manyao I would, and if they resist and attack you, shoot them.[xxiii]

Expelling the amaNdebele impi – 18 July 1893

P.B.S. Wrey who was present at the indaba states the impi was given an hour to start clearing off.[xxiv] He says this was understood by the amaNdebele as the majority of the impi started off there and then for the boundary that they crossed that night or early next morning, but a minority of 300 – 400 under Umgandan waited for the patrol and were actually raiding a small kraal when Captain Lendy and his patrol arrived.[xxv]

The patrol came across some 300 Amajoda who were the advance guard of the larger amaNdebele force and immediately Lendy’s force were seen, firing broke out, although there is controversy over who fired first that is reflected in Newton’s Inquiry and report. Sir John Willoughby writes, “Immediately the Matabele saw the advanced guards of the mounted troop they opened fire. This was returned, the Matabele fled, and were pursued for three miles.”[xxvi] Jameson told the Inquiry that Lendy’s men were under orders not to fire unless fired upon. By the end of the day, some 30 amaNdebele are believed to have been killed – nine by Lendy’s party, including the young induna Umgandan, and the remainder by vengeful Mashona who ambushed the Matabele as they passed by.

When the patrol returned two hours later, if it had left accompanied by cheers from the walls of the fort, they returned with a welcome fit for heroes.

For those interested in an in-depth study of the circumstances of the Victoria incident see the article The Newton Commission conclusions on the ‘Victoria incident’ under Masvingo on the website

For details of events after the Victoria incident see the article The build-up to the 1893 Matabele War under Masvingo on the website

Next day another patrol was sent out to establish if the amaNdebele had re-crossed the ‘border’ and confirmed they had.

The public call for a military solution

The next eleven weeks until Sir Henry Loch gave permission for military operations to begin on 5 October 1893 required more than just the approval of the settlers and the British South Africa Company.

Public feelings did run high with an open call for the Matabele question to be settled once and for all by a vigorous action and saying that if the BSACo did not undertake this at once, they would leave Mashonaland en masse. A committee at Victoria determined, “to lay before [Dr Jameson] tangible proofs of the paralysing effects which these continual scares have and will have upon all the undertakings and business of whatsoever kind in the district and throughout the whole of Mashonaland, and by so doing to prove to you the absolute necessity of an immediate settlement of this question and to show how fatal to all interests will be the temporary patching up of the present difficulty.”  

The committee felt Lobengula had, “broken his word once more in crossing a forbidden boundary and having so done, they know that any promises made by him as to the future delimitation of his raiding areas are not in any way to be trusted.”

In Salisbury a public meeting recommended, “that advantage be taken of the present position of affairs to settle, once and for all, the supremacy of British power and civilisation in this territory.”

The British South Africa Company now made this argument to the London office. The war, it declared, “was forced upon the Company by the attempt of the Matabele to enforce their claim to murder or carry off the Mashona men, women and children to slavery. This was the true and only ground of the differences which led to the war. If the company had not protected the Mashona there would never have been trouble with the Matabele. From the very first the latter have insisted on their right to enslave or murder the Mashona as they pleased, and during the last year or more the insolence and aggressive acts of the Matabele were very much on the increase.”[xxvii]

Jameson begins preparations for a Matabeleland campaign by convincing Sir Henry Loch of its necessity

As early as 19 July Jameson outlined plans to Patrick Forbes[xxviii] for three columns to advance on Gubulawayo from Victoria, Salisbury and Tuli. The same evening he spoke to Sir Henry Loch by telegraph wire saying the settlers wanted action as soon as possible declaring, “remember that this is the best portion of the year to enter the country and if possible it would be well to get there while the Barotse impi is away.”[xxix]  

Jameson knew the High Commissioner would not thwart any efforts that the BSACo took to save the lives of settlers in Mashonaland and next day Loch wired Lobengula that the Victoria raids might bring on, “the punishments that befell Cetewayo and his people.”

Next day Jameson thanked Loch for his “severe message” to Lobengula and said the public in Victoria and Salisbury had passed resolutions, “urging the company to make an end of the Matabele question” and ending, “I wish to assure you that should you not prohibit it I could from Mashonaland settle the whole question rapidly.”

On 22 July he cabled Harris, “setting out their troubles with the Matabele during the past months; three years of negotiations had failed to stop encroachments, all work was halted, large numbers of cattle lost and people throughout Mashonaland were insisting that something decisive should be done.[xxx]

On 24 July Sir Henry Loch sent a long telegram in which, amongst other things, he stated it would take at least two months to send sufficient horses[xxxi] and that “the best preservative against danger is to be prepared to meet it” and the assurance that, should it be necessary, the authorities (i.e. Colonial Office) would agree to action that would ensure, “not only the present, but the future safety of the country.”

Two days later, Loch wired Lord Ripon,[xxxii] saying he had “committed the British government to nothing whatever” and went on, “the British South Africa Company are fully aware that they are solely responsible for providing both men and money for any war, and for maintenance of peace and order in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.”

Jameson and Lobengula

On the 19 July, the day after Capt Lendy’s encounter with the amaNdebele, Dr Jameson telegraphed Lobengula via Palapye giving him an account of what occurred, asking him to punish the indunas responsible and asking for compensation for the damage done to property and stolen cattle, also stating that the Mashona would not be given up to be killed, but if they had done wrong they would be tried in the usual manner before a magistrate and if convicted, also punished.  

Lobengula, before he heard from his own people replied in a friendly manner saying Dr Jameson had been correct to drive away the impi if they had be troublesome, as they had been given strict orders to steer clear of  the settlers.  

Until the time of the big amaNdebele impi raid on 9 July their relations had been friendly, but after hearing his own people’s account of events about 24 July, Lobengula sent an angry message to Jameson saying why did he allow, “Captain Lendy to refuse the Amaholis and their cattle to be delivered to my impi” and asked, “why do you interfere or protect them?”

On the 27 July Lobengula wired Loch and Harris complaining bitterly that his men had been fired upon, the Amaholis had been protected and that Umgandan, a young induna, had been killed. On 1 August he wrote to J.S. Moffat[xxxiii]The Induna talked with the white men, the Induna went off first, the white men followed him and killed him. What does this mean?...” and in the same telegram, “…you did not tell me that you had a lot of the Amaholi cattle hiding with you, together with their owners; and that when my indunas claimed them from Captain Lendy, he refused to give up either cattle or men…Are the Amaholi then yours, including their cattle?...”

                         John Smith Moffat in 1858                                                   Hand-coloured halftone reproduction of a photograph (L-R)

                                                                                                                         Dr L.S. Jameson, C.J. Rhodes, and J.T. Newton 1896.

Jameson pushed for compensation from Lobengula in the form of cattle, both Loch and the Colonial Secretary opposed the idea, believing that Jameson hoped to use the issue of compensation as the basis for an ultimatum.

On 11 August Colenbrander sent this message to Moffat that the King, “flatly refuses to either give up or give compensation for any cattle taken at Victoria belonging to white people or goods destroyed until such time that his Amaholi slaves, children, cattle, goats and sheep are delivered to him that lately got protection from white people at Victoria by Dr Jameson.”  

Colenbrander and his wife Mollie left Gubulawayo on the 13 August, arriving in Palapye on the 24th.

Loch and the British South Africa Company

On 27 August Loch wired Ripon, “may I have your authority to repeat to British South Africa Company that unless attacked, or telegraphic communication with Mashonaland is interrupted, no offensive movement is to be made without my previous knowledge and permission?”

Two days later Loch informed Harris, “unless the Company’s people are attacked, no aggressive movement should be made without the previous knowledge and permission of the High Commissioner.”

In the British Parliament, Buxton, the under-Secretary of State for the Colonies stated that according to the Charter, the BSACo had to secure imperial assent before any aggressive movement was undertaken. “No such assent has been asked,” he said, “and therefore no such assent has been refused.”

The concerns of Sir Henry Loch, the High Commissioner

On 14 July his immediate concern was Tuli, just 145 miles (233 km) from Gubulawayo, where there was a large store of arms and ammunition that might fall into the hands of the amaNdebele. He ordered the Bechuanaland Border Police (BBP) to occupy it. Lt-Colonel Goold-Adams[xxxiv] sent Lieut Drury on 20 July from Macloutsie with 20 Troopers to put the fort into a state of defence. Goold-Adams inspected Tuli on 19 August and found it still a ruin. Most of the stores had been destroyed by rats and white ants. On 22 August Bower[xxxv] informed Harris the BSACo must garrison Tuli and 25 Company men arrived on 10 September to relieve Lt Drury.

The BBP itself had its nominal roll increased on 10 August from 406 NCO’s and men to 450 men and the contingents at Vryburg and Mafeking were reduced to bring up the numbers at Macloutsie. On 8 September, numbers were increased to 524 officers and men. Active patrolling took place to the Shashe river, Lobengula’s border. On 1 October the number of BBP at Macloutsie increased to 260 men and horses, with reinforcements on the way and Loch was convinced the Imperial striking force was capable of advancing to Gubulawayo. By 10 October Goold-Adams was leading his men from Macloutsie.    

For details of the third column’s advance on Gubulawayo see the article The Southern Column’s skirmish at the Singuesi river on 2 November 1893 revisited under Matabeleland South on the website

Both Tati and the Monarch mine were largely left to their own fate despite their valuable machinery and British residents. William Kirby, the Tati Concession Mining and Exploration Company general manager appealed for protection but was simply offered shelter at Macloutsie for company employees and their families. Seven of the nineteen employees took up the offer, the remainder remained at their posts in what Kirby called a state of ‘fever and funk.’ On the 17 August, the ‘coolie cook’ accidentally fired his rifle while walking to the kitchen and this so shattered the men’s morale that Kirby had to take a firm stand the next morning to prevent them all setting out on foot for Palapye.

Lobengula looks increasingly isolated

His attitude towards the Maholi, the Mashona ‘slaves’ left him friendless amongst those who had previously called him ‘the pioneers’ best friend.’

When Jameson wired Lobengula after the big amaNdebele impi raid, “this permitting his people to cross the border will lead to general war.” Lobengula replied, “I am not aware that a boundary exists between Dr Jameson and myself; who gave him the boundary lines? Let him come forward and show me the man that pointed out to him these boundaries; I know nothing whatever about them...”[xxxvi]

He appealed to Rev J.S. Moffat on 15 August, “I want to know from you, son of a Umshete,[xxxvii] why don't you speak, Why do you keep quiet, What great wrong have I done? I thought I wrote to tell you that I was only sending for my own stolen cattle amongst the Amaholi. I want to know all about this matter. Tell me.”

This letter was telegraphed to Loch, who asked if he would reply ‘as a personal friend’ to which Moffat replied, “I do not wish to send any private message to the King in my character as a personal friend.”

His demands that the Amaholis and their cattle be delivered to him would no longer be tolerated.

The first amaNdebele mission to Cape Town

When Colenbrander and Mollie arrived in Palapye on 24 August he had a letter from Lobengula to Queen Victoria written by the King’s secretary, John Makunga and countersigned by Colenbrander. The letter was intended by King to be taken by his envoys.

His envoys arrived at Palapye on 31 August, led by Mshete (Umshete); Maund had conducted Mshete and Babayane to England to see Queen Victoria in 1889. See the article Why Lobengula sent envoys to Queen Victoria in the late nineteenth century under Bulawayo on the website

Loch decided to receive them, “I shall be glad to receive them if they come from you with words of friendship and peace…”

However the BSACo did not want any peace moves that did not keep their war scare alive or convinced the High Commissioner and public that Lobengula had any peaceful intentions. Colenbrander did his best to discredit the envoys, “I myself would not believe a word Umshete brings beside the letter…my past experience of Umshete shows what an infernal liar the man can be…”[xxxviii]

These messages were passed on to Sir Henry Loch, who wired Lord Ripon on 4 September saying the envoys had been sent ‘to gain time’ and Harris wired Jameson saying, “Do not let this bother prevent your carrying out plans as you told us. Umshete will get no change here and will return.”

The envoys arrive in Cape Town

Mshete and is party arrived at Cape Town on 23 September and between 26 September to 5 October five meetings were held with the high Commissioner. Loch brought up the question of the boundary, but Makunga said the King did not recognise it, “The country belongs to him.”

When Loch asked about the treatment of Mashonas, he was told the King could kill his own people, the Amaholis belonged to him. This news was sent on to the Colonial Secretary with Loch concluding, “With such a fundamental divergence of view there is very little hope of successful negotiations…”  When the final meetings were held on 4 and 5 October there was no hope of any successful outcomes, in fact Jameson’s columns were already on the march.

Percy Crewe travelled with the envoys – his views on the mission and the tensions in Gubulawayo at the time are very enlightening – see the article Reminiscences of Percy Durban Crewe of Nantwich Ranch, Hwange under Matabeleland North on the website

Jameson did not have to worry about the envoys meeting with the High Commissioner in Cape Town – nothing came of them because with their uncompromising attitude they were not prepared to discuss either ‘the boundary’ or the treatment of the Maholis.

Creating an atmosphere for war

War scares began to step up as the BSACo’s preparations advanced with the following telegrams to Loch:

9 September – “Native scouts report a large number of Matabele moving towards boundary in Shashe river area”

11 September – “The Matabele are reported around Victoria

12 September – “The Matabele on the Shashe river [the border] in force

Loch knew the campaign was coming but was determined that no aggressive movement should begin without his consent. When he heard on 12 September that Jameson was sending Captain the Hon C.J. White from Victoria to the Shashe river, he sent the following telegram the next day, “You will be careful not to make any aggressive movement or take any action likely to bring about collision without my previous knowledge and sanction. The horses in reinforcements for the BPP that are being pushed on to Macloutsie can't be there for some little time yet.”

Jameson replied from Matibi’s kraal that he understood and was acting on his instructions that no hostile action should be undertaken without his [Loch’s] consent.

At Tuli Jameson met up with Goold-Adams who had come expressly from Macloutsie wiring Loch on 18 September after their meeting, “I have had a confidential talk with Doctor Jameson as to what measures may be necessary in the event of hostilities, and fully understand what he proposes…I am convinced that he will not be able to keep the Salisbury and Victoria people much longer inactive, they will either do something to bring on a row or will leave the country.”

The military situation on 23 September 1893

On 21 September Loch wired Ripon to say that within three weeks the BSACo would have all the horses they required for their mounted men and would be anxious to make a start against Matabeleland. Ripon replied giving Loch the authority to authorise aggressive action if the amaNdebele impis were in “dangerous proximity to the white settlements.”

By now the BSACo preparations were almost ready. Commandant Raaff was the Tuli magistrate from 4 March 1892 to 22 July 1893, then he was despatched to the Transvaal to raise a force to invade Matabeleland from the south and purchase horses for the Salisbury and Victoria Columns.

On 23 September Raaff arrived at Tuli with his 300 volunteers, in addition there were 250 mounted men at Charter under Forbes and 300 mounted men at Victoria under Allan Wilson.[xxxix]

Loch now wired Jameson asking to be informed when the BSACo forces were ready and asking to be told if any of the impis were near white settlements. “Upon the receipt of your report I shall decide whether the time has arrived for requesting that strong patrols may be sent to the places where the impis are reported to be massed, the patrols to avoid coming into collision with the Matabele, and to return at once to report what they have observed.”

The countdown to the Matabeleland campaign

Jameson arrived at Victoria on 28 September and wired Loch that the amaNdebele were raiding at Lomagundi’s, north west of Salisbury and along the boundary near Victoria, “not in small parties, but in regiments.”

Jameson was at Charter on 30 September where he reported Forbes’ force was “in perfect order and prepared for any emergency” he expected the Victoria column to be in the same state when he returned there on 2 October and the Tuli force was resting their horses and would then be “in an equally efficient state.” He was sending out scouting parties from Victoria and Charter.

Loch informed Lord Ripon, “Time is now so limited in which operations can be carried out, [the rainy season is approaching] and it is not fair to the British South Africa Company to delay unduly their action if the impis are really threatening them. I shall know more in a few days when Doctor Jameson’s scouts return.”[xl]

Colenbrander the alarmist

From the 24 August Colenbrander had been at Palapye, but from 18 to 20 September he was at Tati and on the 21st he wired Harris that the Barotse impi had returned, and despite some cases of smallpox, had gathered in force. Two impis were advancing, one towards Victoria and the other to Tati. “I hear Victoria will be their principal object and that the Tati force is smaller.”  

Loch wired Ripon, “Colenbrander returned and reports impis are moving slowly towards Victoria and Tati.”

Colenbrander was viewed as an alarmist by J.S. Moffat at Palapye who did not believe that a ‘great shouting’ at a cattle kraal in the night meant hostile action was meant against whites. He wrote to Loch, “The alarmist fashion in which Colenbrander talked on his return hither, without being able to give any tangible proof in support, has very much shaken my belief in his good sense.”

Colenbrander spread alarming news throughout his short trip to Tati. William Kirby, the Tati Concession Mining and Exploration Company general manager said, “Colenbrander had told every native he met the white impi were coming in.” In a long letter to Moffat on 4 October, Kirby said, “It was evidently a determined effort to raise a scare and put the country into such a state that the Government would be forced to do something.”

Another, O’Beirne, said Colenbrander told him in the presence of natives that a white force was on its way up – most of them absconded that night.  

James Dawson at Gubulawayo wrote to Moffat, “The boys from Bulawayo who left there on 14 September met a boy coming from Colenbrander who told them such tales of what the white men were going to do that they threw away the post in the veld and went home. There is a legend here of some very erratic conduct on Colenbrander’s part, and it is confirmed by letters from Reilly as well as by two colonial boys. If what we hear is true, it is inexplicable how such things are permitted.

Moffat told Loch that Khama had told him his scouts had said there was an amaNdebele impi at Mangwe, “and that the alarm had been caused by a white man on horseback who was met by some natives on the other side of Tati and said that two white impis were on their way up, one by main road, the other by Macloutsie.”

These alarmist reports from Colenbrander were very useful to Jameson in influencing Loch and Ripon that the amaNdebele impis were threatening the settlers. Lobengula must have heard the rumours, but did not move his impis to the borders, presumably because he did not wish to give Jameson an excuse to invade Matabeleland.

        Johan Wilhelm Colenbrander The British South Africa                   Traders at Gubulawayo: James Fairbairn and James Dawson

               Company (BSACo) agent at Bulawayo

The start of the Matabeleland campaign

On his return to Victoria on 2 October Captain White reported back on his scouting patrol to the north west:

(1)    They had a report the amaNdebele had crossed the Shashe river ‘boundary’ and taken Mashona cattle. When two of his scouts visited the kraal, they were fired upon by amaNdebele, this is often called the ‘first border incident.’

(2)    They came across the spoor of an estimated 6 to 7,000 men twenty-five miles north west of Victoria and local natives confirmed large bodies of amaNdebele.

Colenbrander’s wire of 3 October read, “News received from Bulawayo today confirms large impis on all the borders in considerable numbers…”

Jameson wired this above information on 4 October adding that Captain Brabant had scouted along the Tokwe and Lundi rivers as far as Chibi’s kraal and estimated large numbers of amaNdebele Amajoda were present and hoped this news would be enough for Loch to authorise the advance of the three columns from Charter, Victoria and Tuli. But it was not enough for Loch. He urged another patrol should be sent and made it clear, “it must be evident that the Matabele have hostile intentions…before I sanction an aggressive advance on Bulawayo.”  

Jameson wired Loch that he would send a patrol to Chilimanzi’s, “which is the first large Matabele outpost beyond the border” and they would talk to the induna.

Jameson expected that patrol back on 5 October and planned for the Victoria column to move out the next day and for the BBP to move on Tati. The amaNdebele impis on the Shashe river and at Mangwe could be dealt with much easier when divided.  

Loch’s assent for the campaign

As predicted by Jameson on the 5 October Loch sent the anticipated message, “whatever your plans or with regard to the advance of the columns from Fort Charter and from Fort Victoria they better now be carried out…” but added that if the impis retired peacefully they should be allowed to do so without interruption, but if they resisted, “then I have informed you, you may take such measures as may be necessary under the circumstances for the protection of life and property.”

The telegram from Loch is rather ambiguous – it doesn’t give Jameson permission to march on Gubulawayo or indicate if he may merely push the amaNdebele impis back from the boundary, but Jameson interpreted it as permission to advance on Gubulawayo and probably this is what Loch assumed he would do. Loch ended by saying Raaff’s column should join the BBP and wished them good luck.   

The Matabeleland campaign and the battles of Shangani (Bonko) and Bembesi (Egodade)

Rather than repeat details, readers are urged to read the following articles on this website:

 - The build-up to the 1893 Matabele War under Masvingo province

 - Iron Mine Hill (Ntabasinsimbe) and the first casualty of the 1893 Matabele War under Midlands province

 - Battle of Shangani (called Bonko by the amaNdebele)  under Matabeleland South province

 - Battle of Bembesi (called Egodade by the amaNdebele) under Matabeleland South province



S. Glass. The Matabele War. Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, London 1968

A.S. Hickman. Men who made Rhodesia. The British South Africa Company. Salisbury, 1960

H.M. Hole. Old Rhodesian Days. Books of Rhodesia, Bulawayo, 1976

N. Jones. Rhodesian Genesis. Bulawayo, 1953

W.A. Wills and L.T. Collingridge. The Downfall of Lobengula. Books of Rhodesia, Vol 17 Bulawayo, 1971



[i] L.S. Jameson was the second Administrator of Southern Rhodesia after A.R. Colquhoun from 10 September 1894 to 2 April 1896

[ii] British South Africa Company (BSACo)

[iii] Old Rhodesian Days

[iv] C.R. Vigers succeeded Captain Lendy as Victoria magistrate from 1 September to 19 December 1893

[v] Jameson to Lobengula, 23 December 1892

[vi] Captain C.F. Lendy was the Victoria magistrate from 17 March to 1 September 1893

[vii] The 1888 Rudd Concession offered Lobengula £100 per month, 1,000 Martini Henry rifles, 100,000 rounds and a steamboat, or in lieu £500. The steamboat was never delivered, but Jameson thought he had promised Lobengula an additional 1,000 Martini-Henry’s in lieu. On 27 February 1893 Jameson told Lobengula he would speak to Rhodes about the rifles, but clearly did not intend supplying any additional rifles to the 1,000 already delivered under the terms of the Rudd Concession as his office wrote to Harris, The British South Africa Company’s (BSACo) Kimberley secretary, the same day stating, “Dr Jameson, however, does not think it necessary to take any further steps in the matter, but will continue to correspond with Lobengula on the subject.”  

[viii] Lendy’s Report, 1 April 1893

[ix] Lobengula telegram to Jameson, 13 May 1893

[x] Although the cattle went to Tuli, Lobengula’s herdsmen refused to stay and went back to Gubulawayo, saying others would be sent. Then lung sickness broke out at Tuli and the cattle were taken across the Limpopo river. The King asked about them in August 1893, saying he lived at Gubulawayo not Tuli, but by then preparations for the Matabeleland campaign were well under way and the cattle were never returned.

[xi] Reported by Colenbrander on 29 June 1893 to J.S. Moffat and Lendy

[xii] Makalaka is a generic term used by the amaNdebele Matabele for conquered or slave tribes.

[xiii] The Matabele War, P68

[xiv] James Dawson worked for Cruickshank in 1872-7 eventually leaving and forming a partnership with Fairbairn in 1881 at Gubulawayo where he lived permanently as a trader. Along with Will Tainton and other traders he opposed the Rudd Concession because they wanted their own mineral grants. He left Gubulawayo with three of the King’s envoys to protest the Rudd Concession to the British at Cape Town but two of the envoys were shot dead at Tati due to an unfortunate misunderstanding. In 1894 at L.S. Jameson’s request he and O’Reilly searched for King Lobengula and found and buried the remains of Allan Wilson’s patrol.  

[xv] Dawson’s letter went with a runner who accompanied the impi; Colenbrander’s letters were sent by telegram went to Palapye and were sent by telegram 

[xvi] Rhodesian Genesis P70-71

[xvii] Ibid, P71

[xviii] The Downfall of Lobengula, P6

[xix] The Matabele War, P80

[xx] Rhodesian Genesis P73

[xxi] Ibid, P95

[xxii] The Downfall of Lobengula, P189. Sir John Willoughby states thirty-eight rather than forty

[xxiii] Jameson evidence to the Newton Commission

[xxiv] The Downfall of Lobengula, P189. Sir John Willoughby states one hour forty minutes was actually given

[xxv] Ibid, P60

[xxvi] Ibid, P189

[xxvii] Report by Rutherfoord Harris on 9 August 1893

[xxviii] Patrick Forbes was magistrate at Salisbury 30 October 1891 to 1 October 1892, 15 November 1892 to 15 December 1892, 27 March 1893 to 1 September 1893, magistrate at Victoria 23 December 1892 to 27 March 1893 and then commander of the Salisbury column after September 1893

[xxix] i.e. invade before the summer rains. In early June 1893 Lobengula had sent 6,000 Amajoda to invade chief Lewanika’s territory in Barotseland

[xxx] The Matabele War, P125

[xxxi] Selous writes in The Downfall of Lobengula that 800-900 horses were bought by the BSACo and sent up to Mashonaland 

[xxxii] Lord Ripon – George F.S. Robinson, First Marquess of Ripon (18 August 1892 to 28 June 1895

[xxxiii] J.S. Moffat, assistant commissioner for the Bechuanaland Protectorate, 1887 to 1896

[xxxiv] John Goold-Adams was promoted to Captain during Sir Charles Warren’s expedition to Bechuanaland, he transferred into the BBP and on Carrington’s retirement in May 1893 became officer commanding as Major. Promoted to Lieut-Colonel in September 1893. Resigned from the BBP on 13 March 1895 and was made resident commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.  

[xxxv] Sir Graham Bower, secretary and accountant to the high commissioner

[xxxvi] The Matabele War, P156

[xxxvii] Umshete, is a reference to Robert Moffat, father of J.S. Moffat

[xxxviii] Colenbrander to Harris 1 September 1893

[xxxix] Harris to Bower 23 September 1893

[xl] The Matabele War, P168

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