The first piece of verse by Rudyard Kipling I committed to memory - without even knowing I was doing so - was incised in large Roman capitals on a wall of the Honoured Dead Memorial in Kimberley, South Africa. During the Anglo-Boer War, Kimberley was besieged for some months by forces from the two Boer republics, the Transvaal (De Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) and the Orange Free State. Among those trapped in the city during the siege was Cecil Rhodes, former prime minister of the Cape Colony and the most prominent among the mining magnates drawn to South Africa by the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley and subsequently of gold in Johannesburg. Rhodes had deliberately moved from Cape Town to Kimberley once it became clear to him that war between Britain and the two 'Dutch' republics was imminent: this he did out of a sense of noblesse oblige to the city in which he had made his first and greatest fortune, and which he felt to be peculiarly 'his' thereafter. (Many other people, the Boer leaders among them, felt the same way about it, which was why they had made Kimberley one of their prime targets.) Once the siege was lifted, Rhodes returned to his house and estate outside Cape Town, and immediately commissioned his favourite architect, Herbert Baker, to find a prominent site in Kimberley and to design for it a memorial to the imperial troops and local militiamen who had died defending the city.
LRB 7 June 2007 | PDF Download