Saturday, 22 February 2014


In 1996 the BBC made a mini-series about the life of Cecil Rhodes entitled – surprisingly – RHODES. It starred Martin Shaw as Cecil Rhodes (with his son, Joe Shaw, playing Cecil as a young man), Neil Pearson as Dr Leander Starr Jameson, Ken Stott as Barney Barnato, and Frances Barber as Princess Catherine Radziwill.

I saw the series when it was first transmitted, but as far as I know it has not been aired since then. Some years ago I managed to obtain a copy of the series on a couple of DVDs ... and this afternoon I watched the episodes that dealt with the First Matabele War.

This fictionalised account of the war starts with the advance of a 'Pioneer Column' (made up of men of the British South African Company's own private army, the British South African Police [BSAP]) into Matabeleland. The column stops a night-time attack by the use of a searchlight, which frightens off the Matabele warriors.

Next morning they expect the Matabele to attck them ... but nothing happens.

Later the column comes under attack by the bulk of the Matabele army ...

... but the superior firepower of European troops, which includes several Maxim machine guns and field guns, ...

... kills a large number of the attackers, and the surviving Matabele are forced to flee.

The column eventually reaches the capital of Matabeleland – Bulawayo – only to find that King Lobengula's kraal has been burnt to the ground.

A small section of the BSAP sets off in pursuit of Lobengula ...

... but it is ambushed near the Shangani River and wiped out.

The series does not play down the unpleasant aspects of this sort of colonial warfare, and after the main battle between the BSAP and the Matabele the European soldiers are shown killing off the seriously wounded warriors, despite the protests of the Bishop of Matabeleland, who is accompanying the column.

When the series was broadcast it was savaged by many TV critics, and the BBC was criticised for wasting money on the production. In truth it is not an outstanding piece of television ... but it never struck me as being as bad as its detractors made out, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in late nineteenth century British Colonial history.


  1. Just found it on YouTube

    I'll give it a watch later. I remember enjoying the series when it first came out.

    I would recommend the book Scramble for Africa by Thomas Peckenham

  2. Martin,

    It is amazing how much stuff is available on YouTube.

    I have read Pakenham's book and agree that it is an excellent history of the European colonisation of Africa.

    All the best,


  3. I'll have to look it up on Youtube. First thing I thought of was " A perfect war-game for my Peter Laing Boers and Zulus"!

  4. Jhnptrqn,

    A similar thought had crossed my mind ... although I had substituted Mahdists for Zulus!

    All the best,


  5. Thanks for the heads up, I watched the 1st episode on utube this morning while painting my train and will look for more episodes anon.

  6. Ross Mac,

    I hope that you enjoy the series. Some bits are better than others, but it is reasonably historically accurate.

    All the best,



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