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Saturday 10 October 2015


The publication of John Cooper-Chadwick’s memoir of adventures in southern Africa, Three Years With Lobengula, was funded in part by the inclusion of six display advertisements. I wrote about some of those ads directly connected with South African shipping and with Cooper-Chadwick himself in an earlier post.

There is also an advertisement for the South Africa weekly newspaper, “the South African’s Vade Mecum at home and abroad,” with a testimonial from that hero of British imperial colonialism Cecil Rhodes: “South Africa is the only paper of its kind that deals properly with South African Events and Questions.” Rhodes’ mineral rights treaty with Lobengula, king of the Ndebele people, in 1888 was one of the steps towards the creation of the country named after him, Rhodesia. South Africa was launched by Edward Peter Mathers in 1889, while John Cooper-Chadwick was being held in Lobengula’s camp. The Mathers newspaper legacy extended beyond his South Africa title: using the pen name Torquemada in The Observer newspaper, Mathers’ son Edward Powys Mathers is credited with popularising the cryptic crossword clue in the 1920s.
Advertisement in Three Years With Lobengula from the South Africa newspaper, "dealing propoerly with South African Questions"

S.W. Silver & Co, who also advertised in John’s book, had been supplying overseas outfits to members of the Army and the Colonial Service from their Cornhill premises in London since the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century they developed the techniques and materials which Mr Charles Macintosh had first introduced in his rubberised Macintosh raincoats. By the end of the century they were involved in the very modern world of insulated wire and submarine cables. But as a testimonial in their display in Three Years With Lobengula shows, they had not forgotten their clients throughout the British Empire.

 Advertisement in Three Years With Lobengula from S.W.Silver & Co., “equippers” for explorers and travellers

 “This firm has supplied travellers, including myself, with their outfit, and know exactly what is needed for every part of the Globe. As they retain lists of all articles supplied to various expeditions, anyone, by reference to these lists – as, for instance, the outfit of my Kilimanjaro expedition – will be sufficiently guided in their choice.” Thus Silver & Co quote Harry Johnston, polymath explorer, novelist, naturalist and soldier who played a large role, working with Cecil Rhodes, in colonising vast swathes of Africa for Britain at the same time that Rhodes had placed Cooper-Chadwick as his eyes and ears in Lobengula’s camp. His expedition to Kilimanjaro was in 1884, a year after he had met Henry Morton Stanley in the Congo. Johnston published his own African memoirs in 1920 as The Backwards Peoples And Our Relations With Them. (In fact he favoured a much more cooperative attitude to working with native Africans than Rhodes’ aggressive military approach, and the two men fell out.)

Harry Johnston (1858-1927) and Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), who both wrote testimonials for advertisements in Three Years With Lobengula (photos from Wikipedia)

John, like Johnston, reflected the values and attitudes of his day; but he retained a compassion for all the men he met on his adventures which is reflected in the humanity of his simple story-telling. Three Years With Lobengula is available again in a facsimile edition, and I heartily recommend it both for John’s memoirs and for the fascinating display advertisements which helped pay for its publication.

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