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Meeting between Queen Victoria the three Bechuanaland Kings who resisted colonisation

BBC2016

Black Cultural Archives

Black Cultural Archives

1895 saw the arrival in England of King Khama and two other Bechuanaland Kings who were resisting the colonisation of their homelands planned by Cecil Rhodes.

Few places or people capture the scale, ambition and avarice of the British Empire at its peak than Cecil Rhodes.

Rhodes was the Premier of the Cape Colony and another territory – Rhodesia – had been named after him. In Rhodes’ view the superiority of the British made the expansion of empire the destiny of his race.

His great ambition was to drive a railway across the entire length of Africa. Running from the Cape to Cairo, you would be able to cross the whole continent without ever leaving British territory.

But there was a problem. The railway needed to cross Bechuanaland, which was a “Protectorate” - territory claimed by the British but governed by local rulers.

Most prominent among the local rulers was the multi-lingual, Christian convert, King Khama III. Khama saw through Rhodes’ scheme to its real ultimate purpose – colonisation.

So while Rhodes was busy lobbying the British government to get control of Bechuanalan, in 1895 Khama, along with the two other Bechuanaland Chiefs, headed to the heart of the empire itself: England.

Knowing they’d be no match for Rhodes militarily, their aim was to outmanoeuvre him by winning over the British public, touring Britain with the help of the London Missionary Society.

Their strategy paid off. Towards the end of 1895, with public opinion swinging behind the Kings, Khama and his delegation were granted an audience with the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain.

At that meeting, the Africans were granted most of the protections from Cecil Rhodes that they’d been looking for. They were also granted an audience with Queen Victoria.

The meeting of the Queen Empress and the three African kings was of huge public interest. This picture of it appeared in The Graphic, a popular Victorian magazine. It shows the Queen at Windsor with her ladies in waiting, and Joseph Chamberlain, handing King Khama a portrait of the Queen.

This print was featured in Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016), a BBC series revealing the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and people whose origins are in Africa.

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