It was intended to trigger an uprising by the primarily British expatriate workers (known as Uitlanders) in the Transvaal but failed to do so. The workers were called the Johannesburg conspirators. They were expected to recruit an army and prepare for an insurrection. The raid was ineffective and no uprising took place, but it did much to cause the Second Boer War and the Second Matabele War.
Antipathy towards British control and the introduction of new systems and institutions grew amongst a substantial portion of the Boer community. One of the primary causes of friction was the attitude of the British authorities to slavery in the colony. In 1828 the British authorities passed legislation guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for all, regardless of race. In 1830 a new ordinance imposed heavy penalties for harsh treatment of slaves. These controversial measures were soon joined by wholesale emancipation in 1834. Each of these ordinances drew ire from the Boers towards the government. Moreover, the amount of compensation awarded to slave-owners, and the suspicions engendered by the method of payment, caused much resentment. This resentment culminated in the en-masse migration of substantial numbers of the Boers into the hitherto unexplored frontier, in the hope of putting themselves outside the control of British rule. This was the so-called Great Trek.
This anti-British feeling was by no means universal: in the Western Cape very few felt compelled to move. Rather it was the frontier farmers in the East, known as the Trekboers, those who had always been at the front of the colony's eastwards expansion, who elected to trek further afield. These emigrants, or Voortrekkers as they became known, first moved further eastwards, into the territory later to be known as Natal. Here, in 1839, the Natalia Republic was founded as a new homeland for the Boers. Other Voortrekker parties moved northwards, establishing themselves beyond the Orange and Vaal Rivers. Britain was reluctant to see British subjects moving beyond its control, and the Natalia Republic was annexed in 1843, becoming the Crown colony of Natal. After 1843 however, British government policy turned strongly against further expansion in South Africa. After some abortive attempts to annex the territories to the north, their independence was eventually recognised by the Sand River Convention of 1852 and the Orange River Convention of 1854, recognising the Transvaal and the Orange Free State respectively.
After the First Anglo-Boer War, Gladstone's government restored the Transvaal's independence in 1884 by its signing of the London Convention, and no one could have foreseen the discovery of the colossal gold deposits of the Witwatersrand a mere two years later.
This fairly simple agricultural dynamic was upset in 1870, when vast diamond fields were discovered in Griqualand West, around modern-day Kimberley. This area had traditionally come under the authority of the Orange Free State, however the Cape government, with the assistance of the British government, successfully brought the territory, and its vast mineral wealth, under their control.
As part of the planning, a force had been placed at Pitsani, on the border of the Transvaal, by the order of Rhodes so as to be able to quickly offer support to the Uitlanders when they rose. The force was placed under the control of Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, the Administrator General of the Chartered Company (of which Cecil Rhodes was the Chairman) for Matabeleland. Among the other commanders was Raleigh Grey. The force was around 600 men, about 400 from the Matabeleland Mounted Police and the remainder other volunteers. It was equipped with rifles, six Maxim machine guns, and three light artillery pieces.
The British Colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, though sympathetic to the ultimate goals of the Raid, was uncomfortable with the timing of the invasion and remarked that "if this succeeds it will ruin me. I'm going up to London to crush it". He swiftly travelled by train to the Colonial Office, ordering Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor-General of the Cape Colony, to repudiate the actions of Jameson and warned Rhodes that the Company's Charter would be in danger if it were discovered the Cape Prime Minister was involved in the Raid. Chamberlain therefore instructed local British representatives to call on British colonists not to offer any aid to the raiders.
However, Jameson's force was tracked from the moment that it crossed the border and first encountered resistance very early on January 1 when there was a very brief exchange of fire with a Boer outpost. Around noon the Jameson force was around twenty miles further on, at Krugersdorp, where a small force of Boer soldiers had blocked the road to Johannesburg and dug in. Jameson's force spent some hours exchanging fire with the Boers, losing several men and many horses in the skirmish. Towards evening the Jameson force withdrew and turned south-east attempting to flank the Boer force. The Boers tracked the move overnight and on January 2 as the light improved Jameson had reached Doornkop where a substantial Boer force with some artillery was waiting. The tired Jameson raiders exchanged fire with the Boers, losing around thirty men before Jameson realized the position was hopeless and surrendered to Commander Piet Cronjé. The raiders were taken to Pretoria and jail.
The Boer government later handed the men over to the British for trial and the British prisoners were returned to London. A few days after the raid, the Kaiser of Germany sent a telegram ("Kruger telegram") congratulating President Kruger and the Transvaal government on their success, and when this was disclosed in the British press, it raised a storm of anti-German feeling. Dr Jameson was lionized by the press and London society, inflamed by anti-Boer and anti-German feeling and in a frenzy of jingoism. Jameson and was sentenced to 15 months for leading the raid, which he served in Holloway. The Transvaal government was paid almost £1 million in compensation by the British South Africa Company.
For conspiring with Jameson, the members of the Reform Committee (Transvaal), including Col. Frank Rhodes and John Hays Hammond, were jailed in deplorable conditions, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to death by hanging. This sentence was later commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment, and in June 1896, all surviving members of the Committee were released on payment of stiff fines. As further punishment for his support of Jameson, the highly decorated Col. Rhodes was placed on the retired list by the British Army and barred from active involvement in army business. After his release from jail, Col. Rhodes immediately joined his brother Cecil and the British South Africa Company in the Second Matabele War taking place just North of the Transvaal in Matabeleland. Cecil Rhodes was forced to resign as Prime Minister of Cape Colony in 1896 due to his apparent involvement in planning and assisting in the raid.
Jameson's raid had depleted Matabeleland of many of its troops and left the whole territory vulnerable. Seizing on this weakness, and a discontent with the British South Africa Company, the Ndebele revolted during March 1896 in what is now celebrated in Zimbabwe as the First War of Independence, the First Chimurenga, but it is better known to most of the world as the Second Matabele War. The Shona joined them soon thereafter. Hundreds of white settlers were killed within the first few weeks of the revolt and many more would die over the next year and a half. With few troops to support them, the settlers had to quickly build a laager in the centre of Bulawayo on their own. Against over 50,000 Ndebele held up in their stronghold of the Matobo Hills the settlers mounted patrols under such people as Burnham, Baden-Powell, and Selous. It would not be until October 1897 that the Ndebele and Shona would finally lay down their arms.
Later, Jameson became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (1904-08) and one of the founders of the Union of South Africa. He was made a baronet in 1911 and returned to England in 1912. On his death in 1917, he was buried next to Cecil Rhodes and the 34 BSAC soldiers of the Shangani Patrol (killed in 1893 in the First Matabele War) in the Matobos Hills, near Bulawayo. Rudyard Kipling's poem, If— , is said to be based on the life of Jameson, and the suffering he endured during the Raid. The Raid is recalled in a number of lines in the poem, including: 'If you can make a heap of all your winnings / And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss / And lose, and start again from your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss...'
Since Jameson was discreet about the involvement of the British Government, notably Chamberlain, in the Raid, and took the blame for the whole affair, it appears that the words of Kipling's poem, 'If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you' were intended to recall the courage and dignity of Jameson's silence.
The affair brought Anglo-Boer relations to a dangerous low and the ill feeling was further heated by the "Kruger telegram" from the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. It congratulated Paul Kruger on defeating the "raiders", and also appeared to recognize the Boer republic and offer support. The emperor was already perceived as anti-British, and a naval arms race had started between Germany and Britain. Consequently, the telegram alarmed and angered the British. Transvaal began importing large quantities of arms and an alliance was signed between Transvaal and the Orange Free State in 1897. Jan C. Smuts wrote in 1906 of the Raid, "The Jameson Raid was the real declaration of war...And that is so in spite of the four years of truce that followed...[the] aggressors consolidated their alliance...the defenders on the other hand silently and grimly prepared for the inevitable."
Joseph Chamberlain condemned the raid despite previously having approved Rhodes' plans to send armed assistance in the case of a Johannesburg uprising. In London, despite some condemnation by the print-media, most newspapers used the episode as an opportunity to whip-up anti-Boer feelings. Jameson and his raiders were treated as public heroes. Chamberlain welcomed the escalation by Transvaal as an opportunity to annex the Orange states.
To this day, the events surrounding Leander Starr Jameson's involvement in the Jameson Raid, being somewhat out-of-character with his prior history, the rest of his life and successful later political career, remain something of an enigma to historians. In 2002, The Van Riebeeck Society published Sir Graham Bower's Secret History of the Jameson Raid and the South African Crisis, 1895-1902 (Edited by Deryck Schreuder and Jeffrey Butler, Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town, Second Series No.33), adding to growing historical evidence that the imprisonment and judgement upon the Raiders at the time of their trial was unjust, in view of what has appeared, in later historical analysis, to have been the calculated political manoeuvres by Joseph Chamberlain and his staff to hide his own involvement and knowledge of the Raid.
In his review of Sir Graham Bower's account, Alan Cousins (2004) notes that, "A number of major themes and concerns emerge" from Bower's history, "...perhaps the most poignant being Bower’s accounts of his being made a scapegoat in the aftermath of the raid: 'since a scapegoat was wanted I was willing to serve my country in that capacity'."
Cousins notes of Bower that "a very clear sense of his rigid code of honour is plain, and a conviction that not only unity, peace and happiness in South Africa, but also the peace of Europe would be endangered if he told the truth. He believed that, as he had given Rhodes his word not to divulge certain private conversations, he had to abide by that, while at the same time he was convinced that it would be very damaging to Britain if he said anything to the parliamentary committee to show the close involvement of Sir Hercules Robinson and Joseph Chamberlain in their disreputable encouragement of those plotting an uprising in Johannesburg."
Finally, Cousins observes that, "...in his reflections, Bower has a particularly damning judgement on Chamberlain, whom he accuses of 'brazen lying' to parliament, and of what amounted to forgery in the documents made public for the inquiry. In the report of the committee, Bower was found culpable of complicity, while no blame was attached to Joseph Chamberlain or Robinson. His name was never cleared during his lifetime, and Bower was never reinstated to what he believed should be his proper position in the colonial service: he was, in effect, demoted to the post of colonial secretary in Mauritius. The bitterness and sense of betrayal he felt come through very clearly in his comments."
Speculation on the true nature of the behind-the-scenes story of the Jameson Raid has therefore continued for more than a hundred years after the events, and carries on to this day.