On the imperial frontier: The pioneer community of Salisbury in November 1897
The year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee saw the British Empire at the height of its glory. Yet 1897 found South Africa - the weakest link in the imperial chain - In an unsettled condition and this was particularly so in the territories of the British South Africa Company which were in a depressed state. The Jameson Raid, rinderpest and the African rebellions had seriously damaged the project from which Cecil Rhodes and the Company had expected so much in the hopeful days of 1890 when the Pioneer Column had entered Mashonaland. Salisbury, in particular, was in the doldrums for when Mashonaland failed to fulfil its expectations for mining, most of its population who could left at the end of the Matabele War for Bulawayo, Moreover, although rebellion had broken out earlier in Matabeleland, in March 1896, it had ended sooner than in Mashonaland which was not finally suppressed in the northern areas until the end of 1897. The continuing unrest in the outlying districts meant that even after Salisbury had come out of laager in July 1896, there was a commercial depression and unemployment among the miners and farmers who were forced to remain in town. An idea of the scale of European unemployment was demonstrated when 15 men applied, for the post of Sanitary Inspector in October 1897, and when the position of Ranger was advertised In November there were 19 applicants.- (l) The population decline caused when most of the women and children were sent out of Mashonaland further worsened the commercial depression which was abetted by the high transport rates. The railway to Mashonaland had not yet reached Umtali the result was an exorbitantly high cost of living. In addition, nature again struck Mashonaland in the form of a poor rainy season and plagues of locusts. The word 'depressing' has frequently been used to describe the town, but it is apt;, for in the two months October-November 1897 there were 8 suicides among the white population, which suggests the atmosphere of depression was psychological as well as physical... (1.153Mb)
Kosmin, Barry A.