The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 13 No 4 - December 2005

The Jameson Raid and England's Anti-Mercenary Laws

(c) L J Crator, 2003, 2005
Adjutant, Warrior Shellhole, Muldersdrift,
Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH)

One of the strongest official British criticisms of the 1896 Jameson Raid into the Transvaal Republic lies hidden away in the law reports of the Queen's Bench Division of the English High Court. A trooper injured on the Raid was bold enough to go to the English courts to sue Cecil Rhodes and Leander Jameson in their personal capacities for his injuries. The Court's findings are reported in Burrows vs Rhodes and Jameson, [1899] 1 Q B 816. (The case report, in pp 816-18, also puts a useful 'bare-bones' account of the facts on the public record).

Most readers familiar with South African military history will know that the Raid was launched out of Bechuanaland by troops at Rhodes' disposal under the pretext of rescuing the Uitlanders, the immigrant workers, in Paul Kruger's independent burgher republic of the Transvaal. After two days' running fighting, the Raiders were forced to surrender unconditionally to Boer forces at Doornkop, some 20km southwest of their target, Johannesburg.

Burrows was one of the many raiding troopers who were fraudulently deceived into believing that the women and children of Johannesburg needed their protection, and that the raid had the support of Her Majesty's Government. He was severely wounded in the fighting at Doornkop and later lost his right leg as a result of his injuries. Burrows was shipped, as a prisoner, back to England where he later sued Rhodes and Jameson for 3 000 in damages.

The Defence

The defendants, Rhodes and Jameson, countered this with the technical legal point that because Burrows had been engaged on the admittedly criminal activity of the Raid, he could not, as a 'fellow criminal' with Rhodes and Jameson, use the courts to claim against them. Their argument to the court was, in effect: 'Yes, maybe we are criminals, but so is Burrows, so he can't sue us'. Their actions had indeed been criminal under the British Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 which prohibited British citizens from being involved in mercenary activities in friendly foreign territories. The salient portions of Section 11 of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 1870 (33 & 34 Vict C94; 5 Statutes 852) were as follows:

(See also Halsbury's Laws of England, Vol 10, 3rd Edition, p 658, para 1 257).

Jameson had already been convicted in London of criminal charges under this act and was sentenced to fifteen months' imprisonment without hard labour (R vs Jameson[1896] 2 QB 425 [DC]; [1896] 12 TLR 551). He was released on grounds of ill-health after serving only four months. (See also Hugh Marshall Mole, The Jameson Raid, 1930, pp 270-2).

Points of Law

This defence argument was (and still is) a purely legalistic countermeasure and is not that unusual: it is part of the notion that a claimant who comes to court must have 'clean hands'. It was, no doubt, a strategy urged by the defendants' legal team which included, as junior counsel, Lord Robert Cecil, the third son of Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.

The case is remarkable for the critical attitude of the court towards the defendants, which verged on sarcasm in places. Judge Grantham, at p 823 of the Report, remarks pointedly that Rhodes and Jameson were saying that even though they had deceived Burrows into contravening the Foreign Enlistment Act, they still wanted to stop him from voicing his complaint about their own 'original and deeper-dyed fraud'. After this public comment characterising Rhodes and Jameson as fraudsters, the judge then gave his own opinion of their proposed legal strategy: 'A deeper perversion of English justice it is impossible to imagine'. Later (p 825), the Judge describes the essence of the Raid: ' ... the expedition in question is alleged to have been something in the nature of a highway robbery'.

'Fraudsters and robbers', this was the strong language used by one of the judges of Her Majesty's Courts of Justice to characterise Rhodes and Jameson. (This was made public, notwithstanding the fact that Rhodes had been appointed a Privy Councillor early in 1895). There are sure to be readers who feel impelled to ask why the Judge had no criticism for President Kruger's oppression of the Uitlanders, but this was not a point on which the Judge had to make a decision.

The upshot was that the Court dismissed the technical defence put forward by Rhodes and Jameson. One would thus have expected that the trial against them would have proceeded in the normal way, but the law reports have no subsequent details of the case. It is probable that Rhodes settled Burrows' claim without going further with the Court proceedings.

There the matter came to a rest in the pages of the records of the Courts in 1899. A much more serious problem for the British Colonial Office, again related to the Raid, had also been averted two years earlier, in 1897. Under the same Foreign Enlistment Act, Her Majesty's Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, was facing possible charges relating to his own personal involvement in the run-up to the Raid - conniving with Rhodes and his people to bring about the Raid. Chamberlain's man who handled dealings with the conspirators was Edward Fairfield, a senior civil servant in the Colonial Office who served as 'point man' for contacts with Rhodes' people during the build-up to the Raid (Hugh Marshall Hole, The Jameson Raid, 1930, pp 56-61).

It is intriguing to note that Fairfield died prior to the sitting of the British House of Commons' Select Committee enquiry into the Raid. This sad fact allowed Chamberlain himself to 'read out' for the Committee and, more importantly, to 'control the tenor of, a letter to him from Fairfield dated 4 November 1895. In this letter, Fairfield advised Chamberlain that ' ... Rhodes very naturally wants to get our people off the scene as this ugly row is pending with the Transvaal'. Chamberlain suggested to the Committee that this 'row' was a reference to the closure of the border point at Vaal Drifts. However, there is a later, separate reference to the Drifts in the letter, indicating two different subjects. In what other 'ugly row' should Chamberlain seek to avoid involvement? It must surely have been the impending military raid into the Transvaal, launched from Pitsani in the Bechuanaland Protectorate on Sunday, 29 December 1895.

The Fairfield letter, had its author been alive to properly interpret it for the Committee, could have been used to prove that the Colonial Office had foreknowledge of the Raid. Added to the consequent manoeuvring by the Colonial Office, this would have amounted to criminal complicity by members of the Colonial Office under the very wide net of Section 11 of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. Anyone who had engaged in the preparation of Jameson's expedition, or who had assisted in it, was liable to be criminally charged.

Fairfield's death quite possibly obscured this prior linking of Chamberlain to the Raid, and thus saved the British Colonial Secretary from the embarrassment of having to answer to criminal charges. Through clever words and delivery, Chamberlain averted contamination by the Raid. It is thus somewhat poignant that in the last years of his life he suffered from aphasia - losing his faculties of speech and understanding.

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