"Dinuzulu trial, white races plan to take away franchise from natives" Read the full letter


Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain (1836 - 1914) was a British politician who by the beginning of the twentieth century had come to be regarded as 'the first minister of the British empire' (Marsh 2004). Chamberlain came from an industrialist family, and his first political appointment was as mayor of Birmingham, to which he was first elected in 1873. He entered the House of Commons in 1876 and by 1880, when Gladstone formed his second ministry, Chamberlain entered the cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. A stroke in 1906 ended his political career.

Chamberlain's first involvement with South African affairs concerned an attempted annexation of the Transvaal by Britain in 1880 and the war which ensued. Chamberlain endorsed Gladstone?s initial opposition to the annexation, and when Gladstone became prime minister and then proved disinclined to revoke the annexation, Chamberlain persuaded him to accept the Transvaal's demand for self-governance, which was granted in the Pretoria Convention of 1881. Later however, after discovery of gold in the Transvaal in the later 1880s, Chamberlain was anxious about the shift in political power towards the Boer Republics which would inevitably result. At the same time he was suspicious of Rhodes and wanted to limit the terms of his proposed Chartered Company to expand into the area north of the Transvaal (later Rhodesia), although ultimately the British government granted Rhodes the charter. Chamberlain himself became increasingly wedded to furthering British imperial supremacy in southern Africa. Both at the time of his rise to power and subsequently, Chamberlain was accused of being grasping and opportunistic, a view apparently endorsed by Schreiner when she commented in a letter to Merriman in 1897, 'Chamberlain is a man who will always do what is best for himself 'with a single eye to his own interests.?''

When the Liberal Unionists formed a coalition government with the Conservative Party in 1895 Chamberlain was appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies, and it was in this capacity that he strongly influenced events in South Africa leading up to the outbreak of war in 1899. Many commentators have argued that the war was ultimately orchestrated by the aggressive tactics of Chamberlain and Milner, and indeed Chamberlain was implicated in behind-the-scenes knowledge of the 1895-6 Jameson Raid, although he was officially exonerated of this. In the aftermath of the Raid, Chamberlain continued to exert pressure on the Transvaal by backing the political demands of the Uitlanders (foreigners living and working in the Transvaal) and by building up British military forces in the Cape. In Britain Chamberlain's political career reached its high-point in 1900 when he played a prominent role in ensuring the Unionist government's re-election at the so-called 'Khaki election' of that year.

For further information see:
Travis Crosby (2011) Joseph Chamberlain: A Most Radical Imperialist London: I.B. Tauris
James Garvin and Julian Amery (1932-69) The Life of Joseph Chamberlain (6 vols) London: Macmillan & Co.
Richard Jay (1981) Joseph Chamberlain: A Political Study Oxford: Clarendon
Peter T. Marsh (2004) 'Chamberlain, Joseph (1836-1914)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32350
Peter T. Marsh (2010) The Chamberlain Litany: Letters with a Governing Family from Empire to Appeasement London: Haus
Peter T. Marsh (1994) Joseph Chamberlain, Entrepreneur in Politics New Haven, London: Yale University Press
Back to top

recipient icon Recipient Of
no letters
Back to top

mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Sheffield City Libraries, Archives & Local Studies: Edward Carpenter Collection, Archives & Local Studies, Sheffield City Libraries: The Edward Carpenter Collection is held ... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
Back to top