The IF Man


Author Chris Ash asserts Victorian poet Rudyard Kipling wrote his signature poem, If, with Leander Starr Jameson, a man who feared nothing but boredom, in mind. Having read his biography of the man I am inclined to agree.

The book is, however, awkward and difficult to review and read: not because it is dry or poorly crafted, but because Ash, who despises political correctness, goes to great lengths to poke it in the collective eye of “lefties” and those he dislikes. The result is the proverbial curate’s egg: where he sticks to facts and Jameson he is superb: informative, educational and certainly breaking new ground. But while his comments on an alleged Anglo Saxon race are quaint, his views on black people are abhorrent. I, for one was severely offended. Ash may be entitled to his view but should it have been published? In this regard, I’m surprised at the publishers. His gratuitous personal opinions ruin a fine study. Absolutely lamentable!!

The crux of his view of indigenous people is that they are brutish, beastly, uncivilised savages. Ho hum. Let’s briefly look at Western Europeans: the Romans practiced crucifixion and enjoyed watch lions eat people alive. Charming. In 1305 Scots hero William Wallace was executed to great public delight in Smithfield, London: after a trial many would say was rigged, the Wikipedia records: straight after sentence, Wallace was “taken from the hall, stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging but released while he was still alive, castrated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a pike atop London Bridge.

In 1483 Richard III effectively seized power by coup and murdered the young children of his brother Edward IV. The accusation remains Richard did the killing himself. If Lobengula of the Matebele did roughly the same was he more or less a beast than Henry VIII: after the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising of 1536 he had the leaders receive the Wallace treatment despite their protestations of deep loyalty (they wanted some injustices redressed, not overthrow the king) and mercy. Henry then ordered his northern nobles: “You shall in anywise cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of every town, village and hamlet that have been offenders in the rebellion, as well by hanging them up in trees as by quartering of them and the setting of their heads and quarters in every town, great and small, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all other hereafter that would practice a like matter.” No different from Stalin’s rule of terror. My five Rand’s worth.

I could add, briefly on the so-called Anglo-Saxon race that blaming post-World War II liberalism and the BBC for the demise of the vibrancy of this race is entertaining. Memory reminds the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, Germanic tribes, settled Celtic-Roman lands from circa 500AD, bringing the onset of the Dark Ages. They were pushed aside by the Vikings from 800AD – roughly, who established the Danelaw. They certainly must have diluted the Germanic strain. Next came the Norman Vikings around 1000AD – and with them came the extermination, I believe, of much of the existing intelligentia and aristocracy. So where the racial purity? Anyway, Jameson was from Scotland, his family originating in the Viking-settled Shetlands. It bears saying many other great British explorers were Scots, Welsh (a word apparently meaning “foreigner” in Anglo Saxon) and Irish.

One Ash “whinge” I fully agree with is his view on celebrity. Commenting on the anonymity of Jameson he says: “Perhaps it is understandable that Jameson should appear unappealing in modern times, when our ‘heroes’ are invariably Premiership football players… He notes this “is perhaps as damning an indictment of modern British society as is possible to make.” Agreed; and not just footballers and other sportsmen – singers and actors too.

As said, Jameson (1853-1917) kept himself obsessively busy. He was a medical doctor and surgeon who by all accounts was very good at it, making a name for himself at Kimberley taking on surgery other surgeons would not attempt. He was an incorrigible gambler, liked a drink and was fond of the ladies – married or otherwise. They seemed fond of him, by Ash’s account. Jameson did not speak much and tended to look bored in comment but he had a mind for the pity comment. Above all he craved dangerous adventure: his trip from Kimberley to Lobengula’s kraal at the now-Bulawayo, his trek to establish Rhodesia, his explorations of that future country’s east and his attempts to annex parts of Mozambique to give it a sea coast. The Portuguese were impressed by his physical courage and endurance but not his motives. Neither was London. His administration of the colony was pragmatic and practical. Then there was the invasion of the Transvaal in 1896. Afterwards he went to jail rather than rat. Loyalty to his friends and other guilty parties indeed.

Many blame him and his archfriend Cecil Rhodes for the Matebele wars of 1893 and 1896. Maybe. Ash believes Lobengula became trapped in a political game to keep balanced opposing factions: those, including him, favouring trade with the new settlers (they had taken their own land in the 1840s) and those who wanted to exterminate them. He makes a cogent argument. He would not be the first governmental/political leader to ride the tiger of split opinion – and come to grief.

During the South African War he was confined to Ladysmith during the siege and afterwards spent some time in Kimberley with Rhodes, where he became a De Beers’ director. The duo then travelled to Rhodesia. In 1900 he had also became Member of (the Cape) Parliament for Kimberley. In 1904 he was Prime Minister and head of a fractious majority party that limited his freedom of action. Again he seemingly did well, rescuing the Colony from bankruptcy by upping taxes on the rich and business. He built sufficient consensus to start healing the wounds of what was a brutal and bitter civil war in the Cape during the greater SA War. As trustee of the Rhodes Trust he helped establish Rhodes University in Grahamstown (where he was now MP). Jameson spent further spent a “good deal of his premiership directing the Cape Colony and South Africa generally toward union. Rhodes had drummed into Jameson that political union would only come about through economic union and ‘from doing things together’.” In this he found common cause with Transvaal Prime Minister General Louis Botha. Although he lost the 1908 election, he was appointed member of the Unification Commission and was photographed standing next to Free State bitter-ender General Christian de Wet. Not all were for the move: Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (author of Jock of the Bushveld) was apparently opposed. “After several years of negotiations and horse trading, the four territories of South Africa were finally unified on the 31st May, 1910” eight years, to the day after the end of the war. Jameson’s 1908 nemesis, John X Merriman, wrote “Jameson seems to be the prime mover”. Botha was the Union of South Africa’s first Prime Minister and Jameson Leader of the Official Opposition. In 1911 he was awarded a Baronetcy for his efforts. He was already a Privy Councillor (one of 300).

That said, I hope the publishers will speedily bring out a second edition to fix the shortcomings of the first. The present cannot be recommended to defenceWeb readers.

Chris Ash

The IF Man – Dr Leander Starr Jameson: the inspiration for Kipling’s masterpiece
30 Degrees South Publishers


Aso published in the UK by:

Helion & Company Ltd

328 pages



Selected bibliography