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Publications, speeches, memoirs: autobiography and argument
Evolution of the Milestones Narrative: many disappointments, many endings
Birth of a new industry (1911, Memoirs)
Benguela Railway (1917, 1918)
Cape to Cairo (1921, 1922, 1932)
Some Problems (1924)
The 'Milestones' Narrative (2)
“ Great discoveries of mineral wealth like Kimberley diamonds, the Rand and Rhodesian goldfields, and the Katanga copper deposits, have been the milestones measuring Africa's progress along the paths of civilisation”.
“ [Katanga] is the milestone that I have had to erect largely by my own efforts”.
Elaboration of the 'Milestones' Narrative: Context (1)
Financial weakness: railway finance
South African opposition
Protracted negotiations TFA Advisory Committee
Tension control - finance
Marginalisation in Katanga
Belgian frustration with TCL
Change in management
Elaboration of the 'Milestones' Narrative: Context (2)
Tensions with SGB, risk of take-over (1924)
1930s: Ending of railway pool, limited traffic
Result: combative Williams
Re-affirmation of own contribution
Case for investment and government support
Seeking allies, discrediting opponents
Re-affirmation of own contribution (1)
“ I had to educate small peoples to great affairs”.
“ There are a few important facts in connection with this History which should be taken careful note of by those Belgians who have got the ‘English invasion of Katanga’ on the brain. Belgians owe much, if not everything, to the British”.
Re-affirmation of own contribution (2)
Teleological and linear
“ Where angels feared to tread, I came along”
The man is always right
“ assiduously cultivated image of someone rarely wrong in his professional judgements and work, highly ethical in business, benevolent in his dealings with labour, and the centre of stage in every theatre he visited”.
Guided by Providence
“ It was ‘the Call’ described by Kipling in the form of Livingstone’s lecture”.
Selling the Railways (1)
“ I have raised £10,000,000 for Railways & have done so chiefly because of two things:
-Because I am looked upon as Rhodes' lieutenant.
The British people are highly sentimental.
-I bring trade to England & have placed orders for
five millions [stng] in British workshops already.”
Selling the Railways (2): humanitarianism
The railway is the Great Civilizer
“ Then it was a desolate land, the people almost wiped out with slave raids (and what were left in many instances proved to be cannibals), no industry, no government, not the least sign of civilization anywhere – simply a land of nothingness”.
“ Now all is peaceful civilisation, with a railway line”.
What about labour?
“ The native is a child”.
“ The black man is edging out and displacing white labour [...] What a problem this poses”.
Selling the Railways (3): Romantic Imperialism
Rhodes, Rhodes, Rhodes,...
... and Leopold, too
Cape to Cairo: promise to Rhodes, 'my Great Chief'.
Selling the Railways (4): economics
“ Katanga cannot pay without Benguela Rly that is and will remain my strong card!”
Workmen of Britain
Trade and markets (Rhodesia, South Africa)
Raw materials win the war
“ It was one long struggle of optimism built up from experience against all the ignorance and distrust of foreigners and our own people, against jealousy, against opponents at home and abroad”.
BSAC: Unpatriotic 'greedy Jews'
Short-sighted Governments and Bankers
4. Back to the archive
Interpretative implications of milestones narrative
Evidence in support of narrative
Pioneer: stress on early years
Railway finance (documents and interpretation)
Evidence contradicting narrative
African labour organization
African Labour Organization (1)
“ It was Robert Williams who first saw that the remedy for this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs was to build up a permanent workforce. [The UMHK's labour policy] is the greatest monument to Williams' foresight and humanity”.
“ Interview with Mr. Lambert Jadot & discussion re introducing Black Labour to replace white on Katanga Railway. Mr. Williams stated he would resign from the Board if this was done” (1915).
African Labour Organization (2)
Africa without Africans
Grudging acceptance: some problems
Robert Williams & Co in Africa
Strained labour market: 1917, 1925
“ a reputation for pestilence and death”
Awareness of bias: assess reliability
Confrontation with other sources
Theoretical and historiographical advances
5. The Robert Williams Group and the Southern African mining frontier
Consolidation and northward expansion
The Robert Williams Group: institutional aspects
Cluster of Free Standing Companies
Linking South Africa to the London capital market
Management functions externalized
Robert Williams & Co, Mining Engineers
From two clusters to one
Control within the cluster
Enhanced importance Williams Papers
The Robert Williams Group: Business Model
Finance and Exploration Companies
“ The Buluwayo Syndicate really represents the biggest financial people in the whole of Africa to-day, so that if there is any flotation to make, in all probability when Mr. Hammond and I have examined the property and decide it is ready for flotation, this Syndicate, together with the Zambesi Company, will float it”.
ZEC: Rand reconstructions
Limited capital base, rapid turnover
1891-1895: Expanding cluster
“ We are having lots of difficulties, but no doubt marble palaces and steam-yachts will be the result of present inconvenience”.
“ As for 10 St. Helens Place they will be our ruin if we have any more to do with them. They are floating off all sorts of rubbish and I candidly tell you, I cannot take their rubbish into Williams Consolidated”.
Robert Williams, 9 Oct 1895
“ We must go dead slow until the market improves sufficiently to allow us to float off subsidiary companies”.
Robert Williams, 31 Jan 1896
“ We must economise for a bit”.
Robert Williams, 24 Oct 1898
Performance: Consolidation and Northward Expansion (1)
1896-1899: Losses and disappointments
Retrenchment Robert Williams & Co
URGF, Clark's Consolidated, ZRI
Priced out of Rand
Financial Consolidation: ZEC+
Country risk vs. insider knowledge and business network
BSAC is in the same boat
Performance: Consolidation and Northward Expansion (2)
1898: Tanganyika Concessions Limited
1900: Katanga Concession
Out with the old, in with the new
“ So far as Clarks Consolidated, the Z.E. Co and the Bulawayo Syndicate are concerned, I am coming to look at them [...] as likely to turn out failures. [I]t seems doubtful whether the investing public will again give us the opportunity of selling large blocks of unproved claims”.
“ The [ZEC] directors seem extraordinarily anxious to acquire as large an interest as possible in the Tanganyika, and it makes one suspicious that they are not very hopeful of their own unaided possibilities”
Performance: Consolidation and Northward Expansion (3)
The Robert Williams Group and the South African mining frontier