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Following Milestones and Breaking New Ground: The Robert Williams Papers and the Expansion of the South African Mining Frontier


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Aldwin Rowe: University of Sheffield

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Following Milestones and Breaking New Ground: The Robert Williams Papers and the Expansion of the South African Mining Frontier

  1. 1. Following Milestones and Breaking New Ground The Robert Williams Papers and the Expansion of the South African Mining Frontier Aldwin Roes University of Sheffield
  2. 2. Outline <ul><li>Biographical sketch </li></ul><ul><li>The Robert Williams Papers </li></ul><ul><li>Narrative Structure </li></ul><ul><li>Back to the Archive </li></ul><ul><li>Alternative reading: the Robert Williams group and the Southern African mining frontier </li></ul><ul><li>Wider relevance </li></ul>
  3. 3. Robert Williams (1860-1938)‏ <ul><li>1883: Kimberley </li></ul><ul><li>1888: Rand </li></ul><ul><li>1891: 'Zambesia Exploring' and Southern Rhodesia </li></ul><ul><li>1898: Katanga and the Copperbelt </li></ul><ul><li>1906: UMHK </li></ul><ul><li>Railway finance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1901-1930s: Cape to Cairo (Beira)‏ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1902-1931: Benguela Railway </li></ul></ul><ul><li>1928: Sir Robert Williams, Bart. of Park </li></ul>
  4. 5. The Robert Williams Papers <ul><li>Extent </li></ul><ul><li>Content </li></ul><ul><li>Types of material </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Documents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reflections </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Partiality </li></ul><ul><li>Context of creation and preservation </li></ul>
  5. 6. The 'Milestones' Narrative (1)‏ <ul><li>Publications, speeches, memoirs: autobiography and argument </li></ul><ul><li>Self-image </li></ul><ul><li>Evolution of the Milestones Narrative: many disappointments, many endings </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Birth of a new industry (1911, Memoirs)‏ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Benguela Railway (1917, 1918)‏ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cape to Cairo (1921, 1922, 1932)‏ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some Problems (1924)‏ </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. The 'Milestones' Narrative (2)‏ <ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ [Katanga] is the milestone that I have had to erect largely by my own efforts”. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 8. Elaboration of the 'Milestones' Narrative: Context (1)‏ <ul><li>Financial weakness: railway finance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pre-war fiascos </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>South African opposition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Protracted negotiations TFA Advisory Committee </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tension control - finance </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Marginalisation in Katanga </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Belgian frustration with TCL </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Nationalism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Capital increases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Change in management </li></ul></ul>
  8. 9. Elaboration of the 'Milestones' Narrative: Context (2)‏ <ul><li>Tensions with SGB, risk of take-over (1924)‏ </li></ul><ul><li>1930s: Ending of railway pool, limited traffic </li></ul><ul><li>Result: combative Williams </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Re-affirmation of own contribution </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Case for investment and government support </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Seeking allies, discrediting opponents </li></ul></ul>
  9. 10. Re-affirmation of own contribution (1)‏ <ul><li>“ I had to educate small peoples to great affairs”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul>
  10. 11. Re-affirmation of own contribution (2)‏ <ul><li>Teleological and linear </li></ul><ul><li>Pioneering </li></ul><ul><li>“ Where angels feared to tread, I came along” </li></ul><ul><li>The man is always right </li></ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul><ul><li>Guided by Providence </li></ul><ul><li>“ It was ‘the Call’ described by Kipling in the form of Livingstone’s lecture”. </li></ul>
  11. 12. Selling the Railways (1)‏ <ul><ul><li>“ I have raised £10,000,000 for Railways & have done so chiefly because of two things: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>-Because I am looked upon as Rhodes' lieutenant. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The British people are highly sentimental. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>-I bring trade to England & have placed orders for </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>five millions [stng] in British workshops already.” </li></ul></ul>
  12. 13. Selling the Railways (2): humanitarianism <ul><li>The railway is the Great Civilizer </li></ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Now all is peaceful civilisation, with a railway line”. </li></ul><ul><li>Follow Livingstone </li></ul><ul><li>What about labour? </li></ul><ul><li>“ The native is a child”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The black man is edging out and displacing white labour [...] What a problem this poses”. </li></ul>
  13. 14. Selling the Railways (3): Romantic Imperialism <ul><li>Manifest Destiny </li></ul><ul><li>Rhodes, Rhodes, Rhodes,... </li></ul><ul><li>... and Leopold, too </li></ul><ul><li>Cape to Cairo: promise to Rhodes, 'my Great Chief'. </li></ul>
  14. 15. Selling the Railways (4): economics <ul><li>“ Katanga cannot pay without Benguela Rly that is and will remain my strong card!” </li></ul><ul><li>Workmen of Britain </li></ul><ul><li>Trade and markets (Rhodesia, South Africa)‏ </li></ul><ul><li>Raw materials win the war </li></ul>
  15. 16. Opponents <ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul><ul><li>German opposition </li></ul><ul><li>BSAC: Unpatriotic 'greedy Jews' </li></ul><ul><li>Belgian incompetence </li></ul><ul><li>Short-sighted Governments and Bankers </li></ul>
  16. 17. 4. Back to the archive <ul><li>Interpretative implications of milestones narrative </li></ul><ul><li>Evidence in support of narrative </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pioneer: stress on early years </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Railway finance (documents and interpretation)‏ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Blind Spots </li></ul><ul><li>Evidence contradicting narrative </li></ul><ul><ul><li>African labour organization </li></ul></ul>
  17. 18. African Labour Organization (1)‏ <ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ 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). </li></ul></ul>
  18. 19. African Labour Organization (2)‏ <ul><li>Words </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fairness pays </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Africa without Africans </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Grudging acceptance: some problems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>African peculiarity </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Actions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Rhodesian precedent </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Robert Williams & Co in Africa </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Strained labour market: 1917, 1925 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ a reputation for pestilence and death” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Belgian innovations </li></ul></ul>
  19. 20. Overcoming Limitations <ul><li>Awareness of bias: assess reliability </li></ul><ul><li>Confrontation with other sources </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Archival sources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Business data </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Theoretical and historiographical advances </li></ul>
  20. 21. 5. The Robert Williams Group and the Southern African mining frontier <ul><li>Institutional aspects </li></ul><ul><li>Business Model </li></ul><ul><li>Performance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Expansion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Crisis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Consolidation and northward expansion </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Implications </li></ul>
  21. 22. The Robert Williams Group: institutional aspects <ul><li>Cluster of Free Standing Companies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Linking South Africa to the London capital market </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Management functions externalized </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Robert Williams & Co, Mining Engineers </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Corporate function </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Territorial organization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>From two clusters to one </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Control within the cluster </li></ul><ul><li>Enhanced importance Williams Papers </li></ul>
  22. 23. The Robert Williams Group: Business Model <ul><li>Finance and Exploration Companies </li></ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul><ul><li>ZEC: Rand reconstructions </li></ul><ul><li>Limited capital base, rapid turnover </li></ul>
  23. 24. Performance: Expansion <ul><li>1891-1895: Expanding cluster </li></ul><ul><li>“ We are having lots of difficulties, but no doubt marble palaces and steam-yachts will be the result of present inconvenience”. </li></ul><ul><li>H. Romilly, 1891. </li></ul><ul><li>Paper, not gold </li></ul><ul><li>Conflict and co-operation </li></ul>
  24. 25. Performance: Market Value
  25. 26. Performance: Crisis (1)‏ <ul><li>1895-96: Speculative bubble bursts </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Capitalization of dreams </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Initiative passes to London: swindles </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Market crash, Jameson Raid, Ndebele & Shona risings </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Narrowing of opportunities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Business model runs aground </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scarcity of capital for Rhodesian & Rand ventures </li></ul></ul>
  26. 27. Performance: Crisis (2)‏ <ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Robert Williams, 9 Oct 1895 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ We must go dead slow until the market improves sufficiently to allow us to float off subsidiary companies”. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Robert Williams, 31 Jan 1896 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ We must economise for a bit”. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Robert Williams, 24 Oct 1898 </li></ul></ul>
  27. 28. Performance: Consolidation and Northward Expansion (1)‏ <ul><li>1896-1899: Losses and disappointments </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Retrenchment Robert Williams & Co </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>URGF, Clark's Consolidated, ZRI </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Priced out of Rand </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Financial Consolidation: ZEC+ </li></ul><ul><li>New opportunities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Country risk vs. insider knowledge and business network </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>BSAC is in the same boat </li></ul></ul>
  28. 29. Performance: Consolidation and Northward Expansion (2)‏ <ul><ul><li>1898: Tanganyika Concessions Limited </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1900: Katanga Concession </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Out with the old, in with the new </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ 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”. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ 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” </li></ul></ul>
  29. 30. Performance: Consolidation and Northward Expansion (3)‏
  30. 31. The Robert Williams Group and the South African mining frontier <ul><li>Business is business </li></ul><ul><li>Boom and bust: regional economic dynamics </li></ul><ul><li>Future in Katanga </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Institutional aspects and business model </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Know-how </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Capital: mixed blessings of London market </li></ul></ul>
  31. 32. 6. Wider Relevance <ul><li>Impact on South and Central Africa </li></ul><ul><li>Globalisation and fragmentation </li></ul><ul><li>Business and Imperialism </li></ul><ul><li>Shifts in global mining </li></ul><ul><li>Gentlemanly capitalism </li></ul><ul><li>Networks and information flows </li></ul><ul><li>Cosmopolitan elites: culture and ideas </li></ul>