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Dinner for Cecil Rhodes

Following his exploits in Africa, Cecil Rhodes was feted by London Society. One of the events in the 1890's was a special dinner arranged by Sir Charles Mills in his honour at The Trocadero, on the 16th January 1895.

Cecil Rhodes, born in 1853, played a major political and economic role in colonial South Africa. He was a financier, statesman, and empire builder with a philosophy of mystical imperialism. Being a member of a large family, instead of attending a university, Rhodes went to South Africa in 1870 to be a farmer with his brother. He ended up a diamond miner while receiving a degree from Oxford. By 1888 Rhodes managed to solidly establish the De Beers consolidated Mines, Ltd. In 1891 the company owned ninety percent of the world's diamond mines - one can see why he was offered dinner at The Trocadero!

However 1895 was not to be a good year for Rhodes. He had actively pursued politics and in 1881 began serving in the parliament of the Cape Colony. Rhodes later received a charter from Queen Victoria for the British South Africa company, in order to develop new territory. The charter had no northern limit. Rhodes extended it into areas now known as Zambia, Malawi, and Botswana. Under his northern agenda he sought to unite the Boers and British in the South African parliament, of which he became prime minister in 1890. He once defined his policy as," equal rights for every civilized man south of the Zambezi." However in 1895, Rhodes resigned his premiership due to the failed military attempt on Transversal by Jameson, a Rhodes appointee. Jameson acted without proper consent, and the botched raid had a number of consequences. Bechuanwald and Rhodesia were taken over by the imperial government, the Dutch and British in the colony became more split than ever, and Jameson and colleagues were sent to prison.

This then was the man, who as Prime Minister of South Africa was being entertained at the Trocadero. It is no surprise that the menu was created for the occasion - with dishes such as Petite Marmite a la Rhodesia, Creme Jamieson (probably named after the officer named above...little did the company know what role he was to play later that year!), Saumon a la Tanganyika, and Croute aux fruits a la Livingstone. To see the full menu please click here or on the picture.

Sir Charles Mills, who organised the dinner for Cecil Rhodes, is equally fascinating and had even less luck in 1895 - two months after the dinner he died. However his life, and rise in status was remarkable.

Charles Mills was born in Ischl in Austria in 1825, was educated at Bonn and in Yorkshire, and entered the 98th Foot Regiment as a Private on 1 February 1843. He served in China and then in the Pubjab, where he was wounded on 13 June 1849 at the Battle of Chillianwallah. He subsequent progressed through the ranks and was Brigade Major of the first brigade of the British German Legion in 1855/6, before arriving at Cape Town in January 1858. He left Army service to become became sheriff of Kingswilliamstown and Secretary ot the Government of Kaffraria. He retired on pension in 1865, and stood for the Cape Parliament, being elected in 1866 to represent Kingswilliamstown. Charles Mills is bound to have met Cecil Rhodes at this time.

In October 1882, having left the Cape Parliament, Charles Mills was appointed the Agent General for the Cape Colony in London - a post he was to hold until his death, and as such he would have organised the Trocadero dinner for the Cape Prime Minister, Cecil Rhodes. He died on 31 March 1895 at 110 Victoria Street in London and is buried at Highgate Cemetary.

This menu has been a source of even greater pleasure for us. In 1996 the National Portrait Gallery in London wanted to create a diner to launch an exhibition on the explorer David Livingstone - the same as identified in the dessert above. We had just appeared on the BBC Radio Four food programe talking about the book, and the organiser contacted us to see if we could offer an unusual twist to the evening. We offered the menu, and three of the dishes were recreated from authentic Victorian recipes - which you can find here if you want to have your own Rhodes evening.

Footnote: Cecil Rhodes died in 1902. Although his political visions never came to be, his business endeavors made him very prosperous. He left in his will most of his wealth to Oxford University.

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