War Clouds

The shock of the Jameson Raid reinforced Julius's determination that the firm should keep out of what he called high politics. In a letter to Rouliot he made a significant remark, which would not perhaps have appealed to Cecil Rhodes: "We are all interested to maintain the [Transvaal] Republic because that keeps the land free to all nations." As early as February 1896, he was even contemplating withdrawing from the Rand, or at least reducing liabilities and risks. In the previous year the Banque Française de l'Afrique du Sud had been founded in Paris with a capital of 2 million, on the initiative of Jacques Siegfried and the much esteemed Baron Jacques de Gunzburg, and it was this bank that Julius felt might take over the responsibilities of Wernher, Beit in the deep levels. "We want to get out rather than get in," he told Rouliot. In 1889 investment had been a matter of tens of thousands; now it was a question of finding millions. For a start, to meet this crisis, Rand Mines issued 1 m.5 per cent bonds, of which Porgès and his associates, and various German banks and Rothschilds took about a third.

As soon as Lionel Phillips reappeared in England, he too suffered the lambastings of Labouchere's Truth. Like Beit, he was accused of "wantonly" plotting the Raid in order to depress the Stock Exchange for his own nefarious financial ends. "We have nothing to be afraid of", Julius told Rouliot on 29 May, "as our case regarding Stock Exchange transactions is almost absurdly good and pure, so good that people can hardly believe we did not act differently." His hope was that Kruger would "yield wisely here and there"; otherwise the second-rate mines, which were in the majority, had no chance of survival, due to "unnecessary, taxation".

But the Raid had polarized attitudes between the white communities and had alienated Boers living in Cape Colony as well as members of the opposition party in the Transvaal, thought once to have been sympathetic to the Uitlander cause. At Johannesburg a great dynamite explosion, causing many deaths, had once more stirred up the outcry against the "muddle" caused by the Republic's system of doling out monopolies, more especially in dynamite. In Britain the rights and wrongs of the Raid in the popular mind had been confused by the ambitions of the German Kaiser. Intellectuals and Radicals like Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, while not necessarily going all the way with "Labby" and Truth, were almost sorry that Jameson had not been hanged by Kruger, thus putting to an end all filibustering for a good decade; and they were cynical about Chamberlain's pretence of innocence. Margot Asquith wrote that "with the exception of a few people in Mayfair" everyone in 1896 combined to repudiate an enterprise which "covered England with ridicule and the friends of Mr Rhodes and Mr Chamberlain with confusion". When the Matabeles rose in Rhodesia and massacred whites, Blunt wished them "all possible good fortune" and hoped they would capture Rhodes. In the event they were brutally crushed by Rhodes, who thereby gained some helpful publicity.

Julius was looking for means of diversification outside South Africa, and during the next years he and his partners drew out large capital sums. Already by 1895 the firm held American securities, mainly in railways, and bonds issued in Argentina, Chile, Egypt, India, the Netherlands and Portugal -not to mention interests in Rhodesia and Mozambique. There was a large investment in trams ways worldwide. Sometime during 1896 Marconi offered the firm world rights in all his wireless inventions past, present and future, except in Italy, for 50,000. This was turned down, no doubt because of the huge investments that would be required for expansion.

On 17 July the official report on the Raid was published. As Julius put it, the principal blame was on Rhodes, "Beit next". "Dr J. is almost ignored and still he truly upset the applecart altogether it was a sickening affair." By the end of the month the markets were "quite merry again".

Beit was still not well, and living quietly. The main work in the firm devolved therefore on Julius. Lionel Phillips had perforce decided to stay permanently in England, and in due course became a junior partner in Wernher, Beit. FitzPatrick, however, remained in Johannesburg. Even though he was under oath not to take part in politics until June 1899, he could barely resist them, and was made head of the Corner House's Intelligence department. Obviously he enjoyed writing his long gossipy reports for London, and not surprisingly tended to be more frank with Beit. He was also beginning to write a book that was to become famous and a bestseller, The Transvaal from Within. Far from "yielding", Kruger in September issued a provocative order expelling from the Transvaal, which included Johannesburg, all aliens who were a danger to public peace. An act was also passed for controlling immigration. The British in protest sent a naval unit to Delagoa Bay.

1897 was the year of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. In January Julius was summoned by the Prince of Wales to Marlborough House to discuss arrangements, and no doubt contributions, for the forthcoming celebrations, and also for the Prince's Hospital Fund. Other personalities present were the Lord Mayor, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Rothschild and the banker E. A. Hambro. The Prince was evidently impressed by Julius and invited him -with Beit- to stay at Sandringham in June. First there were races to watch. Julius wrote to Birdie :

9th June 1897 Sandringharn

Darling, only a line to tell you that I arrived safely and looked at the horses. We went straight to the Stand, had an excellent lunch in a tent. For choice walked here -2 miles- had tea, introduced to the lady of the house and then went for a long walk over the most beautiful grounds. Dinner at 8:15. A good many men staying here but hardly any ladies except attendance. Unfortunately there was a great deal of rain.

The next morning he wrote again before breakfast.

We dined all on one long table, the Prince and Princess [Alexandra] sitting vis à vis in the middle and two gentlemen of the household taking the heads at the end of the table, and the small fry took seats anyhow -without name cards-wherever they found an empty chair - this after the royal party was seated. The Duke of York and his wife, Prince and Princess Christian of Denmark, and Princess Victoria constitute the Royalties beside the hosts. After dinner only cigarettes, and join the ladies about 1/2 hour after they left; then perhaps half hour drawing room where everybody was, and remained standing - then billiard room and bowling alley which are all most comfortable and handy. Dinner excellent and the Prince splendid jolly host talking to everybody -mixing his own liquor etc. etc. Servants did not appear any more after we went to billiard room, and the Duke of Portland pulled his own cork and offered me a Johannes as I was helping myself to whisky. I don't know many of the people but one talks to everybody sans gêne and I suppose I will find out their names bye and bye. The evening finished by Beit playing in a bowling match - Lord W. Beresford having backed the other man for a pound. The whole thing was really a joke as both men previously had played very badly. It was amusing how the fact of a match roused the Prince and he chalked for Beit whilst the Prince of D. chalked for the other man. I am glad B. won!

Before long Julius and Beit were again guests of the Prince and Princess, this time at Marlborough House. Presumably Birdie was not at any of these functions because she had not yet been presented at Court. However, this was soon put right, her sponsor being Mrs Euan Smith.

Bath House was not yet known for its lavish parties (soon to come, however), and for the moment Julius and Birdie did little formal entertaining. Every Christmas Birdie would give one of her "Happy Evenings" for some 150 poor girls, each child receiving a doll. These dolls were "dressed by members of the household", in other words by Birdie's "slave", or secretary-cum-companion, Margaret Pryce, whom she had inherited from her mother. The invaluable Pryce was a key figure in the Wernher household for years to come.

Florrie Phillips, fiery and volatile as ever, obviously felt demoted after leaving Johannesburg. It was rather a case of Mirror, Mirror between her and Birdie, and she was desperate to be presented at Court. She had to wait until 1898, and although flatteringly sponsored by the Duchess of Abercorn (the Duke being President of the Chartered Company in place of Rhodes), she was only presented to Princess Christian instead of the aged Queen Victoria.

Some of the Randlords, past and present, such as Max Michaelis, Jim Taylor and Abe Bailey were branching out into country estates of many hundreds of acres. Siggy Neumann outdid them all by acquiring Invercauld near Balmoral, to which he would sometimes be invited. The Phillipses, with a London house in Grosvenor Square, bought Tylney Hall, a vast mock Tudor mansion near Basingstoke, complete with ballroom, oak panelling and an Italian garden, standing in 2,500 acres. As for the Wernhers, they were content for the time being to rent country houses for the summer. One year they took Kimpton Hoo, in Hertfordshire; another year it was Swallowfield near Reading.

Derrick was still the "apple" of Julius's eye, almost to the exclusion of the other two children. Aged seven, he had a passion for steam engines. "He is so full of spirits," Julius wrote to Birdie, who was on a cure at Marienbad. "He is a wonderful boy, and it is "Wonne" [bliss] to see his sweet eager face." His godfather Alfred Beit "doted" on him, and both Julius and Beit visualized Derrick as their successor in the firm.

The Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry had opened in February and lasted some months. Astonishingly, Chamberlain -who had been opposed to any inquiry whatsoever- sat on it when many thought he should have been the one on trial. Labouchere and Sir William Harcourt, two of the prime antagonists of Rhodes and Beit, also sat on the Committee -Rhodes being now to Labouchere the "figurehead of a gang of Hebrew financiers" with whom he had shared the profits after manipulating the Stock Exchange. A great number of half-truths, untruths, and even whole truths were uttered on oath, and sometimes Rhodes refused to reply at all. The result was that Rhodes was censured but let off without punishment, and Chamberlain was absolved. Blunt's scathing comment on Chamberlain's attitude towards Rhodes holds good to this day: "Manage the matter in your own way, but remember I know nothing about it." Really, it was a case of mutual blackmail. If one of the pair held back, the other would do likewise. Rhodes even remained a Privy Councillor.

Beit was obviously nervous when sent for. His answers were patently evasive at times, but some did at least illuminate certain interesting topics. Asked what he felt as a German citizen about Rhodes's imperialistic schemes, his reply was: "My views are that the interests of Germany in South Africa are identical with those of England." Both countries, he maintained, were trying to bring about a better state of affairs in the Transvaal, and were anxious to get rid of an "incapable and corrupt Government". (This was a subject on which he and Julius were often questioned.) Why, as a German, should he oppose German intrigues in the Transvaal? Beit's answer was that German political aspirations in Southern Africa were "mere moonshine". The best service he could do for his native land was, mixing his metaphors, to "choke off rainbow-chasing" so that German commerce might flourish under the British flag.

German political aspirations were of course certainly not "moonshine". After all, 200,000 had been taken up by the German banks in the Corner House's latest issue.

Beit told the Committee that he had always advised the Uitlanders to proceed constitutionally, but in the end saw that it was hopeless with such an administration in power. He had come to realize that arising was inevitable. After he had given the money to Phillips he did not discuss how it was to be spent, nor did he know to what use it had been put until some while after the Raid. The money was to "assist the people of Johannesburg to get their rights and to save the industry from ruin".

Where, then, did the money come from? "It came out of the firm." Out of his business? "Yes." He said that he did not "intimate" to any of his co-directors the facilities given to Johannesburg. Nor did he even discuss the matter with them.

So one concludes that the money had been in the form of an open credit out of Corner House funds. Nothing was said about how the rifles were paid for in England.

Beit was asked if he was prompted at all by financial considerations. "No, certainly not." He had had no communication with the Colonial Office. He did, however, have discussions with Rutherfoord Harris and Rochfort Maguire, colleagues of Rhodes, and had various conversations about Johannesburg with Flora Shaw.

When Rhodes had seen Phillips at Groote Schuur, it was agreed that the expenses should be divided equally, 200,000 each. (It was later thought that the Raid had cost Beit 400,000.) Beit spoke about the franchise question and taxation, which if reduced could have helped employment, both black and white. He had wanted the native laws to be in more able hands. "The natives are very badly treated by the Landdrost [magistrature], and our object was that these laws should be carried out in a more humane way in order to attract more native labour to the fields."

Then came the expected clash with Labouchere -who had already been forced to withdraw his "not even honour among thieves" speech in the Commons, but had continued with his "vile attacks" in Truth and even in the Paris paper Le Gaulois, referring to "dangerous and discredited sharks". As the atmosphere heated up, the Committee's Chairman complained: "I think this is getting very irregular," and the room had to be cleared. [The ritual of clearing the room was lampooned in the House of Commons: "This is, I think we may assume,/ An incomplete affair;/For whilst they often "clear the room"/They never clear the air."] Beit demanded that Labouchere should substantiate his accusations or withdraw them. He declared on oath that it was utterly false that he had made "bear sales" before the Raid, and offered to give the Committee access to his firm's books.

Later Labouchere attempted to trap Phillips, who admitted that since arriving in Johannesburg he had made a large fortune for himself, and that the firm was now worth many millions. So, said Labouchere, referring to the allegations about discriminating taxation, "you complain that although millions were made, more millions might have been made." "Certainly", replied Phillips with dignity. "I was not suffering pecuniarily myself. I did not join the revolution on a money thing". "That is a matter of opinion", retorted Labouchere.

Beit and the rest of the "gang" were also let off, and Beit was invited to Sandringham. The "few people in Mayfair" also bombarded him with invitations, and he went to the Duchess of Devonshire's magnificent Jubilee Ball dressed as a seventeenth- century Stadtholder of Nassau. At that period he was far more socially in demand than the Wernhers. The joke at Westminster was that the Inquiry was a "Lying-in- State". Labouchere had not come out well, and was attacked in papers such as the Critic (backed financially by Wernher, Beit). Undaunted, he produced his own Alternative Report on the findings of the Committee, claiming that Rhodes and Beit deserved severe punishment. "These two men, the one a British statesman, the other a financier of German nationality, disgraced the good name of England, which it ought to be the object of all Englishmen to maintain pure and undefiled."

As it happened, the firm had made money during the boom of 1895, not perhaps quite in the way that Labby had thought, and it was Julius as the partner mainly responsible for the firm's investment policy who had been responsible. Julius told Rouliot that during the boom he had got rid of "rubbish", or doubtful ventures. On 5 December 1895 he had written to Phillips: "There is no pleasure in helping to push share values artificially, and I am afraid we have not been quite guiltless in that respect on our side; it is tempting but not worthy of a great firm."

Labouchere, who himself was not averse to using Truth for influencing share prices, was still on the attack three years later, during the Boer War, which many came to see as the inevitable consequence of the Jameson Raid. By then he had gained plenty of sympathizers. But at least it is now clear that the role of the Randlords in 1895 was not "monolithic". The mine-owners and capitalists were not united then -Barnato and Robinson, for instance, were not among the plotters, and small mine-owners kept their distance. Moreover, as the historian R. v. Kubrick has since pointed out, the firm of Wernher, Beit-Hermann Eckstein was by far the soundest in Johannesburg, and thus the least vulnerable to the effects of heavy taxation. They also had the most to lose. In sum, the verdict on Julius Wernher's original involvement in the Raid, and any conscious preparation for it, must surely be "Not Proven" -though with a qualification, which is according to such evidence as is still available. Beit had regarded Rhodes as a supreme authority in politics, invariably right. His motives for supporting Rhodes before the Raid were complex, in part idealism, in part -absurd as it may seem -mere loyalty, and they probably will always remain a mystery. Indeed they could even have been due less to hard-headed political or personal financial reasons than to his sense of personal responsibility towards foreign investors. Still, one cannot but be surprised that Julius had not been dragged into the Inquiry.

Beit's health continued to suffer. As FitzPatrick wrote in retrospect, the subsequent campaign against this "nervous, essentially modest man" gave him the reputation of a kind of ogre, the arch-capitalist millionaire who would sacrifice everything to making more and more money. When FitzPatrick said that Beit was "generous in spirit", with gifts of "forbearance, forgiveness and all that we arrogantly term the great Christian spirit of kindliness and consideration for others", it was not just white wash. Such things were repeated many times after Beit's death, and not only in the business world. And, as will be seen, it was Beit, not Labouchere, who won posthumous public gratitude.

Friedrich Eckstein told Lord Rothschild that a chief cause of the mining financiers' unpopularity was the "unspeakable vulgarity" of the Barnato family. There was a joke, possibly even true, that when a great society hostess in London invited Barnato to come upstairs and look at her Watteau he assumed that she was referring to part of her anatomy. His finances in fact became extremely precarious. He was frequently depressed and took to drink. On 23 July 1897 he committed suicide, throwing himself overboard on a liner not far from Madeira. He remains and was considered at the time one of the most colourful and vivid characters of all the Randlords.