Hoisting the flag at Fort Salisbury

The First British Flag At Fort Salisbury (ca. 1890)

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Today in history of Zimbabwe, the first British flag is raised at Fort Salisbury. On September 12, 1890 Cecil Rhodes’ Pioneer Column trundled into Mashonaland to establish Fort Salisbury and the new colonial state named after its founder: Rhodesia. The day of the Column’s arrival later became a national holiday – Pioneers’ Day – between 1920 and 1979.

The next morning, at 10:00 am on September 13, 1890, a full dress parade of the Column was held. A seven-pounder gun fired a royal salute and Canon Balfour said a prayer as the Column’s Lieutenant Edward Tyndale-Biscoe hoisted the flag atop a kopje overlooking the site of the future capital, Fort Salisbury, now Harare.

Hoisting the flag at Fort Salisbury
Hoisting the flag at Fort Salisbury. The British South Africa Company Historical Catalogue & Souvenir of Rhodesia, Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg, 1936–37.
Union Jack flag used by the British South Africa Company, Rhodesia, 1890-1923

Life before the Pioneers Column

In 1890 when the Column first arrived, the land between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers was populated by the Shona and the Ndebele people, who claimed sovereignty. It is thought the Shona had inhabited the land for about 1,000 years. The Ndebele arrived in the 1830s, having migrated north from Natal after falling out with the Zulu King, Shaka.

In 1889, Cecil Rhodes, who had made a fortune in diamond mining in the Cape, set up the British South Africa Company to explore north of the Limpopo. He’d allegedly obtained exclusive mining rights from King Lobengula, through the Rudd Concession, in return for £100 a month, 1,000 rifles, 10,000 rounds of ammunition, and a riverboat. However, as far as King Lobengula was concerned he had not conferred land rights.

The first 200 settlers were each promised a 3,000-acre farm and gold claims in return for carving a path through Mashonaland. The Shona were too fragmented to resist and the British flag was raised at Fort Salisbury on 13 September 1890. The name Rhodesia was adopted in 1895. It became the British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923.

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