In August 1895 three Tswana paramount chiefs – Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen – left their homes in the protectorate of Bechuanaland and journeyed to London to meet with the new Conservative secretary of state for the colonies, Joseph Chamberlain. The chiefs had heard rumors that either the Cape Colony – under the prime ministership of Cecil Rhodes – or Rhodes’ British South Africa Company planned to absorb the protectorate and they determined to do all they could to prevent this taking place. In June they had signed a petition addressed to Chamberlain objecting to any kind of annexation and then they had resolved to make their case in person, hoping to raise support for their cause across Britain and put pressure on the government to uphold its promises to protect them; to let them, as the petition read, “remain under the Government of the Great Queen” and not be annexed to the Cape Colony or taken over by Rhodes’ company. 1
Chamberlain greeted his visitors on September 11, 1895, spending two hours with them as he heard their grievances. He then departed for a twomonth vacation in Europe, during which time Khama, Bathoen, and Sebele toured the British countryside, meeting with and speaking to local clergy and their congregations, missionary societies, and prominent figures in the humanitarian and progressive worlds concerned about the administration of British colonies in Africa. In their top hats and their bespoke suits these educated, Christian chiefs made a deep impression upon everyone they encountered. In the last days of their visit they breakfasted with guests hosted by the duke of Westminster, among them the future archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, Canon Wilberforce of Westminster Abbey, the marchioness of Ormonde, and two Ladies Cavendish from the prominent family of the duke of Devonshire. A more distinguished and high-born gathering would have been difficult to assemble. Moreover, the interests these breakfasters represented were precisely those Chamberlain looked to for electoral support. Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen had gathered to their side the very people the colonial secretary could not ignore, however much he might have liked to in this particular instance.