Centre for Continuing Education

Cecil Rhodes Course: Hero or Villain?

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The world as we know it today has been shaped by events of the past. Learn about history the smart way with History courses at CCE, The University of Sydney.

Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) was a British Imperialist and business man who is best remembered as the founder of the state named after him; Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He was a larger than life character and his story was pivotal to the development of southern Africa as we know it today. He created a monopoly on the production of diamonds and became one of the world’s richest men. Depending on one’s point of view he is a figure of praise (a wealthy entrepreneur and explorer) or of vilification (a rapacious exploiter who helped create an expanded British Empire and bring apartheid to southern Africa).


At the completion of this history course participants will have:

  1. Explored the character of Cecil Rhodes and what led him to create a personal empire.
  2. Investigated the history of southern Africa and the creation of the modern map.
  3. An appreciate the legacy of Rhodes.


Early days

Rhodes was born in Hertfordshire, England the fifth son of Reverend Francis Rhodes. He was a sickly child and received schooling under this father. Amidst fears that he was consumptive he was sent to South Africa where it was hoped the climate would improve his health. He joined his brother on a cotton farm but at age 18 (in 1873) he left for the diamond fields of Kimberley.


Rhodes prospered in Kimberley, eventually acquired all the mining operations there. With other mining friends he established De Beers Mining, making him one of the wealthiest men on earth. The depression of the mid 1870s saw Rhodes consolidate his interests with the belief that diamonds would be found in the harder strata located at deeper levels.


In 1880 Rhodes entered public life by taking a seat in the Cape Parliament for the predominantly Boer constituency of Barkly West. He subsequently became Prime Minister of the colony in 1890, during which time he displaced native people from their lands. He also initiated an attack on the Transvaal hoping to overthrow the Boer Government – this ended in disaster and forced Rhodes to resign.


Rhodes used his wealth to pursue his dream of an expanded British Empire to the north. He did this by obtaining mineral concessions from indigenous chiefs. Through association with the British Government he organised ‘protectorates’ as a way of obtaining security for mining operations. He tricked Lobengula, the King of the Ndebele, into giving mining concessions and then expanded his influence well beyond the Limpopo River into Central Africa.


By 1895 Rhodes' British South Africa Company had come to control the vast territory called ‘Rhodesia’. This comprised 1.1 million square km between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika. His aim had been British Control from Cairo to the Cape but this dream was to remain unfulfilled. Rhodes got his wish to be buried in the Matopo Hills near Bulawayo in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). His lasting legacies were the ‘Rhodes Scholarship’ at Oxford University and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

Intended Audience

This history course is suitable for personal interest adult learners, university students and active retirees who have an interest in history and Cecil Rhodes.

Delivery Style

This history course in Sydney will be delivered as a face-to-face, interactive lecture where questions and open discussions will be encouraged.

Recommended Reading

Anthony Thomas, Rhodes. Race for Africa, London, 1997


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Certificate of completion

What others say.

  • This course has an excellent presenter who involves the participants in discussion, listening to all sides of an argument and respecting individual’s opinions without fear or favour.