Imperialists without an empire?

Finnish Settlers in Late Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Rhodesia

in Journal of Migration History
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This article discusses settler identity formation, in the colonial polity known as Rhodesia, using Finnish nationals as a case study. It studies the involvement of Finns in natural resource extraction in Rhodesia at a time when the colonial economy and settler domination were still in their infancy, and examines both Finnish participation in colonial practices and the limitations of Finns as colonialists. White settlers in Rhodesia have typically been categorised as ‘Europeans’ partly because of their sense of representing a generalised idea of Western civilisation and partly in order to underline contrasts between black and white experiences in the history of colonialism. By focusing on the more specific provenance of the settlers (their nationality and country of origin), it is possible to reveal idiosyncrasies through which we can appreciate settler identity formation more precisely. Finnish settlers, in their various capacities as prospectors, soldiers, hunters and planters, adapted ideas and identities that cannot easily be disentangled from those of colonisers.




ߒW.V. Brelsford, ‘Editorial’, The Northern Rhodesia Journal I (1950–1952) 5–6, 6.


ߒRanger, Bulawayo burning, 23.


ߒKeppel-Jones, Rhodes and Rhodesia, 362–364.


ߒKeppel-Jones, Rhodes and Rhodesia, 370–371.


ߒRanger, Bulawayo burning, 23.


ߒGann and Henriksen, The struggle for Zimbabwe, 11.


ߒIan Phimister, ‘White miners in historical perspective: Southern Rhodesia, 1890–1953’, Journal of Southern African Studies 3:2 (1977) 187–206, 187.


ߒBlomstedt, ‘Boijer, Poijärvi’, 439.


ߒAugustine Birrell, ‘Finland and Russia’, Contemporary Review 78 (1900) 16–27, 17.


ߒEriksson, African diary, 8, 10. Finnish seamen deserting ships docking at Cape Colony ports was a phenomenon dating back to at least the early nineteenth-century. For further details see Kuparinen, An African alternative, 118–120.


ߒThompson, A history of South Africa, 115–117. Jameson was a medical doctor and a close friend and admirer of Cecil Rhodes, whose column of irregular mounted infantry attempted to invade the Transvaal in December 1895.


ߒEriksson, African diary, 20, 45–65.


ߒMichael Gelfand (ed.), ‘Diary of Dr. Richard Watson Middleton, 12th April, 1901, to 18th July, 1902’, The Central African Journal of Medicine, Supplement to 9:5 (May 1963) 12, diary entry 3 May 1901.


ߒEriksson, African diary, 66–91; Middleton, ‘Diary’.


ߒEriksson, African diary, 98, 100; Middleton, ‘Diary’.


ߒMichael Gelfand, ‘Preface’, in: Gelfand (ed.), ‘Diary of Dr. Richard Watson Middleton’, 5–6. Excepting a prospector called Savage, who died before he reached headquarter camp, and whose death was caused by malaria contracted in North-Eastern Rhodesia. Durham University (du), The Barker Research Library (brl), Grey Estate Records (gre), X/V142, Tanganyika Concessions Ltd. (tanks) Reports on the Discoveries Made by Mr. George Grey’s Expedition in Northern Rhodesia and Congo Free State, and Reports by J. R. Farrell, Mining Engineer, 5 January 1903, 15.


ߒGann and Duignan, White settlers in tropical Africa, 52–53; Quotation from Lord Curzon at ‘A dinner in his honour by the London Society, 6 April, 1906’, in: Desmond M. Chapman-Houston 1915 (ed.), Subjects of the day. Being a selection of speeches and writings by Earl Curzon of Kedleston (London 1915) 33–34. Of course, Curzon thought that such a life was the true calling only for the Anglo-Saxon race. (Loc. cit.).


ߒEriksson, African diary, 142.


ߒThornhill, Adventures in Africa, 165.


ߒKeppel-Jones, Rhodes and Rhodesia, 376–380.


ߒSee, for example, Nigel Worden, ‘Demanding satisfaction: violence, masculinity and honour in late eighteenth-century Cape Town’, Kronos 35:1 (2009) 32–47, 33–34.


ߒH. Ylikangas, ‘Major fluctuations in crimes of violence in Finland’, Scandinavian Journal of History 1 (1976) 81–103, passim. However, historians disagree about interpretations and explanations of levels of violence in Finland.


ߒGelfand, ‘Preface’, 4; du, brl, gre/X/V142, tanks, G. Grey, General Report 18–20.


ߒEriksson, African diary, 108, 110.


ߒEriksson, African diary, 271–272.


ߒBlomstedt, ‘Boijer, Poijärvi’, 442.


ߒQuoted in Lowry, ‘Rhodesia 1890–1980’, 118.


  • Building British identity? C.T. Eriksson, Katanga, c. 1906. Finland’s National Board of Antiquities (nba), Picture Collections (pc), 367/3. Hunting was part of Eriksson’s everyday life in Katanga. Eriksson secured a hunting permit from the Belgian authorities that allowed him to collect specimens for the Finnish Museum of Natural History. The photograph may have been taken by his Irish hunting friend Mick Mangan using Eriksson’s Sanderson field camera.

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  • ‘It is Christmas Day, 1901, and Boijer, a member of the expedition, is dressed up for the occasion. He stands at the now-completed shaft-head at Kansanshi.’ nba, pc, 367/3. Caption taken from Ted Scannell, ‘Pioneer of 1901 comes back to the copperbelt’, Horizon. The Magazine of the Rhodesian Selection of Trust Group of Companies, 3 (March 1961) 10–14, 12.

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