The little cottage near Cape Town where Cecil Rhodes decamped to holiday, and where he died aged 49...

Rhodes' pretty little thatched cottage overlooking a road, railway line and the sea in Muizenberg. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Cecil Rhodes was a life-force that bestrode the African continent at the height of European colonialism. His amoral ambition and belief in the primacy of the British Empire lead him to enormous wealth and power, yet he chose to holiday in a little thatched cottage on the far False Bay side of Table Mountain. It's where he spent summer holidays, and where just three years after buying the cottage he died in the front bedroom, aged 49, in March 1902. 

In the current parlance Cecil Rhodes is toxic, largely because he thought the Anglo-Saxon race was superior to others, and his sculduggery and deciept - especially in connection with the Jameson Raid, which was a Rhodes backed dash and grab incursion into Paul Kruger's Transvaal Republic that hoped to usurp the Transvaal into the Empire. It ended ignominiously in the raiding party's surrender and Rhodes retiring his Prime Ministership. Looking back from 2017, Cecil Rhodes is far from likeable, but his life was a product of his times and no less remarkable for that.

Portrait by Mortimer Menpes, and Punch magazine's Colossus of Rhodes cartoon 

Places like his cottage have been given heightened significance recently due to various controversies around keeping statues and memorials now that their subjects are loathed by significant chunks of society. Student bodies have faught to remove Rhodes statues from their campuses - though ironically they're there because Rhodes played a large role in setting up academic institutions and providing the Rhodes Scholarships, some of which are still active today. The protests have become violent in the USA where many pro-Confederacy statues in the south are being removed from display.    

Yet a former home of a famous (or infamous) figure seems a useful tool for scholars in their attempt to understand the past, for historians amatuer and otherwise, and to curious tourists prepared to scratch historical underbellies rather than sit on a beach. A good home museum provides context to a life and unlike any bronze bust, presents rather than glorifies someone's life and times. Certainly this undervisted little museum and its volunteer staff feel a harmless enough illumination of this deeply controversial man. 

The original De Beers boardroom table is in the cottage/ Photo My Bathroom Wall

Rhodes was born a vicar's son in the Hertfordshire town of Bishop's Stortford on July 5 1853. He developed tuberculosis and arrived in South Africa at the age of 17 in order to nurse his health on his brother's cotton farm, but both brothers abandoned the farm in favour of chancing their arms at the Griqualand West diamond rush. 

They established claims and struck lucky, and by the time Cecil was 35 he'd added another million square miles of Africa to British control - which included the creation of Rhodesia (namesd after him, and now Zimbabwe), he controlled De Beers (one of the largest diamond companies in the world), was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, and was a good way to achieving his dream of a 'Cairo to Cape Town' railway running soley through territory of the British Empire.

He commissioned the young Herbert Baker, an English architect in the Arts and Craft Movement mould, to build the grand Groote Schuur in 1898 in Rondebosch, which was for a long time after his death the official residence of South Africa's president. But Rhodes had unusual tastes - his favourite lunch was cold mutton and champagne for example, and having cut his teeth rough-sleeping in Kimberly and the bush meant that he preferred the simplicity and almost Spartan surrounding of his Muizenberg cottage.

Is it me, or do Rhodes' legs look comically strewn over Jameson on his right. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It's the scale and atmosphere of the cottage that makes the impression, rather than the contents per se, feeling more of a museum than a home. But the property had fallen into extreme disrepeair after Rhodes' death and the contents have been added to from other Rhodes properties, including items likely to have been close to his heart, like his diamond-weighing scales and the personal carry chest that he first arrived to South Africa with. 

The narrow seaside strip at Muizenberg might seem an unlikely holiday venue for the imperial great and good, but the extention of the railway line from Cape Town to Muizenberg in 1882 led to many seaside cottages sprouting up in the area. Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, and Agatha Christie were regular visitors too - Christie heading here to surf most days while she stayed in Cape Town apparently.

The cottage's front death-bedroom and exterior. Photos My Bathroom Wall

After a funeral service the coffin was taken by special train to Cape Town, and the carriage was draped in black velvet and purple silk. Carrying many of his close friends, the train made its way north through South Africa and on into Bulawayo, then in Rhodesia, and then by ox-wagon to his resting place in the Matopo Hills along a 25-kilometres long roadway dug in the preceding days by a throng of Matabele workers. The coffin was then set into the dome of rock at 'World's View', or what locals call Marindidzimu - 'the haunt of the ancestral spirits'.  


One more thing....At this time of huge controversy in the US over its pro-Confederacy statues, the likenesses of Cecil Rhodes have also been envoloped in contentious fighting over their appropriateness in the 21st Century.

He was a man very concerned by his own legacy and despite being a mediocre student, put a great deal of thought, time and money into setting up an educational legacy.

Aerial view of the Rhodes Memorial at Cape Town's Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens 

Rhodes purchased Kirstenbosch in 1895 and was bequeathed to the nation in his will. Sir Herbert Baker and Rudyard Kipling chose the side on the slopes of the Devil's Peak, and Baker then designed the grandiose memorial that opened in 1912. The restaurant and tea room behind is well worth a visit Rhodes Memorial.

The thinking-pose statue of Rhodes on the day of its removal from the Cape Town University campus 

The bust of Rhodes inside the memorial has been vandalised, while the statue of Rhodes at the University of Cape Town's Jameson Hall steps became the focus of protests spearheaded by the 'Rhodes Must Fall' group, in March 2015. It has now been removed for 'safekeeping'.

The UK's Oriel College in Oxford also saw a campaign to remove the Rhodes statue there, but this was ultimately unsuccessful after pressure from donors threatening to withdraw their financial support to the college.

Rhodes protected by wire mesh - though probably from pigeons - at Oriel College Oxford

The Rhodes Museum in his home town of Bishop's Stortford illustrates the flux in feelings towards Rhodes. It incorporated the building where he was born, was only attracting a couple of visitors a week by the 1990s, and eventually closed and fell into disrepair. It's now the Rhodes Arts Complex and there's a plaque to commemorate his birth.

puzzle If visiting Cape Town you should definitely make the effort to drive the loop south around the Cape of Good Hope and the False Bay settlements of Simon's Town and Muizenberg. The large broad beach is home to surfing in South Africa and a great place to learn to surf. Surf schools include Gary's Surf School, Surf Shack, and Stoked Surf School. There are also many historic buildings, a surfie boho vibe, and good opportunities for whale watching, from stopping points on the coast road, or right from the beach. 
31 Cape Town Airport is 30 kilometres northeast of Muizenberg and handled 4.5 million passengers in 2016. There are flights across South Africa, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, with airlines including SA Express, Kulula, Mango and FlySafair.
weather The best time to visit the Cape Town area is during the dry summer months from October to April, with January and February being the warmest with an average of 25°C. Temperatures will likely be below 20 with more than 10 days rain per month in May-September. 

The Rhodes Cottage is at 246 Main Road, in the small seaside village of Muizenberg, about a 30-minute drive south from Cape Town, or 20 minutes north from Simon's Town. See Muizenberg Tourism. Places to stay include the Bella Ev GuesthouseAdmiralty B&B, and the African Soul Surfer backpacker lodge.

Victorian beach huts at Muizenberg, now a hip beach resort