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Churchills in Africa

'The period of the 1890s and early 1900s, when South Africa cast its strongest spell... makes a good story, and Mr Roberts has told it well, in fluent style and with an impartiality that is rare in anyone writing on so perennially controversial a subject.'

Times Literary Supplement

`A clever and amusing piece of biographical reconstruction which not only puts Winston Churchill's exploits in the Boer War in new perspective but contains a shamingly hilarious account of his father's visit to Mashonaland in search of gold in 1891.’

Sunday Times

`Dramatic and most readable . . . The author illuminates the story of Winston Churchill's capture, escape and return to battle with a valuable commentary of his own.'

Sunday Telegraph

For the Churchill family, the 1890s were fateful years. The first half of the decade saw the tragic decline and death of Lord Randolph Churchill; the second half launched his young son, Winston, on his spectacular career.

Both events were influenced by the turbulent state of affairs prevailing in South Africa—a place then attracting the attentions of ambitious men throughout the world. It offered not only riches but the chance of political involvement and military renown; behind the glitter of Kimberley's diamonds, the Transvaal's gold and the opening-up of Rhodesia, a situation was developing which led inevitably to the Anglo-Boer War. Such a set of circumstances proved irresistible to the spirited Churchills.

In his last book, Cecil Rhodes and the Princess, Brian Roberts threw a new light on a little-known aspect of Rhodes's life. Here he shows how, in their various ways, Lord Randolph, his remarkable sister, Lady Sarah Wilson, and the young Winston made their mark on the African scene. Though their stories have been told before, Mr. Roberts sets the results of his own unsparing research against the earlier versions with revealing results.

Lord Randolph's elaborate expedition to Mashonaland in 1891, though ostensibly a patriotic venture connected with state-aided emigration, is shown also to have been a desperate attempt to "strike it rich" by a man who, four years out of office and extremely short of money, had formed his own gold prospecting syndicate. Far from making him an immediate fortune, his tour was an ignominious failure. His tactless comments in conversation and in dispatches to a London newspaper exacerbated Boers and Britons alike, provoking endless controversy and friction. The adventures of his courageous sister, Lady Sarah Wilson—known as the "heroine of Mafeking"—are here told in full for the first time.

Winston Churchill's exploits in South Africa as correspondent, escaped prisoner of war and army officer are well-known but Mr. Roberts fills in many gaps (some no doubt deliberate) in My Early Life and puts into new perspective such important points as whether he broke his parole, was he armed when arrested, and did the Boers deliberately let him escape. Winston's mother, brother and cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, also figure, though less prominently, in this immensely lively account of Churchills in Africa.

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