Alfred Beit
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Alfred Beit (15 February 1853 – 16 July 1906) was a Anglo-German gold and diamond magnate in South Africa, and a major donor and profiteer of infrastructure development on the African continent. He also donated much money to university education and research in several countries, and was the "silent partner" who structured the capital flight from post-Boer War South Africa to
Rhodesia Rhodesia (, ), officially from 1970 the Republic of Rhodesia, was an unrecognised state in Southern Africa Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Gene ...
, and the
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, named after his employee,
Cecil Rhodes Cecil John Rhodes (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining business magnate, magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rho ...
. Beit's assets were structured around the so-called Corner House Group, which through its holdings in various companies controlled 37 per cent of the gold produced at the Witwatersrand's goldfields in Johannesburg in 1913.See chapter 12 in Rönnbäck & Broberg (2019) Capital and Colonialism. The Return on British Investments in Africa 1869-1969 (Palgrave Studies in Economic History)


Life and career

Born and brought up in
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Hamburg
,
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Germany
, he was the eldest son and second of six children of an affluent Jewish-German citizen of Hamburg. His younger siblings included
Otto Beit Sir Otto John Beit, 1st Baronet, Order of St Michael and St George, KCMG, Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS (7 December 1865 – 7 December 1930) was a German-born British financier, philanthropist and art connoisseur. Life history and career Be ...
. Alfred Beit was an unpromising scholar and was apprenticed to , the Amsterdam diamond firm where he developed a talent for examining stones. Beit made his first fortune in property speculation. Responding to a demand for business premises, he bought a piece of land and built twelve corrugated iron sheds for offices and rented eleven out monthly and kept one for himself. Twelve years later he sold the land for a considerable profit. Beit was sent to
Kimberley, South Africa Kimberley is the Capital city, capital and largest city of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It is located approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Vaal River, Vaal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical ...
in 1875 by his firm to buy diamonds—following the diamond strike at Kimberley. He became a business friend of
Cecil Rhodes Cecil John Rhodes (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining business magnate, magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rho ...
through his role in the Kimberley Central Company. Beit was captivated by Rhodes' talk of 'big schemes'. Together, they proceeded to buy out digging ventures and to eliminate opposition such as
Barney Barnato Barney Barnato (21 February 1851 – 14 June 1897), born Barnet Isaacs, was a British Randlord, one of the entrepreneurs who gained control of diamond mining, and later gold mining, in South Africa from the 1870s. He is perhaps best remembered ...
. He rapidly became one of a group of financiers who gained control of the diamond-mining claims in the Central, Dutoitspan, and
De Beers De Beers Group is an international corporation that specializes in diamond Diamond is a Allotropes of carbon, solid form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure called diamond cubic. At Standard conditions for te ...

De Beers
mines. Rhodes was the active politician and Beit provided a lot of the planning and financial backing. Beit's diamond interests were mainly concentrated on Kimberley mine. He focused his main attention on the Kimberley Central Company aiming to expand its interests. He had a major role in the rise of Kimberley Central Company. In 1886 Beit extended his interests to the newly discovered goldfields of the
Witwatersrand The Witwatersrand () (locally the Rand or, less commonly, the Reef) is a , north-facing scarp in South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over Demographics of So ...

Witwatersrand
and met with great success. In his business ventures there he made use of financiers
Hermann Eckstein Image:Corner House00.jpg, Hermann Ludwig Eckstein (3 August 1847 – 16 January 1893) was a German-born British people, British mining magnate and banker. Life history Born in Hohenheim near Stuttgart, Germany to a Lutheran minister, he recei ...
and Joseph Benjamin Robinson, Sir Joseph Robinson. He founded the Robertson Syndicate and the firm of Wernher, Beit & Co. He imported mining engineers from the US and was among the first to adopt deep-level mining. Rhodes purportedly was granted concessions by Lobengula, as a result of which Beit founded the British South Africa Company in 1888. Beit became life-governor of De Beers and also a director of numerous other companies such as Rand Mines, Rhodesia Railways and the Beira Railway Company. His South-African assets formed the basis for the Corner House Group, which both controlled holding-companies like the Rand Mines and acted as an important network for several of the leading Randlords of the time. In 1888 Beit moved to London when he felt he was better able to manage his financial empire and support Rhodes in his Southern African ambitions. Beit moved into Tewin Water, Tewin, near Welwyn, a large Regency house with Victorian additions and 7,000 acres (28 km2), and a few miles away Julius Wernher bought Luton Hoo, with 5,218 acres (21.1 km2). In the 1890s, he had a mansion built in Park Lane – Aldford House. Inspired by Rhodes' imperialist vision, he took part in the planning and financing of the unsuccessful Jameson Raid of late 1895 which was intended to trigger a coup in the South African Republic in the Transvaal. As a result of this debacle, Rhodes resigned as Prime Minister, and both he and Beit were found guilty by the House of Commons inquiry. Beit was obliged to resign as director of the British South Africa Company, but was elected vice-president a few years later. With the death of Rhodes in 1902, Beit, as one of the trustees, helped control the enormous estate, currently being helped by the Oppenheimer family of
De Beers De Beers Group is an international corporation that specializes in diamond Diamond is a Allotropes of carbon, solid form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure called diamond cubic. At Standard conditions for te ...

De Beers
and Anglo American plc, Anglo-American. Beit never married and had no children. He died at Tewin Water on 16 July 1906 after seeing a rapid deterioration in his health. He left an estate of £8,049,886 (equivalent to £ billion in ).


The Beit Trust and other donations

Image:ImperialCollegeLondon.jpg, Imperial College, London During his lifetime, Beit made generous donations for scientific work and education. In 1905 he founded a chair of colonial history at the University of Oxford, which is now the ''Beit Professor of Commonwealth History, Beit Professorship of History of the British Commonwealth''. In 1906 he made the donation of two million mark to the stock capital of the ''Hamburgische Wissenschaftliche Stiftung'', a charity dedicated to spend its interest for the benefit of a precursor of the University of Hamburg. In his will he set up the Beit Trust through which he bequeathed large sums of money (£1,200,000) for infrastructure development in the former Northern and Southern Rhodesia, later modified to university education and research in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Significant infrastructure projects financed by the Trust include the Birchenough Bridge in the former Southern Rhodesia, named after Henry Birchenough, Sir Henry Birchenough, chairman of the Beit Trust from 1931 until 1937 and whose ashes are buried beneath the structure of the bridge. Ralph Freeman (1880–1950), Ralph Freeman, the bridge's designer, was also the structural designer on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and consequently the two bridges bear a close resemblance, although Birchenough is only two-thirds as long as the Australian bridge. It was built by Dorman Long and completed in 1935. At a length of 1,080 feet (329 m) it was the third longest single-arch suspension bridge in the world at the time. In recognition of his bequests the Royal School of Mines, a faculty of Imperial College London, erected a large memorial to Beit flanking the entrance to its building. The Imperial College residential halls on Prince Consort Road was named Beit Hall after him.


See also

* Otto Beit, Sir Otto Beit, 1st Bt (1865–1930), his brother * Alfred Lane Beit, Sir Alfred Beit, 2nd Bt (1903–1994), his nephew


References


Further reading

*
online
{{DEFAULTSORT:Beit, Alfred 19th-century German people 19th-century English people Businesspeople from Hamburg English businesspeople German businesspeople South African mining businesspeople Randlords English art collectors German art collectors 19th-century art collectors 20th-century art collectors South African art collectors Beitbridge Beitbridge District German Jews English Jews South African Jews English people of German-Jewish descent 1853 births 1906 deaths South African people of German-Jewish descent British mining businesspeople 19th-century South African businesspeople De Beers people