The Rhodes Colossus

The Rhodes Colossus is an editorial cartoon illustrated by English cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and published by Punch magazine in 1892. It alludes to the Scramble for Africa during the New Imperialism period, in which the European powers, beginning in 1884, expanded their colonial expansion in Africa by dividing the continent up amongst themselves.

The Rhodes Colossus
See adjacent text.
Striding from Cape Town to Cairo
ArtistEdward Linley Sambourne, Punch
SubjectCecil Rhodes
Colossus of Rhodes, imagined in a 16th-century engraving by Martin Heemskerck, part of his series of the Seven Wonders of the World

The image depicts British business magnate Cecil Rhodes as a giant standing over the continent holding a telegraphic line, a reference to his desire to build a "Cape to Cairo" rail and telegraph line and connect most of the British colonies in Africa.[1] It is a visual pun based on the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


The Rhodes Colossus was drawn by English cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne, and first appeared in Punch magazine in 1892. It was widely reprinted,[2] and has since become a standard illustration in history texts.[3]

The cartoon was published in the 10 December 1892 edition of Punch, accompanied by a recent excerpt from The Times about a Rhodes plan to extend an electrical telegraph line from Cape Town to Cairo. The excerpt from The Times reads:

Mr. Rhodes announced that it was his intention, either with the help of his friends or by himself, to continue the telegraph northwards, across the Zambesi, through Nyassaland, and along Lake Tanganyika to Uganda. Nor is this all.... This colossal Monte Cristo means to cross the Soudan ... and to complete the overland telegraph line from Cape Town to Cairo; that is, from England to the whole of her possessions or colonies, or 'spheres of influence' in Africa.[4]

The cartoon and excerpt were followed by a piece of satirical verse by Edwin J. Milliken, on the character and ambitions of Rhodes.[3] Satirical verses and stories often accompanied cartoons in Punch magazine.[5] In the verse, Rhodes is described as a "Director and Statesman in one" and a "Seven-League-Booted Colossus" that stands "O'er Africa striding from dark end to end, to forward black emancipation." He is also described as a "shrewd trader" and a "diplomat full of finesse and sharp schemes with a touch of the pious Crusader".[5]

The Rhodes as Colossus pun used in this artwork was a well-known joke that originated in South Africa and that Punch had used before, as well as many others.[3]


Sambourne illustrated this visual pun to depict Cecil Rhodes as the ancient Greek statue the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, following the traditional (and architecturally unlikely) depiction of the Colossus with wide-set legs across Rhodes harbour (above).

Rhodes measures with the telegraphic line the distance from Cape Town (at his right foot) in South Africa to Cairo (at his left foot) in Egypt, illustrating his broader "Cape to Cairo" concept for further colonial expansion in Africa. In his right hand Rhodes holds a pith helmet with a rifle slung around his right shoulder.

Rhodes stands in a powerful, open armed stance. This has been seen by scholars an indication of his power and influence during the European colonisation of Africa. His giant size indicates his larger than life aspirations and desire for further influence in the continent.


An American cartoon published in 1898, titled Colossus of the Pacific; depicting US imperialism in Asia after the American victory in the Spanish-American War, and making a deliberate reference to Sambourne's cartoon

The cartoon quickly became widely referenced in historical texts as a illustrated representation of the Scramble for Africa, and the New Imperialism era as a whole. The original context of a proposed telegraph line is rarely mentioned in such reproductions, which take the "Cape to Cairo" concept more generally.[3]

In Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism, in Colonial Africa, Rhodes is introduced as the "future South African politician and diamond magnate" who claimed he "would annex the planets" if he could.[6] The South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro parodied the cartoon in a 2009 work by placing Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in place of Rhodes holding up Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the-then Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (as a marionette) while the Dalai Lama looks on from Asia.[7] The cartoon satirized Sino-African relations in general, and recent China–South Africa relations in particular, after the Dalai Lama was denied a visa to attend an international peace conference in Johannesburg, a move that was perceived to be the result of Chinese diplomatic pressure.[8][9]

In 2013, political cartoonist Martin Rowson referenced Sambourne's cartoon in an satirical illustration published on 1 February in The Guardian on British Prime Minister David Cameron's policies regarding Algeria and the French intervention in Mali.[10]


The cartoon has become one of the most frequently used images to represent the era of New Imperialism and the European colonisation of Africa. Rhode's legacy in modern-day South Africa has been described by scholar Patrick Bond as "one of the world's most lucrative, and destructive",[11] referencing the numerous fraudulent and misleading treaties he signed with various African peoples which ceded portions of their territory to him.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Crossette, Barbara (13 November 1983). "AN AFRICAN JOURNEY, FROM THE CAPE TO CAIRO (Published 1983)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  2. ^ Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880–1910
  3. ^ a b c d Richard Scully, ‘Constructing the Colossus: the Origins of Linley Sambourne’s Greatest Punch Cartoon’, International Journal of Comic Art, Volume 14, No.2, Fall 2012, pp.120–142.
  4. ^ "Mr. Rhodes and British South Africa". The Times. 30 November 1892. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b Punch, Volume 103, 10 December 1892
  6. ^ Hochschild, Adam (1998). King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 41. ISBN 9780618001903.
  7. ^ "The Rhodes Colossus – 118 Years Later". Zapiro. 5 April 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Dalai Lama denied visa for South Africa peace conference". CNN. 23 March 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  9. ^ "Tibetans blame China for Dalai Lama visa denial". Mail & Guardian. 23 March 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  10. ^ "Cameron's African adventure". The Guardian. 1 February 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  11. ^ Bond, Patrick (2019). "In South Africa, "Rhodes Must Fall" (While Rhodes' Walls Rise)". New Global Studies. 13 (3): 335–350. doi:10.1515/ngs-2019-0036 – via JSTOR.
  12. ^ Getz, Trevor R.; Streets-Salter, Heather (2011). Modern Imperialism and Colonialism: A Global Perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc. pp. 229, 238. ISBN 978-0-321-42409-9.

Further readingEdit