An intricate web of relationships: Milner’s Kindergarten

I was recently asked what I thought about Jan Smuts’ relationship with the Kindergarten. As with every answer I tend to give, it’s not straightforward to just say ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent’. It evolved.

Milner’s Kindergarten was a group of young Oxford graduates who were recruited to help Lord Milner resettle the Transvaal after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (South African War or 1899-1902 War). Many went on to form the Round Table which was an organisation aimed at

See chapter 4 of Carroll Quigley’s book The Anglo-American Establishment (1981) provides some interesting background to the formation of the Kindergarten suggesting it was a Rhodes-Milner Secret Society. In addition to the main group of Kindergarten, another 5 became associated with it due to their time in South Africa.

Below is a list of the 18 men – courtesy of Carroll to which I have added their achievements before answering the question about Smuts’ relationship with them. For students of South African in the early 20th century, many names will be familiar.

Patrick Duncan (later Sir Patrick) 1870-1946; barrister, connected with mining magnates in particular George Farrar; later Governor General of South Africa
Richard Feetham 1874-1965; SA Judge, formation of Wits University
Philip Henry Kerr (later Lord Lothian) 1882-1940 Private secretary to Lloyd George 1916-1921, later Ambassador to USA
Robert Henry Brand (later Lord Brand)1878-1963 wrote The Union of South Africa (1909); Director of Lloyds Bank
Lionel Curtis 1872-1955 ran Round Table after Milner’s death; wrote The Commonwealth of Nations
Geoffrey Dawson (until 1917 Robinson)1874-1944 edited The Times 1912-1919
John Buchan (later Lord Tweedsmuir) 1875-1940 author, Ministry of Information, wrote Official history of South Africa’s involvement in World War 1; Governor General Canada (archive)
Dougal Orme Malcolm (later Sir Dougal) 1877-1955 British South Africa Company, Colonial Office
William Lionel Hichens 1874-1941 Businessman
John Dove 1872-1934 Henry Brand published The Letters of John Dove
Basil Williams 1867-1950 – author of Botha, Smuts and South Africa
Lord Basil Blackwood 1870-1917 Killed near Ypres
Hugh Archibald Wyndham 1877-1961; in SA 1901-1923
George Vandaleur Fiddes (later Sir George) 1858-1925 Permanent Undersecretary Colonial Office; wrote The Dominions and Colonial Office (1926)
John Hanbury-Williams (later Sir John) 1859-1946 Military Secretary to Milner during the Anglo-Boer War
Main Swete Osmond Walrond 1870-1927 Milner’s Private Secretary; Arab Bureau
Fabian Ware (later Sir Fabian) 1869-1949 Founder of Commonwealth War Graves Commission
William Flavelle Monypenny 1866-1912

The five additional men:
Leopold Amery 1873-1955 journalist with the Times during Anglo-Boer War, 1919 Under Secretary of State Colonial Office, Politician
Edward Grigg (later Lord Altrincham) 1879-1955 Private Secretary to Lloyd George, Governor of Kenya 1925
H.A.L. Fisher 1865-1940 politician and historian (the secret elite of All Souls)
Edward Frederick Linley Wood (later Lord Irwin; Lord Halifax) 1881-1959 Viceroy of India
Basil Kellett Long 1878-1944; newspaper editor in SA and Britain, wrote biography on Smuts: In Smuts’ Camp; The Framework of Union

When the Kindergarten first arrived in South Africa, Smuts would have been very wary of them given their connection to Milner. The feelings expressed by ex-President Steyn were probably in similar vein to Smut. Steyn wrote to Smuts on 27 May 1906 (Hancock vol 2, p308):

… the difficulty was not to know what to say, but what not to say, becaue when I think of that man I almost lose all self-control. I see in today’s paper that he and Chamberlain have again been busy fabricating history.

This was in reply to Smuts’ letter (p302) of 4 May 1906 in which he said in response to a speech Steyn had given:

Perhaps Milner was not worth so much of your powder, but his policy still haunts the land, and I know of no better remedy against it than your address.

After Milner left in 1905, many of the Kindergarten remained in South Africa under the new Governor/High Commissioner Lord Selborne. During this time, their relationship with Smuts and the other Boer leaders began to change. Many helped see the four territories through to Union in 1910 and as noted above, two remained in the country, often in correspondence with Smuts, whilst others made regular visits and continued working in the country.

In the Smuts’ letters, Lionel Curtis wrote to Smuts on 25 April 1906 asking him (private and personal) whether he would be prepared to sit on a committee to help find a solution to the Burgher Settlements which constituted 1% of the white population. This group of people was seen to be economically unable to provide for themselves. Curtis was selecting a few individuals who would be able to focus on the issue at hand and not get side-tracked.

By the end of the 1914-1918 war, Smuts was reconciled to Milner, the two sitting on the War Cabinet – Milner having worked the way for Smuts to do so – and worked together for Empire at the Treaty of Versailles. Smuts was known to have dinner with Leo Amery who was on Milner’s staff again when Milner was Colonial Secretary during the Versailles Peace Discussions. In this capacity he would have also been in discussions with George Fiddes, who was a prominent Colonial Office official during the First World war years and Smuts’s work on the Mandates, Treaty of Versailles and other colonial issues would have brought them into countact.

Similarly, he would have been in close contact with Philip Kerr and Edward Grigg who were secretaries to David Lloyd George during the war years.

John Buchan, one of the later Kindergarten arrivals to South Africa after the war, was asked by Smuts to be the official historian of South Africa’s war effort. During the war, Buchan was a member of the Propoganda (Information) Department writing pieces to promote Britain’s war aims. He later died as Governor of Canada.

Of those who remained in South Africa either permanently or for a few years after Union, Smuts encountered many in Parliament and joined forces with some when the SA and Unionist Parties joined.

What may well have started out as a disparate group of men, became an intricate web of relationships exending through politics, business and literature. Its aim was to build and maintain an Empire (a British one).


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