Charles Coghlan (politician)
Sir Charles Patrick John Coghlan
|1st Premier of Southern Rhodesia|
1 October 1923 – 28 August 1927
|Preceded by||Francis Chaplin (Administrator)|
|Succeeded by||Howard Unwin Moffat|
24 June 1863|
King William's Town, British Kaffraria
|Died||28 August 1927
|Resting place||Matopos Hills|
|Nationality||Southern Rhodesian of Irish descent|
|Political party||Rhodesia Party|
|Spouse(s)||Gertrude Mary Schermbrucker (married 1899-1927)|
|Alma mater||South African College, Cape Town|
An Irishman by descent, Coghlan was born in King William's Town, British Kaffraria, and came to Rhodesia in 1900 to practice in Bulawayo as a lawyer. He was elected to the Legislative Council in the 1908 election first for the Western Electoral District and sat as Member for Bulawayo for 19 years.
Coghlan supported the renewal of the British South Africa Company's Charter in 1914, and opposed amalgamation with either Northern Rhodesia or South Africa. In 1921, he led a delegation to London to discuss responsible government, and in 1923, Southern Rhodesia was awarded the status of self-governing Colony within the British Empire.
Early life in 'South Africa'
Charles Coghlan was born on 24 June 1863 in King William's Town, British Kaffraria (today part of South Africa), the fourth son of James and Isabella Coghlan. His father, a Catholic Irishman, had escaped the Great Famine of Ireland in the 1840s by enlisting as a private in the British Army. He was deployed in 1851 with the 2nd (The Queen's Royal) Regiment of Foot against the Xhosa forces of Mgolombane Sandile in the Eighth Kaffir War. At the end of the war in 1853, he was stationed in an outpost in the Keiskamma mountains, where he settled with Charles's mother, Isabella Mary Maclaren. She had travelled from Dumbartonshire, after she had been orphaned, to join her sister and her husband on their farm near Alice in the Eastern province. After James and Isabella had their first child, James, they gave up their military life and moved to King William's Town, where Charles was born and James senior eventually became a town councillor.
Charles's initial schooling was at home until January 1870 when he went to the Jesuit St Aidan's College in Grahamstown. He earned a bursary to the South African College, Cape Town, where he went to study law in order to become a barrister. However, his father contracted dysentery and died. With funds short, Charles quit university in 1882 and went to work in Kimberley at Paley and Coghlan, the law firm where his eldest brother was a partner.
Kimberley came into being soon after diamonds were found in 1869 by prospectors on a farm belonging to the De Beers brothers on Colesberg Kopje, sparking off a rush. The discovery led to conflicting claims for the territory from the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and a Griqua by the name of Waterboer. The Governor of Natal arbitrated in the dispute and granted the land to Waterboer. He promptly put himself under British protection and the new colony of Griqualand was created. The Orange Free State, which had the best claim for the territory, accepted £90,000 from the British Government and the matter was closed.
The site of the diamond discovery was at first dubbed New Rush until it was renamed at the insistence of Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1873. Strategically located, it was five miles from the border with the Orange Free State and just over 40 from the southwestern corner of the Transvaal.
Meanwhile, in 1877, the Transvaal was annexed to Great Britain without resistance after ongoing warring with natives had left the state economically destitute and lawless, while a threat of attack from the Zulu persisted. The British restored the order of law and brought the native tribes under control. However, the Boers revolted in December 1880, sparking the First Boer War and British defeats at Laing's Nek and Majuba Hill. In March 1881, a treaty was signed granting Transvaal self-government under British suzerainty.
By 1882, when Coghlan arrived to join his brother, Kimberley was a town of 22,000 in search of riches, according to John Smith Moffat. In October 1887, Paley died and Coghlan, having been admitted on 9 December 1886 to practise as advocate in the West Griqualand courts, joined in partnership with his elder brother and the firm of Coghlan and Coghlan was formed. Since Kimberley was at the epicentre of the diamond trade, the brothers developed expertise and a reputation for their work in the mining industry.
Charles took an active part in debating. As an Irishman, he believed that Ireland should have the right to legislate for herself and supported the Irish Home Rule movement on the basis that each territory within the British Empire should be self-governing in local matters. However, he was loyal to England and maintained that they owed their liberty to her. The Empire's role was for mutual support, including military. Meanwhile, he disapproved of Kruger's policy in the Transvaal of conscripting Uitlanders whilst denying them civil rights.
Coghlan was elected to the Town Council in 1897.
During this time, Charles was living with his mother and sister. But in 1898, Gertrude Mary Schermbrucker, described as an attractive and sociable woman, the youngest daughter of Colonel Frederick Schermbrucker, an acquaintance from Eastern Province, was invited to stay with the Coghlans in Kimberley. Soon she and Charles were engaged to be married and the wedding took place on 10 January 1899 in Wynberg, Cape Town.
It was at this time that his friend Percy Ross Frames invited him to join him in Bulawayo and Coghlan was minded to accept. However, the outbreak of the Second Boer War caused him to stay in Kimberley: war was declared on 11 October 1899 and three days later, Kimberley was under siege, cut off by rail and telephone. The siege lasted until 15 February 1900, the day after three divisions of cavalry under General French reached Kimberley.
After a break in Cape Town, Coghlan and his wife left Kimberley for Bulawayo on 30 July 1900. At this time, the conditions in Bulawayo were very basic and the buildings were ramshackle and Coghlan and his wife were lodged at the Grand Hotel. Nevertheless, the settlers enjoyed outdoor pursuits, as well as dances and both musical and theatrical performances.
The Coghlans' first child was born in 1901 but lived only three days. A second child, Petal, was born in November 1902 and survived into old age.
Coghlan was admitted to the Rhodesian bar and entered into partnership with Percy Ross Frames, forming Frames and Coghlan. However, after the end of the Boer War, economic conditions in Southern Rhodesia were bad, so Frames left Bulawayo in late 1902 for Johannesburg, dissolving his partnership with Coghlan. Meanwhile, Allan Ross Welsh joined Coghlan in Bulawayo and they began to practise as Coghlan and Welsh. The firm expanded into Salisbury in 1907 when Bernard Tancred, a South African cricketer and friend of Coghlan's from Johannesburg, agreed to join them and practise under the name of Coghlan, Welsh and Tancred. However, in 1911, Tancred was taken ill and died. At this time, Coghlan, representing a mining company, encountered Ernest Guest in opposition in a case in the court of the Mining Commissioner, who judged in favour of Guest's client. Coghlan, although irritated by Guest, recognised his ability and offered him a partnership, which he accepted, so Coghlan, Welsh and Guest was formed in 1912.
During a visit to Pietersburg, where his mother lived with her youngest son and daughter, Allan Welsh sent a telegram urging him to put forward his candidacy at the forthcoming elections to the Legislative Council. Coghlan was elected to the Legislative Council in March 1908.
1908 National Convention
Death and legacy
Charles Coghlan died on Sunday 28 August 1927, at the age of 64 of a cerebral haemorrhage. A solemn requiem was celebrated for him in Westminster Cathedral. He was initially buried in the Bulawayo cemetery but, following a petition from Bulawayo Town Council, Parliament consented for him to be reburied in the Matopos Hills, alongside Cecil Rhodes and Starr Jameson at a ceremony on 14 August 1930.
The building housing Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization bore the name of Sir Charles. However, in April 1985, it was changed by the office of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe to that of Chaminuka, an ancestral spirit invoked by guerrillas opposing the government of Ian Smith.
In 1925, the rank of KCMG was conferred on him, the warrant having been signed by his friend Earl Buxton, Chancellor of the Order, who had served as Governor-General of South Africa from 1914 to 1920 and served as president of the Africa Society from 1920 to 1933.
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|Premier of Southern Rhodesia