Rose of Rhodesia (The)

  • Rose of Rhodesia (The)
Genre : Drama
Type : Fiction
Original title : Rose von Rhodesia (Die) [South Afrika, Afrikaneer]
Principal country concerned : Column : Cinema/tv
Year of production : 1918
Format : Feature
Running time : 120 (in minutes)
Film Black & white

The Rose of Rhodesia (1918), one of the earliest feature films made in South Africa, goes online today at the website of Australian film journal Screening the Past.

A five-reel romance centred on a stolen diamond, an interracial friendship, and an anti-colonial uprising, The Rose of Rhodesia impressed contemporary reviewers with its daring realism, spectacular outdoor locations, and casting of African actors in prominent roles. Considered lost for most of the last century, the film may claim to be the first fictional treatment of Zimbabwe in cinema.

Now fully restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum, The Rose of Rhodesia is being streamed together with a new musical soundtrack by acclaimed silent film composer Matti Bye. Accompanying the film is a special issue of Screening the Past, edited by Stephen Donovan and Vreni Hockenjos, in which specialists from a range of disciplines offer the first detailed analysis of this remarkable cinematic discovery.

Both film and journal issue are available now online.

Plot Summary


Act I.
Chief Ushakapilla wants his only son, Mofti, to become leader of all Africa. When word comes that the colonial governor has denied his request for land for a third time, Ushakapilla declares to Mofti that Africa will shortly be restored to the black race. Believing such ambitions to be futile, Mofti reminds his father of the wise counsel he has always received from James Morel, a missionary who lives nearby together with his son, Jack.

Ushakapilla and Mofti pay a visit to their neighbours, who are busy ministering to the sick. Ushakapilla complains that, despite having followed Morel's teachings, he and his people have been forgotten by the "great white Chief". Jack and Mofti go hunting while the elders continue to talk. Presenting Ushakapilla with a Bible, Morel stresses that his reward will come only if he keeps faith with "the Chief of all Chiefs, black and white". Unconvinced, Ushakapilla returns home and instructs his men to raise funds for an insurrection by working in the white men's diamond and gold mines; those who return empty-handed will be executed.

Meanwhile, the directors of the Karoo Diamond Mines Syndicate meet to discuss the discovery of a gigantic "Rose" diamond. They summon Fred Winters, an overseer, to put an announcement in the newspaper. While opening a window in the room, Winters spots a ladder leaning against the wall below. Leaving the building, he uses the ladder to sneak back up to the window, distracts the directors by throwing a stone through a glass pane in the door, and snatches the diamond.

The directors discover their loss and immediately telephone the police, who dispatch two detectives with dogs. Arriving at the crime scene, the detectives use forensic methods to reconstruct the chain of events. The dogs begin tracking Winters.

Act II.
While Winters delivers the message to the newspaper, the dogs lead the detectives to his house. Seeing his pursuers nearing, Winters steals a horse and makes good his escape. With the police monitoring departing trains and coaches, the Karoo Company places a newspaper advertisement announcing a £5,000 reward for the diamond's return.

After wandering for two days in the Karoo Desert, Winters is discovered unconscious by Namba, one of Ushakapilla's men. Namba steals the diamond but gives Winters some water before making off. Back at the kraal, Namba is received warmly by Ushakapilla, who continues to plot an uprising despite Mofti's opposition.

Near the Morels' house live failed gold-prospector Bob Randall and his daughter, Rose. They have planted a white rose in front of their tin shack in memory of Rose's deceased mother. While Randall works his gold-diggings, Rose reads a romantic melodrama about an aristocrat named Lord Cholmondeley who is driven from England to Rhodesia by an affair of the heart. Rose tries to raise her father's spirits with a dinner of fresh hare.

In an effort to avoid police surveillance, Winters alights from the train at the small frontier town of Green Willow. Entering a pub, he flirts with the barmaid. Meanwhile, Rose is unable to stop Randall from drowning his sorrows in the bottle. In the bar, Winters faces down two rowdies who try to interfere with the barmaid. Arriving shortly after, Randall catches Winters' attention by bragging about the wealth of his mine. Now alone at the shack, Rose discovers that her father has taken all but a couple of pennies of their remaining money. To pass the time until his return, she continues reading the story of Lord Cholmondeley's progress through Rhodesia, and eventually falls asleep at the table.

Act III.
Winters pays Randall for a share in his mining claim and, after a gloomy shrug of his shoulders, follows his now very drunk business partner back home. When the men arrive, Rose is immediately taken with Winters, and asks herself: "Could this be Lord Cholmondeley?" The next morning, after Winters and Randall have left for the mine, Rose reads how Cholmondeley enjoys springbok steak. She first picks up a tin of corned beef but then reconsiders, and instead goes out with the rifle. As Rose tracks game among some nearby cliffs, she runs into Jack and Mofti on their own hunting expedition. Noting the mutual attraction between Jack and Rose, Mofti ironically warns his friend of the hazards of "wild animals like these".

Ushakapilla instructs the children of the kraal to attend Morel's missionary school. The chief then climbs steep gorge in order to consult a "great medicine man and witch-doctor", who prophesies while in a trance that Mofti will never expel the white men to become overlord of all Africa.

Randall and Winters return to the shack after a fruitless day at the mine. Winters makes a pass at Rose, who in turn seeks to please him by offering to cook the springbok she has shot. Meanwhile, Ushakapilla takes Mofti, now twenty-one years old, to the sacrificial rock of their ancestors, urging him to keep it sacrosanct for those of royal blood. Back at the cabin, Rose reads about how an imprudent dalliance with Cholmondeley cost a young Rhodesian girl her chance of marriage. When Winters shortly after tries to snatch a kiss, Rose rebuffs him firmly.

Act IV.
Some time passes. Rose, her father, and Winters are having tea when Jack arrives with some home newspapers. The occasion allows Rose to compare her two beaux directly-to Jack's advantage. Mofti, who has been forbidden to socialize with his future subjects, looks for Jack at the mission station, and arrives at the Randalls' shack to find Jack and Rose admiring a white blossom from the rose bush. Rose presents Mofti with another white rose, which Jack fixes in his hair. Delighted, Mofti wishes them "as many children as there are stones on the Matoppos Hills" at which Jack slaps him playfully. Breaking with dynastic tradition, Mofti shows the sacrificial rock to the missionary's son.

As Jack and Mofti walk back to the missionary's house, a newspaper is blown from a passing train into Jack's hands. Jack tells his father about Mofti's white rose and shows him the newspaper.

Following a dream about his ancestors in battle, Ushakapilla tells Mofti to prepare for "the great attack that will free Africa". When Mofti shakes his head disapprovingly, Ushakapilla angrily dismisses his son.

Rose tries in vain to prevent Randall from going to the pub, where he finds Winters drunk and irritable. After a two-day bender, the men set off for the cabin, where Rose has been waiting anxiously.

While hunting with Jack, Mofti falls down a cliff and is fatally injured. Dying in Jack's arms, he warns that Ushakapilla has taken leave of his senses. Jack sorrowfully moves Mofti's body into a cave under the cliff, and kneels down to pray for his friend. Meanwhile, Ushakapilla is shown presiding over two large baskets of gold. Returning to the house, Jack informs his father of Mofti's death, and they set off for the kraal to tell Ushakapilla. The chief, overcome by grief, blames himself for having incurred divine punishment, and grants the missionary's request to give Mofti a Christian burial.

Act V.
Jack brings the tragic news to the Randalls and relates how Mofti's last words were a blessing upon Rose and Jack. The two take a rose cutting from the bush and join Ushakapilla and Jack's father at the foot of the cliff. The latter makes a gift of a Bible to Ushakapilla and helps Rose and Jack to plant the white rose beside Mofti's tomb. Ushakapilla gives the young couple his blessing, at which Jack explains that they are too poor to marry. Jack proposes to Rose nonetheless, and is accepted. James Morel gives his approval to the union.

Ushakapilla returns to the kraal and gives instructions for the baskets of gold to be transported.

After Bob Randall agrees to Rose's engagement, Jack and his father return home, where they receive a letter explaining that the colonial authorities have decided to grant Ushakapilla's request for land. They go to the kraal directly to give the chief the news.

The detective pursuing Winters arrives by train in Green Willow.

Paying a visit to the Randalls, Ushakapilla makes Rose a gift of the diamond so that she may marry Jack, and declares to the latter: "I have known both the Rose Diamond and the white rose that blossoms on the grave of my son. But you, O young friend, possess the most beautiful rose in all Rhodesia … a faithful, loving wife".

The detective takes Winters by surprise in the bar, handcuffs him adroitly, and leads him away. By way of explanation, he shows the bystanders, who include Bob Randall, a newspaper advertisement offering £6,000 for the recovery of the Rose Diamond.

A week passes. The Karoo Syndicate is shown deciding to raise the reward even further to £10,000 in view of Rose's exemplary honesty in returning the diamond to its rightful owners.

With his hopes now dashed by Mofti's death, Ushakapilla abandons his plans for an insurrection and casts the gold from the sacrificial rock into the waters. As he holds aloft the Bible, an intertitle states: "Here endeth the reign of the black Chief, until time make him white and he prove himself worthy to rule this country as the great white Chief does."

The scene shifts forward several years to the fulfillment of Mofti's blessing. Jack, now a clergyman, composes a sermon as he sits beside his young son. Rose happily dandles two children on her lap while watching another at her feet.


1877-1926. After starting out as an actor in a San Francisco theatre in 1893, Shaw turned to the motion-picture business in 1909. As a member of the Edison Company's stock of actors, he starred in several films by Edwin S. Porter. In 1911 he made his directorial debut in Edison's New York studios, where he met his future wife Edna Flugrath. After briefly working for other companies, Shaw moved to England, where he directed over thirty films for the London Film Company. His most successful productions included The House of Temperley (1913) and Trilby (1914).[1] He also made a wartime recruitment film, sponsored by the British government, titled "You" (1916). In 1916, Shaw and Flugrath signed contracts with South African entertainment mogul I. W. Schlesinger and his African Film Productions. Their first project was De Voortrekkers (1916), a lavish historical epic intended to be the South African equivalent of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of A Nation (1915). Shaw completed at least two further films as an independent director in South Africa, The Rose of Rhodesia (1918) and Thoroughbreds All (1918). He made another eleven films in England after returning there in 1919. According to Rachael Low, Shaw's work at this point "had deteriorated, his wife Edna Flugrath astonished and appalled the critics by taking unsuitable ingénue parts, and the work of the [London] company now seemed naive and out of date" (Low 1971, 123). Shaw returned to the US, making one film on a trans-Atlantic liner and three in Hollywood for Metro before retiring (Bushnell 1993, 308). Shaw died in a car accident Los Angeles on 30 January 1926 (The Los Angeles Times, 31 January 1926, 12). In 2000, the United States National Film Preservation Board added Shaw's The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912) to its National Registry of landmark films..

1893-1966. Before becoming a screen actress, Brooklyn-born Flugrath had a number of stage roles and even worked as a ballet dancer with Anna Pavlova's company and the Chicago Opera (Doyle 1993). She joined the Edison company in 1912 and appeared in numerous one- and two-reelers, many directed by her future husband Harold Shaw. Edison films for which both Shaw and Flugrath are credited include The Dam Builder (1912) and a Western titled At Bear Track Gulch (1912). Following Shaw to England in 1913, Flugrath became one of the leading ladies of the London Film Company. In England's Menace (1914, dir. Harold Shaw), for example, her performance as Lady Betty attracted the praise of The Moving Picture World: "Miss Flugrath's wonderfully clever enactment of her difficult part, … among other things, involves a flight on a motor cycle at top speed." (The Moving Picture World, 12 September 1914, 1519). She left with Shaw for South Africa in 1916 and starred in both De Voortrekkers (1916) and The Rose of Rhodesia (1918). Shaw and Flugrath finally married in Johannesburg on 5 January 1917 (see Appendix C).[2] After their return to England in 1919, she continued to act regularly in films by Shaw, including True Tilda (1920), The Land of Mystery (1920) (shot in Lithuania), and Kipps (1921). Moving to Hollywood in 1923, she joined her two younger sisters, Viola Dana and Shirley Mason, both of whom had become successful screen actresses. However, Flugrath never quite succeeded in establishing herself with the film studios, and reportedly opened a beauty parlour in Hollywood and, later in life, married an oil magnate named Halliburton Houghton (Lussier 1999).

CHIEF KENTANI (Chief Ushakapilla).
Biographical information lacking. According to The Bioscope (25 September 1919, 21), Kentani was "ruler of a Fingo tribe" and "brother of the man who started the last Kaffir War" a reference to the Ninth Cape Frontier War (1877-8) in which the Fingo (Mfengu) were British allies ranged against amaXhosa fighting to regain their lands from white colonists and Mfengu chiefs. While he may have been Mfengu by ethnicity, the name Kentani (Centane) does not appear on lists of Mfengu chiefs. As the name of both a hill and a nearby colonial village in the Butterworth district of the Transkei, Kentani had prestige as the place where Mfengu soldiers, with British support, had held off Gcaleka and Nqaika Xhosa attackers in February 1878. Kentani, who was probably a headman rather than a chief, evidently associated himself with the place or the battle, but whether he came from there is an open question. The fact that The Rose of Rhodesia was filmed at the Bawa Falls in the Butterworth district would also suggest that Kentani and Yumi had a homestead in the vicinity or were on particularly good terms with the local headman.

Biographical information lacking. According to The Bioscope, he was the son of Kentani (The Bioscope, 25 September 1919, 21). The spirited and sympathetic performance given by "Prince Yumi" in The Rose of Rhodesia suggests that he was an Mfengu labour migrant or student from the Ciskei or Transkei who caught the eye of the filmmakers in Cape Town. He then persuaded the filmmakers to follow him home to his father's place near the Kei river.

1884-1939. Yorkshire-born actor Marmaduke (‘Duke') A. Wetherell had begun his overseas career as a frontier policeman in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) before returning to England to become an actor in northern repertory theatres. After working for a couple of years in North-Western Rhodesia (now Zambia) as a pioneer farmer at Choma (Macmillan 2005, 365), he took to the stage again and joined Leonard Rayne's touring company in South Africa in 1912. He was "loaned" to African Film Productions in 1916, appearing as a lead character in most of their films and assisting in the production of The Border Scourge in Swaziland over Christmas and New Year 1916-17. "Duke" had got on splendidly with the sage old Queen Mother of the Swazi, Labotsibeni (Stage and Cinema, 27 Jan. 1917, 78). He worked with Shaw on The Rose of Rhodesia (1918), both in front of the camera and probably in helping to write the script, and also acted in Shaw's other South African film, Thoroughbreds All (1918). By 1920, Wetherell was teaching film-scenario writing at the Johannesburg Business College, after which he was accepted back into the AFP fold. Later he played the part of David Livingstone in his own company's production of Livingstone, filmed on location in Africa (Rapp & Weber 1989). He subsequently directed Robinson Crusoe (1927) in Trinidad as well as scenic and commercial documentary films in Britain and East Africa. His main claim to fame is as the "self-styled big-game hunter" who, with other jokers, constructed and floated the Loch Ness Monster whose photograph still adorns numerous publications and the title sequence of television's History Channel.[3] At his death Wetherell was working on a biopic about Paul Kruger, written by Gustav Preller (The Rand Daily Mail, 27 February 1939, 7).

HOWARD WYNDHAM (Bob Randall or Fred Winters).
Son of the famous English theatre-owner Sir Charles Wyndham [Charles Culverwell] (1837-1919) by his first wife, Howard Wyndham had been a theatre manager in London before joining first African Film Productions and then Harold Shaw Film Productions Ltd in South Africa as assistant producer-director. Howard and his step-brother Bronson Albery eventually inherited ownership of two West End theatres, Wyndham's and the New Theatre since renamed the Albery ("Wyndham").

ERNEST G. PALMER (Cinematographer)[4].
1885-1978. Palmer was a Kansas-born cinematographer who, like Harold Shaw, had migrated from Edison and IMP to London Films. His first British motion picture credit was for Ivanhoe (dir. Herbert Brenon, 1912). When London Films began to falter, Palmer moved on to aerial cinematography for the British War Department, using aeroplanes specially brought over from France (The Cape Times, 13 December 1917, 9). His credits as a cameraman-director included the 1250 feet documentary Fighting the German Air Raiders (1916). According to the Cape Times, much of his work was "done under the supervision of Mr. D. W. Griffith (of ‘The Birth of a Nation' and ‘Intolerance' fame) at the behest of the combined war offices of Britain, France and America" (The Cape Times, 13 December 1917, 9; "Ernest Palmer"). After returning to the US, Palmer worked on over a hundred and sixty films as a Hollywood cameraman between 1918 and 1960. He has been described as "not nearly as well known as his superb photography entitles him to be". His films, mostly under contract to Fox, included "early sound musicals, science-fiction films, and under such demanding masters as F. W. Murnau" (Everson 1974). In 1942 he received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography on Blood and Sand (dir. Rouben Mamoulian).

HENRY HOWSE (Cinematographer).
Howse had been in films "through his connection with the La Lumière brothers of France" dating back, by his own estimation, to 1894. England's 1901 census places Henry C. Howse, aged 33 and born at Sharnford in Leicestershire, as a photographer and bookbinder at Roydon in Norfolk, but by 1911 he was based in Penge, Kent. Howse had joined the Salvation Army and was probably responsible for that organization's prescient interest in cinematography in 1897-though he failed to energize the London headquarters into setting up a cinematographic department until 1903, and thus lost that initiative to the Salvation Army branch in Melbourne, Australia. Howse became the Salvation Army's movie cameraman in 1903, making numerous films (up to six minutes each) around Britain and abroad-including General William Booth's pilgrimage to Palestine and the visit of the Prince of Wales to India in 1905-06 (Hammond 2004).[5] Howse filmed Sir Thomas Lipton's attempts in the America's Cup sailing race and even accompanied a polar expedition in 1911-13 filming icebergs from the end of plank (Bottomore 2005).[6] In addition, Howse claimed to have toured both Tibet and China before returning to England, where he founded his own production company, which is known to have made two movies: Meg of the Slums (1916) and The Stronger Will (1916). But, in 1917, I. W. Schlesinger induced Howse to come to South Africa, where he processed film stock as "one of the most competent dark-room and works managers" at the Killarney studios.[7] He returned to Penge south of London but was dead within a few years.

[1] For biographical data of Shaw see also, "Harold Marvin Shaw: The Man and His Work," The Bioscope, 24 February 1916, 759-61.

[2] According to an article in The Los Angeles Times, Shaw and Flugrath married "at the old Edison studios in New York" (The Los Angeles Times, 23 May 1923, Pt. 2, 1).

[3] John Darnton, "Loch Ness: truth is stranger than fiction," New York Times, 20 March 1994, (accessed 12 November 2007); Stephen Lyons, "Birth of a Legend," (accessed 12 November 2007) (written by the co-writer/ co-producer of WGBH/ NOVA documentary The Beast of Loch Ness).

[4] It is unclear how Palmer and Howse divided the work between themselves on Shaw's Thoroughbreds All and The Rose of Rhodesia. Howse is credited with having photographed the latter when it was shown in England (The Bioscope, 25 September 1919, 21). But the Cape Times (13 December 1917, 8) reported that Palmer had been engaged as (principal?) photographer for Harold Shaw Film Productions Ltd, while Howse was merely "general photographic expert" (a role which might correspond with his previous status as photographic "works-manager" in Johannesburg).

[5] Howse is thought to have "filmed many, if not all, of the early films of Booth featured in the God's Soldier DVD" that was compiled from originals archived in the British Film Institute. Urbanora, "God's Soldier," The Bioscope Reporting on the World of Early and Silent Cinema, (accessed 10 August 2008).

[6] Howse stated himself that he accompanied Ernest Shackleton on the Nimrod Expedition in 1909. However he also stated that they had gone to the North Pole region, when in fact Shackleton at that point was attempting to reach the South Pole (Stage and Cinema, 24 February 1917, 2; see Appendix C).

[7] See also "Henry Howse," The Cape Times, 13 December 1917, 8h; The Rand Daily Mail, 20 April 1918, n.p.


  • Arterial network
  • Media, Sports and Entertainment Group (MSE)
  • Gens de la Caraïbe
  • Groupe 30 Afrique
  • Alliance Française VANUATU
  • Zimbabwe : Culture Fund Of Zimbabwe Trust
  • RDC : Groupe TACCEMS
  • Rwanda : Positive Production
  • Togo : Kadam Kadam
  • Niger : ONG Culture Art Humanité
  • Collectif 2004 Images
  • Africultures Burkina-Faso
  • Bénincultures / Editions Plurielles
  • Africiné
  • Afrilivres

With the support of