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Bears, Bulls and Boers: Market Making and Southern African Mining Finance, 1894-1899

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This paper argues that the part played by financial speculation is crucial to understanding the history of gold mining in Southern Africa during the 1890s. More specifically, it suggests that the emphasis in much of the literature on production costs and their political implications may be misplaced in a period when the predominance of speculative activity often rendered economic grievances irrelevant if not unimportant. By examining the structure of international share markets for Southern African, particularly but not only Rand mining shares, one that lent itself to manipulation, ‘market making’, by major mining houses and companies, this study scrutinises the unprecedented stock exchange boom and bust of the mid-1890s and its possible relationship to the Jameson Raid. It is an argument that takes issue with those views of the South African War which have ascribed to the City of London’s financial markets ‘a thirsty impatience [for war]’(1), instead suggesting that important sections of London’s financial press and the City itself were perfectly content with the returns from the gold mining industry where these were not skewed by market making. There was rather more criticism of speculative excesses by mining companies than there was of Kruger’s Transvaal Government, at least until early 1899. Only then did key Randlords associate themselves with Imperial demands for Boer acceptance of British suzerainty.

This talk is part of the Financial History Seminar series.

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