Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), for whom Rhodesia was named, was born at Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire, England, the son of a clergyman. His family had neither wealth nor position, and Cecil suffered from poor health. In 1870, Rhodes went to South Africa, a better climate for him. There he took advantage of the rush to the Kimberley diamond fields and by 1888 had established the De Beers Consolidated Mines. This enterprising thirty-five-year-old man dominated the world market in diamonds and later the Transvaal gold fields.
Rhodes had a vision of an English-speaking empire from «Cape to Cairo». He was heavily involved in politics, becoming prime minister of Cape Colony. However, his involvement in a conspiracy to overthrow President Kruger and seize the Transvaal left an indelible scar on his political future.
Rhodes attended Oxford University several times, ultimately graduating in 1881. Three years before his death, he wrote his famous will, which set up scholarships for two years at Oxford based on high standards of scholarship, character, leadership, and athletic ability. The scholarships were to be granted annually to some two hundred students from the British colonies and dominions, the United States, and Germany. A Rhodes scholarship is not merely a tuition-paid form of education; it is a mark of scholarly distinction.
The territory called Rhodesia has since been split into Zambia and Zimbabwe.