Beit, Sir Alfred

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BEIT, SIR ALFRED (1853–1906), South African financier and co-founder, with Cecil Rhodes, of Rhodesia. Born in Hamburg, Beit learned the diamond trade in Amsterdam and went to South Africa in 1875. He became prominent in the development of the Kimberley diamond fields and later of the Witwatersrand gold reefs. In 1889 he formed the partnership of Wernher, Beit, and Company, forerunner of one of the big Rand mining groups. Beit met Rhodes, and their careers became inseparable. His financial talents complemented those of Rhodes, and he became identified with Rhodes' imperial ambitions. Beit stood with Rhodes in the rivalry with *Barnato for the control of the diamond fields. He obtained the assistance of the London Rothschilds, and became a life governor in De Beers Consolidated Mines when it was formed in 1888. With Rhodes he established the British South Africa Company for the administration of the territory that became known as Rhodesia and had a part in the development of the country second only to that of Rhodes himself. He was implicated in Rhodes' plot against the Kruger regime that ended in the Jameson Raid of 1895. He made generous donations to South African war relief funds, founded the Beit professor-ship of colonial history at Oxford, and through the Wernher-Beit bequest stimulated university education in South Africa. Other bequests included £1,200,000 for education and communications in Rhodesia and thirty fellowships in medical research. Beit left a fortune of over £8 million, probably the largest personal fortune ever left in Britain until then. He left his entire estate to his brother, otto john beit (1865–1930), who was associated with him in his financial and philanthropic activities.


G.S. Fort, Alfred Beit… (1932); P.H. Emden, Randlords (1935), index; G. Saron and L. Hotz (eds.), Jews in South Africa (1955). add. bibliography: dbb, I, 253–55; odnb online; G. Wheatcroft, The Randlords (1985), index.

[Dora Leah Sowden]