Lord Alfred Milner was a public servant of the late Victorian era. He was also one of Britain’s most famous – or notorious, depending on your point of view – empire builders who left an indelible imprint on the history of South Africa.
Carefully chosen by Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain to bring President Paul Kruger’s Boers to heel, Milner was primarily, though not solely, responsible for the Anglo-Boer War – a conflict that proved to be the beginning of the end of the British Empire. For three years after the war, a determined Milner set out to reconstruct the country, leaving behind a group of young administrators who contributed significantly to the unification of South Africa, but also resentment among Afrikaners for their mentor’s language and education policies.
Back in England, Milner involved himself via the House of Lords in all the great issues of British politics, while continuing to promote the ends of Empire through the activities of the Round Table movement.
In this biography, the first by a South African, Richard Steyn argues that Milner’s reputation should not be defined by his eight years’ service in South Africa alone. Chosen for his famed administrative abilities as Britain’s War Secretary, Milner did much to shape the Allied victory in the First World War. If his personal qualities and beliefs made him the wrong man to send to South Africa, where he failed to accomplish the over-ambitious goals he set himself, he was the right man in a far greater international conflict.