SOONER OR LATER I'LL GET YOU IN YOUR SLEEP STOP YOU'D BE VIOLENT TOO IF YOU HAD ONE OF THOSE ITCHES YOU JUST COULDN'T SCRATCH STOP
Some real background:
December 29th, 1895, Dr. Leander Starr Jameson - an associate of one Cecil Rhodes and at this point really old enough (42) to know better - causes a minor diplomatic flap by stirring up an expeditionary force (515 strong - largely composed of the Matabeleland Mounted Police) to visit the Transvaal from adjoining British South Africa and ostensibly lean on the Boer government there to give their Uitlander population (of non-Dutch origin) some representation... and if this intimidating display of British military (or at least thug) presence resulted in an increase in British authority in the area - or even wholesale absorption of Johannesburg - so much the better!
Though British authorities frantically try to contact him to instruct him to abort the action (unwilling to be restrained in his moment of glory, Jameson actually sabotages telegraph wires to ensure that no recall orders ever reach him) for five days he and his men make a general hash of things, losing ten soldiers to every Afrikaner they pull down at the battles of Krugersdorp and Doornkop, where he realises that there will be no reinforcements for his unsanctioned and impetuous invasion and surrenders to one Commandant Cronje. All this is generally referred to as the Jameson raid.
The morning after all this grinds to a halt, January 3rd 1896
, diplomats and heads of state around the world titter as they read the morning edition of their local newspaper - one more case of the British Empire's left hand not knowing what its right hand was up to. Really someone ought to partition it down to a manageable size - like Yorkshire, perhaps.
However, to some this is an occasion not merely to laugh at another's misfortune
but to actively capitalise upon...
Kaiser Wilhelm II (Hohenzollern, the same guy who ends up abdicating after WWI) sends a congratulatory telegram to Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, President
of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal in South Africa, which goes more or less (after translation) like this:
"I express to you my sincere congratulations that, without appealing to the help of friendly Powers, you and your people have succeeded in repelling with your own forces the armed bands which had broken into your country, and in maintaining the independence of your country against foreign aggression."
The big subtext here is We're willing to deal with you as a peer of our own Imperial designs in your area to undermine the interests and influence of those bloated British windbags.
(You have to read between the lines, but it's there.) Now of course this message is intended to be extended from one head of state to another, all private-like... but lacking the three or four weeks necessary to come down and extend the message in person, Wilhelm settles for a telegraph. A nice, secure, telegraph. Passing from British telegraph operator to British telegraph operator, through British relay stations along British telegraph lines. Oops.
(Try some encryption next time, Willie!)
Some historians will say that it was Wilhelm's intent that the telegraph be made public, not to shame Britain so much as to reveal to her the extent of her isolation (not so splendid outside the confines of her Empire), making her reconsider entertaining the possibility of a strong, industrialised Continental ally such as, well... Germany. Gosh that would have been a devious ploy. I prefer to believe that its public revelation was a boner on the part of the Kaiser (if only because it allows me to use the word "boner" (twice now!) in an otherwise-staid historimical node). Did I forget to mention that Kaiser Wilhelm II was Queen Victoria's grandson? Someone's not getting invited to the family picnic this year...
Britain's face turns mottled and begins trembling with repressed rage as it realises that everyone is laughing at it. Quick, it says, We've got to do something to show everyone that we're still in charge here. I know, we'll get sucked into the Boer War! There's no way we can mess that one up! Meanwhile, back in the Transvaal, the Afrikaners have been busy weaving enough rope for Britain to hang itself with...