British South African financier
Born 1853 Died 1906
Alfred Beit was the son of a well-to-do merchant of Hamburg, Germany, and in 1875, after a commercial education at home, was sent out to Kimberley, South Africa, to investigate the diamond prospects. He had relatives, the Lipperts, out there in business, and in conjunction with Mr (afterwards Sir) Julius Wernher (b. 1850) he rapidly acquired a leading position on the diamond fields, and became closely allied with the ideals of Cecil Rhodes. In 1889 Rhodes and Beit effected the amalgamation of various interests in the De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. It was largely owing to the capital and enterprise of Beit that the deep-level mining in the Witwatersrand district of the Transvaal was started, and he had a large share in the principal company, the Rand Mines Limited. The firm of Wernher, Beit & Co gradually transferred the centre of their financial operations to London, where they became the leading house in the dealings in South African mines. The rapid progress made in developing the diamond and gold output made Beit a man of enormous wealth, and he utilized it lavishly in pursuit of Rhodes's South African policy.
He was one of the original directors of the British South Africa company, and was included with Rhodes in the censure passed by the House of Commons Commission of Inquiry on the Jameson Raid (1896). He was subsequently one of Rhodes's trustees. Personally of a modest, gentle, generous and retiring disposition, and strongly imbued with Rhodes's ideas of British imperialism, he was one of the South African millionaires of German birth against whom the anti-imperialist section in England were never tired of employing their sarcastic invective. But though shrinking from ostentation in any form, his purse was continually opened for public objects, notably his support of the Imperial Light Horse and Imperial Yeomanry in the South African War of 1899-1902, and his endowment of the professorship of colonial history at Oxford (1905). He gave £100,000 to establish a university in his native city of Hamburg and £200,000 for a university in Johannesburg. He built a fine house in Park Lane, London, but was never prominent in social life. He died, unmarried, on the 16th of July 1906.
Being the entry for BEIT, ALFRED in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.