Leonard, Arthur Glyn (1856– p.1909?), soldier, ethnographer, and Rhodesian pioneer, was born in August 1856 in Ireland. In 1873 he joined the 2nd Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, serving as a transport officer in India and in conflicts in Afghanistan, Egypt, and the Sudan, where he was seriously injured during the Mahdhist revolt of 1885. He was promoted captain in 1884, and major with a brevet the following year. In 1889 he took command of ‘E’ Troop of the British South Africa Company Police, which a year later escorted the pioneer column in the occupation of Mashonaland on behalf of Cecil Rhodes. The proudly titled How we made Rhodesia (1896), his account of the occupation, compiled in part from diary entries and letters written from Fort Macloutsie and Fort Tuli in 1890–91, provides vivid and insightful portraits of the imperial dramatis personae of the time, including Rhodes, Dr Leander Starr Jameson, Lord Randolph Churchill, and Sir Henry Loch, British high commissioner, as well as of Leonard's Irish compatriot, Col. Edward Pennefather (1850–1928), who commanded the pioneer column. He was highly, almost libellously, critical of British South Africa Company employees, including Pennefather, Dr Rutherfoord Harris, the Company secretary in Kimberley, and the pioneer column's contractor, Frank Johnson, whom he accused of failing to provide sufficient horses; so much so that an injunction against further publication of the book was successfully sought by fellow pioneer Sir John Willoughby.
As the title suggests, the book provides a staunch defence of what he calls ‘Greater Britain’, personified by Rhodes and Jameson, to whom the book is dedicated: ‘Men of the stamp who have made England and her colonies what they are, and who, if England to herself prove true’, he asserts, ‘will make them even still greater!’ (p. ix). Rhodesia was acquired by ‘clear heads, cool hearts, and strong men of action ... stigmatised by some of their own countrymen as adventurers ... by the right men in the right place, by pioneers of civilisation and of Great Britain's exuberant vitality’ (p. i). Initially less than complimentary about Rhodes, about whose heart condition he provides unique insights, he concludes by referring to him as the ‘master craftsman, whose genius conceived the idea, and whose magnetic force inspired [those who made Rhodesia] with his own vigorous spirit’ (356).
Typical of many contemporaries, Leonard refers in How we made Rhodesia to England and Great Britain interchangeably, and to ‘our history’, ‘our island country’, and its ‘mighty empire ... as the greatest political factor that the world has ever seen’ (356). Other evidence of his apparent Englishness includes his staunch devotion to the writings of Trollope, and he engages in typical caricatures of Irish speech and attitudes, to the point of stage-Irishness (136–7). Yet How we made Rhodesia also reveals that he was staunchly proud of his Irish roots. In discussing a Punjabi-born, Stonyhurst-educated Irish policeman named Dillon, he rejected the notion that Irishmen were ‘over-sanguine’, presenting Dillon as characteristically Irish in his ‘unflagging and hopeful ... spirit’ (68). He was an ardent advocate of home rule for Ireland. While escorting the pioneers to Mashonaland, he struck up a close friendship with Mother Mary Anne Cosgrave (qv), whose Dominican sisters formed the nursing component of the pioneer corps. He admired her greatly, and particularly her manifest love of Ireland, which he shared but Englishmen supposedly ‘sneered at’. He was less impressed by her ‘hideous uniform’ and her dismissal of the recently fallen C. S. Parnell (qv), whom he revered intensely, as ‘a lost and perjured soul’. He attributed the fall of Parnell equally to Irish and English lack of forgiveness of ‘one mistake’, which had ensured that ‘the settlement of a question so dear to Irishmen [was now] further off than ever’. He professed a great respect for religion, but also felt it to be responsible for much evil (31). Although there is evidence of mild anti-Semitic prejudice, he took an avowedly syncretic view of religions, respecting all of them ‘equally’ (137). His other digressions include a reflection on the duty of mankind to animals, and urging the use of camels in Rhodesia, about which he published an authoritative work in 1896, which was widely and enthusiastically reviewed. In 1891 he retired to Seapoint, Cape Town, although he retained a close connection with Rhodes at least into the mid 1890s.
By that time he was living in southern Nigeria, where he spent ten years making a close study of the customs and beliefs of local tribespeople, which he published subsequently in The lower Niger and its tribes (1906). Here he expounds theories about African beliefs in animism and ancestor worship, depicting tribal peoples as ‘natural’ and living a ‘simple yet subtle existence’, in contrast to ‘the modern Englishman ... of suppressed emotions, devoid of outside sympathy’. In observing these peoples, he claimed to have a unique ‘power of living a life which was positively dual in existence ... [and possessing] the capacity of absolute detachment, from either internal or external surroundings’. Paradoxically, he goes on to discuss the innate bias of western knowledge about other parts of the world, anticipating by almost a century the perspectives of such orientalist scholars as Edward Said. The book includes a glowing foreword by the Cambridge academic Alfred Cort Haddon, humanist, zoologist, and one of the leading anthropologists of his generation.
That Leonard was far from typical in racial outlook of his fellow Rhodesian pioneers was underlined by his next book, Islam: her moral and spiritual value (1909). This was given an equally flattering foreword by Saiyid Ameer Ali, eminent jurist, leading Islamic scholar, and member of the Muslim League. Against a background of heightened fears that ‘Islam [posed] an antagonistic threat to Christendom’, not least in Africa, as well as of the growing crises of the declining Ottoman empire, Leonard sets out to present Islamic teachings and history as sophisticated and largely humane, blaming journalists for replacing the ‘yellow peril’ scare with a ‘Moslem menace’, which was the product of an ‘over-heated imagination’ (13, 159). He argues that Islam is as diverse in outlook as Christianity. Many Muslims were as fervent as Irish catholics, but Islam succeeded far better than Christianity in creating a truly international and non-racial brotherhood, and was less intolerant than Christians had been in their treatment of Albigensians, Waldensians and Huguenots. While acknowledging that much would have to be done to alleviate the position of women in Islamic societies, he argued that Islam had uplifted ‘millions upon millions from a much lower to a far higher scale of civilisation’. In several syncrectic passages, he calls for Christendom to accept Islam as an equal partner in the great work of civilisation, particularly in Africa, where – clearly ignoring an Islamic lack of provision for vernacular instruction in the Koran, as well as widespread intolerance of ancestor reverence – he believed that Islam displayed a far greater understanding of local cultures and climates. He concludes by calling for a ‘sinking [of] denominational differences in the common stockpot of humanity’ and a European spirit of ‘conciliation and cooperation’ towards Islam, to the ultimate benefit of humanity (57, 160). In keeping with his cultural tolerance, Leonard recommended the integration of European, Asian, and African pupils at Liscard Commercial and Collegiate School in Cheshire.
Leonard's date of death is not known. He achieved a predictable afterlife when his How we made Rhodesia was republished by Books of Rhodesia in 1973 as part of a series to bolster a sense of settler patriotism in a Rhodesia embattled by its Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Far more surprisingly, in the early twenty-first century, his apologetic writings on Islam gained a renewed topicality on the internet.