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A Narrative of Captivity in Abyssinia by Henry Blanc

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We were guarded night and day, and could not move a few steps outside
the tent without being followed by a soldier; at night, if we had
to go out, we were told to carry a lantern with us. Our guards were
all old confidential chiefs of the Emperor, men of rank and position,
who executed their orders, but did not abuse their position to make
us feel still more our disgrace. On the evening of the 15th a small
farce was played that amused me at the time. I was going out a short
distance, a servant carrying a lantern before me. We had only
advanced a few steps when a soldier roughly seized my servant;
immediately the officer on guard ran up towards us, and pretending
to be very indignant at the soldier's conduct, told him to let my
servant go, and lifting up his stick, gave him a few strokes on the
back, exclaiming, "Why do you stop him? These are not prisoners;
they are the friends of the King." On turning round; I saw the chief
and the soldier having a good laugh together. The following morning
the reconciliation was to take place. Theodore desired to impress
us with the idea that we might be still his friends, and that we
had better give in to him with good grace, as the arrest of the
13th would prove to us that he could also treat us as enemies. His
plan was not a bad one; at all events it succeeded.

On the 17th we received a message from his Majesty, telling us to
go to him, as he desired to try before us the Europeans who had,
he said, formerly insulted him. Theodore knows well how to make a
display; and on this occasion he did his utmost to impress all,
Europeans as well as natives, with an idea of his power and greatness.
He was seated on an alga in the open air, in front of the audience-hall.
All the great officers of state were stationed on his left hand in
front; on his right were the Europeans, and around these more
important individuals, the petty chiefs and soldiers formed an
almost complete circle.

As soon as we approached, his Majesty rose and saluted us; received
us, in short, as though we were still his honoured guests, and not
the heralds from a great Power he had recently so grossly insulted.
We were told to sit down. A few minutes of silence followed, and
we saw advancing from the outer gate our countrymen guarded as
criminals, and chained two by two. They were arranged in a line in
front of his Majesty, who, after observing them for a few seconds,
"kindly" inquired after their health, and how they had spent their
time. The captives acknowledged these compliments by repeatedly
kissing the ground before that incarnation of the Evil One, who all
the time grinned in delight at the sight of the misery and humiliation
of his victims. Captain Cameron's and Mr. Bardel's fetters were
then opened, and they were told to come and sit down near us. All
the other captives remained standing in the sun, and had to answer
to the Emperor's questions. He was collected, and calm; only once,
when addressing us, did he appear in any way excited.

He asked them, "Why did you wish to leave my country before you
took leave of me?" They answered that they had only acted according
to Mr. Rassam's orders, to whom they had been made over. He then
said, "Why did you not ask Mr. Rassam to bring you to me, and be
reconciled before you left?" and turning towards Mr. Rassam, said,
"It is your fault. I told you to reconcile me with them; why did
you not do so?" Mr. Rassam replied: that he had believed the written
reconciliation that followed the trial of the charges he had sent
against them to be sufficient. The Emperor then said to Mr. Rassam,
"Bid I not tell you I wanted to give them mules and money, and you
answered me that you had bought mules for them, and that you had
money enough to take them to their country? Now, on your account,
you see them in chains. From the day you told me that you desired
to send them by another road I became suspicious, and imagined that
you did so in order that you might say in your country that they
were released through your cunning and power."

The former captives' supposed crimes are well known, and its the
remainder of the trial was only a repetition of the one of Gondar,
it would be a mere waste of time to speak of it here; suffice it
to say that these unfortunate and injured men answered with all
humility and meekness, and endeavoured by so doing to avert the
wrath of the wretch in whose power they were.

The Emperor's pedigree was then read: from Adam to David all went
on smoothly enough; from Solomon's supposed son Menilek to Socinius
few names were given--perhaps they were patriarchs in their own
way; but when it came to Theodore's father and mother the difficulty
increased, indeed it became serious; many witnesses were brought
forward to testify to their royal descent, and even the opinion of
the puppet-Emperor Johannes was recorded in favour of Theodore's
legal right to the throne of his ancestors.

We were then called forward, and the scene of the 18th enacted over,
again. After we had been told to sit down, Theodore called his
workmen before him, and asked them if he ought to get "kassa?"
(meaning a reparation for what he had suffered at the hands of the
Europeans). Some did not audibly reply; whilst others loudly
proclaimed that "kassa was good." In conclusion, his Majesty said,
addressing himself to us "Do you want to be my masters? You will
remain with me; and wherever I go, you will go; wherever I stay,
you will stay." On that we were dismissed to our tents, and Captain
Cameron was allowed to accompany us. The other Europeans, still in
chains, were sent to another part of the camp, where several weeks
before a fence had been erected, no one knew why.

The following day we were again called before Theodore, but this
time it was quite a private affair. The prisoners were first
conducted to our tent, and released from their fetters. We were
then called into his presence; the former captives followed us, and
the Gaffat people shortly afterwards entered, and were told to sit
at the Emperor's right. As soon as the released prisoners entered;
they bowed their heads to the ground and begged for pardon. His
Majesty told them to rise, and after informing them that they had
never done anything wrong, and that they were his friends, bowed
his head to the ground, and in his turn begged for pardon. He
remained in that attitude until they had repeatedly told him, "For
God's sake, we forgive you!" Captain Cameron then read aloud Dr.
Beke's letter and the petition of the prisoners' relatives. The
reconciliation effected, the Emperor dictated a letter for our
Queen, and Mr. Flad was selected to convey it. We then all had our
tents pitched in a large enclosure, fenced that very morning under
his Majesty's supervision. We were once more all united; but this
time all prisoners. Mr. Flad left; we expected that his mission
would be unsuccessful, and that England, disgusted with so much
treachery, would not condescend to treat further, but enforce her
demands. The day Mr. Flad left, his wife accompanied the workmen,
who were ordered back to Kourata; with them we had much less
intercourse than before, as they were at all times timid, and very
careful not to have many dealings with doubtful friends of the King.

Zage was one of the principal towns of the formerly prosperous
and populous district of Metsha, but when we came we saw nought but
ruins; and had we not been told that the guicho and coffee-covered
hill was only a few weeks before the abode of thousands, we could
not have credited it; nor that the small circular patches, now green
with grass and weeds, had been the homes of a thriving and industrious

A few days after the reconciliation--the very morning Flad left for
England--his Majesty returned us our arms, and a portion of our
money; he also presented us at the same time with silver-mounted
shields, spears, and mules, and a few days later with horses. We
saw him on several occasions: twice he came to see us in our tents;
one day we went with him to assist at the trial of some guns made
by his European workmen; once duck-shooting with him on the lake;
another time to see him play the national game of goucks. He
endeavoured to appear friendly, supplied us with abundant rations,
and twice a day sent his compliments; he even fired a salute and
gave a feast on our Queen's birthday. Nevertheless, we felt unhappy:
our cage was gilt, but still a cage; and the experience we had had
of the King's treachery made us constantly fear a recurrence of it.
When we met him in Damot, and when we visited him before at Zage,
we had only seen the actor in his smiling mood; now all restraint
was thrown off: women were flogged to death close to our tents, and
soldiers laden with chains or beaten to death on the most trivial
pretexts. The true character of the tyrant became daily more apparent,
and we felt that our position was most dangerous and critical.

Theodore was still bent on building boats; seeing that everybody
seemed reluctant to help him he went to work himself; he made an
immense flat-bottomed bulrush boat of great thickness, and to propel
it made two large wheels worked by hand: in fact he had invented a
paddle steamer, only the locomotive agent was deficient. We saw it
several times on the water; the wheels were rather high up and it
required at least a hundred men on it to make them dip sufficiently.
Strange to say he spent his time in that frivolous way and never
took notice of a large rebel force not four miles from his camp.

Cholera had been making havoc in Tigre; we were not surprised,
therefore, to hear that it had spread over other provinces, and
that several cases had already broken out at Kourata. The King's
camp was pitched in a very unhealthy situation, on a low, swampy
ground; fevers, diarrhoea, and dysentery had prevailed to a great
extent. Informed of the approach of cholera, his Majesty wisely
decided upon moving his camp to the highlands of Begemder. Mrs.
Rosenthal was at the time very unwell, and could not stand the
journey by land; she was therefore allowed to proceed by water to
Kourata, accompanied by her husband, myself, and Captain Cameron,
also in delicate health. We started on the evening of the 31st of
May, and reached Kourata early the next morning. A gale of wind was
blowing at the time, and we had to make frequent stoppages on the
lee of the land, as the heavy sea frequently threatened to swamp
our frail boats. Without exaggeration, this last passage was in all
respects the _ne plus ultra_ of discomfort.


Second Residence in Kourata--Cholera and Typhus break out in
the Camp--The Emperor resolves to march to Debra Tabor--Arrival
at Gaffat--The Foundry transformed into a Palace--Political
Trial at Debra Tabor--The Black Tent--Dr. Blanc and Mr. Rosenthal
seized at Gaffat--Another Public Trial--The Black Hole--March with
the Emperor to Aibankab--Sent to Magdala, and Arrival at the Amba.

At Kourata a few empty houses were put at our disposal, and we went
to work to make these dirty native dwellings inhabitable. It was
rumoured that Theodore intended to spend the rainy season in the
neighbourhood, and on the 4th he made a sudden visit; he was only
accompanied by a few of his chiefs. He came and returned by water.
Ras Engeddah arrived about an hour before him. I was advised to go
and meet him on the beach; I therefore accompanied the Gaffat people,
who also went to present him their respects. His Majesty, on seeing
me, asked me how I was, if I liked the place, &c. No one ever knew
why he came. I believe, to judge for himself if the cholera was
raging there at the time or not, as he made many inquiries on the

On the 6th of June Theodore left Zage with his army; Mr. Rassam
and the other prisoners accompanied him; all the heavy baggage had
been sent by boat to Kourata. On the 9th, his Majesty encamped on
a low promontory south of Kourata. Cholera had by this time broken
out in the camp, and hundreds were dying daily. In the hope of
improving the sanitary condition of the army, the Emperor moved his
camp to some high ground a mile or so north of the town; but the
epidemic continued to rage with great virulence both in the camp
and in the town. The church was so completely choked up with dead
bodies that no more could be admitted, and the adjoining streets
offered the sad sight of countless corpses, surrounded by the
sorrowful relatives, awaiting for days and nights the hallowed grave
in the now crowded cemetery. Small-pox and typhus fever also made
their appearance, and claimed the victims cholera had spared.

On the 12th June we received orders to join the camp, as Theodore
intended to leave on the following day for the higher and more
healthy province of Begemder. On the 13th, at early morning, the
camp was struck, and we encamped in the evening on the banks of the
Gumare, a tributary of the Nile. The next day the march was resumed.
We had been more or less ascending since our departure from Kourata,
and Outoo (a beautiful plateau, our halting-place of the 14th) must
have been several thousand feet higher than the lake; nevertheless,
cholera, small-pox, and typhus fever continued unabated. His Majesty
inquired what was usually done in our country under similar
circumstances. We advised him to proceed at once to the higher
plateau of Begemder, to leave his sick at some distance from Debra
Tabor, to break up as far as possible his army, and distribute it
over the whole province, selecting a few healthy and isolated
localities where every fresh case that broke out should be sent.
He acted upon this advice, and before long had the satisfaction of
seeing the several epidemics lose their virulence, and, before many
weeks, disappear entirely.

On the 16th we made a very long march. We started at about 6 A.M.
and never halted once until we arrived at Debra Tabor at about 2
P.M. As soon as we reached the foot of the hill on which the Imperial
houses arise, we received a message from his Majesty telling us not
to dismount, and shortly afterwards he rode towards us, accompanied
by a few of his bodyguard. We all started for Gaffat, the European
station, about three miles east of Debra Tabor. _En route_ we
were overtaken by the most severe hailstorm I have ever seen or
experienced; such was its violence, that Theodore was several times
obliged to halt. The hail poured down in such thick masses, and the
stones were of such an enormous size, that it was indeed quite
painful to bear. At last we reached Gaffat, frozen and drenched to
the skin; but the Emperor, seemingly quite unaffected by the recent
shower, acted as our cicerone, and took us about the place, explaining
to us the foundry, workshops, water-wheels, &c. A few planks were
transformed into seats, and a fire lighted by his order, and we
remained with him alone for more than three hours, discussing the
laws and customs of England. Some carpets and cushions had been
left behind at Debra Tabor, and he sent back Ras Engeddah to have
them conveyed. As soon as he returned with the bearers, Theodore
led the way up the hill to Gaffat, and with his own hands spread
the carpets, and placed the throne in the house selected for Mr.
Rassam. Other houses were distributed to the other Europeans, after
which his Majesty left.

On the 17th June the European workmen, who had remained behind at
Kourata, arrived at Debra Tabor. We are not aware that they made
any objection to our occupying their houses, but the Emperor perceived
by their demeanour that they were not pleased; he therefore accompanied
them to Gaffat, and in a few hours had the foundry, by means of
shamas, gabis, and carpets, transformed into a very decent abode.
The throne was also conveyed there, and when all was ready we were
called. His Majesty, after apologizing for the accommodation he was
obliged to give us for a few days, returned to Debra Tabor, promising
that the next day he would see for a more suitable dwelling for his
guests. Accordingly, the following morning he arrived, and had
several native houses on a small hill opposite Gaffat cleared out
for our reception. As Mr. Rassam's house was rather small, that
gentleman took advantage of the circumstance to request that the
Emperor would withdraw the honour of placing the throne in his room.
His Majesty acquiesced, but had the place well carpeted, and the
walls and ceiling lined with white cloth. After all these daily
changes we thought that we were settled for the rainy season. Cholera
and typhus fever had made their appearance at Gaffat, and from
morning to night I was in constant attendance on the sick. One of
my patients, the wife of one of the Europeans, greatly occupied my
time: she had first been attacked with cholera, and was afterwards
laid for many days at death's door with typhus fever.

On the morning of the 25th of June we received a message from the
Emperor, to the effect that Mr. Rassam, his companions, the priests,
and any one he would like to take with him, should repair to Debra
Tabor, to be present at a political trial. The European workmen,
Cantiba, Hailo, and Samuel accompanied us. Arrived at Debra Tabor,
we were surprised at not being received with the usual salutations,
and instead of being at once conducted to the presence of Theodore,
we were ushered into a black tent pitched in the King's inclosure.
We surmised that the political trial concerned ourselves. We had
been seated but a few minutes, when the European workmen were sent
for by his Majesty. After a while they returned, with Cantiba Hailo,
Samuel, and an Afa Negus (mouth of the King), who delivered the
Imperial messages.

The first and most important was, "I have received a letter from
Jerusalem, in which I am told that the Turks are making railways
in the Soudan, to attack my country conjointly with the English and
French." The second message was much to the same effect, only adding
that as Mr. Rassam must have seen the railway in construction, he
ought to have informed his Majesty of it. The third question was,
"Is it not true that the Egyptian railway was built by the English?"
Fourthly, "Did he not give a letter to Consul Cameron for him to
deliver to the Queen of England, and did not the Consul return
without an answer? Did not Mr. Rosenthal say that the English
Government had laughed at his letter?" Altogether; there were some
seven or eight questions, but the others were insignificant, and I
do not remember them. A few days before a Greek priest had arrived
from the coast with a letter for his Majesty: Whether these statements
were contained in the missive; or were merely a pretext invented
by Theodore himself, to give a reason for the ill treatment he
intended to inflict upon his innocent guests, it is impossible to
say. The concluding message was, "You must remain here; your arms
his Majesty no longer trusts in your hands, but your property will
be sent to you."

Mr. Rosenthal obtained permission to return to Gaffat to see his
wife, and I was granted leave to accompany Samuel, as Mrs. Waldmeier
was that day in a very critical state. Mr. Rassam and the other
Europeans remained in the tent. Mr. Waldmeier, on account of his
wife's serious illness, had remained at Gaffat, and he was much
startled and grieved when he heard of our new misfortune; especially
as it would deprive his wife of medical attendance at a time her
life was despaired of. He begged me to remain near her for an hour,
whilst he would gallop to Debra Tabor to entreat his Majesty to let
me remain with him until his wife should be out of danger. Mrs.
Waldmeier is a daughter of the late Mr. Bell, who was held in great
esteem and affection by the Emperor. Not only did Theodore at once
grant Waldmeier's request, but added, that if Mr. Rassam had no
objection, he would allow me to remain at Gaffat, as sickness was
prevailing there, during the expedition he intended to make. As I
was much reduced by chronic diarrhoea and overexertion, I was much
pleased at the prospect of remaining at Gaffat, instead of campaigning
during the rains. Mr. Rassam himself on the following day requested
his Majesty to allow me and some of our companions to remain for
the rainy season at Gaffat. In my case and in Mr. Rosenthal's,
permission was granted, but was refused to all the others.

Every day we heard that orders had been issued for the camp to be
struck, but his Majesty did not leave. He daily inquired after Mrs.
Waldmeier, and sent me his compliments. He visited Gaffat twice
during the few days I was there, and on each occasion sent for me
and received me courteously. Mr. Rassam and the other Europeans
were allowed to come to Gaffat and spend the day with us; and
although now and then the word "Magdala" was whispered, still it
seemed as if the storm had blown over, and we hoped before long to
be all again united at Gaffat, and there in peace spend the rainy
season. On the 3rd of July an officer brought me the Imperial
compliments, and stated that his Majesty was coming to inspect the
works, and that I might present myself before him. I went at once
to the foundry, and on the road I met two of the Gaffat workmen
also proceeding there. A little incident then occurred, which was
followed by serious consequences. We met the Emperor near the
foundry, riding ahead of his escort; he asked us how we were, and
we all lowed and took off our hats. As he passed, along, the two
Europeans with whom I walked, covered themselves; but aware how
touchy his Majesty, was on all points of etiquette, I kept my head
uncovered, though the sun was hot and fierce. Arrived at the
foundry, the Emperor again greeted me cordially; examined for a few
minutes the drawing of a gun his workmen proposed to cast for him,
and then left, all of us following. In the courtyard he passed close
to Mr. Rosenthal, who did not bow, as Theodore took no notice of

As the Emperor issued from the foundry fence a poor old beggar asked
for alms, saying, "My lords (gaitotsh) the Europeans have always
been kind to me. Oh! my king, do you also relieve my distress!"
On hearing the expression "lord" applied to his workmen, he got
into a fearful passion. "How dare you call any one 'lord' but myself.
Beat him, beat him, by my death!" Two of the executioners at once
rushed upon the beggar, and began beating him with their long sticks,
Theodore all the while exclaiming, "Beat him, beat him, by my death!"
The poor old cripple, at first in heartrending terms, implored for
mercy; but his voice grew fainter and fainter, and in a few minutes
more there lay his corpse, that none dare remove or pray for. The
laughing hyenas that night caroused undisturbed on his abandoned

Theodore's rage was by no means abated by this act of cruelty; he
advanced a few steps, then stopped, turned, his lance in rest,
looking around, the very image of ungovernable fury. His eyes fell
upon Mr. Rosenthal. "Seize him!" cried he; Immediately several
soldiers rushed forward to obey the imperial command. "Seize the
man they call a Hakeem." Instantly a dozen ruffians pounced upon
me, and I was held fast by the arms, coat, trousers--by every place
that afforded a grip. He then addressed himself to Mr. Rosenthal.
"You donkey, why did you call me the son of a poor woman? Why did
you abase me?" Mr. Rosenthal said, "If I have offended your Majesty,
I beg for pardon." All the while the Emperor was shaking his lance
in a threatening manner, and every minute I expected that he would
throw it; I feared that, blind with rage, he would not be able to
control himself; and I well knew that if once he began to give vent
to his passions, my fate was also sealed.

Fortunately for us both, Theodore turned towards his European workmen
and abused them in no measured terms. "You slaves! Have I not bought
you with money? Who are you that you dare call yourselves 'lords?'
Take care!" Then addressing the two I had met on the road, he said,
"You are proud, are you? Slaves! Women! Rotten donkeys! you cover
your heads, in my presence! Did you not see me? Did not the Hakeem
keep his head uncovered? Poor men that I have made rich!" He then
turned towards me, and seeing me held by a dozen soldiers, he cried
out, "Let him go; bring him before me." All drew back except one,
who conducted me to within a few feet from the Emperor. He then
asked me, "Do you know Arabic?" Though I understand a little of
that language, I thought it more prudent, under the circumstances,
to reply in the negative. He then told Mr. Schimper to translate
what he was going to say. "You, Hakeem, are my friend. I have nothing
against you; but others have abused me, and you must come up with
me to witness their trial." Then ordering Cantiba Hailo to give me
his mule, he mounted, I and Mr. Rosenthal following; the latter on
foot, dragged the whole way by the soldiers who had first seized

As soon as we reached Debra Tabor, the Emperor sent word to Mr.
Rassam to come out with the other Europeans, as he had something
to tell him. Theodore sat upon a rock, about twenty yards in front
of us; between him and ourselves stood a few of his high officers,
and behind us a deep line of soldiers. He was still angry, breaking
the edges of the rock with the butt-end of his lance, and spitting
constantly between his words. He at once addressed himself to the
Rev. Mr. Stern, and asked him, "Was it as a Christian, a heathen,
or a Jew, that you abused me? Tell me where you find in the Bible
that a Christian ought to abuse? When you wrote your book, by whose
authority did you do it? Those who abused me to you, were they my
enemies or yours? Who was it told you evil things against me?" &c.
He afterwards said to Mr. Rassam, "You, also, have, abused me."
"I?" replied Mr. Rassam. "Yes, you; in four instances. First, you
read Mr. Stern's book, wherein I am abused; secondly, you did not
reconcile me with the prisoners, but wanted to send them out of the
country; thirdly, your Government allows the Turks to keep Jerusalem--it
is my inheritance. The fourth I have forgotten." He then asked Mr.
Rassam whether he knew or not that Jerusalem belonged to him, and
that the Abyssinian convent there had been seized by the Turks? As
the descendant of Constantine and Alexander the Great, India and
Arabia belonged to him. He put many foolish questions of the same
kind. At last he said to Samuel, who was interpreting, "What have
you to say if I chain your friends?" "Nothing," replied Samuel;
"are you not the master?" Chains had been brought, but the answer
somewhat pacified him. He then addressed one of his chiefs, saying,
"Can you watch these people in the tent?" The other, who knew his
answer, replied, "Your Majesty, the house would be better." On
that he gave orders for our baggage to be conveyed from the black
tent to a house contiguous to his own, and we were told to go.

The house assigned to us was formerly used as a godown: it was built
of stone, with a large verandah all around, and closed by a single
small door, with no window or other aperture. It was only when
several lighted candles had been brought that we could find our way
into the dark central room, and it only required numbers to react
the fearful drama of the Calcutta Black Hole. Some soldiers carried
in our bedding, and a dozen guards sat near us, holding lighted
candles in their hands. The Emperor sent us several messages. Mr.
Rassam took advantage of this circumstance to complain bitterly of
the unfair treatment inflicted upon us. He said, "Tell his Majesty
that I have done my best to bring on a good understanding between
my country and him; but when to-day's work is known, whatever the
consequences may be, let him not throw the blame upon me." Theodore
sent back word, "If I treat you well or not; it is the same; my
enemies will always say that I have ill-treated you, so it does not

A little later we were rather startled by a message from his Majesty,
informing us that he could not rest before comforting his friend,
and that he would come and see us. Though we did our best to dissuade
him from such a step, he soon afterwards came; accompanied by some
slaves carrying arrack and tej. He said, "Even my wife told me not
to go out, but I could not leave you in grief, so I have come to
drink with you." On that he had arrack and tej presented to all of
us, himself setting the example.

He was calm, and rather serious, though he made great efforts to
appear gay. He must have remained at least an hour; conversing on
different topics, the Pope of Rome being the principal one discussed.
Amongst other things: he said, "My father was mad, and though people
often say that I am mad also; I never would believe it; but now I
know it is true." Mr. Rassam answered, "Pray do not say such a
thing." His Majesty replied, "Yes, yes, I am mad," Shortly before
leaving, he said, "Do not look at my face or take heed of my words
when I speak to you before my people, but look at my heart: I have
an object." As he returned, he gave orders to the guards to withdraw
outside, and not to inconvenience us. Though we have seen him since
then once or twice, at a distance, it is the last time we conversed
with him.

The two days we spent in the black hole at Debra Tabor, all huddled
up together, obliged to have lighted candles day and night, and in
anxious uncertainty about our future fate, were really days of
mental torture and physical discomfort. We hailed with joy the
announcement that we were going to move; any alternative was
preferable to our position--be it rain in a worn-out tent, be it
chains in one of the ambas--anything was better than close confinement,
deprived of all comforts, even of the cheering light of day.

At noon on the 5th of July, we were informed that his Majesty had
already left, and that our escort was in attendance. All were
delighted at the prospect of seeing fresh air and green fields and
bright sun. We did not require a second command, and did not even
give a second thought to the journey, rain, mud, and such like
inconveniences. On that day we made but a short stage, and encamped
on a large plain called Janmeda, a few miles south of Gaffat.
Early morning the following day the army moved off, but we waited
in the rear at least three hours before the order came for us to
start. Theodore, seated on a rock, had allowed the whole force,
camp-followers included, to go on in advance, and like us, unprotected
from the pouring rain, and seemingly in deep thought, examined the
different corps as they passed before him. We were now strictly
watched; several chiefs with their men guarded us day and night, a
detachment marched ahead of us, another in the rear, and a strong
party never lost sight of us.

We halted that afternoon on a large plain near a small eminence
called Kulgualiko, on which the Imperial tents were pitched. The
following day, the same mode of departure was adopted, and after
travelling all night we halted at a place called Aibankab, at the
foot of Mount Guna, the highest peak in Begemder, often covered
during the rainy season with frozen hail.

We remained the 8th at Aibankab. In the afternoon his Majesty told
us to ascend the hill on which his tents were pitched, to see the
snow-covered summit of the Guna, as from our position below we could
not obtain a good view of it. A few polite messages passed between
us, but we did not see him.

Early on the 9th, Samuel, our balderaba, was sent for. He stayed
away a long time, and on his return informed us that we were to go
on in advance, that our heavy baggage would be sent after us, and
that we must keep with us a few light articles which the soldiers
of our escort and our mules could carry. Several of the officers
of the Imperial household, to whom we had shown some kindness, came
to bid us good-by, all looking very sad--one with tears in his eyes.
Though no one informed us of our destination, we all surmised that
Magdala and chains were our lot.

Bitwaddad Tadla, with the men under his command, now took charge
of us. We soon perceived that we were more strictly guarded than
ever; one or two mounted soldiers had special charge of each separate
individual of our party, flogging the mules if they did not go fast
enough, or causing those in front to wait until the less well mounted
could come up. We made a very long march on that day, from 9 A.M.
to 4 P.M., without a halt. The soldiers, who carried a few parcels,
came on shortly after us, but the baggage mules only arrived at
sunset, and dead tired. As the small rowties we had brought with
us had not arrived, the head of the guard had a house in the village
of Argabea cleared out for our reception. No food being forthcoming,
we killed a sheep and broiled it over the fire, Abyssinian fashion;
hungry and tired, we thought it the most exquisite meal we had ever

At sunrise, the following morning, our guards told us to get ready,
and soon after we were in the saddle. Our route lay E.S.E. Any
slight doubts we might still have had about our destination now
vanished; the former prisoners knew too well the road to Magdala
to have any misgivings on the subject. On the previous day the road
was a gradual ascent over a well-cultivated and populous district;
but on the 10th, the country bore a wild aspect, few villages were
to be seen, and but few dark tufts of cedars graced the summit of
the distant hills, proclaiming the presence of a church. The scenery
was grand, and for the artist no doubt full of attractions; but for
Europeans, driven like cattle by semi-barbarians, the precipitous
descents and steep acclivities had certainly no charms. After a few
hours' march, we arrived at an almost perpendicular precipice (almost
1,500 feet in height, and not more than a quarter of a mile in
breadth), that we had both to descend and ascend in order to reach
the next plateau. Another couple of hours' march brought us to the
gate's of Begemder. In front of us arose the plateau of Dahonte,
only about a couple of miles distant, but we had to ascend a more
abrupt precipice than the one we had just passed and climb again
a steeper ascent before we could reach it. The valley of the Jiddah,
a tributary of the Nile, was between us and our halting-place--a
stiff march, as the silver thread we viewed from the narrow passage
between the basaltic columns of the Eastern Begemder ridge was 3,000
feet below us. Tired and worn out, at last; we accomplished our

We halted for the night at a place called Magat, on the first terrace
of the Dahonte plateau, about 500 feet from the summit. Our small
tent arrived in time, our servants had carried with them a few
provisions, and we managed to make a frugal meal; but only one or
two of the best baggage mules made their appearance, so that we had
to lie on the bare ground--those best off on leathern skins. It was
five days after our arrival at Magdala before a small portion of
our luggage arrived, and until then we could not even change our
clothes, and had nothing to protect ourselves against the cold
nights of the rainy season. Early on the morning of the 11th we
continued our ascent, and soon reached the splendid plateau of
Dahonte. This small province is but a large circular plain about
twelve miles in diameter, covered at the time of our journey, with
fields in all stages of cultivation, and with beautiful green
meadows, where grazed thousands of heads of cattle, and where mules,
horses, and innumerable flocks everywhere meet the eye. The whole
circumference of this plain is dotted with small rounded hillocks,
and from their base to the summit numerous well-built villages
arise. Dahonte is certainly the most fertile and picturesque district
I have seen in Abyssinia.

By noon we reached the eastern extremity of the plateau, and there
before us again appeared one of those awful chasms we had encountered
twice on our road since leaving Debra Tabor. We did not at all
rejoice at the idea of having to descend, then wade through the
wide and rapid Bechelo, and again climb the opposite precipice--a
perfect wall--to complete our day's work. Fortunately, our mules
were so tired that the chief of our guard halted, for the night
half way down the descent, at one of the villages that are perched
on the several terraces of this basaltic mountain. At dawn on the
12th we continued our descent, crossed the Bechelo, and ascended
to the opposite plateau of Watat, where we arrived at eleven A.M.
There we made a slight halt and partook of a frugal breakfast, sent
by the chief of Magdala to Bitwaddad Tadla, who kindly shared it
with us.

From Watat to Magdala the road is an inclined plain, constantly but
gradually shelving upwards towards the high plateau of the Wallo
country--the end of our journey, as Magdala is on its border. The
amba, with a few isolated mountains, all perpendicular and crowned
with walls of basalt, seem like miniatures of the large expanses
of Dahonte and Wallo--small particles detached from the neighbouring
gigantic masses.

The road on nearing Magdala is more abrupt; one or two conical hills
have to be crossed before the amba itself is reached. Magdala is
formed of two cones, separated by a small plateau named Islamgee,
a few hundred feet lower than the two peaks it divides. The northern
peak is the higher of the two, but on account of the absence of
water and the small space it affords, it is not inhabited; and to
Magdala alone belonged the privilege of being Theodore's most famous
fortress, his treasury, and his gaol.

From Islamgee the ascent is steeper, but we were able to ride on
our mules up to the second door; a feat we could not perform whilst
ascending from the Bechelo and Jiddah, as we had not only to descend
almost all the way on foot, but had frequently to dismount at the
ascent, and climb on all-fours, leaving the mules to find their way
as best they could. The distance from Watat to Magdala is generally
accomplished in five hours, but we were nearly seven, as we had to
make frequent halts, and messengers came to and fro from the Amba.
Many of the chiefs of the mountain came out to meet Bitwaddad Tadla.

At Islamgee another long halt was made, I suppose while our _lettre
de cachet_ was examined by the chiefs in council. At last, one
by one, counted like sheep, we passed the doors, and were taken to
a large open space in front of the King's house. There we were met
by the Ras (Head of the mountain) and the six superior chiefs, who
join with him in council on every important occasion. As soon as
they had greeted Bitwaddad Tadla they retired a few yards, and
consulted with him and Samuel. After a few minutes, Samuel told us
to come on; and, accompanied by the chiefs, escorted by their
followers, we were taken to a house near the Imperial fence. A fire
was lighted. To fatigued and dejected men the prospect of a roof,
after so many days passed in the rain, cheered us even in our misery,
and when the chiefs had retired, leaving a guard at the door, we
soon forgot--talking, smoking, or sleeping near the fire--that we
were the innocent victims of base treachery. Two houses had been
allowed to our party. At first we all slept in one of them, the
other being made over to the servants, and used as a kitchen.


Our First House at Magdala--The Chief has a "little Business"
with us--Feelings of an European when being put in Chains--The
Operation described--The Prisoner's Toilet--How we Lived--Our
first Messenger a Failure--How we obtained Money and Letters--A
Magdala Diary--A Rainy Season in a Godjo.

It was already dark when we had arrived the evening before. Our
first thought in the morning was to examine our new abode. It
consisted of two circular huts, surrounded by a strong thorny fence,
adjoining the Emperor's Enclosure. The largest hut was in a bad
state of repair; and as the roof, instead of being supported by a
central pole, had about a dozen of lateral ones forming as many
separate divisions, we made it over to our servants and to our
balderaba Samuel. The one we kept for ourselves had been built by
Ras Hailo, at one time a great favourite of Theodore, but who had
unfortunately fallen under his displeasure. Ras Hailo was not chained
during the time he remained in that house: for a time he was even
"pardoned," and made chief of the mountain. But Theodore, after a
while, again deprived him of his command and confidence, and sent
him to the common gaol, chained like the other prisoners. For an
Abyssinian house it was well built; the roof was almost the best I
saw in the country, being made with small bamboos closely arranged
and bound with rings of the same material. After Ras Hailo had been
sent to the gaol, his house had been made over to the favourite of
the day, Ras Engeddah; but, according to custom, Theodore took it
away from him to lodge his English guests.

For us it was small: we were eight, and the place could not contain
easily more than four. The evenings and nights were bitterly cold,
and the fire occupying the centre of the room, some of us had to
lay half the body in a recess that leaked, and half in the room.
At first we felt our position bitterly. The rainy season had set
in, and hailstorms occurred almost every day. Many of us (Prideaux
and myself amongst them) had not even a change of clothes, no
bedding, nor anything to cover ourselves with during the long cold
damp nights; and I always shall remember with feelings of gratitude
the Samaritan act of Samuel, who, pitying me, kindly lent me one
of his shamas.

We had hardly any money, and we had not the remotest idea from
whence we could obtain any. Though there was some talk of rations
being supplied from the Imperial stores, the former captives only
laughed at the idea; they knew, from bitter experience, that prisoners
on Amba Magdala "were expected to give, but never to receive." The
event proved that their surmises were right: we never received
anything from the man who on all occasions loudly proclaimed himself
our friend but a small jar of tej, that for some months was daily
sent to Samuel: (I believe all the time it was intended for him;
at all events, he and his friends drank it;) and on great feast
days a couple of lean, hungry-looking cows, of which, I am delighted
to say, I declined a share.

To the European, accustomed to find at his door every necessary of
life, the fact that not a shop exists throughout the breadth and
width of Abyssinia may appear strange; but still it is so. We had,
therefore, to be our own butchers and bakers, and as for what is
called grocery stores, we had simply to dispense with them. Our
food was abominably bad; the sheep we purchased were little better
than London cats; and as no flour-mill is to be found in Abyssinia,
far less any bakers, we were obliged to purchase the grain, beat
it to remove the chaff, and grind it between two stones--not the
flat grinding-stones of Egypt or India, but on a small curved piece
of rock, where the grain is reduced to flour by means of a large
hard kind of pebble held in the hand. It was brown bread with a
vengeance. On the mountain we might buy eggs and fowls; but as the
first were generally bad when sold to us, we soon got disgusted
with them; and though we put up with the fowls as a change of diet,
their toughness and leanness would have made them rejected everywhere
else. Being the rainy reason, we had great difficulty in purchasing
a little honey. Wild coffee was now and then obtainable; but it
made, in the absence of sugar, and with or without smoky milk, such
a bitter, nauseous compound, that, after a while, I and others
preferred doing without it. Such was then the amount of "luxuries"
we had to depend on during our long captivity,--coarse, vitreous-looking,
badly-baked bread; the ever-returning dish of skinny, tough mutton,
the veteran cock, smoked butter, and bitter coffee. Tea, sugar,
wine, fish, vegetables, &c., were not, either for love or money,
to be obtained anywhere. The coarseness and uniformity of our food,
however, was as nothing compared with our dread of being starved
to death; for even the few and inferior articles I have mentioned
would fail us when our money was expended.

I was very badly off for clothes. Before leaving Debra Tabor, I was
told to leave everything behind in the charge of the Gaffat people,
and only take with me the few things I required for the road. My
only pair of shoes, what from rain, sun, and climbing, had become
so thoroughly worn-out, and so hard, as to bring on a wound that
took months to heal, so that until the arrival of one of my servants
from the coast, many months afterwards, I had to walk, or rather
crawl, about on naked feet.

Life in common among men of different tastes and habits is, indeed,
dreadful. There we were, eight Europeans, all huddled up in the
same small place, a waiting-room, a dining-room, a dormitory; most
of us entire strangers before, and only united by one bond--common
misfortune. Adversity is but little fitted to improve the temper:
on the contrary, it breaks down all social habits; the more so if
education and birth do not enable the sufferer to contend against
the greatest difficulties. We feared above all things that familiarity
which creeps on so naturally between men of totally different social
positions, and leads to harsh words and contempt. We had to live
on terms of equality with one of the former servants of Captain
Cameron; we had to be quiet if some remained talking part of the
night, and put up silently with the defects of others in the hope
that our own might meet with the same leniency.

A party of soldiers, varying from fifteen to twenty, came every
evening a little before dusk, and pitched a small black tent almost
opposite our door. As it frequently rained at night, the greater
number of the soldiers remained in the tent; only two or three,
supposed to be watching, went to sleep under the shelter of a
projecting part of the roof. They did not disturb us, and, if we
went out after dark, they merely watched where we went, but did not
follow. In the daytime we had four guards, two taking it in turn
to watch the gate of our inclosure. These men were never changed
during all the time of our stay; but we had not much reason to be
satisfied with the selection made, as, with one exception, our day
guards were fearful rascals and dangerous spies.

We had already spent three days at Magdala, and were beginning to
hope that our punishment would be limited to "simple imprisonment,"
when about noon on the 16th we perceived the chief, accompanied by
a large escort, coming in the direction of our prison. Samuel was
sent for, and a long consultation took place between him and the
chief outside the gate. We were yet in ignorance of what was going
on, and felt rather uncomfortable when Samuel returned to us with
a serious countenance, and told us that we must all go into the
room, as the chief had a "little business" with us. We obeyed, and
shortly afterwards the Ras (Head of the mountain), the five members
of council, and about eight or ten more presented themselves. The
Ras and the principal chiefs, all armed to the teeth, squeezed
themselves into the room, the others remaining outside. The ordinary
Abyssinian conversation--that is to say, a great deal of talking
about religion, looking pious, taking God's and the King's name in
vain every minute--opened the proceedings. I was sitting near the
door, and as the conversation did not interest me much, I was looking
at the motley crowd outside, when all at once I perceived that two
or three men were carrying large bundles of chains. I pointed them
out to Mr. Rassam, and asked him if he believed they intended them
for us; he spoke to Samuel in Arabic on the subject, and the
affirmative answer he received revealed to us the subject of the
long consultation that had taken place outside.

The Ras now dropped the desultory conversation he had been holding
since his arrival, and in quiet terms informed us that it was the
custom of the mountain to chain every prisoner sent there; that he
had received no instructions from the Emperor, and would at once
despatch a messenger to inform him that he had put us in irons, and
he had no doubt that before long his master would send orders for
our fetters to be removed, but that in the meanwhile we must submit
to the rules of the amba; he added that in our case it was with
regret that he felt himself obliged to enforce them. The poor fellow
really meant well; he was kind-hearted and, for an Abyssinian, had
gentlemanly manners; he had some hope that Theodore might have by
that time regretted the unnecessary and cruel order, and would
perhaps seize the opportunity he thus offered him and cancel it.
I may as well add here that, not many months afterwards, the Ras
was accused of being in correspondence with the king of Shoa; he
was taken in irons to the camp, where he shortly afterwards died
from the consequences of the many tortures inflicted upon him.

The chains were brought, and the real business of the day began;
one after another we had to submit to the operation, the former
captives being first served and favoured with the heaviest chains.
At last my turn came. I was made to sit down on the ground, tuck
up my trousers, and place my right leg on a large stone that had
been brought for the purpose. One of the rings was then placed on
my leg a couple of inches above the right ankle, and down came,
upon the thick cold iron, a huge sledge-hammer: every stroke vibrated
through the whole limb, and when the hammer fell not quite straight
it pressed the iron ring against the bone, causing most acute pain.
It took about ten minutes to fix on properly the first ring; it was
beaten down until a finger could just be introduced between the
ring and the flesh, and then the two pieces, where they overlapped
one another, were hammered down until they perfectly joined. The
operation was then performed on the left leg. I was always afraid
of the blacksmith missing the iron and smashing my leg to pieces.
All at once I felt as if the limb was being torn asunder; the ring
had broken just when the operation was nearly completed. For the
second time I had to submit to the hammering process, and this time
the fetter was rivetted to the entire satisfaction of the smith and

I was now told that I might rise and go to my seat; but that was
no easy matter, and, having no practice in this, for me, quite new
way of locomotion, I could hardly take the necessary three or four
steps. Although I was in great bodily pain, and felt deeply the
degradation we were subjected to, I would not give the officers of
the man who was thus ill-treating us cause to believe that I cared
in the least about it. On rising to my legs I lifted up my cap and
shouted, to their great astonishment, "God save the Queen," and
went on laughing and chatting as if I felt perfectly happy. As every
detail of our life was reported to Theodore, and my contempt for
his chains was public, he was at once informed of it: but he only
mentioned the fact twenty-one months afterwards, when he alluded
to it in conversation with Mr. Waldmeier, to whom he said that every
one allowed themselves to be chained without saying a word; that
even Mr. Rassam had smiled upon them; but that the doctor and Mr.
Prideaux had looked at them with anger.

After the operation was over, and the witnesses of the scene had
each favoured us with a "May God open thee," the messenger the
chiefs were sending to Theodore (a fellow named Lib, a great spy,
and confidant of the Emperor; the same who had brought our _lettres
de cachet_,) was introduced to receive any message Mr. Rassam
desired to convey to his Majesty. That gentleman, in quiet and
courteous words, reproached his Majesty for his treachery, and cast
upon him the onus of the consequences such unfair treatment would
most likely bring upon him. Unfortunately Samuel, always timid, and
at this time almost dead with fright, as he did not know whether
chains were not in reserve for him also, declined to interpret, and
simply sent the ordinary compliments instead.

When our gaolers had withdrawn, we looked at one another, and the
sight was so ridiculous, so absurd, that for all our sorrow we could
not help laughing heartily. The chains consisted of two heavy rings
connected together by three small thick links, leaving just a span
between one ring and the other; and these we wore for nearly
twenty-one months! At first we could not walk at all; our legs were
bruised and sore from the hammering on, and the iron pressing on
the ankles was so painful that we were obliged to tie bandages under
the chains during the daytime. At night I always took off the
bandages, as the constant impediment to the circulation they
occasioned, caused the feet to swell; yet at night we felt the
weight and pressure even more than during the day: our legs seemed
for a long time never to get rest; we could not move them about,
and when in our sleep we turned from one side to the other, the
links, by striking the bone of the leg, caused such acute pain as
to awake us at once. Though after a time we got more accustomed to
them, and could walk about our small inclosure with more ease, still
every now and then we had to remain quiet for some days, as the
legs got sore, and small ulcers appeared on the parts where the
greatest pressure bore. Even since they have been removed, for
months my legs were weaker than before, the ankles smaller, and the
feet somewhat enlarged.

The evening we were put in chains we had to cut open our trousers
as the only way of getting them off. During their former captivity
at Magdala, Messrs. Cameron, Stern and others, either wore petticoats
or native drawers, which they had been taught to pass between the
leg and the chain. But we had no material at hand to make the first,
and as for passing even the thinnest cambric through the rings in
the swollen condition of the limb, that was quite out of the question.
Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention: at all events I
invented the "Magdala trousers." On taking off mine that evening,
I cut them near the outward seam, and collecting all the buttons I
could obtain, had them sewed on, and button-holes made along the
Beam as near to one another as my limited supply allowed. Some weeks
afterwards I was able, with the assistance of a native, to pass
through the rings calico drawers; and as my legs grew thinner, in
time, I was able to put on trousers made of thin Abyssinian cotton
cloth; and such is the force of habit and practice, that at last I
could take off or put on my trousers as quickly almost as if my
legs were free.

We had gone to bed early that evening, not knowing what to do, when
we heard a discussion going on outside our hut between Samuel and
the chief of the guard that night, named Mara, a descendant of some
Armenian and a great worshipper of his Imperial master. Samuel at
last came in and told us that he had endeavoured to persuade the
officer not to disturb us, but that he insisted on examining our
chains to see if they were all right. We declined at first to submit
to the inspection, and only consented, in order to get rid of the
fellow, to shake our chains under the shama with which we were
covered, as he passed from one to another.

As we expected to be at least six months in Magdala--giving time
for the news to reach England, and the troops to arrive that we
felt certain would immediately be despatched to set us free and
punish the despot--Mr. Rassam endeavoured, through Samuel, to obtain
a few more huts for our accommodation. Samuel spoke to the Ras and
to the other chiefs, and they agreed to give us a small hut and two
godjos, (small huts, the roof formed by the ends of the twigs being
tied together at the free extremity, and the whole covered with
straw,) when they would have collected wood enough to make a new
fence. In the meanwhile two of us, Pietro and Mr. Kerans, were
induced to live in the kitchen, where they would have more room and
leave more space for ourselves.

Our first thought on reaching Magdala was to communicate the
intelligence to our friends and to Government; since we had been
chained we knew that every hour lost was a day added to our discomfort
and misery, and that we ought to lose no time in sending a trusty
messenger to Massowah. It was always very difficult for us to
write, but more so in the beginning, as we were afraid even of
Samuel, afterwards so useful in all that concerned our messengers.
All the country up to Lasta still recognized Theodore, and we were
obliged to be very guarded in our expressions, in case the letter
should fall into the hands of some of his chiefs and be forwarded
to him. On the 18th, our packet was ready; but, strange to say, it
was the only time our letter came to grief. We could only trust
servants that had been some time with us,--at least, so we thought
at the time,--and therefore selected an old servant of Cameron who
had been formerly, on several occasions, employed as messenger. He
was a good man, a first-rate walker, but very quarrelsome; and to
spite his adversary was capable of anything. To accompany him through
the rebel country we obtained a servant from a political prisoner,
Dejatch Maret: they were to travel together and return with an
answer from Mr. Munzinger. Soon after, leaving Magdala, the two
began to quarrel, and on reaching the rebels' outposts, a question
of precedence between them led to the discovery of our packet; both
messengers were seized, tied with ropes for a few days, and when
released, our man was told to go back, and the letters were burnt.
Afterwards we made better arrangements: the messengers carried in
their belts the letters which were of a dangerous nature; otherwise
we sewed them up in leather, in the shape of the amulets and charms
worn by the natives, or had them stitched between patches on old
trousers, or near the seams. Those writing from the coast used the
same precautions; and though we must have sent about forty messengers
with letters during our captivity, without mentioning those employed
elsewhere, they all, with the one exception I have mentioned, reached
in safety.

Next came the question so vital to us, how to get money. It so
happened that Theodore, about that time, gave a thousand dollars
to each of his workmen. Many of them, judging from the political
condition of the country that the Emperor's power would soon fall
entirely, were desirous of sending their money out of the country,
and as we were only too anxious to get some, the matter was easily
arranged to our mutual satisfaction. We sent servants to Debra
Tabor; and as the road was still safe, and we had, by suitable
presents, made friends of the chiefs of the districts that lay in
the way, the servants were not molested or plundered. They carried
the dollars either in bags, on mules, laden at the same time with
grain or flour which the Gaffat people now and then sent us, or
tied in the long cotton sash that Abyssinians wear as a belt.
Directions were also given to Mr. Munzinger to forward money to
Metemma, from whence we could draw it by sending servants. It was
only during the second year of our captivity that we experienced
any serious difficulty on that score. The Emperor's power became
more and more limited; rebels and thieves infested the roads; the
route between Metemma and Magdala was closed; the Gaffat people had
none to spare; and at one time it seemed as if it was perfectly
impossible for messengers to reach us. Though for months we were
rather hard up, what by employing servants of political prisoners,
friends or relatives of the rebels, by using the influence of the
Bishop, or through the protection of Wagshum Gobaze, money again
found its way to Magdala, and relieved us from our apprehensions.
Theodore knew indirectly that we sent servants to the coast, but
as it is the custom to allow prisoners' servants to go to their
masters' families to beg for them, he could not well forbid us; the
more so as he never gave us anything. If messengers had fallen into
his hands he would probably have plundered the money, but not injured
them. As for letters it was quite a different affair: if those we
wrote had by accident come into his possession, he would have made
short work of the messenger, and most certainly of us also.

It might appear strange that the Abyssinians--a race of thieves--should
have proved themselves so honest on these occasions, and not absconded
with the couple of hundred dollars entrusted to them: a fortune for
a poor servant. Though it would be ungrateful to run down these
men, who exposed themselves to great perils, often travelled the
whole distance from Massowah to Magdala at night, and who, I may
say, saved us from starvation; still I believe that they acted more
on the old adage that honesty is the best policy, than from any
innate virtue. First, they were handsomely rewarded, well treated,
and expected a further reward (which they very properly received)
should fortune once more smile upon us; Secondly, all the great
rebel chiefs befriended us, and we should have had but to communicate
with them directly, or, better still, through the Bishop; for them
to have at once seized the delinquent, deprived him of his ill-gotten
wealth, and punished him severely. This they knew perfectly well.

Looking back, I cannot imagine how I got through the long, dreary
days of idleness, always the same, for twenty-one months. Chains
were nothing compared to the fearful want of occupation. Suppose
we had kept a daily diary, the entries would have been generally
as follows:--"Took a bath (a painful operation, as the chains,
unsupported by the bandages, hurt fearfully); small boy helps to
pass my trousers between the chains. To-day, being dry, we crawled
up and down our fifteen yards' walk. Breakfast; felt happier that
task over. Sick came for medicine. As I am doctor and apothecary,
prescribed and made the medicine myself. Samuel, or some trusty
native friend who knows that my tej is ripe, came for a glass or
two. Go now and smoke a pipe with Cameron. Lay down and read
McCulloch's _Commercial Dictionary_; very interesting book,
but sends me to sleep. Afternoon, lay down and got up again; tried
once more the _Commercial Dictionary_. Dinner (I wonder what
age the cock we ate had reached); crawled about for, an hour between
the huts; lay down, took Gadby's _Appendix_; but as I knew it
by heart, even his curious descriptions have no more attraction.
Small boy lighted the fire; the wood was green, the smoke fearful.
Had a game of whist with Rassam and Prideaux. I do not suppose they
would play with our dirty cards in a guard-room. Lost twenty points.
Small boy took off the trousers. The guards were cursing us because
they had to sleep outside in the rain. Bravo, Samuel, you are a
friend indeed!"

This imaginary page I might repeat _ad infinitum_. As a change,
sometimes we wrote to our friends, or received letters and some
scraps of newspapers--delightful days; few and far between. On
Sundays we had divine service; Mr. Stern, though sick and weary,
always did his utmost to comfort and encourage us. Such was, as a
rule, our daily life: it is true we had our exciting times, perhaps
too much of it at the end; we had also, now and then, a few other
occupations, such as building a new hut, making a small garden,
settling a quarrel amongst the servants: details that will come in
our narrative as we proceed. I mentioned that the chiefs had
promised to enlarge our fence; they kept to their word. Four or
five days after we had undergone the chaining operation, they made
us another visit, consulted, discussed for a long time, and at last
agreed to make a small break in the fence and inclose the three
huts they had promised us. Samuel, who had the distribution of the
new premises, gave the small house to Rassam, took one of the godjos
for himself, and gave the third one to Prideaux and myself. Kerans
and Pietro were still to remain in the kitchen, so that our first
house was left to Messrs. Cameron, Stern, and Rosenthal.

On the 23rd July, 1866, Prideaux and myself entered our new abode:
and, without exaggeration, if a dog were tied up in a similar shed
in England I may say that the owner would be prosecuted by the
Society for the Protection of Animals. As it was, we were only too
happy to get it, and at once went to work--not to make it comfortable,
that was quite out of the question, but--to try to keep out the


Description of Magdala--Climate and Water Supply--The Emperor's
Houses--His Harem and Magazines--The Church--Prison-house--Guards
and Gaol--Discipline--A previous Visit of Theodore to Magdala--Slaughter
of the Gallas--Character and Antecedents of Samuel--Our friends Zenab
the Astronomer, and Meshisha the Lute--player--Day Guards--We build
new Huts--Abyssinian and Portuguese Servants--Our Inclosure is enlarged.

Amba Magdala, distant about 320 [Footnote: According to Mr. C. Markham.]
miles from Zulla, and about 180 from Gondar, arises in the province
of Worahaimanoo, on the border of the Wallo Galla country. The
approach is difficult on account of the steep ascent and narrow
precipitous ravines that separate it from the rivers Bechelo and
Jiddah and from the table-land of Wallo. It stands almost
isolated--amongst gigantic surrounding masses, and viewed from the
western side possesses the appearance of a crescent. On the extreme
left of this curve appears a small flat plateau called Fahla,
connected by a strip of land with a peak higher than the amba itself,
and called Selassie (trinity), on account of the church erected
upon it, and designated by that name. From Selassie to Amba Magdala
itself there is a large plain called Islamgee, several hundred feet
lower than the two peaks it separates. At Islamgee several small
villages had been erected by the peasants who cultivate the land
for the Emperor, the chiefs, and soldiers of the amba. The servants
of the prisoners had also there a spot given to them where they
were allowed to build huts for themselves and cattle. On Saturday
a weekly market, formerly well supplied, was held at the foot of
Selassie. Numerous wells were generally sunk during the dry
season close to the springs of Islamgee, which wells afforded a
small but constant supply of water. From Islamgee the road up to
Magdala is very steep and difficult. To the first gate it follows,
at times very abruptly, the flank of the mountain. To the right,
the sides of the amba rise like a huge wall; below is a giddy abyss.
From the first to the second gate the road is exceedingly narrow
and steep, turning to the right at a sharp angle with the first
part of the road. Small earthworks had been erected on the flanks
near the gates, protecting every weak point; The summit of the ridge
was strongly fenced and loopholed. Two other gates led from the
amba to the foot of the mountain; one had some time before been
closed, but the other, called Kafir Ber, opened in the direction
of the Galla country. The amba is well fortified by nature, and
Theodore, to increase its strength, added some rude fortifications.

The Magdala plateau is oblong and somewhat irregular, about a mile
and a half in length, and on the average about a mile broad. It was
one of the strongest fortresses in Abyssinia, and by its position
between the rich and fertile plateau of Dahonte, Dalanta, and
Worahaimanoo, easily provisioned. Magdala is more than 9,000 feet
above the level of the sea; and enjoys a splendid climate. In the
evenings, almost all the year round, a fire is welcome, and, though
a month or two before the rains the temperature rises somewhat, in
the huts we never found it too hot to be uncomfortable. The high
land that surrounds the amba in the distance is barren and bleak,
due to the great altitude, and many of the peaks in the Galla country
are, for several months in the year, covered with snow or frozen
hail. Water, during and for some months after the rainy season, is
abundant, but from March to the first week in July it gets scarcer
and scarcer, until it is obtained only with difficulty. In order
to remedy this disadvantage, Theodore, with his usual forethought,
had several large tanks constructed on the mountain, and also sunk
wells in promising places. The effort was pretty successful; the
wells gave only a small supply of water, it is true, but it was a
constant one all the year round. The water collected in the tanks
was of very little use. Those reservoirs were not covered after the
rains, and the water, impregnated with all kinds of vegetable and
animal matter, soon became quite unfit to drink. The principal
springs are at Islamgee; there are a few on the amba itself, and
numerous less important ones issue from the sides, not many feet
from the summit, at the base of the ridge itself.

Magdala was not only used by Theodore as a fortress, but also as a
gaol, a magazine, a granary, and as a place of protection for his
wives and family. The King's house and the granary stood almost
in the centre of the amba; in front towards the west a large space
had been left open and clear; behind stood the houses of the officers
of his household; to the left, huts of chiefs and soldiers; to the
right, on a small eminence, the godowns and magazines, soldiers'
quarters, the church, the prison; and behind again another large
open space looking towards the Galla plateau of Tanta.

Theodore's houses had nothing regal about them. They were built
on the same pattern as the ordinary huts of the country, but only
on a larger scale. He himself, I believe, never, or at least very
rarely, lived in them; he preferred his tent at Islamgee, or on
some neighbouring height, to the larger and more commodious abode
on the amba. To his dislike to houses in general, I believe was
added a particular objection to shutting himself up in the fort.
The majority of these houses were occupied by Theodore's wives and
concubines, the eunuchs, and female slaves. The granary and tej
houses were in the same inclosure, but separated from the ladies'
department by a strong fence; the granary consisted of half a dozen
huge huts, protected from the rain by a double roof. They contained
barley, tef, beans, peas, and a little wheat. All the grain was
kept in leather bags piled up until they reached almost to the roof.
It is said that, at the time of the capture of Magdala by our troops,
there was grain in sufficient quantity stored in these granaries
to last the garrison and other inhabitants of the amba for at least
six months. The dwellings of the chiefs and soldiers were built on
the model of the Amhara houses--circular, with a pointed thatched
roof. The huts of the common soldiers were built without order, in
some places in such close proximity that if, as it happened on one
or two occasions, a fire broke out, in a few seconds twenty or
thirty houses were at once burnt to the ground: nothing could
possibly stop the conflagration but rapidly pulling down to leeward
the huts not as yet on fire. The principal chiefs had several houses
for themselves, all in one inclosure, surrounded and separated from
the soldiers' huts by a high and strong fence. Since about a year
before his death Theodore had been gradually accumulating at Magdala
the few remnants of his former wealth. Some sheds contained muskets,
pistols, &c.; others books and paper; others carpets, shamas, silks,
some powder, lead, shot, caps; and the best the little money he
still possessed, the gold he had seized at Gondar, and the property
of his workmen sent over to Magdala for safe custody. All the
store-huts were during the rainy season covered with black woollen
cloth, called mak, woven in the country. Once or twice a week the
chiefs would meet in consultation in a small house erected for that
purpose in the magazine inclosure to discuss public affairs, but,
above all, to assure themselves by personal inspection that the
"treasures" entrusted to their care were in perfect order and in
safe keeping.

The Magdala church, consecrated to the Saviour of the World (Medani
Alum), was not in any respect worthy of such an important place.
It was of recent date, small, unadorned with the customary
representations of saints, of the life of the Apostles, of the
Trinity, of God the Father, and the devil. No St. George was seen
on his white charger, piercing the dragon with his Amhara lance;
no martyr smiled benignly at his fiend-like tormentors. The mud
walls had not even been whitewashed; and every pious soul longed
for the accomplishment of Theodore's promise--the building of a
church worthy of his great name. The inclosure was as bare as the
holy place itself; no graceful juniper, tall sycamore, or dark green
guicho solemnized its precincts, or offered cool shade where the
hundred priests, defteras, and deacons who daily performed service,
could repose after the fatiguing ceremony--the howling and the
dancing to David's psalms. On the same line, but below the hillock
on which stood the church, the Abouna possessed a few houses and a
garden; but, alas for him, his _pied-a-terre_ had for several
years become his prison.

The prison-house, a common gaol for the political offenders, thieves,
and murderers, consisted of five or six huts inclosed by a strong
fence, and surrounded by the private dwellings of the more wealthy
prisoners and guards, extending from the eastern slope of the hillock
to the edge of the precipice and to the open space towards the
south. At the time of our captivity these houses cannot have contained
less than 660 prisoners. Of these, about 80 died of remittent fever,
175 were released by his Majesty, 307 executed, and 91 owed their
liberty to the stormers of Magdala. The prison rules were in some
respects very severe, in others mild and foreign to our civilized
ideas. At sunset every prisoner was ordered into the central
inclosure. As they passed the gate they were counted and their
fetters examined. The women had a hut for themselves; only a late
arrangement, however, as before they had to sleep in the same houses
as the men. The space was very limited and the prisoners were packed
in like herrings in a barrel. Abyssinians themselves, hard-hearted
as they are, described the scene at night as something fearful. The
huts, crowded to excess, were close, the atmosphere fetid, the
stench unbearable. There lay, side by side, the poor, starved
vagabond, chained hands and feet, and often with a large forked
piece of wood several yards long fixed round his neck, and the
warrior who had bled in many a hard-won fight, the governor of
provinces--nay, the sons of kings and conquered rulers themselves.
In the centre the guards, keeping candles lighted all night, laughed
or played some noisy game, indifferent to the sufferings of the
unfortunates they watched. At day-dawn, always about 6 A.M. in that
latitude, the prison-door was opened, and those who were lucky
enough to possess any, repaired to the huts they had erected in the
vicinity of the sleeping-houses, while the poorer crawled about the
prison inclosure, awaiting their pancake loaf with all the impatience
of hungry men, just kept from immediate starvation by the _bounty_
of the Emperor. Others strolled about in couples, begging from their
more favoured companions, or, when leave was granted, went from
house to house imploring alms in the name of the "Saviour of the

The prison guards were the greatest ruffians I have ever seen. They
had been for so many years in contact with misery in its worst shape
that the last spark of human feeling had died out in their callous
hearts. Instead of showing compassion or pity for their prisoners,
many of them innocent victims of a low treachery, they added to
their misery by the harshness and cruelty of their conduct. Had a
chief received at last a small sum of money from his distant province,
he was soon made aware that he must satisfy the greed of his rapacious
gaolers. But that was nothing compared to the moral tortures they
inflicted on their prisoners. Many of them had been for years
confined on the amba, and had brought their families to reside near
them. Woe to the woman who would not listen to the solicitations
of these infamous wretches; threatened and even beaten, few indeed
of the sorrowful wives and daughters held out; others willingly met
advances; and when the chief, the man of rank, or the wealthy
merchant, left his day house, he knew that his wife would immediately
receive her chosen lover, or, what was still more heartrending, a
man she despised but feared.

Such was the daily life of those whose fault was to have given ear
to the fair words of Theodore, an error that weighed heavier upon
them than a crime. But when the Emperor, on his way, stopped a few
days at Magdala, what anxiety, what anguish, reigned in that accursed
place! No day house, no hours spent with the family or the friend,
no food hardly; the prisoners must remain in the night houses, as
the Emperor at any moment might send for some one of them to set
him at liberty, or, more likely, to put an end to his miserable
existence. Let us take, for example, his visit to Magdala in the
first days of July, 1865, on his return from his unsuccessful
campaign in Shoa. No doubt long-continued misfortunes crush the
better qualities of men, and induce them to perform acts at the
mere thought of which in better days they would have blushed. Such
was the case with Beru Goscho, formerly the independent ruler of
Godjam. Since years he had lingered in chains. In the hope of
improving his position, he had the baseness to report to his Majesty
that when a rumour was started that he had been killed in Shoa, a
great many of the prisoners had rejoiced. Theodore, on receiving
this message, gave orders for all the political prisoners who were
only chained by the leg to have hand chains put on--exempting only
from this order his informer Beru Goscho. However, some days later,
this chief having sent a servant to Theodore to ask as a reward to
be allowed to have his wife near him, the Emperor, who did not
approve of treachery in others, pretended to be annoyed at his
request, and gave orders that he should also be put in hand chains.
But this was trifling compared with the massacre of the Gallas,
which happened during that same visit of Theodore. After subduing
the Galla country he required hostages. Accordingly, the Queen
Workite sent him her son, the heir to the throne; and many chiefs,
believing in the high character of Theodore, willingly accompanied
him. The Galla prince had at first been kindly treated; even made
governor of the mountain; but soon, on some pretext or other, he
was disgraced: first made a prisoner at large, and then sent to the
common gaol, to endure chains and misery for years.

Menilek, the grandson of Sehala Selassie, had been since his youth
brought up near the Emperor; he was entrusted with an independent
command, and in order to strengthen his adherence to his cause,
Theodore gave him his daughter in marriage. Under these circumstances,
I can easily fancy the rage and passion of Theodore when, one
morning, he was informed that Menilek had deserted with his followers,
and was already on his way to claim the dominions of his fathers.
The Emperor with a telescope saw on the distant Wallo plain Menilek
received, with honour by the Galla Queen Workite. Blind, with rage,
he had no thought but revenge. He dared not venture to pursue
Menilek and encounter the two allies; at hand he had easy victims--the
Galla prince and his chiefs. Theodore mounted his horse, called his
body-guard, and sent for those men, who had already lingered long
in captivity through trusting to his word, and then followed a scene
so horrible that I dare not write the details. All were killed
some--thirty-two, I believe--and their still breathing bodies hurled
over the precipice. It is probable that shortly afterwards Theodore
regretted having allowed himself to be guided by passion. With
Menilek he had lost Shoa; by the murder of the Galla prince he had
made those tribes his deadly foes. He sent word to the Bishop, "Why,
if I was acting wrongly, did you not come out with the 'Fitta Negust'
(Abyssinian code of law) in your hands, and tell me I was wrong?"
The Bishop's reply was simple and to the point:--"Because I saw
blood written in your face." However, Theodore soon consoled himself.
The rains were late, and water scarce on the amba: the next day it
rained. Theodore, full of smiles, addressed his soldiers, saying,
"See the rain; God is pleased with me because I have killed the

Such is Magdala, the sun-burnt barren rock, the arid lonely spot
where we had to undergo nearly two years of captivity in chains.

We furnished our house without much expense; two tanned cows' hides
were all we required. These, together with a few old carpets Theodore
had presented us with at Zage, was about the extent of our
worldly goods. I had a small folding table and a camp-stool (some
of our kit had arrived a few days before); but our hovel was too
small to admit them and us. The rainy season had fairly set in, and
the broken roof of our godjo was rapidly giving way under the weight
of the wet grass; we propped it up as best we could by means of a
long stick, still it looked very shaky, and leaked worse and worse.
The ground, always damp now, had quite the appearance of an Irish
bog; and if the straw that was placed underneath the skins to make
our bed a little softer was not removed every other day, the steam
rose even through the old carpets that adorned our abode. At last
I could stand it no longer: I was afraid of falling ill. It was bad
enough to be in chains and in a hovel, but sickness into the bargain
would have driven me to despair. I sent my Abyssinian servants to
cut some wood, and made a small raised platform; it was rather
irregular and hard, but I preferred it to sleeping for so long on
the wet ground.

Well do I still remember that long, dreary, rainy season, and with
what impatience we looked for the Feast of the Cross, about the
25th of September; as the natives told us that the rains always
ceased about that time! I had brought with me from Gaffat an Amharic
grammar. "Faute de mieux," I struggled hard to study it, but the
mind was not fitted for such work; and, book in hand, I was in
spirit, thousands of miles away, thinking of home, dreaming awake
of beloved friends, of freedom and liberty. Towards the end of
August, shortly after the return of our ill-fated messenger, we
wrote again and sent another man: by this time we had abundant proof
that Samuel,--formerly our introducer, now our gaoler,--was completely
in our interests; and by his good arrangements the messenger started
without any one knowing of it, and managed to reach Massowah with
his letter.

I have spoken often of Samuel, and shall again and again have to
mention his name in my narrative. He was, from the beginning, mixed
up with the affairs of the Europeans, and I believe at one time he
was rather unfriendly towards them; but since our arrival and during
our captivity, he behaved exceedingly well. He was a shrewd, cunning
man, and one of the first who perceived that Theodore was losing
ground. Outwardly he swore by his name, and kept his confidence;
but all the while he was serving us, and helping us in our
communications with the coast, the rebels, &c. In his youth his
left leg had been broken and badly set; and though Theodore liked
him, he did not give him a military command, but always employed
him in a civil capacity. He did not like to speak of the accident
that occasioned his deformity, and would, if asked, always give an
evasive answer. Pietro, the Italian, was a great gossip, and his
stories could not always be relied upon. His account of the broken
leg was that when Samuel went to Shoa, some Englishman there gave
him a kick which sent him rolling down some small ravine, and in
the fall the leg was broken. It was on account of that blow from
an Englishman, Pietro said, that Samuel hated them all so much, and
was so bitter against them at first. It may be so; but I believe
that he had not been understood.

Samuel fancied that he was a very great man in his own country. His
father had been a small sheik; and Theodore, after Samuel's native
country had rebelled, made him governor of it. With all the appearance
of great humility, Samuel was proud; and by treating him as if he
was in reality a great man, he was as easily managed as a child.
He had suffered from a severe attack of dysentery during our stay
at Kourata. I attended him carefully, and he always felt grateful
for my attentions towards him. When we separated and lived in
different houses, he did not allow the guards to sleep inside our
hut. It is true it would have been difficult; but Abyssinian soldiers
are not particular: they sleep anywhere,--on their prisoner's bed,
if there is no other place, making use of him as a pillow. Of course
Mr. Rassam had none; but he was the great man, the dispenser of
favours. Stern, Cameron, and Rosenthal, being neither rich nor
favourites, had the advantage of the presence of two or three of
those ruffians as their companions every night; nor were those in
the kitchen better off, as some soldiers were always sent in at
night not to watch Kerans and Pietro, but the King's property (our
own kit).

Samuel soon made friends with some of the chiefs. After a while,
two of them were constantly in our inclosure, and, under the pretext
of coming to see Samuel, would spend hours with us. Kerans, a good
Amharic scholar, was the interpreter on those occasions: one of
them, Deftera Zenab, the King's chief scribe, (now tutor to Alamayou,)
is an intelligent; honest man; but he was quite mad on astronomy,
and would listen for hours to anything concerning the solar system.
Unfortunately, either the explanations were faulty or his comprehension
dull as each time he came he wanted the whole dissertation over
again until at last our patience was fairly exhausted, and we gave
him up as a bad job. His other intimate was a good-natured young
man called Afa Negus Meshisha, son of a former governor of the Amba;
Theodore, on the death of the father, had given Meshisha the title,
but nothing more. His forte was playing the lute, or a rude instrument
something like it. Samuel could listen to him for hours; but two
minutes was quite enough to make us run off. He was, however,
useful in his way, as he gave us good information about what was
going on in Theodore's camp,--intelligence which his position as
an occasional member of the council enabled him to obtain.

Such, apart from ourselves, was our only society. It is true that
the Ras and the great men would occasionally call on Mr. Rassam,
much more frequently since he give them arrack and toj, instead of
the coffee he used to offer them at first; but, unless one of them
wanted some medicine, it was very rare that they honoured us with
a visit; they thought that they had done quite enough--indeed
bestowed a great favour, for which we ought to be grateful--if, as
they passed near our hut, they shouted "May God open thee!"

But our enemy was one of the day guards, named Abu Falek, an old
rascal who delighted in making mischief; he was hated by every one
on the mountain, and on that account outwardly respected. The day
he was on guard it was very difficult to write, as he was always
putting his ugly grey head in at the door to see what we were doing.
He did his best to do us harm, but could reach no higher than our
servants: our dollars were too much for him.

Everything has an end. With Maskal (the Feast of the Cross) came
sunshine and pleasant cool weather. We had already been two months
and a half in chains, and we expected that soon some comforting
news would reach us, telling us "Be of good cheer; we are coming."

Since our arrival at Magdala we had not received a single letter:
and more than six months had elapsed without news from our friends,
or any intelligence whatsoever from Europe.

Immediately after the rains, Mr. Rassam had his house repaired and
improved, and a new hut built, as Mrs. Rosenthal was expected to
join our party; Samuel obtained a piece of ground adjoining our
inclosure, which was afterwards included in it, and on which he
built a hut for himself and family. Samuel had several times spoken
to me about pulling down our wretched godjo, and building a larger
hut instead; but I thought it was hardly worth the while, as before
many months some change or the other would take place: another
reason was, that part of the old fence stood in front of my godjo,
and I should hardly have gained more than a foot of ground. Samuel
promised to do his best to have the fence removed if I would build;
I agreed to do so, and he endeavoured to fulfil his part of the
contract, but failed. However, a few weeks later, one of the chiefs,
whom I had attended almost since our arrival, in his first burst
of gratitude at being cured, took upon himself to break down the
fence, and promised to send me his men to help me.

All the materials--wood, bamboos, cow-hides, straw--could be purchased
below the mountain, and in a few days all was ready. I sent word
to my patient, who came at once, with about fifty soldiers, who,
by his orders, broke down the fence, and pulled down my godjo. The
ground was afterwards levelled, the circumference of the hut traced
with a stick, fixed to the centre by a piece of string, and a trench
a foot and a half deep dug. Two strong sticks were placed at the
spot where the door would be, and each soldier, carrying several
of the branches with which the walls are built, placed them in the
ditch, filling up the vacant space with the earth that had been
taken out; they had only to tie, with strips of cow-hide, flexible
branches transversely in order to keep the vertical ones together,
and the first part of the structure was complete. A few days
afterwards they returned, made the framework of the roof, and lifted
it up on the walls; it then only required the thatcher to render
our new abode inhabitable. The servants brought water and made mud,
with which the walls were coated inside, and a week from the day
the godjo had been pulled down, Prideaux and myself were able to
give our house-warming. The soldiers were delighted with their job,
and always came in large numbers when we required their assistance,
as we treated them very liberally: for instance, the materials for
our new hut cost eight dollars, but we spent fourteen dollars in
feasting those who had assisted us. We had now seven feet of ground
each, the table could be placed in the centre, and the folding chair
offered to a visitor. Mr. Rassam had tried, with success, to whitewash
the interior of his hut with a kind of soft white yellowish sandstone,
that could be obtained in the vicinity of the Amba; we, therefore,
also put our servants to work, but first had the mud walls several
times besmeared with cow-dung, in order to make the whitewash adhere.
We enjoyed very much the neat clean appearance of our hut.
Unfortunately, being situate between two high fences and surrounded
by other huts, it was rather dark. To obviate this defect, we cut
out of the walls some of the framework, and made four windows; this
was certainly a great improvement, but at night we felt the cold
bitterly. Luckily, our friend Zenab gave us some parchment; out of
an old box we made some rude frames, and the parchment, previously
well soaked in oil served instead of glass.

We were obliged to keep a large staff of servants, as we had to
prepare everything for ourselves. Some women were engaged to grind
flour for us and the Abyssinian servants; others to bring water or
wood. Men-servants went to the market or to the neighbouring districts
to purchase grain, sheep, honey, &c.; many were employed as messengers
to the coast or to Gaffat. I had with me two Portuguese, who were
the torment of my life, as they were always quarrelling, often
drunk, impertinent, and unwilling to work. The Portuguese lived in
the kitchen, but as they were always fighting with the other servants,
and we were perfectly helpless, and could not possibly enforce our
commands, I had a small hut erected for them. The inclosure had
been enlarged again by the chief, and Cameron had built a log-house
for himself, and Mr. Rosenthal had had one made for his servants;
mine for the Portuguese was built on the same spot, and before the
rainy season I had another one made for the Abyssinians, as they
grumbled and threatened to leave, if they had to spend the rains
in a tent.

All these arrangements took us some time; we had been glad to have
something to do, as the days passed much quicker, and time did not
weigh so heavily upon us. Our Christmas was not very merry, nor did
we on New Year's Day wish one another many returns of a similar
one; but we were on the whole more accustomed to our captivity, and
certainly in many respects more comfortable.


Theodore writes to Mr. Rassam about Mr. Flad and the Artisans--His
two Letters contrasted--General Merewether arrives at Massowah--Danger
of sending Letters to the Coast--Ras Engeddah brings us a few Stores
--Our Garden--Successful Results of Vaccination at Magdala--Our Day
Guard again--Second Rainy Season--The Chiefs are Jealous--The Ras and
his Council--Damash, Hailo, &c.--Daily Life during Rainy Season--Two
Prisoners attempt to Escape--The Knout in Abyssinia--A Dying Man's

About this time a servant of Mr. Rassam, whom he had sent to his
Majesty some months previously, returned on the 28th of December
with a letter from Theodore, in which was inclosed one from our
Queen. Theodore informed Mr. Rassam that Mr. Flad had arrived at
Massowah, and had sent him the letter which he had forwarded us for
perusal; he told Mr. Rassam to await his arrival, as he would be
coming before long, and they would consult together about an answer.
We were greatly rejoiced at the tenor of the Queen's letter: it was
plain that at last a higher tone had been adopted, that the character
of Theodore was better known, and all his futile plans would be
frustrated by the attitude our Government had taken.

On the 7th of January, 1867, Ras Engeddah arrived on the Amba,
having accompanied thither a batch of prisoners. He sent us his
compliments and a letter from Theodore. Theodore's letter was rather
a boastful and imperious one: he, first gave a summary of Flad's
letter to himself, in which he had been informed by that gentleman
that everything he had required had been consented to, but that in
the meanwhile he had changed his behaviour towards us. Theodore
also gave us his intended reply: he said Ethiopia and England had
formerly been on a footing of friendship; and for that reason he
had loved the English exceedingly. But since then (to use his own
words), "having heard that they have calumniated and hated me with
the Turks, I said to myself, Can this be true? and I felt some
misgiving in my heart." He evidently wanted to ignore the ill
treatment he had inflicted upon us, as he said: "Mr. Rassam and his
party you sent to me I have placed in my house in my capital at
Magdala, and I will treat them well until I obtain a token of
friendship." He concluded his letter by ordering Mr. Rassam to write
to the proper authorities, so that the things should be sent a to
him; he desired Mr. Rassam's letter to be forwarded to him, and
quickly, so that Mr. Flad might come without delay.

This letter must probably have been a post-prandial one; it was not
the line of conduct he wanted to adopt: he knew too well that his
only chance was to natter, appear humble, meek and ignorant; he
might, he knew, enlist England's sympathy by appearing in that
light, and that an overbearing tone would not suit his purpose, nor
secure him the object he longed for. Early the following day a
messenger arrived from the Imperial camp with a letter from General
Merewether, and another from Theodore. How different this letter
from the one brought by Ras Engeddah! It was insinuating, courteous;
he orders no more, he humbly requests; he meekly entreats and begs:
he begins by saying:--"Now in order to prove the good relationship
between me and yourself, let it be shown by your writing, and by
getting the skilful artisans and Mr. Flad to come _via_ Metemma;
This will be the sign of our friendship." He quotes the story of
Solomon and Hiram on the occasion of the building of the temple;
then adds, "And now when I used to fall girded at the feet of the
great Queen, her nobles, people; hosts, etc., could it be possible
to be more humble?" He then describes his reception of Mr. Rassam,
and the way he treated him; how he released the former captives the
very day of his arrival, in order to comply with the request of the
Queen; he explains the cause of our imprisonment by reproaching Mr.
Rassam with having taken away the prisoners without first bringing
them to him; and concludes by saying, "As Solomon fell at the feet
of Hiram, so I, beneath God, fall at the feet of the Queen, and her
Government, and her friends. I wish you to get them (the artisans)
_via_ Metemma, in order that they may teach me wisdom, and
show me clever arts. When this is done I will make you glad and
send you away, by the power of God."

Mr. Rassam replied to his Majesty at once, informing him that he
had complied with his request. The messenger, on his arrival at the
Emperor's camp, was well received, presented with a mule, and quickly
despatched on his errand. For several months we heard nothing more
upon the subject.

General Merewether, in his letter to Theodore, informed him that
he had arrived at Massowah with the workmen and presents, and that
on the captives being made over to him he would allow the workmen
to proceed to his Majesty's camp. We were quite overjoyed when we
heard that General Merewether was entrusted with the negotiation:
we knew his ability, and had full confidence in his tact and
discretion. Indeed, he deserves our sincere gratitude; for he was
the captives' friend: from the moment he landed at Massowah to the
day of our release, he spared himself neither trouble nor pains to
effect our deliverance.

Messengers now were despatched more regularly; by them we wrote
long accounts of Theodore's proceedings, and urged that force should
be employed to obtain our release. We knew the great risk we ran,
but we preferred death to a continuance of such a miserable existence.
We informed our friends that we had quite made up our minds, and
that our safety was not to weigh for one instant in the balance.
It was a chance: the only one left to us, and we implored that we
might have the advantage of it. We gave all the information in our
power as to the resources of the country, the movements of his
Majesty, the strength of his army, the course he would probably
follow should troops land, how to deal with him, and the means to
adopt in order to insure success. We knew that should any of such
letters fall into Theodore's hands, we had no mercy, no pity to
expect; but we considered it our duty to submit our opinion, and
to the best of our ability assist those who were labouring for our

At this time we frequently received news from our friends, as well
as newspapers, or a few articles cut out of them, and inclosed in
an envelope. War was still but little talked of; the press, with
but few exceptions, seemed to look upon it as a rash undertaking
that would only lead to failure. Correspondents, to our despair and
disgust, expatiated on guinea-worms, poisonous flies, absence of
water, and such like rubbish. For another two months and a half we
led the same monotonous life. My medicines were getting low, and
as the number of my patients was great, I was very anxious to receive
some more.

On the 19th of March Ras Engeddah arrived on the Amba with a few
thousand soldiers. He had brought with him some money, powder, and
various stores which Theodore thought would be safer at Magdala.
At the same time he sent us some stores, medicines, &c., which
Captain Goodfellow had forwarded to Metemma soon after Mr. Flad's
arrival. I will give credit to Theodore for having behaved well on
that occasion. As soon as we were informed that the stores had
arrived at Metemma, Mr. Rassam wrote to the Emperor, asking his
permission to send servants and mules, in order to have them conveyed
to Magdala. Theodore said that he would have them carried himself,
and moreover kept his word. He sent one of his officers to Wochnee,
with instructions to the various chiefs of districts to have our
things carried to Debra Tabor. I had long ago given everything up,
and was agreeably surprised when those few comforts reached us.
For some days, we treated ourselves to green peas, potted meats,
cigars, &c., and felt in better spirits; not so much on account
of the stores themselves, as for the attention our dangerous host
had shown us.

I remember that during the following months we felt more than at
any time the burden of such an existence. We had expected great
things, and nothing was effected: we could not have believed, on
our first arrival at Magdala, that another rainy season was in
reserve for us; we never would have credited the assertion that
long before that date all would not have been over, some way or the
other. What we disliked above all things was the uncertainty in
which we were now placed: we trembled at the idea of the cruelties
and tortures Theodore inflicted upon his victims; and each time a
royal messenger arrived, we could be seen going from one hut to the
other, exchanging anxious looks, and repeatedly asking our
fellow-sufferers, "In there any news? Is there anything concerning

General Merewether, with kind forethought, had sent us some seeds,
and we obtained more from Gaffat. Rassam's inclosure had been
considerably enlarged by the chiefs, and he was able to arrange a
nice garden. He had before sown some tomato seeds; these plants
sprang up wonderfully well, and Mr. Rassam, with great taste, made
with bamboos a very pretty trellis-work, soon entirely covered by
this novel creeper. Between our hut, the fence, and the hut opposite
ours, we had a small piece of ground, about eight feet broad on the
average, and about ten feet long. Prideaux and myself laboured hard,
delighted at the idea of having something to do; with slit-up bamboos
we made a small trellis-work, dividing our garden into squares,
triangles, &c., and on the 24th of May, in honour of our Queen's
birthday, we sowed the seed. Some things came out very quickly;
peas, in six weeks, were seven or eight feet high, mustard, cress,
radishes, and salads prospered. But our central flower-bed remained
for a long time barren; and when at last a few plants came out,
they belonged to some biennial species, as they only flowered in
the following spring. A few peas, just to taste (our garden was too
small to enable us to get from it more than a scanty dish or two),
raw lettuces (we had no oil, and only inferior vinegar made out of
tej), with now and then a radish, were luxuries we immensely enjoyed
after our long meat diet. When a second parcel of seeds reached us,
we transformed into "gardens" every available spot, and had the
pleasure of eating a few turnips, more lettuces, and a cabbage or
two. Soon after the rainy season everything withered away; the sun
burnt up our treasures, and left us again to our mutton and fowls.

A month or so before the rainy season of 1867, fever of a malignant
type broke out in the common gaol. The place was dirty enough before,
and the horrors of that abode were indescribable even when sickness
did not prevail; but when about 150 men of all ranks lay prostrate
on the ground, contaminating still more the already impure atmosphere,
the scene was horrible in the extreme, giving a better idea of the
place of torments than even Dante's vivid description. The epidemic
lasted until the first rains set in. About eighty died; and many
more would have succumbed, had not, fortunately, some of the guards
contracted the disease. As long as it was only the prisoners, they
turned a deaf ear to all my suggestions; now they had become willing
listeners, and quickly adopted the advice they had spurned but a
short time before. To all who claimed my services I willingly sent
medicine; and, when some of the guards also came to me for treatment,
I gave them some also: but on condition that they would treat with
more kindness the unfortunate men in their charge.

General Merewether, always thoughtful and kind, aware that much of
our comfort depended on our being on friendly terms with the garrison,
sent me some vaccine lymph in small tubes. I explained to some of
the more intelligent natives the wonderful properties of that
prophylactic, and induced them to bring me their children to be
inoculated. Amongst semi-civilized races it is often difficult to
introduce the blessings of vaccination; but on this occasion they
were universally and gratefully accepted. For about six weeks an
immense crowd collected outside the gates on vaccinating days; so
much so that it was with some difficulty that they were kept back,
so anxious were they to avail themselves of the famous medicine
that protected from the dreaded "koufing" (small-pox). It so happened
that, amongst the children I operated upon, was the child of old
Abu Falek (or rather his wife's), the day guard I have already
mentioned. He was naturally ill-natured and disobliging, and to
save himself the trouble of bringing his child to have others
inoculated from it, and at the same time so as not to be accused
of selfishness, he spread the rumour that the children from whom
the lymph was taken would shortly afterwards die. This was the
death-blow to my endeavours to introduce vaccine amongst the natives;
numbers still collected to be vaccinated, but none came to give the
lymph, and as I had no more tubes, I was obliged to discontinue an
experiment which had so wonderfully succeeded.

The rainy season of 1867 set in about the end of the first week in
July. We had better shelter, and had time to make arrangements for
provision for our followers and ourselves before the rains fairly
commenced, and in that respect were better off than the year before;
but, for other reasons, such as the political condition of the
country, the daily increasing difficulty of communicating with the
coast, it was perhaps, on the whole, more trying and disagreeable.

The chiefs of the mountain had not been long in finding out that
the English captives had money. They all had frequently been
presented with _douceurs_, in the shape of dollars for themselves,
shamas or ornaments for their wives; also tej and arrack, which was
brewed by Samuel under Mr. Rassam's direction, of which they partook
frequently and freely. They tried to cut one another out; each one
in his private visits pretending to be "the best friend;" but they
could not openly leave the council-room, and start off for a glass,
without being accompanied by the whole batch, so they forbade every
one but themselves from visiting us. Poor Zenab for months took no
more lessons in astronomy, and Meshisha played the lute to his wives
and followers. They even went so far as to forbid the petty chiefs
and soldiers coming to me for medicine. But this was too much;
though a despotism, the constitution of the country only acknowledged
one master. The soldiers therefore sent their petty chiefs in a
body to the Ras and members of the council; they talked even of
representing the matter to Theodore; and, as the chiefs were far
from being immaculate, and dreaded nothing so much as reports to
their master, they were obliged to give in, and cancel the order.

Theodore had, after his capture of Magdala, appointed a chief as
governor of the Amba, giving him a kind of unlimited power over the
garrison; but some years later he adjoined to him a few chiefs as
his councillors, still allowing the Head of the mountain to retain
a great deal of his former power. Always suspicious, but less able
to satisfy his soldiers than before, he took every precaution to
avoid treachery, and to make certain that, when engaged on distant
expeditions, he might depend on his fortress of Magdala. With that
object he ordered a council to assemble on all important occasions,
and to consult on all matters concerning the internal economy of
the mountain. Every head of department, and every chief of a corps,
had a voice; the officers in command of the troops were to send
separate and private messengers; the Ras was still considered as
the Head of the mountain, but his authority was limited, and his
responsibility great, should he think proper to overrule his
companions. Under these circumstances, it is not astonishing that,
as a rule, he would follow the advice of those chiefs whom he knew
to be the greatest worshippers of his master, his most faithful
spies and beloved tale-bearers.

The Head of the mountain on our arrival, Ras Kidana Mariam, was,
on account of his family connections and his position in the country,
considered "dangerous" by Theodore, and, as I have already mentioned,
was on a false charge taken to the camp. Shortly before depriving
Ras Kidana Mariam of his command he had promoted him from a Dedjazmatch
to the rank of Ras. Every umbel (colonel) was promoted by the same
order to be a Bitwaddad (something like a Brigadier-General), or a
Dedjazmatch, a title only applied in former days to governors of
one large or of several small provinces; bachas (captains) were
made colonels, and so on throughout the whole garrison; which after
this consisted only of officers and non-commissioned officers, the
lowest in rank being at least a sergeant. Theodore wrote to them
at the time to inform them that they would draw the pay and rations
according to their rank, and when, as he expected before long, he
should see them, he would treat them so generously that even the
"unborn babe would rejoice in his mother's womb." Theodore, on three
or four occasions, out of his few remaining dollars, gave them a
small advance of pay. About forty dollars was the amount a general
touched during the time we were there; a sergeant, during the same
period, about eight, I believe. With that they were supposed to
feed and clothe themselves, families, and followers; for no rations
were distributed at the same time as the money. At first they were
all dazzled by their new ranks--the only thing Theodore could
distribute with a liberal hand; but they soon found out what these
were worth, and, ragged, hungry, and cold, they were the first to
joke about their high-sounding but empty titles.

A distant relation of Theodore by his mother's side, named Ras
Bisawar, was, on the dismissal of Kidana Mariam, selected for the
vacant post. He had in his youth been brought up for the church,
had even been made a deftera, when the brilliant example of his
relative took him from the peaceful and quiet life he had first
chosen to cast him amidst the turmoil of camp life. He was a great
big hulking fellow, bald-headed, and rather good-natured; but for
all his sword and pistols could not conceal his first pursuit in
life: he was still the deftera in borrowed plumage. His great fault
was to be too weak; he had no decision of character, no firmness,
and was always guided in his actions by the last talker.

Next in importance came Bitwaddad Damash, the ugliest and most
pompous puppy and the biggest-boasting villain on the whole mountain.
He was very sick when we first arrived, but though he could not
come himself he was far too much interested in our affairs not to
be at all hours of the day informed of our doings; for that purpose
he sent his eldest son, a lad of about twelve, several times in the
day with compliments and inquiries after our welfare. As soon as
he could walk about a little he came now and then himself, to see
me for advice, and when restored to health, in the thankfulness of
the first moment, he helped to build our house. But gratitude is
not a lasting quality--in Abyssinia it hardly exists--and not long
afterwards Damash gave strong hints that if we wanted him to be our
friend we must not "forget him." Prideaux and myself had not much
money to spare, but as he was known to be a great scoundrel, we
thought it would not be prudent to make an enemy of him, and therefore
sent him, as a token of friendship, Prideaux's small folding
looking-glass, the only presentable thing we had between us. For
some time the looking-glass consolidated our friendship, but when,
on a second application for "tokens," we turned a deaf ear to his
soft words, he would have nothing more to do with as; he called us
bad men, sneered at us, made us take off our caps before him, and
even went so far as to insult Cameron and Stern, shaking his head
at them in a threatening manner as, more or less intoxicated, he
left in the afternoon the room of his beloved and generous friend,
Mr. Rassam. Damash had command of half the gunmen, some 270, the
Ras of the rest, about 200.

The third member of council was Bitwaddad Hailo, the best of the
lot; he was in charge of the gaol, but was never known to abuse his
position. His two brothers had commanded our escort from the frontier
to the Emperor's camp in Damot; his mother, a fine old lady, also
accompanied us part of the way: the brothers and the mother had
been well treated by us, so that even before we came to the Amba
we were known to him, and he always conducted himself very civilly,
and proved useful on many occasions. When he heard of Theodore's
approach, as he knew that charges were going, to be brought against
him, he ran, away and joined the English camp.

He managed his escape, in a very clever manner indeed. According
to the, rules of the mountain, not even a Bitwaddad could pass the
gate without permission from the Ras, and since desertions had taken
place the permission was no more granted. His wife and child were
also on the Amba, and since he was suspected, if they had left he
would have been strictly watched. His mother had accompanied
Theodore's camp, being desirous of seeing her son. When his Majesty
encamped in the valley of the Bechelo, she asked his permission to
be allowed to go to Magdala, and on her arrival at Islamgee she
sent word to her son to give orders at the gate to let her in; but
he declined, stating publicly, as the motive of his refusal, that,
not having received intimation from his Majesty that he had granted
her request, he could not take upon himself to admit her into the
fort. The mother had been made a party to the plot beforehand, and
played her part well; it was market-day, and therefore the place
was crowded with soldiers and petty chiefs. On hearing of her son's
refusal to admit her, she pretended to be driven to despair, tore
her hair and cried aloud, quite overcome by the ingratitude of the
son she had made such a long journey to embrace. The spectators
took her part, and, in her name, sent to him again; but he was firm.
"To-morrow," he said, "I will send word to the Emperor; if he allows
you to come I will be only too happy to admit you; to-day, all I
can do is to send you my wife and child to remain with you until
the evening." The old lady, with the wife and child, retired to a
quiet corner for a friendly chat, and when no more noticed, quietly
walked away. At about ten at night, accompanied by one of his men,
and assisted by some friends, Hailo made his escape and rejoined
his family.

Another member of council was called Bitwaddad Wassie: he also was
in charge of the prison alternatively with Hailo. He was a good-tempered
man, always laughing, but, it appears, not beloved by the prisoners,
for, after the taking of Magdala, the women flew at him, and gave
him a sound thrashing. He was remarkable in one respect: he would
never accept anything, and though money was repeatedly offered to
him he always declined it. Dedjazmatch Goji, in command of 500
spearmen, a tall old man, was as big a fool as he was bulky; he
loved but one thing, tej, and worshipped but one being, Theodore.
Bitwaddad Bakal, a good soldier, a simple-minded man, in charge of
the Imperial household, and a few insignificant old men, completed
the quorum.

Let us suppose a wet day during the rainy season of 1867. Our money
was getting very scarce, and all communication with Metemma, Massowah,
or Debra Tabor was completely interrupted. War had been talked of
more seriously at home, and, in the absence of news, we were in
anxious expectation of what would be decided. The weather did not
permit us to do much gardening; and other occupations were few. We
wrote home, (an easier task during the rains, as the guards kept
to their huts,) studied Amharic, read the famous _Commercial
Dictionary_, or visited one another, and smoked bad tobacco,
simply to kill time. Mr. Rosenthal, a very clever linguist, managed,
with an Italian Bible, to master that language, and, to drive away
dull care, spent his evenings studying French with only the help
of a portion of Guizot's _Histoire de la Civilisation_. If it
cleared up a little, we puddled about in the small road between the
now increased huts; but probably, before long, would be scared away
by some one shouting out,--"The Ras and the chiefs are coming!" If
we could directly run away we did so; but if perceived, we had to
put on our blandest smile, bow to the rude inquiry, "How art thou?
good afternoon to thee" (the second person singular is only employed
as a sign of disrespect, towards an inferior), and, O gods! pull
off our ragged caps and keep our heads uncovered. To see them
waddling along, ready to burst with self-conceit; whilst we knew
that the clothes they were clad with, and the food they had partaken
of that day, were all purchased with British money, was very annoying.
As they accepted bribes the least they could do was to be civil;
on the contrary, they looked down upon us as if we were semi-idiots,
or a species between them and monkeys,--"white donkeys," as they
called us when they spoke of us among themselves. Preceded by Samuel,
they would make straight for Mr. Rassam's house; they were hardly
swore civil to him than to us, though they always swore to him
eternal friendship. I often admired Mr. Rassam's' patience on these
occasions: he could sit, talk, and laugh with them for hours, gorging
them with bumpers of tej until they reeled out of his place, the
laughing-stocks, yet envied objects, of the soldiers who helped
them to regain their homes. On the whole they were a vile set: to
please their master they would have shuddered at no crime, and
stopped at no infamy. When they thought that any cruel act of theirs
might please Theodore, their god, no consideration of friendship
or family ties would arrest their hands or soften their hearts.
They came to Mr. Rassam, though he was kind to them, out of no
regard, only because it was part of their instructions, and they
could indulge their appetite for spirituous drinks; but had we been,
by want of money, reduced to appeal to them, I doubt whether they
would have sanctioned for us, to whom they owed so much, even the
small pittance daily doled out to the poor Abyssinian prisoners.

About that time these wretches had a good opportunity of showing
their zeal for their beloved master. One Saturday two prisoners
took advantage of the bustle always attending market-days, to attempt
their escape. One of them, Lij Barie, was the son of a chief in
Tigre; some years before he had been imprisoned on "suspicion,"
or, more likely, because he might prove dangerous, as he was much
liked in his province. His companion was a young lad, a semi-Galla,
from the Shoa frontier, who had been kept for years in chains on

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