A Narrative of Captivity in Abyssinia by Henry BlancWith some account of the late emperor theodore, his country and people

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  • 1868
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The Emperor Theodore–His Rise and Conquests–His Army and Administration–Causes of his Fall–His Personal Appearance and Character–His Household and Private Life


Europeans in Abyssinia–Bell and Plowden–Their Career and Deaths–Consul Cameron–M. Lejean–M. Bardel and Napoleon’s Answer to Theodore–The Gaffat People–Mr. Stern and the Djenda Mission–State of Affairs at the End of 1863


Imprisonment of Mr. Stern–Mr. Kerans arrives with Letters and Carpet–Cameron, with his Followers, is put in Chains–M. Bardel returns from the Soudan–Theodore’s Dealings with Foreigners–The Coptic Patriarch–Abdul Rahman Bey–The Captivity of the Europeans explained


News of Cameron’s Imprisonment reaches Home–Mr. Rassam is selected to proceed to the Court of Gondar, and is accompanied by Dr. Blanc–Delays and Difficulties in communicating with Theodore–Description of Massowah and its Inhabitants–Arrival of a Letter from the Emperor


From Massowah to Kassala–The Start–The Habab–Adventures of M. Marcopoli–The Beni Amer–Arrival at Kassala–The Nubian Mutiny–Attempt of De Bisson to found a Colony in the Soudan


Departure from Kassala–Sheik Abu Sin–Rumours of Theodore’s Defeat by Tisso Gobaze–Arrival at Metemma–Weekly Market–The Takruries at Drill–Their Foray into Abyssinia–Arrival of Letters from Theodore


Entrance into Abyssinia–Altercation between Takruries and Abyssinians at Wochnee–Our Escort and Bearers–Applications for Medicine–First Reception by his Majesty–The Queen’s Letter translated and Presents delivered–Accompany his Majesty through Metsha–His Conversation _en route_


Leave the Emperor’s Camp for Kourata–The Tana Sea–The Abyssinian Navy–The Island of Dek–Arrival at Kourata–The Gaffat People and former Captives join us–Charges preferred against the Latter–First Visit to the Emperor’s Camp at Zage–Flattery before Coercion


Second Visit to Zage–Arrest of Mr. Rassam and the English Officers –Charges brought against Mr. Rassam–The former Captives are brought in Chains to Zage–Public Trial–Reconciliation–Mr. Flad’s Departure –The Imprisonment at Zage–Departure for Kourata


Second Residence at 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


Our first House at Magdala–The Chief has a “little Business” with us–Feelings of a European when being put in Chains–The Operation described–The Prisoners’ Toilette–How we Lived–Our first Messenger a Failure–How we obtained Money and Letters–A Magdala Diary–A Rainy Season in a Godjo


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 Gullas–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


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, Daily Life during Rainy Season–Two Prisoners attempt to Escape–The Knout in Abyssinia–A Dying Man’s Prophecy


Second Rainy Season ends–Scarcity and dearness of Provisions–Meshisha and Comfou plot their Escape–They succeed–Theodore is robbed–Damash pursues the Fugitives–The Night Attack–The Galla War-cry, and the “Sauve qui peut”–The Wounded left on the Field–Hospitality of the Gallas–Theodore’s Letter on the Subject–Mastiate’s Troubles–Wakshum Gabra Medhin–Sketch of Gobaz’s Career–He invites the Co-operation of the Bishop in seizing Magdala–The Bishop’s plan–All the rival Chiefs intrigue for the Amba–Mr. Rassam’s Influence overrated


Death of Abouna Salama–Sketch of his Life and Career–Grievances of Theodore against him–His Imprisonment at Magdala–The Wallo Gallas–Their Habits and Customs–Menilek appears with an Army in the Galla Country–His Policy–Advice sent to him by Mr. Rassam–He invests Magdala, and fires a _feu-de-joie_–The Queen’s behavior –Steps taken by the Chiefs–Our Position not improved–The Effects of Smoke on Menilek–Our Disappointment followed by great Joy–We receive news of the Landing of British Troops


Theodore’s Proceedings during our stay at Magdala–His treatment of Begemder–A Rebellion breaks out–Forced March on Gondar–The Churches are plundered and burnt–Theodore’s Cruelties–The Insurgents increase in Strength–The Designs of the Emperor on Kourata frustrated–Mr. Bardel betrays the new Workmen–Theodore’s Ingratitude towards the Gaffat People–His Raid on Foggara unsuccessful


Arrival of Mr. Flad from England–Delivers a Letter and Message from the Queen–The Episode of the Telescope–Our Property taken care of–Theodore will not yield except to Force–He recruits his Army–Ras Adilou and Zallallou desert him–He is repulsed at Belessa by Lij Abitou and the Peasants–The Expedition against Metraha–His Cruelties there–The great “Sebastopol” is cast–Famine and Pestilence compel the Emperor to raise his Camp–The difficulties of his March to Magdala–His arrival in Dalanta


Theodore in the Vicinity of Magdala–Our feelings at the Time–An Amnesty granted to Dalanta–The Garrison of Magdala join the Emperor–Mrs. Rosenthal and other Europeans are sent to the Fortress–Theodore’s Conversation with Flad and Waldmeier on the Coming of the Troops–Sir Robert Napier’s Letter to Theodore reaches us–Theodore plunders Dalanta–He abuses Mr. Waldmeier–Reaches the Bechelo–Correspondence between Mr. Rassam and Theodore–Mr. Rassam is released from his Fetters–Theodore arrives at Islamgee–His Quarrel with the Priests–His First Visit to the Amba–Trial of the two Chiefs–He places a new Commandant over the Garrison


We are counted by the new Ras, and condemned to Sleep in one Hut–Theodore’s Second Visit to the Amba–He sends for Mr. Rassam, and gives orders that Prideaux and myself should have our Chains taken off–The Operation described–Our Reception by the Emperor–We are sent for to see “Sebastopol” landed on Islamgee–Conversation with his Majesty–The remaining Prisoners are freed from their Fetters–Theodore is unable to plunder his own Property


All the Prisoners leave the Amba for Islamgee–Our Reception by Theodore–He harangues his Troops, and releases some of the Prisoners–He informs us of the Advance of the English–The Massacre–We are sent back to Magdala–Effects of the Battle of Fahla–Messrs. Prideaux and Flad sent to Negotiate–Release of the Captives, and their narrow Escape–Their Arrival in the British Camp

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PASS OF LOOKUM (Frontispiece).








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_The Fetters on the Cover of this Volume represent the Leg-chains worn by Dr. Blanc. Their weight is about seven pounds._


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With a view of gratifying the natural curiosity evinced by a large circle of friends and acquaintance to obtain accurate information as to the cause of our captivity, the manner in which we were treated, the details of our daily life, and the character and habits of Theodore, I undertook the task of writing this account of our captivity in Abyssinia.

I have endeavoured to give a correct sketch of the career of Theodore, and a description of his country and people, more especially of his friends and enemies.

In order to make the reader familiar with the subject, it was also necessary to say a few words about the Europeans who played a part in that strange imbroglio–the Abyssinian difficulty. My knowledge of them, and of the events that occurred during our captivity, was acquired through personal experience, and also by intercourse with well-informed natives, during long months of enforced idleness.

In preparing this work for the press, I found it necessary to the completeness of the narrative, to incorporate some portions of my Report to the Government of Bombay on Mr. Rassam’s mission, which appeared in an Indian newspaper, and was subsequently republished in a small volume.

For the same reason I have also included a few articles contributed by me to a London newspaper.

The sufferings of the Abyssinian captives will be ever associated, in the annals of British valour, with the triumphant success of the expedition, so skilfully organized by its commander, whose title, Lord Napier of Magdala, commemorates the crowning achievement of a glorious career.

_London, July 23, 1868._



The Emperor Theodore–His Rise and Conquests–His Army and Administration–Causes of his Fall–His Personal Appearance and Character–His Household and Private Life.

Lij Kassa, better known as the Emperor Theodore, was born in Kouara about the year 1818. His father was a noble of Abyssinia, and his uncle, the celebrated Dejatch Comfou, had for many years governed the provinces of Dembea, Kouara, Tschelga, &c. On the death of his uncle he was appointed by Ras Ali’s mother, Waizero Menen, governor of Kouara; but, dissatisfied with that post, which left but little scope for his ambition, he threw off his allegiance, and occupied Dembea as a rebel. Several generals were sent to chastise the young soldier; but he either eluded their pursuit or defeated their forces. However, on the solemn promise that he would, be well received, he repaired to the camp of Ras Ali. This kind-hearted but weak ruler thought to attach to his cause the brave chieftain, and to accomplish that object gave him his daughter Tawavitch (she is beautiful). Lij Kassa returned to Kouara, and for a time remained faithful to his sovereign. He made several plundering expeditions in the low lands, carried fire and sword into the Arab huts, and always returned from these excursions bringing with him hordes of cattle, prisoners, and slaves.

The successes of Kassa, the courage he manifested on all occasions, the abstemious life he led, and the favour he showed to all who served his cause, soon collected around him a band of hardy and reckless followers. Being ambitious, he now formed the project of carving out an empire for himself in the fertile plains he had so often devastated. Educated in a convent, he had not only studied theological subjects, but made himself conversant with the mystic Abyssinian history. His early education always exercised great influence on his after-life, giving to his intercourse with others a religious character, and impressed vividly upon his mind the idea that the Mussulman race having for centuries encroached on the Christian land, it should be the aim of his life to re-establish the old Ethiopian empire. Urged on, therefore, both by ambition and fanaticism, he advanced in the direction of Kedaref at the head of 16,000 warriors; but he had soon to learn the immense superiority of a small number of well-armed and well-trained troops over large but undisciplined bodies of men. Near Kedaref he came in sight of his mortal foes the Turks, a mere handful of irregulars; yet they were too much for him: for the first time, defeated and disheartened, he had, for a while, to abandon his long-cherished scheme.

Instead of returning to the seat of his government, he was obliged, on account of a severe wound received during the fight, to halt on the frontier of Dembea. From his camp he informed his mother-in-law of his condition, and requested that she would send him a cow–the fee required by the Abyssinian doctor. Waizero Menen, who had always hated Kassa, now took advantage of his fallen condition to humble his pride still more; she sent him, instead of the cow, a small piece of meat with an insulting message. Near the couch of the wounded chieftain sat the brave companion who had shared his fortunes, the wife whom he loved. On hearing the sneering message of the Queen, her fiery Galla blood flamed with indignation. She rose and told Kassa that she loved the brave but abhorred the coward; and she could not remain any longer by his side if, after such an insult, he did not revenge it in blood. Her passionate words fell upon willing ears; vengeance filled the heart of Kassa, and as soon as he had sufficiently recovered he returned to Kouara and openly proclaimed his independence.

For the second time Ras Ali called him to his court; but the summons met with a stern refusal. Several generals were sent to enforce the command, but the young soldier easily routed these courtiers; whilst their followers, charmed with Kassa’s insinuating manners and dazzled by his splendid promises, almost to a man enrolled themselves under his standard. His wife again exerted her influence, showing him how easily he might secure for himself the supreme power, and, as he hesitated, again threatened to leave him. Kassa resisted no longer; he advanced into Godjam, and carried all before him. The battle of Djisella, fought in 1853, decided the fate of Ras Ali. His army had been but for a short time engaged when, panic-stricken, the Ras left the field with a body of 500 horse, leaving the rest of his large host to swell the ranks of the conqueror. Victory followed victory, and after a few years, from Shoa to Metemma, from Godjam to Bogos, all feared and obeyed the commands of the Emperor Theodore; for under that name he desired to be crowned, after he had by the battle of Deraskie, fought in February, 1855, subdued Tigre, and conquered his most formidable opponent, Dejatch Oubie.

Shortly after the battle of Deraskie, Theodore turned his victorious arms against the Wallo Gallas, possessed himself of Magdala, and ravaged and destroyed so completely the rich Galla plain that many of the chiefs joined his ranks, and fought against their own countrymen. He had now not only avenged the long-oppressed Christians, so often victims of the Galla inroads, but curbed for a long time the haughty spirit of these clans. At the height of success, he lost his brave and loving wife. He felt the cruel blow deeply. She had been his faithful counsellor, the companion of his adventures, the being he most loved; and he cherished her memory while he lived. In 1866, when one of his artisans almost forced himself into his presence to request permission for me to remain a few days near the man’s dying wife, Theodore bent his head, and wept at the remembrance of his own wife whom he had so deeply loved.

The career of Theodore may be divided into three very distinct periods:–First, from his early days to the death of his first wife; secondly, from the fall of Ras Ali to the death of Mr. Bell; thirdly, from this last event to his own death. The first period we have described: it was the period of promise. During the second–which extends from 1853 to 1860–there is still much to praise in the conduct of the Emperor, although many of his actions are unworthy of his early career. From 1860 to 1868 he seems little by little to have thrown off all restraint, until he became remarkable for reckless and wanton cruelty. His principal wars during the second period were with Dejatch Goscho Beru, governor of Godjam; with Dejatch Oubie, whom he conquered, as we have already stated, at the battle of Deraskie, and with the Wallo Gallas. He could, however, still be merciful, and though he imprisoned many of the feudal chiefs, he promised to release them as soon as the pacification of his empire should be complete.

In 1860 he advanced against his cousin Garad, the murderer of Consul Plowden, and gained the day; but he lost his best friend and adviser, Mr. Bell, who saved the Emperor’s life by sacrificing his own. In January, 1861, Theodore marched with an overwhelming force against a powerful rebel, Agau Negoussi, who had made himself master of all northern Abyssinia; by cunning and skilful tactics, he easily overthrew his adversary but tarnished his victory by horrid cruelties and gross breach of faith. Agau Negoussi’s hands and feet were cut off, and though he lingered for days, the merciless emperor refused him even a drop of water to moisten his fevered lips. His cruel vengeance did not stop there. Many of the compromised chiefs, who had surrendered on his solemn pledge of amnesty, were either handed over to the executioner or sent to linger for life, loaded with fetters, in some of the prison ambas. For the next three years Theodore’s rule was acknowledged throughout the land. A few petty rebels had risen here and there, but with the exception of Tadla Gwalu, who could not be driven from the fastness of his amba in the south of Godjam, all the others were but of little importance, and did not disturb the tranquillity of his reign.

But though a conqueror, and endowed with military genius, Theodore was a bad administrator. To attach his soldiery to his cause, he lavished upon them immense sums of money; he was therefore forced to exact exorbitant tributes, almost to drain the land of its last dollar, in order to satisfy his rapacious followers. Finding himself at the head of a powerful host, and feeling either reluctant or afraid to dismiss them to their homes, he longed for foreign conquests; the dream of his younger days became a fixed idea, and he believed himself called upon by God to re-establish in its former greatness the old Ethiopian empire.

He could not, however, forget that he was unable to cope single-handed with the well-armed and disciplined troops of his foes; he remembered too well his signal failure at Kedaref, and therefore sought to gain his long-desired object by diplomacy. He had heard from Bell, Plowden, and others, that England and France were proud of the protection they afforded to Christians in all parts of the world; he therefore wrote to the sovereigns of those two countries, inviting them to join him in his crusade against the Mussulman race. A few passages selected from his letter to our Queen will prove the correctness of this assertion. “By his power (of God) I drove away the Gallas. But for the Turks, I have told them to leave the land of my ancestors. They refuse!” He mentions the death of Plowden and Bell, and then adds:–“I have exterminated those enemies (those who killed Bell and Plowden), that I may get, by the power of God, _your friendship_.” He concludes by saying, “_See how the Islam oppress the Christian!_”

Theodore’s army at this time consisted of some 100,000 or 150,000 fighting men; and if we take as the average four followers for every soldier, his camp must have numbered between 500,000 and 600,000 souls. Admitting, also, the population of Abyssinia to be nearly 3,000,000, about one fourth of the number had to be paid, fed, and clothed by the contributions of the remainder.

During a few years, such was Theodore’s prestige that this terrible oppression was quietly accepted; at last, however, the peasants, half-starved and almost naked, finding that with all their sacrifices and privations they were still far from satisfying the daily increasing demands of their terrible master, abandoned the fertile plains, and under the guidance of some of the remaining hereditary chiefs, retired to high plateaus, or concealed themselves in secluded valleys. In Godjam, Walkait, Shoa, and Tigre, the rebellion broke out almost simultaneously. Theodore had for a while to abandon his ideas of foreign conquest, and did his utmost to crush the mutinous spirit of his people. Whole rebel districts were laid waste; but the peasants, protected by their strongholds, could not be reached: they quietly awaited the departure of the invader and then returned to their desolated homes, cultivating just enough for their maintenance; thus, with only a few exceptions, the peasants evaded the terrible vengeance of the now infuriate Emperor. His immense army soon suffered severely from this mode of warfare. Each year the provinces which the soldiers could plunder became fewer; severe famines broke out; large districts such as Dembea, the granary of Gondar and of central Abyssinia, lay waste and uncultivated. The soldiers, formerly pampered, now in their turn half starved and badly clad, lost confidence in their leader; desertions were numerous; and many returned to their native provinces, and joined the ranks of the discontented.

The fall of Theodore was even more rapid than his rise. He was still unconquered in the battlefield, as, after the example of Negoussi’s fate, none dared to oppose him; but against the passive warfare of the peasantry and the Fabian-like policy of their chiefs he could do nothing. Never resting, almost always on the march, his army day by day becoming reduced in strength, he went from province to province; but in vain: all disappeared at his approach. There was no enemy; but there was no food! At last, reduced by necessity, in order to keep around him some remnants of his former immense army, he had no alternative left but to plunder the few provinces still faithful to him.

When I first met Theodore, in January, 1866, he must have been about forty-eight years of age. His complexion was darker than that of the majority of his countrymen, the nose slightly curved, the mouth large, the lips so small as hardly to be perceived. Of middle size, well knit, wiry rather than muscular, he excelled as a horseman, in the use of the spear, and on foot would tire his hardiest followers. The expression of his dark eyes, slightly depressed, was strange; if he was in good humour they were soft, with a kind of gazelle-like timidity about them that made one love him; but when angry the fierce and bloodshot eye seemed to shed fire. In moments of violent passion his whole aspect was frightful: his black visage acquired an ashy hue, his thin compressed lips left but a whitish margin around the mouth, his very hair stood erect, and his whole deportment was a terrible illustration of savage and ungovernable fury.

Yet he excelled in the art of duping his fellow-men. Even a few days before his death he had still, when we met him, all the dignity of a sovereign, the amiability and good-breeding of the most accomplished “gentleman.” His smile was so attractive, his words were so sweet and gracious, that one could hardly believe that the affable monarch was but a consummate dissembler.

He never perpetrated a deed of treachery or cruelty without pleading some specious excuse, so as to convey the impression that in all his actions he was guided by a sense of justice. For example, he plundered Dembea because the inhabitants were too friendly towards Europeans, and Gondar because one of our messengers had been betrayed by the inhabitants of that city. He destroyed Zage, a large and populous city, because he pretended that a priest had been rude to him. He cast into chains his adopted father, Cantiba Hailo, because he had taken into his service a female servant he had dismissed. Tesemma Engeddah, the hereditary chief of Gahinte, fell under his displeasure because after a battle against the rebels he had shown himself “too severe,” and our first head-jailor was taken to the camp and put in chains because he had “formerly been a friend” of the King of Shoa. I could adduce hundreds of instances to illustrate his habitual hypocrisy. In our case, he arrested us because we had not brought the former captives with us; Mr. Stern he nearly killed, merely for putting his hand to his face, and he imprisoned Consul Cameron for going to the Turks instead of bringing him back an answer to his letter.

Theodore had all the dislike of the roving Bedouin for towns and cities. He loved camp life, the free breeze of the plains, the sight of his army gracefully encamped around the hillock he had selected for himself; and he preferred to the palace the Portuguese had erected at Gondar for a more sedentary king, the delights of roaming about incognito during the beautiful cool nights of Abyssinia. His household was well-regulated; the same spirit of order which had introduced something like discipline into his army, showed itself also in the arrangements of his domestic affairs. Every department was under the control of a chief, who was directly responsible to the Emperor, and answerable for everything connected with the department entrusted to him. These officers, all men of position, were the superintendents of the tej makers, of the women who prepared the large flat Abyssinian bread, of the wood-carriers, of the water girls, &c.; others, like the “Balderas,” had charge of the Royal stud, the “Azage” of the domestic servants, the “Bedjerand” of the treasury, stores, &c.; there were also the Agafaris or introducers, the Likamaquas or chamberlain, the Afa Negus or mouth of the King.

Strange to say, Theodore preferred as his personal attendants those who had served Europeans. His valet, the only one who stood by him to the last, had been a servant of Barroni, the vice-consul at Massowah. Another, a young man named Paul, was a former servant of Mr. Walker; others had at one time been in the service of Plowden, Bell, and Cameron. Excepting his valet, who was almost constantly near his person, the others, although they resided in the same inclosure, had more especially to take care of his guns, swords, spears, shields, &c. He had also around him a great number of pages; not that I believe he required their presence, but it was an “honour” he bestowed on chiefs entrusted with distant commands or with the government of remote provinces. Almost all the duties of the household were performed by women; they baked, they carried water and wood, and swept his tent or hut, as the case might be. The majority of them were slaves whom he had seized from slave-dealers at the time he made “manly” efforts to put a stop to the trade. Once a week, or more often as the case required, a colonel and his regiment had the honour of proceeding to the nearest stream, to wash the Emperor’s linen and that of the Imperial household. No one, not even the smallest page, could, under the penalty of death, enter his harem. He had a large number of eunuchs, most of them Gallas, or soldiers and chiefs who had recovered from the mutilation the Gallas inflict on their wounded foe. The queen or the favourite of the day had a tent or house to herself, and several eunuchs to attend upon her; at night these attendants slept at the door of her tent, and were made responsible for the virtue of the lady entrusted to their care. As for the ordinary women, the objects of passing affections or of stronger passions that time had quenched, a tent or hut in common for ten or twenty, one or two eunuchs and a few female slaves for the whole, was all the state he allowed these neglected ladies.

Theodore was more bigoted than religious. Above all things he was superstitious; and that to a degree incredible in a man in other respects so superior to his countrymen. He had always with him several astrologers, whom he consulted on all important occasions –especially before undertaking any expedition,–and whose influence over him was unbounded. He hated the priests, despised them for their ignorance, spurned their doctrines, and laughed at the marvellous stories some of their books contain; but still he never marched without a tent church, a host of priests, defteras, and deacons, and never passed near a church without kissing its threshold.

Though he could read and write, he never condescended to correspond personally with any one, but was always accompanied by several secretaries, to whom he would dictate his letters; and so wonderful was his memory that he could indite an answer to letters received months, nay years, before, or dilate on subjects and events that had occurred at a far remote period. Suppose him on the march. On a distant hillock arose a small red flannel tent–it is there where Theodore fixed his temporary abode and that of his household. To his right is the church tent; next to his own the queen’s or that of the favourite of the day. Then came the one allotted to his former lady friends, who travelled with him until a favourable opportunity presented itself of sending them to Magdala, where several hundreds were dwelling in seclusion, spinning cotton for their master’s shamas and for their own clothes. Behind were several tents for his secretaries, his pages, his personal attendants, and one for the few stores he carried with him. When he made any lengthened stay at a place he had huts erected by his soldiers for himself and people, and the whole was surrounded by a double line of fences. Though not wanting in bravery, he never left anything to chance. At night the hillock on which he dwelt was completely surrounded by musketeers, and he never slept without having his pistols under his pillow, and several loaded guns by his side. He had a great fear of poison, taking no food that had not been prepared by the queen or her “remplacante;” and even then she and several attendants had to taste it first. It was the same with his drink: be it water, tej, or arrack, the cup-bearer and several of those present at the time had first to drink before presenting the cup to his Majesty. He made, however, an exception in our favour one day that he visited Mr. Rassam at Gaffat. To show how much he respected and trusted the English, he accepted some brandy, and allowing no one to taste it before him, he unhesitatingly swallowed the whole draught.

He was a very jealous husband. Not only did he take the precautions I have already mentioned, but (except in the last months of his life, when it was beyond possibility for him to do otherwise) he never allowed the queen or any other lady in his establishment to travel with the camp. They always marched at night, well concealed, with a strong guard of eunuchs; and woe to him who met them on the road, and did not turn his back on them until they had passed! On one occasion a soldier who was on guard crept near the queen’s tent, and, taking advantage of the darkness of the night, whispered to one of the female attendants to pass him a glass of tej under the tent. She gave him one. Unfortunately, he was seen by a eunuch, who seized him, and at once brought him before his Majesty. After hearing the case, Theodore, who happened to be in good spirits that evening, asked the culprit if he was very fond of tej; the trembling wretch replied in the affirmative. “Well, give him two wanchas [Footnote: A wancha is a large horn cup.] full to make him happy, and afterwards fifty lashes with the girf [Footnote: A long hippopotamus whip.] to teach him another time not to go near the queen’s tent.” Evidently, Theodore, with a large experience of the _beau sexe_ of his country, was profoundly convinced that his precautions were necessary. On one of his visits to Magdala, one of the chiefs of that amba made a complaint to him against one of the officers of the Imperial household, whom he had caught some time before in his lady’s apartment.

Theodore laughed, and said to him, “You are a fool. Do I not look after my wife? and I am a king.”

Theodore was always an early riser; indeed, he indulged in sleep but very little. Sometimes at two o’clock, at the latest before four, he would issue from his tent and give judgment on any case brought before him. Of late his temper was such that litigants kept out of his way; he nevertheless retained his former habits, and might be seen, long before daybreak, sitting solitary on a stone, in deep meditation or in silent prayer. He was also very abstemious in his food, and never indulged in excesses of the table. He rarely partook of more than one meal a day; which was composed of injera [Footnote: The pancake loaves made of the small seed of the teff.] and red pepper, during fast days; of wat, a kind of curry made of fish, fowl, or mutton, on ordinary occasions. On feast days he generally gave large dinners to his officers, and sometimes to the whole army. At these festivals the “brindo” [Footnote: Raw beef] would be equally enjoyed by the sovereign and by the guests. At these public breakfasts and dinners the King usually sat on a raised platform at the head of the table. No one has ever been known, except perhaps Bell, to have dined out of the same basket at the same time as Theodore; but when he desired specially to honour some of his guests, he either sent them some food from his basket, or had others placed on the platform near him, or, what was a still higher honour, sent to the favoured one his own basket with the remains of his dinner.

Unfortunately Theodore had for several years before his death greatly taken to drink. Up to three or four o’clock he was generally sober and attended to the business of the day; but after his siesta he was invariably more or less intoxicated. In his dress he was generally very simple, wearing only the ordinary shama, [Footnote: A white cotton cloth, with a red border, woven in the country.] native-made trousers, and a European white shirt; no shoes, no covering to the head. His rather long hair–for an Abyssinian–was divided in three large plaits, and allowed to fall on his neck in three plaited tails. Of late he had greatly neglected his hair; for months it had not been plaited; and to show the grief he felt on account of the “badness” of his people, he would not allow it to be besmeared with the heavy coating of butter in which Abyssinians delight. On one occasion he apologized to us for the simplicity of his dress. He told us that, during the few years of peace that followed the conquest of the country, he used often to appear in public as a king should do; but since he had been by the bad disposition of his people obliged to wage constant war against them, he had adopted the soldier’s raiments, as more becoming his altered fortune. However, after his fall became imminent, he on several occasions clad himself in gorgeous costumes, in shirts and mantles of rich brocaded silks, or of gold-embroidered velvet. He did so, I believe, to influence his people. They knew that he was poor, and though he hated pomp in his own attire, he desired to impress on his few remaining followers that though fallen he was still “the King.”

During the lifetime of his first wife and for some years afterwards, Theodore not only led an exemplary life, but forbade the officers of his household and the chiefs more immediately around him to live in concubinage. One day in the beginning of 1860 Theodore perceived in a church a handsome young girl silently praying to her patron, the Virgin Mary. Struck with her beauty and modesty, he made inquiries about her, and was informed that she was the only daughter of Dejatch Oubie, the Prince of Tigre, his former rival, whom he had dethroned, and who was then his prisoner. He asked for her hand, and met with a polite refusal. The young girl desired to retire into a convent, and devote herself to the service of God. Theodore was not a man to be easily thwarted in his desires. He proposed to Oubie that he would set him at liberty, only retaining him in his camp as his “guest,” should the Prince prevail on his daughter to accept his hand. At last Waizero Terunish (“thou art pure”) sacrificed herself for her old father’s welfare, and accepted the hand of a man whom she could not love. This union was unfortunate. Theodore, to his great disappointment, did not find in his second wife the fervent affection, the almost blind devotion, of the dead companion of his youth. Waizero Terunish was proud; she always looked on her husband as a “parvenu,” and took no pains to hide from him her want of respect and affection. In the afternoon, Theodore, as it had been his former habit, tired and weary, would retire for rest in the queen’s tent; but he found no cordial welcome there. His wife’s looks were cold and full of pride; and she even went so far as to receive him without the common courtesy due to her king. One day when he came in she pretended not to perceive him, did not rise, and remained silent when he inquired as to her health and welfare; she held in her hand a book of psalms, and when Theodore asked her why she did not answer him, she calmly replied, without lifting up her eyes from the book, “Because I am conversing with a greater and better man than you–the pious King David.”

Theodore sent her to Magdala, together with her new-born son, Alamayou (“I have seen the world”), and took as his favourite a widowed lady from Yedjow, named Waizero Tamagno, a rather coarse, lascivious-looking person, the mother of five children by her former husband; she soon obtained such an ascendancy over his mind that he publicly proclaimed “that he had divorced and discarded Terunish, and that Tamagno should in future be considered by all as the queen.” Soon Waizero Tamagno had numerous rivals; but she was a woman of tact; and far from complaining, she rather encouraged Theodore in his debauchery, and always received him with a smile. One day she said to her fickle lord, who felt rather astonished at her forbearance, “Why should I be jealous? I know you love but me; what is it if you stoop now and then to pick up some flowers, to beautify them by your breath?”

Although Theodore had several children, Alamayou is the only legitimate one. The eldest, a lad of about twenty-two, called Prince Meshisha, is a big, idle, lazy fellow. Though at Zage, Theodore introduced him to us, and desired us to make him a friend with the English, he did not love him: the young man was, indeed, so unlike the Emperor that I can well understand Theodore having had serious doubts of his being really his son. The other children, five or six in number, the illegitimate offspring of some of his numerous concubines, resided at Magdala, and were brought up in the harem. He seems to have taken but very little notice of them: but every time he passed through Magdala he would send for Alamayou, and play with the boy for hours. A few days before his death he introduced him to Mr. Rassam, saying, “Alamayou, why do you not bow to your father?” and after the audience he sent him to accompany us back to our quarters.

Waizero Terunish, Almayou’s mother, never made any complaint; though forsaken by her husband, she remained always faithful to him. She spent usually the long days of her seclusion reading the books she delighted in–the psalms, the lives of the saints and of the Virgin Mary–and bringing up by her side her only son, for whom she had a deep affection. Although she had never loved her husband, in difficult times she bravely stood by his side. When Menilek, the King of Shoa, made his demonstration before the amba, and treachery was feared, she sent out her son and made all the chiefs and soldiers swear fidelity to the throne. Two days before his death, Theodore sent for the wife he had not seen for years, and spent part of the afternoon with her and his son.

After the storming of Magdala, Waizero Terunish and her rival, Waizero Tamagno, were told to come to our former prison, where they would meet with protection and sympathy. It fell to my lot to receive them on their arrival; and I did my utmost to inspire them with confidence, to assuage their fears, and to assure them that under the British flag they would be treated with scrupulous honour and respect.

It was on the 13th of April, 1866, that Theodore, still powerful, had treacherously seized us in his own house; and strange to say, on the 13th of April, two years afterwards, his dead body lay in one of our huts, while his wife and favourite had to seek shelter under the roof of those whom he had so long maltreated.

Both his queens and Alamayou accompanied the English army on its march back, Waizero Tamagno left, with feelings of gratitude for the kindness and attention she had received at the hands of the English commander-in-chief, as soon as she could with safety return to her native land, Yedjow; but poor Terunish died at Aikullet. Her child, Alamayou, the son of Theodore, and grandchild of Oubie, has now reached the English shore, an orphan, an exile, but well cared for.


Europeans in Abyssinia–Bell and Plowden–Their Career and Deaths –Consul Cameron–M. Lejean–M. Bardel and Napoleon’s Answer to Theodore–The Gaffat People–Mr. Stern and the Djenda Mission–State of Affairs at the end of 1863.

Abyssinia seems to have had a strange fascination for Europeans. The two first who were connected with the late Abyssinian affairs are Messrs. Bell and Plowden, who both entered Abyssinia in 1842. Mr. John Bell, better known in that country under the name of Johannes, first attached himself to the fortunes of Ras Ali. He took service with that prince, and was elevated to the rank of basha (captain); but it seems that Ras Ali never gave him much confidence, and tolerated him rather on account of his (Ras Ali’s) friendship for Plowden, than for any liking for Bell himself. Bell shortly afterwards married a young lady belonging to one of the good families of Begemder. From this union he had three children: two daughters, afterwards married to two of the King’s European workmen, and a son, who left the country together with the released captives. Bell fought by Ras Ali’s side at the battle of Amba Djisella, which ended so fatally for that prince, and afterwards retired into a church, awaiting in that asylum the good pleasure of the victor. Theodore hearing of the presence of a European in the sanctuary, sent him word to come to him, giving him a most solemn pledge that he would be treated as a friend. Bell obeyed, and a strong friendship sprang up between the Emperor and the Englishman.

Bell had for many years quite identified himself with the Abyssinians both in dress and mode of life. He was a man of sound judgment, brave, well-informed, appreciated all that was great and good; and seeing in Theodore an ideal he had often conceived, he attached himself to him with disinterested affection–almost worshipped him. Theodore gave him the rank of likamaquas, and always kept him near his person. Bell slept at the door of his friend’s tent, dined off the same dish, joined in every expedition, and would frequently remain for hours, at the Emperor’s request, narrating to him all the wonders of civilized life, the advantages of military discipline, and the rules of good government. Theodore gave him on several occasions a few hundred young men to drill; but European tactics being distasteful to the unruly Abyssinians, he obtained such indifferent results that the Emperor soon relieved him from that hopeless task. Theodore ordered his friend to marry his wife “by the sacrament.” Bell at once consented; but, strange to say, the family of his wife, out of dislike to Theodore, refused to give their consent. Whereupon the Emperor presented him with a Galla slave, to whom he was married, the Emperor officiating as father to the bride.

Bell was much beloved by all who knew him, and all Europeans who came into the country were sure to find in him a friend. Between him and Plowden the brotherly friendship that united them only increased with time; and on hearing of the murder of his friend, Bell took a solemn oath that he would avenge his death. About seven months afterwards the Emperor marched against Garad, and suddenly came upon him not far from the spot where Plowden fell. The Emperor was riding ahead, next to him came his faithful chamberlain; on their entering a small wood the two brothers Garad appeared in the middle of the road, only a few yards in front of them. Seeing the danger that threatened his master, Bell rushed forward, placed himself before the Emperor, so as to protect him with his body, and, with a steady aim, fired at his friend Plowden’s murderer. Garad fell. Immediately the brother, who had been watching the Emperor’s movements, turned upon Bell, and shot him through the heart. Theodore promptly avenged his faithful friend, for hardly had Bell fallen to the ground than his opponent was mortally wounded by the Emperor himself.

Theodore ordered the place to be at once surrounded, and all Garad’s followers–some 1,600, I believe–were made prisoners and murdered in cold blood. Theodore mourned for several days the death of his faithful follower, in whom he lost more than a brave chief and a hardy soldier: I may almost say he lost his kingdom, for none dared honestly to advise and fearlessly to counsel him as Bell had done, and none ever enjoyed that confidence which rendered Bell’s advice so acceptable.

Plowden seems to have been of a more ambitious turn of mind than his friend. Whilst Bell adopted Abyssinia as his home, and contented himself with service under the native princes, it is evident that Plowden strove to represent England in that distant land, and to be acknowledged by the rulers of Abyssinia as consuls are in the East,–a small _imperium in imperio_. He went the right way to work: induced Ras Ali to send presents to the Queen, and carried them himself; impressed upon Lord Palmerston the advantages of a treaty with Abyssinia; spoke a great deal about Mussulmans, slave-trade, oppressed Christians, &c.; and at length prevailed upon the Foreign Secretary to assent to his plans, and appoint him consul for Abyssinia. In justice to him, I must say, that from all accounts no man could have been better fitted for the post: he was beloved by all classes, and his name is still mentioned with respect. He did not, so much as Bell, identify himself with the natives; he always wore a European dress, and kept his house in a semi-English style. On the other hand, he was fond of show, and never travelled without being followed by several hundred servants, all well armed–a mere parade, as on the day of his death his numerous retinue did not afford him the slightest assistance.

Plowden returned to Abyssinia as consul in 1846. He was well received by Ras Ali, with whom he was a favourite, and he soon after concluded a paper treaty with that prince. Ras Ali was a weak-minded debauchee; all he asked for was to be left alone, and on the same principle he allowed every one around him to do pretty well as they liked. One day Plowden asked permission to erect a flag-staff. Ras Ali gave a willing consent, but added, “Do not ask me to protect it, I do not care for such things; but I fear the people will not like it.” Plowden hoisted the Union Jack above his consulate; a few hours afterwards it was torn to pieces by the mob. “Did not I tell you so?” was all the satisfaction he could obtain from the ruler of the land. After the fall of Ras Ali, Bell, who had, as I have already mentioned, followed the fortunes of Theodore, wrote to his friend in enthusiastic terms, depicted in the eloquent language of admiring friendship all the good qualities of the rising man, and advised Plowden to present himself before the powerful chieftain who undoubtedly before long would be the acknowledged ruler of the whole of Abyssinia.

Plowden’s first reception by Theodore was courteous in the extreme; but he had this time to deal with a very different kind of man to his predecessor. Theodore was all amiability, even offered money, but declined to recognize in him “the consul,” or to ratify the treaty he (Plowden) had made with Ras Ali. For several years Plowden seemed to have joined his friend Bell in singing the praises of Theodore; he was to be the reformer of his country, had introduced a certain discipline in his army, and, to use Plowden’s own words, “he is an honest man, and strives to be just, and, though firm, far from cruel.”

During the last years of his life, Plowden’s opinion had been greatly modified. Theodore did not like him; he feared him; and it was only on account of his friendship for Bell that he did not lay violent hands on him. Plowden, on one occasion, was told to accompany his Majesty to Magdala; arrived there, Theodore called for the Head of the mountain, who was at that time the son of the Galla queen, Workite, and asked him his advice as to whether he should put Plowden in chains or not. The prince, who had a great regard for Plowden, told his Majesty that if they watched him with the eye it was sufficient, and that he would be answerable for his prisoner. Plowden returned with Theodore some time afterwards to the Amhara country, but was constantly surrounded by spies. All his actions were reported to the Emperor, and for a long time, under some pretence or the other, he was refused leave to return to England. At last, broken in health, and disappointed, Plowden almost insisted on going. His Majesty granted his request, but at the same time informed him that the roads were infested with rebels and thieves, and strongly advised him to await his return. I was told on good authority that his Majesty only acquiesced in Plowden’s wishes because he believed that it was quite impossible for him to leave.

However, Plowden, trusting in his popularity, and, perhaps, also in his retinue, started at once on his homeward journey. At a short distance from Gondar he was attacked and made prisoner by a rebel named Garad, a cousin of Theodore. It is probable that he would have been let off with a ransom, but for an unfortunate circumstance. Plowden, sick and tired, was resting under a tree, and while Garad was speaking to him, put his hand towards his belt, as his servant told us, to take out his handkerchief; but the rebel chief, believing that he intended to draw a pistol, immediately wounded him mortally with the lance he held in his hands. Plowden was ransomed by the Gondar merchants, but died a few days afterwards, in March, 1860, from the effects of the wound.

During our stay at Kuarata, at the time we were in high favour, office copies of Plowden’s official letters for the year preceding his death, were brought to us. How altered his impression, how changed his opinion! He had begun to see through the fine words of the Emperor; he more than suspected that before long a hateful tyranny would replace the firm but just rule he had formerly so greatly admired. I remember well that at Zage, when our luggage was returned to us a few hours after the arrest, with what haste and anxiety Prideaux, in whose charge the manuscript was at the time, opened his trunk behind his bed, so that the guards should not perceive the dangerous paper before he had time to destroy it.

If Bell and Plowden had been both living, it may be asked, would Theodore have dealt with them so as ultimately to call for the intervention of Government on Abyssinian affairs? I believe so. The King, as I have said, disliked Plowden personally; he repaid his ransom to the Gondar merchants, it is true, but it was only a political “dodge” of his; he knew well to whom he gave the money, and took it back “with interest,” a few years later. Often he has been heard to sneer at the manner in which Plowden was killed, and say, “The white men are cowards: look at Plowden; he was armed, but he allowed himself to be killed without even defending himself.” This was a malicious assertion on the part of Theodore, as he was well aware that Plowden was so sick at the time that he could hardly walk, and that though he carried a pistol, _it was not loaded_. Not long before his own death, Theodore spoke, on several occasions, in very harsh terms of Bell’s eldest daughter, and on some of her friends representing to his Majesty that he should not forget that she was the daughter of the man who died protecting him, Theodore quietly replied, “Bell was a fool; he would never carry a shield!”

A few months after the news of Consul Plowden’s death had reached England, Captain Charles Duncan Cameron was appointed to the vacant post, but for some reason or other, he reached Massowah only in February, 1862, and Gondar in July of the same year. Captain Cameron had not only served with distinction during the Kaffir war, and passed alone through more than 200 miles of the enemy’s country, but had also been employed on the staff of General Williams, and had been for several years in the consular service. He was, in all respects, well fitted for his post; but, unfortunately for him, when he entered Abyssinia he had to deal with a fascinating, vainglorious, shrewd man, hiding his cunning under an appearance of modesty: in a word, with Theodore who had become an over-bearing despot. On his first arrival, Cameron was received with great honours, and treated by the Emperor with marked respect, and when he left in October, 1862, he was loaded with presents, escorted by the Emperor’s servants, and almost acknowledged as a consul. Like so many others–I can say, like ourselves,–at first he had been so completely taken in by Theodore’s manners that he did not discern the true character of the man he had to deal with, and but too late found out the worth of his gracious reception and the flatteries which had been so liberally bestowed upon him.

From Adowa Captain Cameron forwarded Theodore’s letter to our Queen by native messengers, and proceeded to the province of Bogos, where he deemed his presence necessary. He found out during his stay that Samuel, the Georgis balderaba [Footnote: An introducer: generally given to foreigners in the capacity of a spy.] whom Theodore had given him–a clever, but rather unscrupulous Shoho–was intriguing with the chiefs of the neighbourhood, tributaries of Turkey, in favour of his imperial master. Captain Cameron thought it therefore advisable, in order to avoid future difficulties with the Egyptian Government, to leave Samuel behind with the Servants he did not require. Samuel was much hurt at not being allowed to accompany Cameron in his tour through the Soudan, and though he pretended to be well pleased with the arrangement, he shortly afterwards wrote a long letter to his master in which he spoke in very unfavourable terms of Captain Cameron. Arrived at Kassala, Captain Cameron one evening at a friend’s house asked his Abyssinian servants to show the guests their native war-dance; some refused, others complied, but as it was not appreciated by the spectators, they were told to leave off. (I mention this fact as it was made a serious offence by Theodore, and is a sample of the pretences adopted by him when he desired to vindicate his conduct.) Arrived at Metemma, Cameron, who was at the time suffering from fever, wrote to his Majesty to inform him of his arrival, and requesting his permission to proceed to the missionary station of Djenda; which was granted.

Mr. Bardel, a Frenchman, had accompanied Cameron on his first voyage to Abyssinia; they disagreed, and Bardel left Cameron’s service to enter the Emperor’s. At the time Theodore sent Cameron with a letter to the Queen of England, he also entrusted one to Bardel for the Emperor of the French. During Bardel’s absence M. Lejean, the French Consul at Massowah, arrived in Abyssinia; he was the bearer of credentials to the Emperor Theodore, and also brought with him a few trifles to be presented to his Majesty in the name of the Emperor Napoleon. M. Lejean was not allowed to leave before the arrival of Mr. Bardel; who returned to Gondar in September, 1863, with an answer from the French Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whom he described to Theodore as the mouthpiece (_afa negus_) of Napoleon. All the Europeans were summoned from Gondar to witness the reading of the letter; the King, seated at the window of the palace, had the letter read, and asked Bardel how he had been received.

“Badly,” he replied. “I had an audience with the Emperor, when Mr. D’Abbadie whispered to him that your Majesty was in the habit of cutting off hands and feet; on that, without a word more, Napoleon turned his back upon me.”

Theodore then took the letter, and, tearing it to pieces, said:–“Who is that Napoleon? Are not my ancestors greater than his? If God made him great, can he not make me also great?” After which his Majesty ordered a safe conduct to be given to M. Lejean, with orders that he should leave the country at once.

The Abouna, at that time in favour, afraid above all things of the Roman Catholics, urged the Emperor to let Lejean depart, lest the French should be afforded an excuse for taking possession of some part of the country, from whence their priests would endeavour to propagate their doctrines. But two days after Lejean’s departure, Theodore, who had by that time regretted that he had let him go, sent to have him arrested on the road and brought back to Gondar.

In the autumn of 1863 the Europeans in Abyssinia numbered about twenty-five; they were, Cameron and his European servants, the Basle mission, the Scottish mission, the missionaries of the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews, and some adventurers.

In 1855 Dr. Krapf, accompanied by Mr. Flad, entered Abyssinia as pioneers for a mission which Bishop Gobat desired to establish in that country. The lay missionaries he intended to send were to be workmen, who would receive a small salary, if necessary, but were supposed to support themselves by their work: they were also to open schools, and seize every opportunity to preach the Word of God. Mr. Flad made several journeys backwards and forwards, and, at the time of the first trouble that befell the Europeans since the beginning of Theodore’s reign, the lay missionaries, who had been joined by a few adventurers,–the whole of them better known by natives and Europeans under the name of the “Gaffat people” (on account of the name of the village they usually resided in), amounted to eight. Mr. Flad had some time previously abandoned the Basle Mission for the London Mission for the Conversion of the Jews.

The “Gaffat people” played an important part in all the transactions that, from 1863, took place between his Abyssinian Majesty and the Europeans residing in the country. Their position was not an enviable one; they had not only to please his Majesty, but, in order to keep themselves free from imprisonment or chains, to forestall his wishes, and to keep his fickle nature always interested in their work by devising some new toy suited to please his childish love for novelty. On their first arrival in the country they did their best to fulfil the instructions of their patron, the Bishop of Jerusalem. But on Theodore learning that these men were able workmen, he sent for them one day and told them, “I do not want teachers in my country, but workmen: will you work for me?” They bowed, and with good grace placed themselves at his Majesty’s disposal. Gaffat, a small hillock about four miles from Debra Tabor, was assigned to them as a place of residence. There they built semi-European houses, established workshops, &c. Knowing that he would have a greater hold upon them, and that they would have more difficulty in leaving the country, Theodore ordered them to marry: they all consented. The little colony flourished, and Theodore for a long time behaved very liberally to them; gave them large sums of money, grain, honey, butter, and all necessary supplies in great abundance. They were also presented with silver shields, gold-worked saddles, mules, horses, &c.; their wives with richly embroidered burnouses, ornaments of gold and silver; and to enhance their position in the country they were allowed all the privileges of a Ras.

“His children,” as Theodore called them, so far had nothing to complain of; but the Emperor soon got tired of carriages, pickaxes, doors, and such like; he was bent on having cannons and mortars cast in his country. He gently insinuated his desire; but they firmly refused, on the ground that they had no knowledge of such work. Theodore knew how to make them consent; he had only to appear displeased, to frown a little, and they awaited in trembling to have his good pleasure made known to them. Theodore asked for cannons; they would try. His Majesty smiled; he knew the men he had to deal with. After the guns, they made mortars; then gunpowder; then brandy; again more cannons, shells, shots, &c. Some were sent to make roads, others erected foundries; a large number of intelligent natives were apprenticed to them, and with their assistance executed some really remarkable works. I, who happened to witness one day the harsh, imperative tone he took with them because he felt annoyed at a mere trifle, can well understand their complete submission to his iron will, and cannot blame them. They had given in at first, and accepted his bounty; they had wives and children, and desired to be left in quiet possession of their homes, and were only anxious to please their hard taskmaster.

Another missionary station had been established at Djenda. These gentlemen, most of them scripture-readers, not conversant with any trade, and striving but for one object,–the conversion of the Falashas, or native Jews,–declined to work for Theodore. The Emperor could not understand their refusal. According to his notions every European could work in some way or the other. He attributed their refusal to ill-will towards him, and only awaited a suitable opportunity to visit them with his displeasure. They and the Gaffat people were not in accord; though, for appearance’ sake, a kind of brotherhood was kept up between the rival stations.

The Djenda Mission consisted of two missionaries, of the Scottish Society: a man named Cornelius, [Footnote: He died at Gaffat in the beginning of 1865.] brought to Abyssinia by Mr. Stern, on his first trip; of Mr. and Mrs. Flad, and of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal, who had accompanied Mr. Stern on his second journey to Abyssinia. The Rev. Henry Stern is really a martyr to his faith. A fine type of the brave self-denying missionary, he had already exposed his life in Arabia, where he had, with the recklessness of conviction, undertaken a dangerous, almost impossible, journey, in order to bring the “good tidings” to his oppressed brethren the Jews of Yemen and Sanaa. He had just escaped almost by a miracle from the hands of the bigoted Arabs, when he undertook a first voyage to Abyssinia, in order to establish a mission in that country, where thousands of Jews were living.

Mr. Stern arrived in Abyssinia in 1860, was well received and kindly treated by his Majesty. On his return to Europe he published a valuable account of his tour, under the title of _Wanderings amongst the Falashas of Abyssinia_. In that book Mr. Stern gives a very favourable account of Theodore; but, as becomes a true historian, gave some details of the Emperor’s family, which were, to a certain extent, the cause of many of the sufferings he had afterwards to undergo. About that time several articles appeared in one of the Egyptian newspapers, purporting to have issued from the pen of Mr. Stern, and reflecting rather severely on the marriage of the Gaffat people. Mr. Stern has always denied having been the author of these articles; and though I, and every one else who knows Mr. Stern, will place unlimited confidence in his word, still the Gaffat people would not accept his denial: to the very last they believed him to have written the obnoxious articles, and harboured bitter feelings against him, in consequence.

Mr. Stern undertook a second journey to Abyssinia in the autumn of 1862, accompanied this time by Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal. He and his party reached Djenda in April, 1863.

As soon as the Gaffat people heard of the arrival of Mr. Stern at Massowah, they went in a body to the Emperor and begged him not to allow Mr. Stern to enter Abyssinia. His Majesty gave an evasive answer, but did not comply with the request; on the contrary, he seems to have rejoiced at the idea of an enmity existing between the Europeans in his country, and chuckled at the prospect of the advantages he might reap from their jealousy and rivalry. Mr. Stern soon perceived the great change that had already taken place in the deportment of Theodore, and saw but too plainly, during his several missionary tours, abundant proofs of the cruelty of the man he had so shortly before admired and praised. The Abouna (Abyssinian bishop) at the time in frequent collision with the Emperor, spoke but too openly of the many vices of the ruling sovereign, and as he had always been friendly disposed towards Mr. Stern, this gentleman frequently visited him, even made some short stays in his house. This friendship was construed by the Emperor as implying an understanding between the bishop and the English priest unfavourable to himself, and with a view to the cession of the church lands for a certain sum of money, which was to be placed in Egypt at the Abouna’s disposal.

To sum up, this was the state of the different parties when the storm at last burst on the head of the unfortunate Mr. Stern:–Bell and Plowden, the only Europeans who might have had some influence for good over the mind of the Emperor, were dead. The Gaffat people worked for the King, were frequently near his person, and entertained anything but friendly feelings towards Mr. Stern and the Djenda Mission. While Captain Cameron and his party were watched in Gondar, and in no way mixed up with the differences that unfortunately divided the other Europeans.


Imprisonment of Mr. Stern–Mr. Kerans arrives with Letters and Carpet–Cameron, with his Followers, is put in Chains–Mr. Bardel’s Return from the Soudan–Theodore’s Dealings with Foreigners–The Coptic Patriarch–Abdul Rahman Bey–The Captivity of the Europeans explained.

Such was the state of affairs when Mr. Stern obtained leave to return to the coast. Unfortunately it was impossible for him to avail himself at once of this permission. On Mr. Stern at last taking his departure he had to remain at Gondar a few days, and, but too late, thought of presenting his respects to his Majesty. He also accepted during his short stay there the hospitality of the bishop. On the 13th October Mr. Stern, accompanied for a short distance by Consul Cameron and Mr. Bardel, started on his homeward journey. On arriving on the Waggera Plain he perceived the King’s tent. What followed is well known: how that unfortunate gentleman was almost beaten, to death; and from that hour, almost without remission, loaded with chains, tortured, and dragged from prison to prison, until the day of his deliverance from Magdala by the British army.

When speaking of Theodore’s treatment of foreigners, I will endeavour to explain the real cause of the misfortunes that befell Mr. Stern. That he was only the victim of circumstances, is a fact beyond any doubt. The extracts from his book and the notes from his diary, brought as charges against him, were only discovered several weeks _after_ many cruelties had been inflicted upon him. But I believe that many small, apparently trifling, incidents combined to make him the first European victim of the Abyssinian monarch. The Emperor could not endure the thought that Europeans in his country should do aught else but work for him. On his first interview with Mr. Stern, after this gentleman’s return to Abyssinia, Theodore, on being informed as to the motives of Mr. Stern’s journey, said, in an angry mood, “I have enough of your Bibles.” Theodore also believed that by ill-using Mr. Stern he would please his “Gaffat children,” therefore, immediately after Mr. Stern’s imprisonment, he wrote to them saying, “I have chained your enemy and mine.”

That the crisis was at last brought on by malicious representations to his Majesty of trifling incidents, was proved to us quite accidentally on our way down. At Antalo I had a few friends at dinner, amongst them Mr. Stern, when, in the evening, Peter Beru, an Abyssinian who had received his education at Malta and had been one of the interpreters of Mr. Stern’s book at the famous public trial at Gondar, came into the tent, and, being a little excited, told Mr. Stern that three things had called down upon him the King’s displeasure: first, the enmity of the Gaffat people against him; secondly, his (Mr. Stern’s) intimacy with the Abouna; thirdly, his not having called upon his Majesty during his last stay at Gondar.

On the 22nd of November Mr. Laurence Kerans arrived at Gondar. He came for the purpose of joining Captain Cameron in the capacity of private secretary. He brought with him some letters for Captain Cameron; amongst them one from Earl Russell ordering the consul back to his post at Massowah. Of all the captives none deserves greater sympathy than poor Kerans. Quite a youth when he entered Abyssinia, he suffered four years of imprisonment in chains, for no reason whatever except that he arrived at an inauspicious time. It is true that, according to his wonted habit, his Majesty charged him with having intended to insult him by offering him a carpet representing Gerard the lion-killer. Gerard, in his Zouave costume, Theodore said, represented the Turks, the lion was himself, upon whom the infidel was firing, the attendant a Frenchman; but he added, “I do not see the Englishman who ought to be by my side.” Poor Kerans remained only a few weeks in semi-liberty at Gondar; he had presented on his own account a rifle to his Majesty (the carpet was supposed to have been sent by Captain Speedy, who had previously been in Abyssinia); and every morning Samuel, who was the balderaba of the Europeans, would present himself, with supposed compliments from his Majesty, adding, “The Emperor desires to know what you would like?” Kerans answered, “A horse, a shield, and a lance.” The next morning Samuel would ask, from his Majesty, what kind of horse he preferred, and so on, until at last the poor lad, who was obliged every day to bow to the ground in thankfulness for the supposed gift, began to suspect that all was not right.

Consul Cameron, a few days after the arrival of Kerans, was called to the King’s camp and told to remain there until further orders. He was already so far a prisoner that he was not allowed to return to Gondar, when, on the plea of bad health, he applied for permission to do so. Cameron waited until the beginning of January, daily expecting a letter for the Emperor, but at last, as none came, he considered himself bound to obey his instructions, and accordingly, informed his Majesty that he had received orders from his Government to return to Massowah, and begged that he might be allowed to leave in a few days.

The next morning, 4th January, Cameron, his European servants, the missionaries from Gondar, and Messrs. Stern and Rosenthal (both since some time already in chains), were all sent for by his Majesty. They were ushered into a tent close to the Emperor’s inclosure, with two loaded twelve-pounders placed in front of it and pointed in that direction. The place was crowded with soldiers; everything was so arranged as to make resistance impossible. Shortly after Cameron’s arrival Theodore sent several messages, asking, “Where is the answer to the letter I gave you? Why did you go to my enemies the Turks? Are you a consul?” At last the messages ceased with this last one: “I will keep you a prisoner until I get an answer, and see if you are a consul or not.” On that Cameron was very rudely handled by the soldiers; he was knocked down, his beard torn off, and heavy fetters hammered on him. The captives were all placed in a tent near the Emperor’s inclosure; for a time they were well supplied with rations, and, apart from the fetters, not otherwise ill used.

On the 3rd of February Mr. Bardel returned from a mission the Emperor had intrusted to him, viz., to spy the land, and report about the doings of an Egyptian general, who, at the head of a considerable force, had been for some time staying at Metemma, the nearest post to Abyssinia on the north-west frontier. The following day the Gaffat people were called by the Emperor to consult about the liberation of the European captives. On their recommendation, two missionaries of the Scottish society, two German hunters, Mr. Flad and Cornelius, were freed from their fetters, and allowed to remain at Gaffat with the workmen. The head of the Gaffat people then told Captain Cameron that he would request Theodore to release the whole of them and allow them to depart, if Captain Cameron would give a written document to the effect that no steps would be taken by England to avenge the insult inflicted upon her in the person of her representative. Cameron, not considering himself justified in taking upon himself such a responsibility, declined. A few days afterwards Mr. Bardel having offended his Majesty, or rather being of no more use to him, was sent to join those whom he had been greatly instrumental in depriving of their liberty.

The Rev. Mr. Stern has ably described the painful captivity which he and his fellow-sufferers experienced up to their first release on the arrival of our mission in the beginning of 1865; how they were dragged from Gondar to Azazo; the horrid torture inflicted upon them on the 12th of May: their long march in chains from Azazo to Magdala; their confinement in chains on that amba in the common jail; and the horrid tale of sufferings and misery they had for so many months to endure. Suffice it to say, that on the date of Captain Cameron’s note–14th of February, 1864–which gave the first intimation of their imprisonment, the captives, eight altogether, were Captain Cameron and his followers (Kerans, Bavdel, McKilvie, Makerer, and Pietro), Messrs. Stern and Rosenthal.

Much of what I have said, and a great deal of what I have still to narrate, would appear unintelligible if I were not to describe the conduct Theodore had adopted towards foreigners. It is plain, from facts that I will now adduce, that Theodore had for several years systematically insulted them. He did so partly to dazzle the people with his power, and partly because he believed that complete impunity would always attend his grossest misdeeds.

In December, 1856, David, the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, arrived in Abyssinia, bearer of certain presents for Theodore, and the expression of the good-will of the Pasha of Egypt. The fame of Theodore had spread far and wide in the Soudan; and probably the Egyptian authorities, in order to save that province from being plundered, or unwilling to engage at the time in an expensive war with their powerful neighbour, adopted that expedient as the best suited to appease the ire of their former foe. As usual, Theodore found an excuse for the ill treatment he inflicted upon the aged Patriarch, on the ground that a diamond cross presented to him was only intended as an insult: it meant, he said, that they considered him as a vassal; and on the Patriarch proposing that he should send a letter to the Pasha, accompanied with suitable presents, and that the Pasha would in return send him fire-arms, cannons, and officers to drill his troops, his Majesty exclaimed, “I see, they now desire me to declare myself their tributary.”

Most probably Theodore, always jealous of the power of the Church, took advantage of the presence of its highest dignitary to show to his army whom they had to fear and obey. On the pretexts above mentioned he caused one day a hedge to be built around the Patriarch’s residence, and for several days the eldest son of the Coptic Church kept his father in close confinement. Theodore had some time previously been excommunicated by the Bishop; he therefore enjoyed very much the disreputable quarrel which took place on that matter, as he induced the Patriarch, through fear, to take off the excommunication of his inferior. After a while, however, Theodore apologized, and allowed the terrified old man to depart. The Patriarch on his return told his tale, but the fame for justice and wisdom of the would-be descendant of Solomon was so great that, far from being credited, the Turkish Government, who attributed the failure of the negotiation to the unfitness of their agent, soon after despatched a mission on a larger scale, together with numerous and costly presents, under the orders of an experienced and trusty officer, Abdul Rahman Bey.

The Egyptian envoy reached Dembea in March, 1859. At first Theodore, gratified at receiving such beautiful gifts, treated the ambassador with all courtesy and distinction; but on account of the unsafe condition of the country at the time, he took his guest with him, and considering Magdala a proper and suitable place of residence, left him there. He soon ignored him entirely, and the unfortunate man had to remain nearly two years, a semi-prisoner, on that amba. At last, on the reception of several strongly worded and threatening letters from the Egyptian Government, he allowed him to depart, but caused him to be plundered of all he had near the frontier, by the Shum of Tschelga. Theodore, after the departure of Abdul Rahman Bey, wrote to the Egyptian Government, denying any knowledge of the plunder, and accusing the envoy of serious crimes. Hearing of this, the unfortunate Bey, fearing that his denials would not stand against the charge brought against him by the pious Emperor, poisoned himself at Berber.

His third victim was the Nab of Arkiko. He had accompanied the Emperor to Godjam, when, without reason given, the Emperor cast him into prison and loaded him with chains. It was only on the representation of several influential merchants, who, fearing that the Nab’s relations would retaliate on the Abyssinian caravans, impressed upon his Majesty the prudence of letting him depart, that the Emperor allowed his vassal to return to his country.

The same day on which he imprisoned the Nab of Arkiko, M. Lejean, a member of the French diplomatic service, disgusted with Abyssinia and the many discomforts of camp life, presented himself before the Emperor to apply for leave to depart. Theodore could not grant the desired interview, but M. Lejean persisted in his demand, and sent a second time, representing that, as his Majesty was _en route_ for Godjam, each day would increase the difficulty of his return. Such presumption could not be tolerated. Theodore had defied Egypt; he would now defy France. Lejean was seized, and had to remain in full uniform for twenty-four hours in chains. He was only released on his making an humble apology, and desisting from his desire to leave the country. He was sent to Gaffat, and ordered to abide there until the return of Mr. Bardel.

Theodore scoffed at and imprisoned the Patriarch of Alexandria; the Egyptian ambassador he kept a semi-prisoner for several years; the Nab he chained; the French consul he chained, insulted, and kicked out of the country. Nothing came of all this: on the contrary, in his own camp his influence was greater. Under these circumstances, any barbarian would have done and thought exactly as Theodore did. He came to the conviction that, either through fear of his power or the impossibility of reaching him, whatever ill treatment he might inflict on strangers, no punishment could possibly overtake him. That such was his impression is evident from the gradually increasing brutality of his conduct, always most severe, but never so outrageous as in the case of the British captives. The savage, barbarous treatment he inflicted on Messrs. Stern, Cameron, Rosenthal, and their followers, is without precedent in modern history. Theodore at last took no trouble to hide his contempt for Europeans and their governments.

He knew in August, 1864, that before a month an answer to his letter to the Queen had arrived at Massowah. “Let them wait my good pleasure,” was the only observation he made on the subject. It is probable that he would never have taken any notice of her Majesty’s letter or of the mission sent to him, if his rapid fall–at that time beginning–had not influenced his conduct. When we arrived at Massowah in July, 1864, Theodore was still powerful, at the head of a large army, and master of the greater part of the country. His campaign to Shoa in 1865 was most disastrous. He lost by it, not only that prosperous kingdom, but a large portion of his army; the Gallas seizing the occasion to annoy him greatly on his return. He foresaw his fall, and it probably struck him that the friendship of England might be useful to him; or should he doubt its possibility, he might seize us as hostages, in order to make capital out of us; therefore, but with apparent reluctance, he granted us the long-expected permission to enter his country.

We have now the solution of a part of this difficult problem; we can understand, to a certain degree, the strange character of this man so remarkable in many ways. Imbued with a few European notions, he longed to obtain some of the advantages he had heard of: but how? England and France would only return his friendship by words–he wanted deeds; sweet phrases he would not listen to. He soon became convinced that he might with impunity insult foreigners or envoys from friendly states; and at last it struck him that, while he insulted and ill used Europeans, he might as well keep in his hands an important man like a consul, as a hostage.


News of Cameron’s Imprisonment reaches Home–Mr. Rassam is selected to proceed to the Court of Gondar, and is accompanied by Dr. Blanc–Delays and Difficulties in Communicating with Theodore–Description of Massowah and its Inhabitants–Arrival of a Letter from the Emperor.

In the spring of 1864 it was vaguely rumoured that an African potentate had imprisoned a British consul; the fact appeared so strange, that few credited the assertion. It was soon ascertained, however, that a certain Emperor of Abyssinia, calling himself Theodore, had cast into prison and loaded with chains, Captain Cameron, the consul accredited to his court, and several missionaries stationed in his dominions. A small pencil note from Captain Cameron at last reached Mr. Speedy, the acting vice-consul at Massowah, giving the number and names of the captives, and suggesting that their release depended entirely on the receipt of a civil letter in answer to the one the King had forwarded some months before.

There is no doubt that much difficulty presented itself in order to meet the request expressed by Consul Cameron. Little was known about Abyssinia, and the conduct of its ruler was so strange, so contrary to all precedents, that it became a matter of grave consideration how to communicate with the Abyssinian Emperor without endangering the liberty of others.

In the official correspondence on Abyssinian affairs there is a letter from Mr. Colquhoun, her Majesty’s Agent and Consul-General in Egypt, dated Cairo, 10th May, 1864, in which that gentleman informs Earl Russell “that it is difficult to get at Theodore.” He was expecting to learn what means the Bombay Government could place at his disposal, as from Egypt none were available; he adds, “except from Aden I really can see no measures feasible, and such could only be of a mild nature, for from the character we have had of late of the King, he would appear to become subject to fits of rage which almost deprive him of reason, and would _render all approach dangerous_.”

On June 16th the Foreign Office selected for the difficult and dangerous task of Envoy to Theodore, Mr. Hormuzd Bassam, Assistant Political Resident at Aden; instructions were at the same time forwarded to that gentleman to the effect that he should hold himself in readiness to proceed to Massowah, and, if needful, to Abyssinia, with a view of obtaining the release of Captain Cameron and other Europeans detained in captivity by King Theodore. A letter from her Majesty the Queen of England, one from the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria for the Abouna, and one from the same to King Theodore, were forwarded to Mr. Rassam, in order to facilitate his mission. Mr. Rassam was to be conveyed to Massowah in a ship-of-war; he was at once to inform Theodore of his arrival, bearing a letter to him from the Queen of England, and also forward, by the same messenger, the letters from the Patriarch to the Abouna and to the Emperor. He was to await a reply at Massowah, before deciding whether he should proceed himself, or forward the Queen’s letter to Captain Cameron for delivery. The instructions added that Mr. Rassam might, however, adopt any other course which might appear to him more advisable; but he should take special care not to place himself in a position that might cause further embarrassment to the British Government.

It so happened that at the time Mr. Rassam received an intimation that he was selected for the duty of conveying a letter from the Queen to the Emperor of Abyssinia, I had gone with him on a visit to Lahej, a small Arab town about twenty-five miles from Aden. We talked a great deal about that strange land, and on my expressing my desire to accompany Mr. Rassam to the Abyssinian Court, that gentleman proposed to Colonel Merewether, the Political Resident at Aden, to allow me to go with him as his companion: a request that Colonel Merewether immediately granted, and which was shortly afterwards sanctioned by the Governor of Bombay and the Viceroy of India.

We had to wait a few days, as the Queen’s letter had been detained in Egypt, in order to have it translated, and it was only on the 20th of July, 1864, that Mr. Rassam and myself left Aden for Massowah in her Majesty’s steamer _Dalhousie_.

On the morning of the 23rd, at a distance of about thirty miles from the shore, we sighted the high land of Abyssinia, formed of several consecutive ranges, all running from N. to S., the more distant being also the highest; some of the peaks, such as Taranta, ranging between 12,000 and 13,000 feet.

As the outline of the coast became more distinct, the sight of a small island covered with white houses surrounded by green groves, reflecting their welcome shadows in the quiet blue water of the bay, gave us a thrill of delight; it seemed as if at last we had come to one of those enchanted spots of the East, so often described, so seldom seen, and to the longing of our anxious hearts the quick motion of the steamer seemed slow to satisfy our ardent wishes. But nearer and nearer as we approached the shore, one by one all our illusions disappeared; the pleasant imagery vanished, and the stern reality of mangrove swamps, sandy and sunburnt beach, wretched and squalid huts, stared us in the face. Instead of the semi-Paradise distance had painted to our imagination, we found (and, alas! remained long enough to verify the fact) that the land of our temporary residence could be described in three words–sun, dirt, and desolation.

Massowah, latitude 15.36 N., longitude 39.30 E., is one of the many coral islands that abound in the Red Sea; it is but a few feet above high-water mark, about a mile in length, and a quarter in breadth. Towards the north it is separated from the mainland by a narrow creek about 200 yards in breadth, and is distant from Arkiko, a small town situated at the western extremity of the bay, about two miles. Half-a-mile south of Massowah, another small coral island, almost parallel to the one we describe, covered with mangroves and other rank vegetation, the proud owner of a sheik’s tomb of great veneration, lies between Massowah and the Gedem peak, the high mountain forming the southern boundary of the bay.

The western half of the island of Massowah is covered with houses: a few two stories high, built of coral rock, the remainder small wooden huts with straw roofs. The first are inhabited by the wealthier merchants and brokers, the Turkish officials, and the few Banians, European consuls; and merchants whose unfortunate fate has cast them on this inhospitable shore. There is not a building worth mentioning: the Pasha’s residence is a large, ungainly mansion, remarkable only for its extreme filthiness. During our stay the offensive smell from the accumulation of dirt on the yards and staircases of the palace was quite overwhelming: it is easier to imagine than to describe the abominable stench that pervaded the whole place. The few mosques are without importance–miserable whitewashed coral buildings. One, however, under construction promised to be a shade better than the others.

[Illustration: Fort, Mission House and Town of Massowah]

The streets–if by this name we may call the narrow and irregular lanes that run between the houses–are kept pretty clean; whether with or without municipal intervention I cannot say. Except in front of the Pasha’s residence, there is no open space worthy of the name of square. The houses are much crowded together, many even being half built over the sea on piles. Land is of such value on this spot so little known, that reclamation was at several points going on; though I do not suppose that shares and dividends were either issued or promised.

The landing-place is near the centre of the island, opposite to the gates of the town, which are regularly shut at eight P.M.; why, it is difficult to say, as it is possible to land on any part of the island quite as easily, if not more so, than on the greasy pier. On the landing-place a few huts have been erected by the collector of customs and his subordinates; these, surrounded by the brokers and tallow-scented Bedouins, register the imports, exacting such duties as they like, before the merchandise is allowed to be purchased by the Banians or conveyed to the bazaar for sale. This last-named place–the _sine qua non_ of all Eastern towns–is a wretched affair. Still, the Bedouin beau, the Bashi-bazouk, the native girls, and the many _flaneurs_ of the place, must find some attractions in its precincts, for though redolent with effluvia of the worst description, and swarming with flies, it is, during part of the day, the rendezvous of a merry and jostling crowd.

The eastern half of the island contains the burial-ground, the water-tanks, the Roman Catholic mission-house, and a small fort.

The burial-ground begins almost with the last houses, the boundary between the living and the dead being merely nominal. To improve the closer relationship between the two, the water-tanks are placed amongst the graves! but there are but few tanks still in good condition. After heavy showers, the surface drainage finds its way into the reservoirs, carrying with it the detritus of all the accumulated filth of the last year or two, and adding an infusion of human bodies, in all stages of decomposition. Still, the water is highly prized, and, strange to say, seems to have no noxious effects, on the drinkers. At the north and south points of this part of the island two buildings have been erected–the one the emblem of good-will and peace; the other, of war and strife–the mission-house and the fort. But it is difficult to decide which of the two means the most mischief; many are inclined to give the palm to the worthy fathers’ abode. The fort appears formidable, but only at a great distance; on near approach it is found to be but a relic of former ages, a crumbled-down ruin, too weak to bear any longer its three old rusty guns now lying on the ground: it is the terror, not of the neighbourhood, but of the unfortunate gunner, who has already lost an arm whilst endeavouring to return a salute through their honeycombed tubes. On the other hand, the mission-house, garbed in immaculate whiteness, smiles radiantly around, inviting instead of repulsing the invader. But within, are they always words of love that fill the echoes of the dome? Is peace the only sound that issues from its walls? Though the past speaks volumes, and though the history of the Roman Church is written in letters of blood all over the Abyssinian land, let us hope that the fears of the people have no foundation, and that the missionaries here, like all Christian missionaries, only strive to promote one object–the cause of Christ.

Massowah, as well as the immediate surrounding country, is mainly dependent on Abyssinia for its supplies. Jowaree is the staple food; wheat is little used; rice is a favourite amongst the better classes. Goats and sheep are killed daily in the bazaar, cows on rare occasions; but the flesh of the camel is the most esteemed, though, on account of the expense, rarely indulged in except on great occasions.

The inhabitants being Mussulmans, water is the ordinary beverage; _tej_ and araki (made from honey) can, however, be purchased in the bazaar. The limited supply of water obtained from the few remaining tanks is quite inadequate to meet the wants of even a small portion of the community; water is consequently brought in daily from the wells a few miles north of Massowah, and from Arkiko. The first is brought in leather bags by the young girls of the village; the latter conveyed in boats across the bay. The water in both cases is brackish, that from Arkiko highly so. For this reason, and also on account of the greater facility in the transport, it is cheaper, and is purchased only by the poorer inhabitants.

To avoid useless repetitions, before speaking of the population, climate, diseases, &c., a short account of the immediate neighbourhood is necessary.

About four miles north of Massowah is Haitoomloo, a large village of about a thousand huts, the first place where we meet with sweet water; a mile and a quarter further inland we came upon Moncullou, a smaller but better built village. A mile westward of the last place we find the small village of Zaga. These, with a small hamlet east of Haitoomloo, constitute all the inhabited portions of this sterile region. The next village, Ailat, about twenty miles from Massowah, is built on the first terrace of the Abyssinian range, 600 feet above the level of the sea. All these villages are situated in the midst of a sandy and desolate plain; a few mimosas, aloes, senna plants, and cactuses struggle for life in the burning sand. The country residences of the English and French consuls shine like oases in this desert, great pains having been taken to introduce trees that thrive even in such a locality.

[Illustration: Grove House at Moncullou.]

The wells are the wealth of the villages–their very existence. Most probably, huts after huts have been erected in their vicinity until the actual prosperous villages have arisen, surrounded as they are on all sides by a burnt and desert tract. The wells number about twenty. Many old ones are closed, but new ones are frequently dug, so as to keep up a constant supply of water. The reason old wells are abandoned is, that after a while the water becomes very brackish. In a new well the water is almost sweet. The water obtained from these wells proceeds from two different sources: First, from the high mountains in the vicinity. The rain filters and impregnates the soil, but not being able to soak beyond a certain depth, on account of the volcanic rocks of the undersoil, forms a small stratum always met with at a certain depth. Secondly, from the sea by filtration. The wells, though about four miles from the shore, are only from twenty to twenty-five feet deep, and consequently on or below the level of the sea.

The proof of an undercurrent of water, due to the presence of the high range of mountains, becomes more apparent as the traveller advances into the interior; though the soil is still sandy and barren, and little vegetation can as yet be seen, trees and shrubs become more plentiful, and of a larger size. A few miles farther inland, even during the summer months, it is always possible to obtain water by digging to the depth of a few feet in the dried-up bed of a water-torrent.

It often struck me that what artesian wells have done for the Sahara they could equally accomplish for this region. The locality seems even more favourable, and there is every hope that, like the great African desert, the now desolate land of Samhar could be transformed into a rich date-bearing land.

Taken as they are; these wells could certainly be improved. On our arrival at Moncullou, we found the water of the well belonging to the consular residence scarcely used, on account of its very brackish taste; we had the well emptied, a large quantity of saltish sand removed, and we dug deeper until large rocks appeared. The result was that we had the best well in the place, and requests for our water were made by many, including the Pasha himself. Unfortunately, the forefathers of the present Moncullites never did such a thing to their wells, and as all innovations are distasteful to a semi-civilized race, the fact was admired, but not imitated.

Arkiko, at the extremity of the bay, is much nearer the mountains than the villages situated north of Massowah, but the village is built almost on the beach itself; the wells, not a hundred yards from the sea, are also much more superficial than those on the northern side, consequently the sea-water, having a much shorter distance to filter through, retains a greater proportion of saline particles, and I believe, were, it not for the presence of a small quantity of sweet water from the hills, it would be quite unpalatable.

In the neighbourhood of Maasowah there are several hot mineral springs. The most important are those of Adulis and Ailat. In the summer of 1865 we made a short trip to Annesley Bay, to inspect the locality. The ruins of Adulis are several miles from the shore, and, with the exception of a few fragments of broken columns, contain no traces of the former important colony. The place was even hotter than Massowah; there was no vegetation, no trace of habitations on that desolate shore. Fancy our surprise, on reaching the same spot in May, 1868, to find piers, railways, bazaars, &c.–a bustling city had sprung out of the wilderness.

The springs of Adulis [Footnote: A short time before our departure for the interior, some of the water of the hot springs of Adulis was collected and forwarded to Bombay for analysis.] are only a few hundred yards from the sea-shore, surrounded by a pleasing green patch covered with a vigorous vegetation, the rendezvous of myriads of birds and quadrupeds, who, morning and evening, swarm thither to quench their thirst.

At Ailat [Footnote: Water collected and sent to Bombay, November, 1864.] the hot spring issues from basaltic rocks on a small plateau between high and precipitous mountains. At the source itself the temperature is 141 Fahrenheit, but as the water flows down the different ravines, it gradually cools until it differs in no way from other mountain streams. It is palatable, and used by the inhabitants of Ailat for all purposes: it is also highly esteemed by the Bedouins. On account of its medicinal properties, numbers resort to the natural baths, formed of hollowed volcanic roots, for the relief of every variety of disease. From what I could gather, it appears to prove beneficial in chronic rheumatism and in diseases of the skin. Probably in these cases any warm water would act as well, considering the usual morbid condition of the integument in those dirty and unwashed races.

The population of Massowah, including the surrounding villages (as far, at least, as I could ascertain), amounts to 10,000 inhabitants. The Massowah race is far from pure; being a mixture of Turkish, Arab, and African blood. The features are generally good, the nose straight, the hair in many instances short and curly; the skin brown, the lips often large, the teeth even and white. The men are of the middle height; the women under it. So much for their physical appearance. Morally they are ignorant and superstitious, having apparently retained but few of their forefathers’ virtues, but a great many of their vices. A very good distinction can be made, in the male portion of the community, between those who wear turbans and long white shirts, and those hard-working wretches who, girded with a single leather skin, roam about with their flocks in search of pasture and water. The first live I know not how. They call themselves brokers! It is true that three or four times a year caravans arrive from the interior, but as a rule, with the exception of a skin or two of honey, and a few bags of jowaree, nothing is imported. What possible business can about 500 brokers have? How ten dollars’ worth of honey and fifty of grain can give a brokerage sufficient to clothe and feed, not only themselves but also their families, is a problem I have in vain endeavoured to solve!

In the East, children, instead of being a burden to poor people, are often a source of wealth: at Massowah they certainly are. The young girls of Moncullou, &c., bring in a pretty good income to their parents. I know big, strong, but lazy fellows who would squat down all day in the shade of their huts, living on the earnings of two or three little girls, who daily went once or twice to Massowah laden with a large skin full of water. The water-girls vary in age from eight to sixteen. The younger ones are rather pretty, small, but well made, the hair neatly braided and falling on the shoulders. A small piece of cotton reaching from the waist to the knee is generally the only garment of the poorest. Those better off wear also a piece of plaid thrown gracefully across the shoulders. The right nostril is ornamented with a small copper ring; as a substitute, a shirt-button is much esteemed, and during our stay our buttons were in constant demand.

If we take into consideration that Massowah is situated within the tropics, possessing no running stream, that it is surrounded by burning deserts, and that rain seldom falls, the conclusion we could beforehand have arrived at is, that the climate is essentially hot and dry.

From November to March the nights are cool, and during that period the day, in a good house or tent, is pleasant enough. From April to October the nights are close, and often very oppressive. During those hot months, both in the morning before the sea-breeze springs up and in the evening when it has died away, all animal creation falls into a torpid state. The perfect calm that then reigns is fearful in its stillness and painful in its effects.

From May to August sand-storms frequently occur. They begin usually at four P.M. (though occasionally they appear in the morning), and last from a few minutes only to a couple of hours. Long before the storm is felt, the horizon towards the N.N.W. is quite dark; a black cloud extends from the sea to the mountain range, and as it advances the sun itself is obscured. A few minutes of dead calm, and then suddenly the dark column approaches; all seems to disappear before it, and the roar of the terrible hurricane of wind and sand now coursing over the land is almost sublime in its horrors. Coming after the moist sea breeze, the hot and dry wind appears quite cool, though the thermometer rises to 110 or 115 degrees. After the storm a gentle land breeze follows, and often lasts all night. The amount of sand carried by the wind in these storms can be imagined by the mere mention of the fact that we could not discern, at a short distance from us, such a large object as a tent.

It seldom rains; occasionally there are a few showers in August and November.

As far as Europeans are concerned, climates like the one we have just described cannot be considered as unhealthy; they debilitate and weaken the system, and predispose to tropical diseases, but seldom engender them. I expected to find many cases of scurvy, due to the brackish condition of the water and to the absence of vegetables; but either scurvy did not exist to a great extent or did not come under my observation, as during my stay I did not meet with more than three or four cases. Fevers affect the natives after a fall of rain, but though some cases are of a very pernicious type, the majority belong to the simple intermittent or remittent, and yield rapidly to a proper treatment.

Small-pox now and then makes fearful ravages. When it breaks out, a mild case is chosen, and from it a great many are inoculated. The mortality is considerable amongst those who submit to the operation. On several occasions during the summer I received vaccine lymph, and inoculated with it. In no case did it take; owing, I suppose, to the extreme heat of the weather. During, the cold season I applied again, but could not obtain any. The greatest mortality is due to childbirth–a strange fact, as in the East confinements are generally easy. The practice in use here has probably much to do with this unfavourable result. After her confinement the woman is placed upon an alga or small native bed; underneath which, fire with aromatic herbs is so arranged as almost to suffocate the newly-delivered woman. Diarrhoea was frequent during the summer of 1865, and dysentery at the same period proved fatal to many. Diseases of the eyes are seldom met with, except simple inflammation caused by the heat and glare of the sun. I suffered from a severe attack of ophthalmia, and was obliged in consequence to proceed to Aden for a few weeks. I have met with no case of disease of the lungs, and bronchial affections seem almost unknown. I had occasion to attend upon cases of neuralgia, and one of gouty rheumatism.

For several years locusts have been committing great damage to the crops. In 1864 they occasioned a scarcity and dearness of the first necessaries of life, but in 1865 the whole of Tigre, Hamasein, Bogos, &c. had been laid waste by swarms of locusts, and at last no supplies whatever reached from the interior. The local Government sent to Hodeida and other ports for grain, and rice, and thus avoided the horrors of a complete famine. As it was, numbers died, and many half-starved wretches were ready victims for such a disease as cholera. This last-named scourge made its appearance in October, 1865, at the time we were making our preparations to proceed into the interior. The epidemic was severely felt. All those who had been suffering from the effects of insufficient or inferior food became an easy prey; few, indeed, of those who contracted the disease rallied; almost all died. During our residence at Massowah, out of the small community of Europeans five died, two from heat apoplexy, two from debility, and one from cholera. (None came under my care.) The Pasha himself was several times on the point of death, from debility and complete loss of tone of the digestive organs. He was at last prevailed upon to leave, and saved his life by a timely trip to sea.

The Bedouins of the Samhar, like all bigoted and ignorant savages, have great confidence in charms, amulets and exorcisms. The “medicine man” is generally an old, venerable-looking Sheik–a great rascal, for all his sanctified looks. His most usual prescription is to write a few lines of the Koran upon a piece of parchment, wash off the ink with water, and hand it over to the patient to drink; at other times the writing is enclosed in small squares of red leather, and applied to the seat of the disease. The Mullah is no contemptible rival of his, and though he also applies the all-efficacious words of the revealed “cow,” he effects more rapid cures by spitting several times upon the sick person, muttering between each ejection appropriate prayers which no evil spirit could withstand, should his already sanctified spittle not have been sufficient to cast them off. Massowah boasts, moreover, of a regular medical practitioner, in the shape of an old Bashi-bazouk. Though superior in intelligence to the Sheik and the Mullah, his medical knowledge is on a par with theirs. He possesses a few drugs, given to him by travellers; but as he is not acquainted with their properties or doses, he wisely keeps them on a shelf for the admiration of the natives, and employs simples, with which, if he effects no wonderful cures, he still does no harm. Our _confere_ is not at all conceited, though he no doubt imposes upon the credulity of the aborigines; when we met in “consultation,” he always, with becoming meekness, acknowledged his ignorance.

Massowah, as I have already stated, is built on a coral rock; the same formation exists on many parts of the coast, and forms cliffs, some of them thirty feet above the level of the sea. Further inland, towards Moncullou and Haitoomloo, volcanic rocks begin to appear, scattered here and there as if carelessly thrown on the sandy plain; at first isolated landmarts over the level space, they soon become more united, increasing in number, size, and importance, until the mountains themselves are reached, where almost every stone declares the predominance of the volcanic formation.

The flora is scanty, and belongs, with but few exceptions, to the _Leguminosae_. Several varieties of antelopes roam over the desert. Partridges, pigeons, and several species of the _Natatores_ at certain seasons, arrive in great numbers. Apart from these, nothing useful to man is met with amongst the other members of the animal creation, consisting principally of hosts of hyenas, snakes, scorpions, and innumerable insects.

We remained at Massowah from the 23rd of July, 1864, to the 8th of August, 1865, the date of our departure for Egypt, where we went in order to receive instructions, when a letter at last reached us from the Emperor Theodore. Massowah offered no attractions: the heat was so intense at times that we could hardly breathe; and we ardently longed for our return to Aden or India, as we had given up all hopes regarding the acceptance of our mission by the Abyssinian