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A Narrative of Captivity in Abyssinia by Henry Blanc

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M.R.C.S.E., F.A.S.L., ETC.,





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


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


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

* * * * *


* * * * *


PASS OF LOOKUM (Frontispiece).








* * * * *

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


* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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