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A Narrative of Captivity in Abyssinia by Henry Blanc

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Emperor. No pains were spared, no stone was left unturned, no
possible chance left untried to obtain information as to the condition
of the captives, to supply them with the necessaries of life, or
induce the obstinate potentate to call for the letter it was said
he was so anxious to receive. The very day of our arrival at Massowah,
efforts were made to engage messengers to proceed to the Abyssinian
court and inform his Ethiopian Majesty that officers had arrived
at the coast with the answer to his letter to the Queen of England.
But such was the dread of his name, that it was with great difficulty,
and only on the promise of a large reward, that any could be obtained.
On the evening of the 24th, the day after our arrival, the messengers
were despatched with the letters to the Abouna and the Emperor from
the Patriarch, one from Mr. Rassam to the Abouna, and one to the
Emperor, the messengers promising to be back in the course of a
month or so.

Mr. Rassam, in his letter to the Emperor Theodoros, informed him,
in courteous language, that he had arrived at Massowah the day
before, bearing a letter from H.M. the Queen of England to his
address, and that he was desirous of delivering it into his Majesty's
hands. He also informed him that he would await the answer at
Massowah, and requested, should his Majesty send for him, kindly
to provide him with an escort. He, however, left to Theodore the
option of sending the prisoners down with a trustworthy person to
whom he could deliver the letter from the Queen of England. He
concluded by advising his Majesty that his embassy to the Queen had
been accepted, and should it reach the coast before his (Mr. Rassam's)
departure for Aden, he would take the necessary steps to see that
it reached England in safety.

A month--six weeks--two months, passed in hourly expectation of the
return of the messengers. All suppositions were exhausted: perhaps
the messengers had not reached; possibly the King had detained them;
or they might have lost the packet whilst crossing some river, etc.;
but as no reliable information could moreover be obtained, as to
the exact condition of the captives, it was impossible to remain
any longer in such a state of uncertainty. Mr. Rassam, therefore,
despatched with considerable difficulty two more messengers, with
a copy of his letter of July 24, accompanied by an explanatory note.
Private messengers were, at the same time, sent to the Emperor's
camp to report on his treatment of the captives, and to different
parts of the country, from whence we supposed information might
possibly be obtained. A short time afterwards, having succeeded in
securing the names of some of the Gaffat people who had formerly
been in communication with Consul Cameron, we wrote to them in
English, French, and German, not knowing what language they understood,
earnestly requesting that they would inform us as to what steps
they considered most advisable in order to obtain the release of
the captives.

Again we waited on the desert shore of Massowah for that answer so
long expected; none came, but on Christmas-day we received a few
lines from Messrs. Flad and Schimper, the two Europeans with whom
we had communicated. All they had to say was, that the misfortunes
which had befallen the Europeans were due to the Emperor's letter
not having been answered, and they advised Mr. Rassam to send the
letter he had brought with him to his Majesty. However, Mr. Rassam
thought it unbecoming the British Government to force upon the
Emperor a letter signed by the Queen of England, when, by his
refusing even to acknowledge its presence at Massowah, he clearly
showed that he had changed his mind and did not care any more about

In the meanwhile some of the prisoners' servants had arrived with
letters from their masters; other messengers despatched from Massowah
were also equally successful; stores, money, letters were now
regularly forwarded to the captives, who, in return, kept us informed
as to their condition and the movements of the King. So far our
presence at Massowah was of the utmost importance, since without
the supplies and money we were able to provide them with, their
misery would have been increased tenfold, if even they had not at
last succumbed to privation and want.

The friends of the captives and, to a great extent, the public,
unaware of the efforts made by Mr. Rassam to accomplish the object
of his mission, and of the great difficulties that were to be
contended with, attributed the apparent failure to causes far
removed; many suggestions were advanced, a few even tried, but no
result followed. It was said that one of the reasons his Majesty
did not vouch us an answer was, that the mission was not of sufficient
importance; that his Majesty considered himself slighted, and
therefore would not condescend to acknowledge us. To remedy this,
in February, 1865, Government decided on adding another military
officer to our party, and, as the press reported at the time, it
was confidently expressed that great results would follow this step.
Hence, Lieut. Prideaux, of her Majesty's Bombay Staff Corps, arrived
in Massowah in May. As might reasonably be expected, his presence
at the coast did not in the least influence Theodore's mind. The
only advantage gained by the addition of this officer to the mission
was a charming companion, who was doomed to spend with me in a tent
on the sea-beach the hot months of hot Massowah. More months
elapsed: still no answer! the condition of the prisoners was very
precarious; they saw with great apprehension another rainy season
about to set in; their letters were written in a most desponding
tone; and though we had done our utmost to supply them with money
and a few comforts, the distance and the rebellious state of the
country made it difficult to provide more abundantly for their

At last, in March, we determined on a last effort; should it fail
we would request our recall. We had heard of Samuel, how he had
been in many respects mixed up in the affair, and we knew that he
enjoyed in some degree the confidence of his master; so when we
were informed that one of his relations was willing to convey a
letter and he assured us of an answer before forty days, once more
our hopes were excited and we trusted in the possibility of success.
The forty days expired, then two, then three months; but we heard
nothing!! It seemed as if a kind of fatality attended our messengers:
from whatever class they were taken--simple peasants, followers of
the Nab, or relatives of one of the Emperor's courtiers--the result
was invariably the same; not only they did not bring back any answer
from the Emperor, but not even one returned to us.

The prolonged delay of Mr. Rassam's mission at Massowah without any
apparent good results having been achieved, was so contrary to all
expectations, that it was at last decided to resort to other means.

In February, 1865, a Copt, Abdul Melak, presented himself at the
consulate of Jeddah, pretending to have just arrived from Abyssinia
with a message from the Abouna to the Consul-General, purporting
that if he could bring from H.M.'s Consul-General in Egypt a written
declaration to the effect that, should the Emperor allow the Europeans
in chains to depart, no steps would be taken to punish the offence,
he, the Abouna, would engage himself to obtain their liberation,
and become their security. That impostor, who had never been in
Abyssinia at all, gave such wonderful details that he completely
imposed upon the Consul of Jeddah and the Consul-General. The fact
that he pretended to have passed through Massowah without entering
into communication with Mr. Rassam was by itself suspicious; but
had these gentlemen possessed the slightest knowledge of Abyssinia,
they would at once have discovered the deception when he purchased
some "suitable" presents for the Abouna, before proceeding on the
mission that had been intrusted to him. In Abyssinia tobacco is
considered "unclean" by the priests; none ever smoke; and even
admitting that in his privacy the Abouna might have now and then
indulged in a weed, he would have taken great care to keep the
matter as quiet as possible. Therefore to present him with an
_amber mouthpiece_ would have been a gratuitous insult to a
man who was supposed to have rendered an important favour. It was,
indeed, the very last testimonial any one in the slightest degree
conversant with Abyssinian priesthood would ever have selected. As
it is, the man started, and lived for months amongst the Arab tribes
between Kassala and Metemma, on the strength of a certificate that
described him as an ambassador and recommended him to the protection
of the tribes that lay on his road. We met him not for from Kassala;
he acknowledged the deceit he had practised, and was delighted when
he heard that we had no intention of requesting the Turkish authorities
to make him a prisoner.

Government at last decided on recalling us, and appointed Mr.
Palgrave, the distinguished Arabian traveller, in our stead.

In the beginning of July we went for a short trip to the Habab
country, situate north of Massowah; on our return, we were met in
the desert of Chab by some of the Naib's relations, who informed
us that Ibrahim (the relative of Samuel) had returned with an answer
from his Majesty, and was expected daily; that all our former
messengers had obtained leave to depart; but what was still more
gratifying was the intelligence, brought down by them, that Theodore,
to show his regard for us, had liberated Consul Cameron and his
fellow-captives. On July 12, Ibrahim arrived. He gave full details
about the release of the Consul; a story which was corroborated a
few days afterwards by another relative of his, also one of our
former messengers. I believe, from what I afterwards learnt, that
Theodore himself was party to the lie, as he publicly, in presence
of the messengers, gave orders to some of his officers to go and
remove the Consul's fetters; only the messengers improved on it by
stating that they had seen the Consul after the chains had been

The reply Theodore had at last granted to our repeated demands was
not courteous, nor even civil--it was neither signed nor sealed;
he ordered us to proceed through the distant and unhealthy route
of the Soudan, and, once arrived at Metemma, to inform him of our
arrival there, and that he would then provide us with an escort.
We did not like the letter; it seemed more the production of a
madman than of a reasonable being. I select a few extracts from
this letter, as they are really curiosities in their way. He said:--

"The reason I do not write to you in my name, because of Abouna
Salama, the so-called Kokab (Stern) the Jew, and the one you called
Consul, named Cameron (who was sent by you). I treated them with
honour and friendship in my city. When I thus befriended them, on
account of my anxiety to cultivate the friendship of the English
Queen, they reviled me.

"Plowden and Johannes (John Bell), who were called Englishmen, were
killed in my country, whose death, by the power of God, I avenged
on those who killed them; on account these (the three above mentioned)
abused me, and denounced me as a murderer.

"Cameron, who is called Consul, represented to me that he was a
servant of the Queen. I invested him with a robe of honour of my
country, and supplied him with provisions for the journey. I asked
him to make me a friend of the Queen.

"When he was sent on his mission, he went and stayed some time with
the Turks, and returned to me.

"I spoke to him about the letter I sent through him to the Queen.
He said, that up to that time he had not received any intelligence
concerning it. What have I done, said I, that they should hate me,
and treat me with animosity? By the power of the Lord my creator,
I kept silent."

Although the steamer _Victoria_ only arrived in Massowah on
the 23rd of July, we had as yet received no letters from Consul
Cameron, nor from any of the captives. By the _Victoria_ we
were informed that Mr. Rassam was recalled and Mr. Palgrave appointed.
Under the new aspect matters had suddenly taken, Mr. Rassam could
but refer to Government for instructions. We therefore at once
started for Egypt, where we arrived on the 5th of September.

Through her Majesty's Agent and Consul-General, Government was
apprised of the receipt of a letter from Theodore, granting us
permission to enter Abyssinia; that the letter was uncourteous, and
not signed; that Cameron was released, and though Cameron had always
insisted on our not proceeding into the interior with or without
safe-conduct, we were ready to go at once, should Government consider
it advisable. Mr. Palgrave was told to remain, Mr. Rassam and his
companions to go; a certain sum of money was allowed for presents;
letters for the governors of the Soudan were obtained; and, our
necessary stores and outfit being purchased; we returned to Massowah,
where we arrived on the 25th of September.

There we heard that messengers had arrived from the prisoners; that
they had been taken to Aden by a man-of-war; and that they had
verbally reported, that far from having been released, hand-chains
had been added to the captives' previous fetters. As we could not
find anybody to accompany us through the Soudan (on account of its
unhealthiness at that time of the year) before the middle of October,
we thought it advisable to proceed at once to Aden, in order to
gain correct information from the captives' letters, as to their
actual condition, and to confer with the Political Resident of that
station, as to the expediency of complying with the Emperor's
requests, under the totally different aspect matters now presented.

Although Captain Cameron, in several of his former communications,
had repeatedly insisted that on no account we should enter Abyssinia,
in the note just received he implored us to come up at once, as our
declining to do so would prove of the utmost danger to the prisoners.
The Political Resident, therefore, taking into consideration Captain
Cameron's earnest appeal for Mr. Rassam to acquiesce with Theodore's
request, advised us to proceed and hope for the best.

After a short stay at Aden we again returned to Massowah, and, with
the utmost diligence, made all our arrangements for the long journey
that lay before us. Unfortunately cholera had broken out, the natives
were unwilling to cross the plains of Braka and Taka, on account
of the malarious fever, so deadly at that time of the year, and it
required all the influence of the local authorities to insure our
speedy departure.


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.

On the afternoon of the 15th October, all our preparations being
apparently complete, the mission, composed of Mr. H. Rassam, Lieut.
W.F. Prideaux, of her Majesty's Bombay Staff Corps, and myself,
started on its dangerous enterprise. We were accompanied by a nephew
of the Naib of Arkiko; and an escort of Turkish Irregulars had been
graciously sent by the Pasha to protect our sixty camels, laden
with our personal luggage, stores, and presents for the Ethiopian
monarch. We also took with us several Portuguese and other Indian
servants, and a few natives of Massowah as muleteers.

On a first march something is always found wanting. On this occasion
many of the cameleers were unprovided with ropes: boxes, portmanteau-bags,
were strewed all over the road, and night was far advanced before
the last camel reached Moncullou. A halt was in consequence absolutely
necessary, so that the actual start was only made on the afternoon
of the 16th.

From Moncullou our route lay N.W. across the desert of Chab, a
dreary wilderness of sand, intersected by two winter torrents,
generally dry: but by digging in their sandy beds it is possible
at all seasons to obtain some muddy water. The rapidity with which
these torrents fill up is most astonishing.

During the summer of 1865, we had made a trip to Af-Abed, in the
Hababs' country. On our return, whilst crossing the desert, we
experienced a very severe storm. We had just reached our encamping-ground
on the Southern bank of one of these water-courses, and half the
camels had already crossed the dry bed of the river, when, on a
sudden, a tremendous roar was heard, shortly afterwards followed
by a fearful rush of water. In the former empty bed of the torrent
now dashed a mighty stream, tearing down trees and rocks, so that
no human being could possibly cross. Our luggage and servants were
still on the opposite bank, and although we were only a stone's
throw from the party so suddenly cut off from us, we had to spend
the night on the bare ground, with no other covering than our

In the very centre of the desert of Chab, arises, Amba Goneb, a
conical basaltic rock several hundred feet high, an advanced sentry
detached from the now approaching mountains. On the evening of the
18th, we reached Ain, and from the glaring and dreary desert passed
into a lovely valley, watered by a small winding stream, cool and
limpid, shaded by mimosas and tamarinds, and glowing with the
freshness and luxuriance of topical vegetation. [Footnote: The
distance from Massowah to Ain is about forty-five miles.]

We were fortunate enough to leave the cholera behind us. Apart from
a few cases of diarrhoea, easily checked, the whole party was in
excellent health; every one in high spirits at the prospect of
visiting almost unknown regions, and above all at having at last
bid adieu to Massowah, where we had spent in anxious expectation
long and dreary months.

From Ain to Mahaber [Footnote: From Ain to Mahaber (direction E.
by N.) about twenty miles.] the road is most picturesque; always
following the winding of the small river Ain, here and there
compressed to only a few yards by perpendicular walls of trachyte,
or basalt; further on expanding into miniature green plateaus,
bordered by conical hills, covered to the very summit by mimosas
and huge cactuses, alive with large hordes of antelopes (the agazin),
which, bounding from rock to rock, scared by their frolics the
countless host of huge baboons. The valley itself, graced by the
presence of gaudy-feathered and sweet-singing birds, echoed to the
shrill cry of the numerous guinea-fowls, so tame, that the repeated
reports of our fire-arms did not disturb them in the least.

At Mahaber we were obliged to remain several days awaiting fresh
camels. The Hababs, who had now to supply us, frightened by the
presence of the hairy nephew of the Nab and the Bashi-hazouks, made
themselves scarce, and it was only after much parley and the repeated
assurance that every one would be paid, that the camels at last
made their appearance. The Hababs are a large pastoral tribe,
inhabiting the Ad Temariam, a hilly and well-watered district, about
fifty miles north-west of Massowah, included between longitude 38.39
and latitude 16 to 16.30. They represent the finest type of the
roving Bedouins; of middle height, muscular, well made, they claim
an Abyssinian origin. With the exception of a darker hue of the
skin, certainly in other respects they do not differ from the
inhabitants of the table-land, and have but few characteristics of
the aboriginal African races. Some fifty years ago they were a
Christian tribe--nominally, at least--but were converted to
Mohammedanism by an old Sheik, still alive, who resides near
Moncullou, and is an object of great veneration all over the Samhar.
Once their doubts removed, their suspicions lulled, the Hababs
proved themselves friendly, willing, and obliging.

Gratitude is no common virtue in Africa, at least as far as my own
experience goes. Its rarity brings back to my memory a fact that I
will here record. On our previous trip to the Ad Temariam, I had
seen several patients, amongst them a young man, suffering from
remittent fever, and I gave him some medicine. Hearing of our
arrival at Mahaber, he came to thank me, bringing as an offering a
small skin of milk. He apologized for the absence of his aged
father, who also, he said, wished to kiss my feet, but the distance
(about eight miles) was too much for the old man's strength.

I may as well mention here that a young commercial traveller, Mr.
Marcopoli, had accompanied us from Massowah. He was going to Metemma,
_via_ Kassala, to be present at the annual fairs held at that
place in winter. He took advantage of our short stay at Mahaber,
to proceed to Keren, in the Bogos, where he was called by business,
intending to join again our party a few stages ahead. We looked
at our map, and estimated the distance from our halting-place to
the Bogos at the utmost eighteen miles. As he was provided with
excellent mules, in four or five hours he naturally expected to
reach his destination. He accordingly started at daybreak, and
never halted once; but night was far advanced before he perceived
the lights of the first village on the Bogos plateau: so much for
travellers' maps. The poor man's anxiety had been great. Soon after
dark he perceived--or, as I suspect, imagination worked to a high
pitch of excitement through fear, conjured to his fancy the phantom
of some huge animal--a lion, a tiger, he did not know very exactly;
but, at all events, he saw some horrid beast of prey, glaring at
him through the brushwood, with fiery and bloodshot eyes, watching
all his movements for a suitable opportunity to fall upon his
helpless prey. However, he reached Keren in safety.

He found that we were expected by the Bogos people, who believed
that we were proceeding by the upper route. Flowers were to be
strewed in our path, and our entrance was to be welcomed by dances
and songs in our praise; the officer in command of the troops was
to receive us with military honours, the civil governor intended
to entertain us on a large scale: in a word, a grand reception was
to be offered to the English friends of the mighty Theodore. The
disappointment was no doubt great when Mr. Marcopoli informed the
Bogosites that our route lay in an opposite direction to their fair
province. On that the military commander decided on accompanying
Mr. Marcopoli back, and paying us his respects at our halting-place.
Marcopoli was delighted; he had a too vivid recollection of _his
lion_ not to be overjoyed at the idea of having companions with

Late in the evening they started, the Abyssinian officer and his
men having before marching indulged in deep draughts of tej to keep
out the cold. On their way down, the "warriors" cantered about in
the most frantic manner; now riding at a full gallop up to poor
Marcopoli, the lance in rest, and dexterously wheeling round when
the weapon almost touched his breast; then charging upon him at
full speed and firing off their loaded pistols quite close, and
only a few feet above his head. Marcopoli felt very uncomfortable
in the society of his bellicose and drunken escort, but not knowing
their language, he had nothing to do but to appear pleased.

Early in the morning, at our second stage from Mahaber, these
specimens of Abyssinian soldiers made their appearance, and a batch
of more villanous-looking scoundrels I have never seen during my
stay in Abyssinia: evidently Theodore was not very particular as
to whom he selected for such distant outposts, unless he considered
the roughest and most disorderly the fittest for such duties. They
presented us with a cow they had stolen on the road, and begged us
not to forget to mention to their master that they had come all the
distance from Bogos to pay their respects to his guests. After
having refreshed themselves with a few glasses of brandy and partaken
of a slight collation, they kissed the ground in acknowledgment of
the pleasant things they had received in return for their gift, and
departed--to our great satisfaction.

On that 23rd we started from Mahaber, going due west, and following
for eight miles longer the charming valley of Ain. Afterwards, we
diverged to the left, going in a south-west direction, until we
reached the province of Barka; when again our route lay west by
north, until we came to Zaga. From this point to Kassala the general
direction is west by south. [Footnote: The distance from Mahaber
to Adart on the frontier of Barka is about fifty miles; from Adart
to Kassala about 130 miles.] From Mahaber to Adart the road is very
pleasant; for several days we continually ascended, and the more
we advanced into the mountainous region the more agreeable and
pleasant did we feel it, and we enjoyed the sight of splendid and
luxuriant vegetation.

On the 25th we crossed the Anseba, a large river flowing from the
high lands of Bogos, Hamasien, and Mensa, and joining the river
Barka at Tjab. [Footnote: Tjab, lat. 17 10', long. 37 15'.]

We spent a pleasant day in the beautiful Anseba valley, but aware
of the danger of remaining after sunset near its flowery but malarious
banks, we pitched our tent on a rising ground at some distance, and
the next morning proceeded to Haboob, the highest point we had to
gain before descending into the Barka through the difficult pass
of Lookum. After this abrupt descent of more than 2,000 feet, the
roads generally slope towards the low land of Barka.

From Ain to Haboob [Footnote: The Anseba, at the point we crossed,
is about 4,000 feet above the level of the sea; Haboob about 4,500.]
the country is well wooded, and watered by innumerable small streams.
The soil is formed of the detritus of the volcanic rocks, specially
of feldspar; pumice abounds in the ravines. The channels of the
rivulets are the only roads for the traveller. This mountain chain
is, on the whole, a pleasant spot, more delightful for the reason
that it rises between the arid shores of the Red Sea and the flat,
hot, and level plains of the Soudan. The province of Barka is a
boundless prairie, about 2,500 feet above the level of the sea,
covered at the time of our journey with half-dried grass some five
or six feet high, and dotted here and there with small woods of
stunted mimosas.

From Barka to Metemma we find alluvium as the general formation.

Water is scarce; even a month after the rainy season all the rivers
are dried up, and water is only obtained by digging in the sand of
the dry beds of the river Barka and its tributaries. When we passed
through these plains many spots were still green; but a few months
later we should have crossed a parched-up prairie little better
than the desert itself.

Our pretty songsters of Ain were no more to be seen. The guinea-fowl
was seldom met with, and only a few tiny antelopes wandered over
the solitary expanse. Instead, we were aroused by the roar of the
lion, the laugh of the hyena, and we had to protect our sheep and
goats, as the spotted leopard was lurking around our tents.

On the 31st of October we reached Zaga, a large sloping plain
situated at the junction of the Barka and the Mogareib. Water can
be obtained at that spot by digging wells in the dried-up beds of
the rivers, in sufficient quantity to have induced the Beni Amer
to make it their winter encamping-ground.

We had that day made a very long march, on account of the absence
of water on the road. Starting at two P.M., we only reached our
halting ground (the bed of a dried-up winter torrent, a few hundred
yards below the Beni Amer's camp), a couple of hours before daybreak.
We were so sleepy and tired that during the latter part of the stage
it had been with great difficulty that we managed to keep in the
saddle; and no sooner did our guide give us the grateful intelligence
that we had arrived, than we stretched on the ground the piece of
tanned cowhide we carried with us, and covering ourselves with our
cloaks, lay down to rest until daybreak. I offered to Mr. Marcopoli
to share my "bedding," as his own had not arrived, and in a few
minutes we both fell into that deep slumber that follows the
exhaustion of a long weary march. I remember my disgust at being
violently shaken by my bed companion; who, in a faint and trembling
voice, whispered into my ear: "Look there!" I understood at once
his look of anguish and terror, for two splendid lions, not more
than twenty paces from us, were drinking near the wells that had
been sank by the Arabs. I thought, and told my companion, that as
we had no fire-arms with us; the wisest plan was to go to sleep and
remain as quiet as possible. I set him the example, and only woke
up late in the morning, when the sun was already high up and pouring
its burning rays over my uncovered head. Marcopoli, with an absent
terrified look impressed on his countenance, was still sitting near
me. He told me that he had not slept, but kept watching the lions:
they had remained for a long time, drinking, roaring and beating
their sides with their tails; and even when they departed he kept
listening to their dreadful roar, sounding more distant as the first
rays of day appeared.

We had, no doubt, had a narrow escape, as that night a lion had
carried away a man and a child who had strayed from the Arab
encampment. The Sheik of the Beni Amer, during the few days we
remained at Zaga, with true Arab hospitality, always placed at
night a strong guard around our tent, to watch the large fires that
they kindle in order to keep at a respectful distance these unwelcome
night rovers.

We had agreed with the Hababs that we would exchange camels at this
spot, but none could be obtained for love or money. It was lucky
for us that the Bedouins had by this time found out that all white
men are not Turks, otherwise we should have been cast helpless in
the very centre of Barka. The Beni Amers could never be induced
even to acknowledge that they had camels, though more than 10,000
were grazing under our very eyes.

The Beni Amers are Arabs, speak the Arab language, and have preserved
up to the present day all the characteristics of their race. A
roving Bedouin of the Yemen and a Beni Amer are so much alike that
it seems hardly credible that the Beni Amers possess no record of
their advent on the African coast, or of the causes that induced
them to leave the land of their ancestors. Their long, black, silky
hair has not acquired the woolly texture of that of the sons of
Ham, and the small extremities, the well-knit limbs, the straight
nose and small lips, the dark bronzed complexion, distinguish them
alike from the Shankallas and the Barias, and from the mixed races
of the plateaus. They wear a piece of cloth a few yards in length,
folded round the body, with an elegance peculiar to the savage.
Even with this dirty rag, they must be admired, like the Italian
beggar, not only for their beautiful forms, but also for the look
of impudence and roguery displayed in the bright glare of their
dark eyes. The Beni Amers retain to a high degree that nuisance so
well described by a distinguished traveller in the East, and, like
their brethren of the Arabian shore, they are _une race bavarde
et criarde_. They pay a nominal tribute to the Egyptian Government,
and the reason we could not obtain camels was that, troops being
moved about, they feared that on their arrival at Kassala they would
be pressed into the Government service, and not only receive no
pay, but most likely in the end lose the greater number of their
camels. This tribe roams along the banks of the Barka and its many
tributaries. Zaga is only their winter station; at other times they
wander over the immense plains north of Barka in search of pasture
and water for their innumerable flocks. All over the district of
Zaga camps appeared in every direction; the herds of cattle,
especially camels, seemed without number: this all indicates that
they form a wealthy, powerful tribe.

We encamped near their head-quarters, where resides the Sheik of
all the Beni Amers, Ahmed, surrounded by his wives, children, and
people. He is a man of middle age, conspicuous among his cunning
followers by a shrewd and crafty look. He was friendly to us, and
presented us with a few sheep and cows. His camp covered several
acres of ground, the whole enclosed by a strong fence; the wigwams
are built in a circle a few feet from the hedge; the open space in
the centre being reserved for the cattle, always driven in at night.
The chief's small circular wood and grass huts contrasted favourably
with the dwellings of his followers. The latter, constructed in a
circle, are formed by thrusting into the ground the extremities of
small branches; a few pieces of coarse matting thrown over them
complete the structure. They cannot be more than four feet high,
and their average circumference is twelve feet; nevertheless, some
eight or ten unwashed faces were seen peeping through the small
door, staring with their black, frightened eyes at the strange white
men. Small-pox was raging at the time with great virulence; fever
also was daily claiming many victims. I gave medicine to several
of the sufferers, and good hygienic advice to Sheik Ahmed. He
listened with all becoming respect to the good things that fell
from the Hakeem's lips: he would see; but they had never done so
before, and with Mussulman bigotry and superstition he put an end
to the conversation by an "Allah Kareem." [Footnote: "God is merciful"]

On the 3rd of November we were again on the march. On the 5th we
arrived al Sabderat, the first permanent village we had met with
since leaving Moncullou. This village--in appearance similar to
those of the Samhar--is built on the side of a large granitic
mountain, cleft in two from the summit to the base. Numerous wells
are dug in the dried-up bed of the water-course that separates the
village. The inhabitants of this divided village often contend
between themselves for the possession of the precious fluid; and
when the rushing waters have disappeared, human passions too often
fill with strife and warfare the otherwise quiet bed of the stream.

On the morning of November 6 we entered Kassala. The Nab's nephew
had preceded us, to inform the governor of our arrival, and present
him with a letter recommending us to the care of the authorities,
written by the Pasha of Egypt. To honour us according to his masters
firman, the governor sent all the garrison to meet us a few miles
from the town, with a polite apology for his absence, due to sickness.
The senior partner of the Greek firm of Paniotti also came to welcome
us, and afforded us the hospitality of his house and board.

Kassala, the capital of Takka, a walled town near the River Gash,
containing about 10,000 inhabitants, is on the model of most modern
Egyptian towns, public as well as private buildings being alike of
mud. The arsenal, barracks, &c. are the only structures of any
importance. Beautiful gardens have been made at a short distance
from the town, near the Biver Gash, by the European portion of the
community. Just before, and immediately after the rains, the place
is very unhealthy. During those months malarious fever and dysentery
prevail to a great extent.

Kassala, formerly a prosperous city, the centre of all the trade
of the immense tract of country included from Massowah and Suakin
to the Nile, and from Nubia to Abyssinia, was, at the date of our
arrival, almost deserted, covered with ruins and rank vegetation,
destitute of the most common necessaries of life, the spectre of
its former self, haunted by its few remaining ghost-like and
plague-stricken citizens. Kassala had just gone through the ordeal
of a mutiny of Nubian troops. Pernicious fevers, malignant dysenteries
and cholera had decimated both rebels and loyalists; war and sickness
had marched hand in hand to make of this fair oasis of the Soudan
a wilderness painful to contemplate. The mutiny broke out in July.
The Nubian troops had not been paid for two years, and when they
claimed a portion of their arrears, they only met with a stern
refusal. Under these circumstances, it is not astonishing that they
became ready listeners to the treasonable words and extravagant
promises made to them by one of their petty chiefs, named Denda, a
descendant of the former Nubian kings. They matured their plot in
great secresy, and every one was horrified one morning to learn
that the black troops had broken out in open mutiny and murdered
their officers, and, no longer restrained, had followed their natural
inclinations to revel in carnage and plunder. A few Egyptian regulars
had, luckily, possession of the arsenal, and held it against these
infuriated savages until troops could arrive from Kedaref and
Khartoum. The Europeans and Egyptians gallantly defended their part
of the town. They erected walls and small earthworks between
themselves and the mutineers, and continually on the alert, though
few in number, they repulsed with great gallantry the assault of
the fiends thirsting for their lives and property. Egyptian troops
poured in from all directions and relieved the besieged city. More
than a thousand of the mutineers were killed near the gates of the
town; nearly a thousand more were tried and executed; and those who
attempted to escape the vengeance of the merciless pasha and fled
for safety to the wilderness, were hunted down like beasts by the
roving Bedouins. Though order was now restored, it was no easy
matter to obtain camels. It required all the power and persuasion
of the authorities to induce the Shukrie-Arabs to enter the town
and convey us to Kedaref.

We heard at Kassala the miserable end of Le Comte de Bisson's mad
enterprise. It appears that the Comte, formerly an officer in the
Neapolitan army, had married at an advanced age a beautiful,
accomplished and rich heiress, the daughter of some contractor; it
was "a mariage de convenance," a title bought by wealth and beauty.
In the autumn of 1864, De Bisson reached Kassala accompanied by
some fifty adventurers, the scum of the outcasts of all nations,
who had enrolled themselves under the standard of the ambitions
Comte, "on the promised assurance that power and wealth would be,
before long, their envied portion." De Bisson's idea seems to have
been to personify a second Moses: he came not only to colonize, but
also to convert. The wild roving Bedouin of the Barka plains would,
he believed, not only at once and with gratitude acknowledge his
rule, but would soon, abandoning his false creed, fall prostrate
before the altar he intended to erect in the wilderness. About a
hundred town Arabs were induced to join the European party,--a
useless set of vagabonds, who adorned themselves with the regimental
uniform, accepted the rifle, pistol, and sword, drew their rations,
were punctual in their attendance and always ready to salaam, but
showed much dislike to the drill and other civilized notions the
Comte and his officers endeavoured to impress upon them.

Their departure from Kassala for the land of milk and honey was
quite theatrical; in front rode on a camel, a gallant captain (who
had taken his discharge from the Austrian service,) playing on the
bugle a parting "fanfare;" behind him, the second in command, mounted
on a prancing charger, and followed by the European part of the
force, who with military step, and shoulder to shoulder, marched
as men for whom victory is their slave. Behind came Le Comte himself,
clad in a general's uniform, his breast covered with the many
decorations which sovereigns had only been too proud to confer on
such a noble spirit; next to him rode gracefully his beautiful wife,
looking handsomer still in the picturesque kepi and red uniform of
a French zouave; behind, closing the march, the well-knit Arabs,
with plunder written in their dark bright eyes, marched with a quick
elastic step and as much regularity as could be expected from men
who abhorred order and had been drilled for so short a time. Need
I say that the expedition failed utterly? The Arabs of the plains
declined to accept another pontiff and king in the person of the
gallant and noble Comte. They were even vicious enough to induce
those of their brethren who had accepted service, to return to their
former occupations, and _forget to leave_ behind them on their
departure the arms, clothes, etc., which had been dealt out to them
on their entering the Comte's service.

The return to Kassala was humble: there was no trumpet this time;
the brilliant uniforms had given way to soiled and patched raiments:
even the general adopted a civilian's dress; the lady alone was
still smiling, laughing, beautiful as ever; but no Arab in gaudy
attire closed the hungry-looking and worn out cortege. De Bisson
had failed: but why?--Because the Egyptian Government had not only
afforded none of the assistance that had been promised to him, but
all at once stopped the supplies he considered himself entitled to
expect. A claim of I do not know how many millions was at once made
on the Egyptian Government. A commissioner was sent out, who it
appears took a very different view of the question, as he declared
the "Comte's" pretensions absurd and unreasonable. The Comte soon
afterwards, with his wife, returned to Nice, leaving at Kassala the
remnant of his European army; the few who had not succumbed to fever
or other malarious diseases.

At the time of the mutiny of the Nubian troops, a few not in hospital
or on their way to Khartoum or Massowah, fought well; two even paid
with their lives their gallant attempt at a sortie, and they had
gained for themselves, by their bravery in those difficult times,
the respect they had lost during the long days of inaction.

De Bisson was instrumental in spreading the most fallacious reports
as to the condition of the captives held by Theodore, and even when
an army was already marching to their rescue, "correct" accounts
appeared of the repulse of the British by Theodore; at another time
a mendacious report was spread that a great battle had been fought
in Tigre between Theodore and a powerful rebel--a battle which was
said to have lasted three days without any marked success having
been gained by either side; and that Theodore, having perceived in
the enemy's camp some Europeans, had sent orders for our immediate
execution; the fulfilment of the sentence resting with the Empress,
who was residing at Gondar, and that his (De Bisson's) agent was
using his influence to stay the execution. Absurd and ridiculous
as were these reports, they were not the less productive of great
distress to the families and friends of the captives.

During the five days we spent at Kassala, I am happy to say that I
was able to relieve many sufferers; amongst them our host himself,
and one of his guests, a young, well-educated Egyptian officer,
laid at death's door by a severe attack of dysentery.

A Nubian colonel called on us one morning; he strongly advised us
to stop before it was too late. He had heard much about Theodore's
doings, and assured us that we would meet but with deceit and
treachery at his hands. On our telling him that we were officers
and bound to obey, he said, nothing more, but bid us good-by in a
sorrowful voice.


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.

On the afternoon of the 10th November we started for Kedaref. Our
route now lay in a more southerly direction. On the 13th we crossed
the Atbara, a tributary of the Nile, bringing to the father of
rivers the waters of Northern Abyssinia. On the 17th we entered
Sheik Abu Sin, the capital of the province of Kedaref. [Footnote:
From Kassala to Kedaref is about 120 miles.] Our cameleers belonged
to the Shukrie-Arabs. They are a semi-pastoral, semi-agricultural
tribe, and reside principally in the neighbourhood of and along the
course of the Atbara, or wander over the immense plains that extend
almost without limit from this river to the Nile. They are more
degenerated than the Beni-Amers, having mixed more with the Nubian
and other tribes that dwell around them. They speak an impure
Arabic. Many have retained the features and general appearance of
the original race, whilst others might be looked upon as half-castes,
and some can with difficulty be distinguished from the Nubians or

From Kassala to Kedaref we crossed interminable plains, covered
with high grass, speckled here and there with woods of mimosas, too
scanty to afford the slightest shade or protection during the fearful
heat of the mid-day sun. Here and there on the horizon appeared a
few isolated peaks; the Djbel Kassala, a few miles south of the
capital of Takka. Eastward, the Ela Hugel and the Abo-Gamel were
in sight for many days, whilst towards the west, lost almost in the
misty horizon, appeared in succession the outlines of Derkeda and

The valley of the Atbara, luxuriant in vegetation, inhabited by all
varieties of the feathered tribe, visited by the huge thirsty
quadruped of the savannah, presented a spectacle so grand in its
savage beauty that we could with difficulty tear ourselves from its
shady groves; had it not been that "Forward" was our watchword, we
would, braving malaria, have spent a few days near its green and
fragrant banks.

Sheik Abu Sin is a large village; the houses are circular and built
of wood and covered with straw; A small hut belonging to the firm
of Paniotti, our host of Kassala, was placed at our disposal. We
shortly afterwards received the visit of a Greek merchant, who came
to consult me for a stiff joint brought on by a gun-shot wound. It
appears, that some years before, whilst riding a camel on an
elephant-hunting expedition, the gun, a large half-ounce bore, went
off by itself, he never knew how. All the bones of the fore-arm had
been smashed, the cicatrice of a dreadful flesh-wound showed what
sufferings he had undergone, and it was indeed a wonder for me that,
residing as he did in such a hot unhealthy climate, deprived of all
medical advice, he had not succumbed to the effects of the wound,
still more that he had been able to save the limb. I considered the
cure so extraordinary, that, as there was nothing to be done, I
advised him to leave well alone.

The governor also called upon us, and we returned his civility. Whilst
sipping our coffee with him and other grandees of the place, we were
told that Tisso Gobaze, one of the rebels, had beaten Theodore and
made him a prisoner. He said he believed the news to be correct, but
advised us to inquire into it on our arrival at Metemma, and should
we find it untrue, to return on our steps and on no account to enter
Abyssinia if Theodore was still the ruler. He then gave us some examples
of the Emperor's cruelty and treachery; but we did not put much credence
in his word, as we knew that of old a bad feeling existed between the
Abyssinian Christians and their Mussulman neighbours of the plain.
At Metemma that rumour was not even known; however, we had no choice,
and never thought one instant of anything else but of accomplishing the
mission intrusted to us, in face of all perils and dangers.

At Kedaref we were lucky enough to arrive on a market-day, consequently
had no difficulty in exchanging camels. That very evening we were
_en route_ again, still towards the south, but this time making
almost an angle with our former route, marching towards the rising

Between Sabderat and Kassala, between that town and the Gash, we
had for the first time seen some cultivation; but it was nothing
compared to the immense vista of cultivated fields, beginning a
day's journey from Sheik Abu Sin, and extending, almost without
interruption, throughout the provinces of Kedaref and Galabat.
Villages appeared in all directions, crowning every rounded hillock.
As we advanced, these eminences increased in size until they gave
place to hills and mountains, which ultimately blend with the
uninterrupted chain of high peaks forming the Abyssinian table-land,
now again, after so many days, rising before us.

We arrived at Metemma on the afternoon of the 21st of November. In
the absence of Sheik Jumma, the potentate of these regions, we were
received by his _alter ego_, who put one of the Imperial residences
--a wretched barn--at the disposal of the "great men from England."
If we deduct the seven days we were obliged to halt _en route_,
on account of the difficulty we had in obtaining camels, we performed
the whole journey between Massowah and Metemma, a distance of about
440 miles, in thirty days. Our journey on the whole was extremely
dreary and fatiguing. Apart from a few pretty spots, such as from
Ain to Haboob, the valleys of the Anseba and Atbara, and from Kedaref
to Galabat, we crossed only endless savannahs, saw not a human
being, not a hut, only now and then a few antelopes, or the tracks
of elephants, and heard no sound but the roar of wild beasts. Twice
our caravan was attacked by lions; unfortunately we did not see
them, as we were on both occasions riding ahead, but every night
we heard their awful roar, echoing like distant thunder in the still
nights of those silent prairies.

The heat of the day was at times really painful. In order that the
camels might start in time, our tents were packed early; sometimes
we would sit for hours waiting the good pleasure of the cameleers
under the scanty shade of a mimosa, vainly endeavouring to find in
its dwarfed foliage a relief from the burning rays of the sun. Night
after night, be it moonlight or starlight, on we went; the task was
before us, and duty urged us on to reach the land where our countrymen
were lingering in chains. Often in the saddle between three and,
four P.M., we have jogged along on our wearied mules until the
morning star had disappeared before the first rays of day. For
several days we had no water but the hot and filthy fluid we carried
in leathern skins; and even this nauseous decoction was so scanty
and precious, that we could not afford to soothe the sun-burnt skin
and refresh the exhausted frame by a timely ablution.

Notwithstanding the discomfort, inconveniences, nay, danger of
crossing the Soudan in that unhealthy season of the year, by care
and attention we reached Metemma without having had a single death
to lament. Several of the followers and native servants, even Mr.
Rassam, suffered more or less from fever. They all eventually
recovered, and when a few weeks later we started for Abyssinia, the
whole party was in better health than when we left the hot and
sultry shores of the Red Sea.

Metemma, the capital of Galabat, a province situated on the western
frontier of Abyssinia, is built in a large valley, about four miles
from the Atbara. A small rivulet runs at the foot of the village,
and separates Galabat from Abyssinia. On the Abyssinian side there
is a small village, inhabited by the few Abyssinian traders who
reside there during the winter months; at which period a large
traffic is carried on with the interior. The round, conical hut is
here again the abode of all classes the size and better state of
repair being the only visible difference between the dwelling of
the rich and that of his less fortunate neighbour. Sheik Jumma's
palaces are inferior to many of his subjects' huts, probably to
dispel the credited suspicion that he is rich, and that incalculable
treasures are buried under the ground. The huts put at our disposal
were, as I have already stated, his property; they are situated on
one of the small hills that overlook the town; the Sheik removes
there with his family during the rainy season, as it is in some
degree less unhealthy than the swampy ground below.

Though following the creed of the Medina prophet, the capital of
Galabat cannot boast of a single mosque.

The inhabitants of Galabat are Takruries, a negro race from Darfur.
They number about 10,000; of these 2,000 reside in the capital, the
remainder in the many villages that arise in all directions amidst
cultivated fields and green meadows. The whole province is well
adapted for agricultural purposes. Small rounded hillocks, separated
by sloping valleys watered by many rivulets, impart a pleasing
aspect to the whole district; and if it was not for the extreme
unhealthiness of the place, it is possible to understand the selection
made by the Darfur pilgrims: though it is no compliment paid to
their own native land. The pious Darfur Mussulmans, on their way
to Mecca, observed this favoured spot, and fancied it realized,
_minus_ the houris, some of the inferior Paradises of Mohammed.
At last some remained; Metemma was built; other pilgrims followed
the example; and soon, though a lazy and indolent race, owing to
the extreme fertility of the soil, they formed a prosperous colony.

At the outset they acknowledged the Sultan of Darfur, paid him
tribute, and were governed by one of his officers. But the Galabat
colony soon found out that the Egyptians and Abyssinians were more
to be feared than their distant sovereign, who could neither protect
nor injure them; accordingly, they quietly murdered the viceroy
from Darfur, and elected a Sheik from amongst themselves. The ruler
at once made terms with both Egyptians and Abyssinians, and tendered
yearly tribute to both. This wise but servile policy met with the
best results; the colony increased and prospered, trade flourished,
Abyssinians and Egyptians flocked to the well-supplied market, and
the tribute of a few thousand dollars to each party fell lightly
on the now rich and cunning negroes.

From November to May, on Mondays and Tuesdays, the market is held
on a large open space in the centre of the village. Abyssinians
bring horses, mules, cattle, and honey; the Egyptian merchant
displays in his stall, calico, shirtings, hardware, and gaudy prints.
Arabs and Takruries arrive with camels laden with cotton and grain.
The market-place is now a crowded and exciting scene: horses are
tried by half-naked jockeys, who, with whip and heel, drive at a
furious pace their diminutive steeds, reckless as to the limbs and
lives of the venturous spectators.

Here cotton is being loaded on donkeys, and will soon find its way
to Tschelga and Gondar; here some fat Nubian girls, redolent with
rancid castor-oil flowing from their woolly heads down their necks
and shoulders, issue grinning from a Frank's store, holding in their
hands red and yellow kerchiefs, the long-desired object of their
dreams. The whole scene is lively; good-humour prevails; and though
the noise is fearful, the bargaining being long and clamorous, and
every one is armed with lance or club, still, all is peaceful: no
blood is ever shed on these occasions but that of a few cows, killed
for the many visitors from the high country who enjoy their raw
beefsteak under the cool shadow of the willows that border the

On Friday the scene changes. On that day the whole community is
seized with martial ardour. Having no mosque, the Takruries devote
their holy day to ceremonies more suited to their taste, and resort
to the market-place, now transformed into a parade-ground, a few
to drill, the greater number to admire. Some Takruries, having
served for a time in the Egyptian army, returned to their adopted
land full of the value of disciplined troops, and of the superiority
of muskets over lances and sticks. They prevailed on their countrymen
to form a regiment on the model of "master's," Old muskets were
purchased, and Sheik Jumma had the glory to see during his reign
the 1st, or Jumma's Own, rise to existence. A more ludicrous sight
could not, I believe, be witnessed. About a hundred flat-nosed,
woolly, grinning negroes march around the parade-ground in Indian
file, out of step, for about ten minutes. Line is then formed, but
not being as yet well up to the proper value of the words of command,
half face on one side, half on the other. Still the crowd admires;
white teeth are displayed from ear to ear. The yellow-eyed monsters
now feel confident that with such support nothing is impossible,
and no sooner is "stand at ease" proclaimed, than the spectators
rush, forward to admire more closely, and to congratulate, the
future heroes of Metemma.

Sheik Jumma is an ugly specimen of an ugly race: he is about sixty
years of age, tall and lank, with a wrinkled face, very black,
having a few grey patches on the chin, and the owner of a nose so
flat that it requires time to see that he has one at all; He is
generally drunk, and spends the greater part of the year carrying
the tribute either to the Abyssinian Lion, or to his other master
the Pasha of Khartoum. A few days after our arrival at Metemma he
returned from Abyssinia, and politely paid us a visit, accompanied
by a motley and howling train of followers. We returned his call;
but he had got drunk in the interval, and was at least uncivil, if
not positively rude.

During our stay we had occasion to witness the great yearly, festival
of the re-election of the Sheik. Early in the morning a crowd of
Takruries came pouring in from all directions, armed with sticks
or spears, a few mounted, the majority on foot, all howling and
screeching (I believe they call it singing), so that before even
the dust raised by a new party could be seen, the ear was deafened
by their clamour. Every Takrurie warrior--that is, every one who
can howl and carry a bludgeon or lance--is entitled to a vote; for
this privilege he pays a dollar. The polling consists in counting
the money, and the amount decides the ruler's fate. The re-elected
Sheik (such was the result of the election we witnessed) killed
cows, supplied jowaree loaves, and, above all, immense jars of
merissa (a kind of sour toast-and-water, intoxicating for all that),
and feasted for two days the whole body of the electors. It is
difficult to say which of the two is out of pocket, the elector or
the Sheik. There is no doubt that every Takrurie will eat and drink
to the full amount of his dollar; is content with paying his homage,
and wishes to have the worth of his money. Bribery is unknown! The
drums, the sign of royalty, have been silent for three days (during
the interregnum), but the cows are no sooner slaughtered and the
merissa handed round by black maidens or fair Galla slaves, than
their monotonous beat is again heard; soon to be drowned under the
howling chorus of two thousand intoxicated negroes.

The following morning the whole assembled "by orders" on a place
some distance from the town. Arranged in a large crescent, Sheik
Jamma addressed his warriors in these words: "We are a strong and
mighty people, unequalled in horsemanship and in the use of the
club and the spear!" Moreover, (said he), they had increased their
power by adopting the system of fire-arms, the real strength of the
Turks. He was all-confident that the very sight of their gunmen
would strike terror into every neighbouring tribe. He ended by
proposing a raid into Abyssinia, and said: "We will take cows,
slaves, horses, and mules, and please our master the great Theodore
by plundering his enemy Tisso Gobaze!" A wild _feu-de-joie_,
and a terrible roar, from the excited crowd, informed the old Sheik
that his proposal was accepted. That very same afternoon they started
on their expedition, and probably surprised some peaceful district,
as they returned after a few days, driving before them several
thousand heads of cattle.

Metemma, from May to November, is very unhealthy. The principal
diseases are continued, remittent, and intermittent fevers, diarrhoea,
and dysentery. The Takruries are a tough race, and resist well the
noxious influences of the climate; but not so the Abyssinian, or
the white man: the first is almost certain to die should he attempt
to spend the dreaded months in the malarious low country, the second
most probably will suffer much in health, but resist for a season
or two. During our stay, I had many demands for medicine. Large,
cake-like spleens were greatly reduced by local applications of
tincture of iodine, and the internal administration of small doses
of quinine and iodine of potassium. Chronic diarrhoea yielded readily
to a few doses of castor oil, followed by opium and tannic acid.
Acute and chronic dysentery was treated by ipecacuanha, followed
by astringents. One of my patients was the son and heir of the
Sheik. He had been suffering for the last two years from chronic
dysentery; and although under my care he entirely recovered, his
ungrateful father never even thanked me for all my trouble. Simple
ophthalmia, skin diseases, and glandular swellings were also common.

The Takruries have no knowledge whatever of medicine: charms are
here, as throughout the Soudan, the great remedy. They are also
used as preventatives to keep off the evil eye, bad spirits, and
genii of different sorts; for these reasons almost every individual--
nay, cattle, mules, and horses, are covered with amulets of all
shapes and sizes.

The day after our arrival at Metemma we despatched two messengers
with a letter to the Emperor Theodore, to inform him that we had
reached Metemma, the place he had himself fixed upon, and were only
waiting for his permission to proceed to his presence. We feared
that the fickle despot might change his mind, and leave us for an
unlimited period in the unhealthy Galabat. More than a month had
elapsed, and we were giving way to despair, when, to our great joy,
on the 25th of December (1865), the messengers we had despatched
on our arrival, also those sent from Massowah at the time of our
departure, returned, bringing for us civil and courteous answers
from his Majesty. Sheik Jumma was also ordered by his Abyssinian
master to treat us well, and to provide us with camels up to Wochnee.
At that village, Theodore informed us, we should be met by an escort
and by some of his officers, by whom arrangements would be made to
convey our luggage to the imperial camp.


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
Metcha--His Conversation _en route_.

Heartily sick of Metemma, and longing to climb the high range so
long a forbidden barrier to our hopes and wishes, we soon made our
preparations, but were delayed a few days on account of the camels.
Sheik Jumma, probably proud of his late achievements seemed to take
his orders pretty coolly, and, had we not been more anxious ourselves
to penetrate into the tiger's den than the Sheik to comply with the
King's request, we should no doubt have remained many a day longer
at the court of that negro potentate. By dint of courteous messages;
promises, and threats, the required number of camels was at last
forthcoming, so that on the afternoon of the 28th December, 1865,
we passed the Ethiopian Rubicon, and halted for the night on
Abyssinian ground. On the morning of the 30th we arrived at Wochnee,
and pitched our tents under some sycamores at a short distance from
the village. This, our first stage in Abyssinia, led us through
woods of mimosas, acacias, and incense-trees; the undulating ground,
waving like the ocean after a storm, was covered with high and still
green grass. As we advanced, the ground became more irregular and
broken, and we crossed several ravines, having each its small running
rivulet of crystal water. By-and-by the rounded hillocks acquired
a more abrupt and steep appearance; the grass was no longer tall
and green, but fine and dry; the sycamore, the cedar, and large
timber-trees began to appear. As we approached Wochnee, our route
was a succession of ascents and descents more precipitous and very
fatiguing, as we trudged through deep ravines and climbed the
almost perpendicular sides of the first range of the Abyssinian

At Wochnee we found no one to welcome us. The cameleers, having
unladen their camels, were going to depart, when a servant of one
of the officers sent to receive us by his Majesty arrived. He brought
us compliments from his master, who could not join us for a few
days, as he was collecting bearers; he told us that we must proceed
another stage by the camels, as no bearers could be obtained in the
district of Wochnee. A serious altercation then took place between
the governor of Wochnee and the cameleers. They declined to proceed
any further, and after a short consultation between themselves,
each man seized his camel and walked away. But the governor and the
officer's servant had also been consulting together: seeing the
cameleers departing, they went to the village, and, as it happened
to be market-day, soon collected a good number of soldiers and
peasants. As the cameleers were passing close to the village, on
a given signal, the whole of the camels were seized. I regret to
say, for the honour of the Arabs and Takruries, that, though well
armed, they did not show fight, but on the contrary, ran away in
every direction. Unwilling to lose their precious beasts of burden,
the owners returned by twos and threes. More consultations followed:
at last, on the promise of an extra dollar for each, and a cow for
all, peace and harmony were satisfactorily restored. After a couple
of hours' march, we reached Balwaha. I can understand the difficulties
the cameleers raised, as the road is exceedingly bad for camels,
passing as it does over two high and steep mountains and across two
narrow ravines densely overgrown with tall bamboos.

At Balwaha we encamped in a small natural enclosure, formed by
beautiful foliaged trees. Three days after our arrival, two of the
officers sent by Theodore to meet us at last made their appearance,
but no bearers. We had unfortunately arrived during the last days
of the long feast before Christmas, and we must, said the chief of
the escort, have patience till the feast was over.

On the 6th January about twelve hundred peasants were assembled,
but the confusion was so great that no start could be made before
the following day, and even then we only made the short stage of
four miles. The greater part of the heavy baggage was left behind,
and it required a reinforcement from Tschelga to allow us to proceed
on our journey. On the 9th we made a better stage, and halted for
the night on a small plateau opposite the high hill fort of Zer

We were now fairly in the mountains, and had often to dismount to
descend some precipitous declivity, wondering how our mules could
climb the opposite steep, wall-like ascent. On the 10th the same
awful road, only worse and worse as we advanced; and when at last
we had ascended the almost perpendicular precipice that leads to
the Abyssinian plateau itself, and admired the grand vista that lay
at our feet, we congratulated ourselves upon having at last reached
the land of promise. We halted a few miles from the market town
of Tschelga, at a place called Wali Dabba. Here we had to exchange
bearers and consequently to wait several days till the new ones
arrived, or anything like order could be introduced. From that day
my troubles began.

I was at all hours of the day surrounded by an importuning crowd,
of all ages and sexes, afflicted by the many ills that flesh is
heir to. I had no more privacy, and no more rest. Did I leave our
camp with my gun in search of game, a clamorous crowd followed me.
On the march, at every halt from Wali Dabba to Theodore's camp in
Damot, I heard nothing else from sunrise to sunset but the incessant
cries of "_Abiet, abiet; medanite, medanite_." [Footnote: "Lord
Master, medicine, medicine."] I did my best; I attended at any hour
of the day those who would benefit from a few doses of medicine.
But this did not satisfy the great majority, composed of old
syphilitic cases, nor the leper, nor those suffering from elephantiasis,
the epileptic, the scrofulous, or those who had been mutilated at
the hands of the cruel Gallas. Day after day the crowd of patients
increased; those who had met with refusal remained in the hope that
on another day the "Hakeem's" boxes of unheard-of medicine might
be opened, for them also. New ones daily poured in. The many cures
of simple cases that I had been able to accomplish spread my fame
far and wide, and even reached my countrymen at Magdala, who heard
that an English Hakeem had arrived, who could break bones and
instantly set them, so that the individual operated upon walked
away like the paralytic in Holy Writ. At last the nuisance became
intolerable, and I was obliged to keep my tent closed all day long;
whenever I left it I was surrounded by an admiring crowd. The
officers of the escort were obliged to place a guard round my tent,
and only allowed their relatives and friends to approach. Still,
these were often countless, and it was not till the dread of the
despot overcame even their love of life and health, that successful
and unsuccessful postulants returned to their homes.

On the 13th January we began our march towards the Emperor's camp,
and passed successively through the provinces of Tschelga, part of
Dembea, Dagossa, Wandige, Atchefur, Agau Medar, and Damot, leaving
the Tana Sea on our left. The three first-named provinces had a few
years before fallen under the wrath of the despot; every village
had been burnt, every crop destroyed, and the inhabitants had either
perished from famine or been absorbed into the Imperial army. A
few had just then returned to their broken-down homes, on hearing
of the pardon proclaimed by the Emperor; who, after three years,
had relented, and allowed those who still wandered in distant
provinces, destitute and homeless, to return again to the land of
their fathers. Here and there, amongst the ruins of former prosperous
villages, some half-starved and almost naked peasants were seen
erecting small sheds on the ashes of their ancestral huts, near the
land they were going again to cultivate. Alas, they knew not how
soon the same merciless hand would be stretched upon them! Atchefur
had also been plundered at the same date; but their "crime" not
having been so great, the "father of his people" had been content
to strip them of all their property, and did not call fire in aid
to complete his vengeance. The villages of Atchefur are large and
well built; some, such as Limju, can rank with small towns; but the
people had a poor and miserable appearance. The small amount of
cultivation indicated but too plainly that they expected another
plunder, and just tilled the soil enough to meet their immediate



The Agau Medars were always pets of the Emperor; he never plundered
them, or, what is the same, he never made any lengthened "friendly
stay" among them. The rich and abundant harvest ready for the sickle,
the numerous herds of cattle grazing in the flower-speckled meadows,
the large and neat villages, the happy look of the peasants, clearly
proved what Abyssinia can do for its children if their rich and
fertile soil was not laid waste in wanton destruction, and themselves
driven by warfare and bloodshed to perish from misery and hunger.

Theodore's camp was at this time in Damot. He had already burnt,
plundered, and slaughtered to his heart's content; it is therefore
not astonishing that from Agau to his camp we saw, apart from our
escort and bearers, not a human being: no sleek cattle, no smiling
hamlet--a dire, contrast to the happy Agau that "St. Michael

The 25th of January was our last stage. We had halted the night
before at a short distance from the Imperial camp. The black and
white tents of Theodore, pitched on a high conical hill, stood out
in bold relief as the setting sun made the dark background darker
still. A faint, distant hum, such as one hears on approaching a
large city, came now and then to us, carried by the soft evening
breeze, and the smoke that arose for miles around the dark hill
crowned by its silent tents, left us no, doubt that we should before
long find ourselves face to face with the African despot, and that
we were even then almost in the midst of his countless host. As we
approached, messenger after messenger came to meet us; we had to
halt several times, march on again for a while, and then halt anew;
at last the chief of the escort told us that it was time to dress.
A small rowtie was accordingly pitched; we put on our uniforms,
and, mounting again, we had hardly proceeded a hundred yards, when,
coming to a sudden turn in the road, we saw displayed before us one
of those Eastern scenes which brought back to our memory the days
of Lobo and of Bruce.

A conical wooded hill, opposite to the one honoured by the Imperial
tents, was covered to the very summit by the gunners and spearmen
of Theodore; all in gala dress; they were clad in shirts of
rich-coloured silks, the black, brown, or red lamd [Footnote: A
peculiar mantle of fur or velvet.] falling from their shoulders,
the bright iron of the lances glancing in the light of the midday
sun which poured its rays through the dark foliage of the cedars.
In the valley between the hills a large body of cavalry, about
10,000 strong, formed a double line, between which we advanced. On
our right, dressed in gorgeous array, almost all bearing the silver
shield and the Bitwa, their horses adorned with richly plated
bridles, stood the whole of the officers of his Majesty's army and
household, the governors of provinces and of districts, &c. All
were mounted, some on really noble-looking animals, tribute from
the plateaus of Yedjow and the highlands of Shoa. On our left, the
corps of cavalry was darker, but more compact, than its aristocratic
_vis-a-vis_. The horses, though on the whole, perhaps, less
graceful, were strong and in good condition; and seeing their iron
ranks, we could well understand how panic-stricken the poor scattered
peasants must have been when Theodore, at the head of his well-armed
and well-mounted band of ruthless followers, suddenly appeared among
their peaceful homes, and, before his very presence was suspected,
had come, destroyed, and gone.

In the centre opposite to us stood Ras Engeddah, the Prime Minister,
distinguished from all by his gentlemanly appearance and the great
simplicity of his attire. Bare-headed, the shama girded in token
of respect, he delivered the Imperial message of welcome, translated
into Arabic by Samuel, who stood by him, and whose finely chiselled
features and intellectual countenance at once proclaimed his
superiority over the ignorant Abyssinian. Compliments delivered,
the Ras and ourselves mounted, and advanced towards the Imperial
tents, preceded by the body of mounted grandees, and followed by
the cavalry. Arrived at the foot of the hill, we dismounted, and
were conducted to a small red flannel tent pitched for our reception
on the ascent itself. There we rested for a while, and partook of
a slight collation. Towards three o'clock we were informed that the
Emperor would receive us; we ascended the hill on foot, escorted
by Samuel and several other officers of the Imperial household. As
soon as we reached the small plateau on the summit, an officer
brought us renewed greetings and compliments from his Majesty. We
advanced slowly towards the beautiful durbar-tent of red and yellow
silk, between a double line of gunners, who, on a signal, fired a
salute very creditable to their untaught skill.

Arrived at the entrance of the tent, the Emperor again inquired
after our health and welfare. Having acknowledged with due respect
his courteous inquiries, we advanced towards the throne, and delivered
into his hands the letter from her Majesty the Queen. The Emperor
received it civilly, and told us to sit down on the splendid carpets
that covered the ground. The Emperor was seated on an alga, wrapped
up to the eyes in a shama, the sign of greatness and of power in
Abyssinia. On his right and left stood four of his principal officers,
clad in rich and gay silks, and behind him watched one of his trusty
familiars, holding a double-barrelled pistol in each hand. The King
made a few complaints about the European prisoners, and regretted
that by their conduct they had interrupted the friendship formerly
existing between the two nations. He was happy to see us, and hoped
that all would be well again. After a few compliments had been
exchanged, on the plea that we must be tired, having come so far,
we were allowed to depart.

The letter from the Queen of England, which we had handed over to
his Abyssinian Majesty, was in English, and no translation had been
affixed to it. His Majesty did not break the seal before us,
probably on account of the presence of his high officers; as he
would not have liked them to witness his disappointment had the
letter not suited his views. As soon as we had reached our tent,
the letter was sent to us to be translated; but as we had with us
no European who understood the language of the country, it had to
be rendered first by Mr. Rassam into Arabic to Samuel, and by him
from that language into Amharic. There is much reason to regret
that none of the Europeans in the country who were conversant with
the Amharic language were sent for before that important document
was made over to his Majesty; for I believe that not only the
translation was--in many respects--a bad one, but, moreover,
incorrect. A simple phrase was rendered into one of deep importance
to the success of the mission--one of such serious meaning, considering
Theodore's position, that I am still inclined to believe that it
was introduced in the Amharic translation by Theodore's instructions.
The English ran thus:--"And so, not doubting that you will receive
our servant Rassam in a favourable manner, and give entire credit
to all that he shall say to you on our part." This was rendered:--"He
will do for you whatever you require," or words to that effect. His
Majesty was greatly pleased, so his confidential servants said,
with the Queen's letter; and intimated that he would before long
release the captives.

On the following morning Theodore sent for us. He had no one near
him except Ras Engeddah. He was standing at the entrance of his
tent, leaning gracefully on his lance. He invited us to enter the
tent; and there, before us, he dictated to his secretary, in presence
of Ras Engeddah, Samuel, and our interpreter, a letter to the
Queen,--an humble, apologizing letter, which he never intended to

In the afternoon we had the honour of another interview, in order
to make over to him the presents we had brought with us. He first
asked if the gifts came from the Queen or from Mr. Rassam himself.
Having been informed that they had been purchased in the name of
the Queen, he accepted them; remarking, at the same time, that he
did so not for their value, but as a token from a friendly Power
whose renewed friendship he was so happy to acknowledge. Amongst
the presents there was a large looking-glass. Mr. Rassam, on
presenting it, told his Majesty that he had intended it for the
Queen. On that his Majesty looked rather serious; but calmly replied
that he had not been happy in his married life, and that he was on
the point of marrying another lady, to whom he would offer the
splendid mirror. Soon after our arrival, cows, sheep, honey, tej,
and bread were sent in abundance, and ourselves and followers were
daily supplied with all necessaries of life from the Imperial

His Majesty accompanied us several stages towards the Tana Sea,
Kourata having been fixed upon as our place of residence until the
arrival of our countrymen from Magdala. On the first day's march
we were left behind, on account of our luggage, and had a good
opportunity of experiencing what it is to travel with an Abyssinian
army. The fighting men were in front with the king, but the
camp-followers (numbering on that occasion about 250,000), encumbered
as they were with the tents and provisions of the soldiers, came
more slowly behind. It is almost impossible to describe the crush
and confusion that frequently took place when a small river had to
be forded, or when a single footpath led along a steep, incline of
almost naked rocks. Thousands heaped together pushed, screamed, and
vainly endeavoured to penetrate the living mass, which always
increased as the mules and donkeys became more frightened, and the
muddy banks of the stream more slippery and broken. Several times,
driven to despair by hours of patient waiting, we went in search
of another road, or some other ford, where the crush and crowd might
be less. It was only late in the afternoon that we reached our
encamping-ground: we had been the whole day upon a march that the
Emperor accomplished in an hour and a half.

Theodore, having heard to what inconvenience we had been put, had
the heavy luggage conveyed as before; but ourselves, with a few
light articles, were allowed the privilege of riding with him in
front of the army. During the few days he accompanied us we made
but short stages, never more than ten miles a day. Theodore travelled
with us for several reasons: he wanted to take us by a short cut
by the Tana Sea, and as the country was depopulated, he was obliged
to have our luggage carried by his soldiers. He had not as yet
plundered that part of Damot; the inhabitants had fled, but the
harvest ready for the sickle remained, and at a sign from the Emperor
was reaped by thousands of hands. Whilst the greater part of his
soldiers were thus employed, and the sword was practically used as
an implement of peace, the King, with a large body of cavalry, left
the camp, and shortly afterwards the smoke that arose far and wide
proclaimed their merciless errand.

A few incidents that occurred during our short stay with Theodore
deserve to be recorded, as they will illustrate his character during
his friendly moods. On our second day's march with his Majesty,
(February 1st,) the Blue Nile was crossed not far from its source;
the banks were steep and slippery, the crush was fearful, and many
a child or woman would have been drowned or otherwise killed had
not Theodore sent some of the chiefs, who waited on him, to make
steps on the slope with their spears, whilst he remained there until
the last camp-follower had passed. When we arrived his Majesty sent
us word not to dismount. We crossed the water on our mules; but the
moment we reached the opposite bank we alighted, and climbed to the
spot where his Majesty was standing. The road was so precipitous
and slippery that Mr. Rassam, who was in front, had some difficulty
in reaching the summit; Theodore; seeing his position, advanced,
took him by the hand, and said, in Arabic, "Be of good cheer, do
not be afraid."

The following day, during the march, Theodore sent Samuel backwards
and forwards with questions,--such as: "Is the American war over?
How many were killed? How many soldiers had they? Did the English
fight with the Ashantees? Did they conquer them? Is their country
unhealthy? Is it like this? Why did the King of Dahomey kill so
many of his subjects? What is his religion?" He then gave one of
his _excuses_ for not having sent for us sooner. He had been
disappointed, he said, with all the Europeans that had entered his
country. None were good but Bell and Plowden; and he wanted to
know, by report, if the Englishman who had landed at Massowah was
like all the rest. His patience was such that he had believed him
to be a good man, and had, therefore, decided upon sending for him.

On the 4th he again sent for us. He was alone, sitting in the open
air. He made us sit down on a carpet near him,--and spoke at length
about his former career. He told us how he dealt with the rebels:
first he sent them word to pay tribute; if they refused, he went
himself and plundered their, country. On the third refusal, to use
his own words, "he sent their bodies to the grave; and their souls
to hell." He also told us that Bell had spoken to him so much about
our Queen, that for many years he had intended sending her an
embassy; he had even everything ready when; Captain Cameron made
him an enemy of his former friend. He had ordered, he said, some
tokens of his regard to be made for us, as he had nothing with him
fit to offer us; he had been pleased to see us, and considered us
as "three brothers." The interview was long; when at last his
Majesty dismissed us, he informed us that the following day he would
send us to Kourata to await there the arrival of our countrymen
from Magdala. Shortly after reaching our tent, Mr. Rassam received
a polite note, informing him that he would receive 5,000 dollars,
which he might spend as he liked, but always _in a manner agreeable
to the Lord_. A verbal message was also sent to me to inquire
if I knew anything about smelting iron, casting guns, etc.: to which
I answered, in pursuance of friendly advice, that I was ignorant
of everything except my own medical profession.


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.

On the 6th of February his Majesty sent us word to depart. We did
not see him, but before we left he sent us a letter informing us
that as soon as the prisoners joined us he would take steps to send
us out of his country in "honour and safety." The officer ordered
to proceed to Magdala to deliver the captives, and conduct them to
us, was one of our escort; we were the bearers of an humble apology
from Theodore to our Queen: all smiled upon us; and rejoiced beyond
expression by the apparently complete success of our mission, we
retraced our steps with a light and thankful heart through the
plains of Agau Medar. On the afternoon of the 10th of February, we
encamped on the shore of the Tana Sea, a large fresh-water lake,
the reservoir of the Blue Nile. The river enters at the south-west
extremity of the lake, and issues again at its south-east extremity,
the two branches being only separated by the promontory of Zage.


The spot we pitched our camp upon was not far from Kanoa, a pretty
village in the district of Wandige, Kourata being almost opposite
to us, bearing N.N.E. We had to wait several days while boats were
constructed for ourselves, escort, and luggage. These boats--of the
most primitive kind of construction still in existence--are made
of bulrushes, the papyrus of the ancients. The bulrushes are tied
together so as to form a flat surface some six feet in breadth and
from ten to twenty feet in length. The two extremities are then
rolled up and tied together. The passengers and boatmen sit upon a
large square bundle of bulrushes forming the essential part of the
boat, which the outward cage serves only to keep in place, and by
its pointed extremities to favour progression. To say that these
boats leak is a mistake; they are full of water, or rather, like a
piece of cork, always half submerged: their floating is simply a
question of specific gravity. The manner in which the boats are
propelled adds greatly to the discomfort of the traveller. Two men
sit in front, and one behind. They use long sticks, instead of oars,
beating the water alternately to the right and left; at each stroke
they send in front and from behind jets of spray like a shower-bath,
and the unfortunate occupant of the boat, who had beforehand taken
off his shoes and stockings and well tucked up his trousers, finds
that he would have been wiser had he adopted a more simple costume
still, and followed the example of the naked boatmen.

The Abyssinian navy does not weigh heavily on the estimates, nor
does it take years to construct a fleet; two days after our arrival
fifty new vessels had been launched, and several hundreds had joined
from Zage and the Isle of Dek.

The few days we spent on the shore of the Tana Sea were among the
small number of happy ones we have seen in this country. Samuel,
now our balderaba (introducer) and chief of the escort, did not
allow the former crowds to invade my tent. Being an intelligent
man, and his relatives and friends less numerous than those of his
predecessor, he only brought to me those he knew would benefit by
a few doses of medicine, or whom he was compelled to introduce; for
by refusing the petty chiefs and important men of the several
neighbouring districts he would have made serious enemies. It was
now a recreation, instead of a fatigue; a study of the diseases of
the country; a fact almost impossible, before, when I could only
defend myself against the importunities of a crowd, and in peace
not examine a single case. The remainder of my time was spent in
shooting. Aquatic birds, ducks, geese, &c., were in abundance, and
so tame that the survivors did not move away, but remained bathing,
feeding, and cleaning their bright feathers around the dead bodies
of their mates and companions.

[Illustration: View from Wandige of Lake Tana]

On the morning of the 16th we started for Dek, the largest and most
important island of the Tana Lake; it is situated about half-way
from our starting-place and Kourata. We were shower-bathed for about
six hours; our speed was about two and a half knots, so that the
distance must be about fifteen miles. Dek is a very pretty island
indeed; a long, flat volcanic rock, surrounded by conical hillocks,
forming so many island pearls around a coronet. The whole island
is well wooded, covered with the most luxuriant vegetation, dotted
with numerous and prosperous villages, and proudly boasts of four
old and revered churches--the shrines of many devoted pilgrims. We
spent the night in the heart of the picturesque island--the ideal
of an earthly abode. Alas! we knew only some time afterwards that
the passage of the white men caused tears and distress among the
Arcadian inhabitants of that peaceful land. The inhabitants of the
island had been ordered to supply us with 10,000 dollars. The chiefs,
almost despairing of being able to raise so large a sum, made a
powerful appeal to their friends and neighbours; painted in true
colours the wrath of the despot should he learn that his request
had not been complied with, and the wilderness that would then
replace their rich and happy isle. The eloquence of some, and the
threats of others, were equally successful. All the savings of years
were brought to the chiefs; silver rings and chains--the dower and
fortune of many a young maiden--were added to the newly spun shama
of the matron: all were reduced to poverty, and were trembling;
though they smiled whilst making the sacrifice of all their worldly
goods. How they must have cursed, in the bitterness of their grief,
the poor white strangers who were the innocent cause of all their

The following morning we started for Kourata, the distance and
inconvenience being about the same as on the preceding day. Once
again on _terra firma_, we hailed with delight the end of our
short and disagreeable passage. On the beach we were received by
the clergy, who had turned out in full canonicals to welcome us
with all the pomp usually accorded only to royalty; for such had
been the Imperial command. Two of the wealthiest merchants of the
place claimed us as their guests, in the name of their royal master,
and, mounted on beautiful mules, we ascended the hill on which
Kourata is built; the privilege of riding through the sacred streets
having been conferred on, the honoured guests of the sovereign of
the land.

Kourata is, after Gondar, the most important and wealthy city of
Abyssinia; it is a town of priests and merchants, built on the sides
of a conical hill and bathed by the waters of the Tana Sea. The
houses, many of them built of stone, are superior to any we saw in
Abyssinia. The church erected by the Queen of Socinius is held in
such sanctity that the whole town is considered sacred, and none
but the bishop or the emperor are allowed to ride through its narrow
and steep lanes. From the sea it is almost impossible to see the
town, so close and compact are the towering dark cedars and
sycamores--the just pride of the inhabitants. The whole hillock is
so completely covered with vegetation of every description, that
the spot from a distance seems more like a luxuriant waste untouched
by man's hand, than the abode of thousands, and the central mart
of Western Abyssinia. For a few days we resided in the town, where
several of the best houses had been put at our disposal; but the
countless host of unmentionable insects fairly drove us away. We
obtained permission to pitch our tents on the sea beach, on a
pleasant spot only a few hundred yards from the town, where we
enjoyed the double luxury of fresh air and abundance of water.

A few days after our arrival at Kourata we were joined by the "Gaffat
people." The Emperor had written to them to come and remain with
us during our stay, as he feared that we might feel lonely and
unhappy in his country, separated from our own people. Agreeably
to the instructions they had received, on arriving at a short
distance from our encampment, they sent to inform us of their
arrival, and requested permission to present themselves before us.
I was never so much taken aback as at the sight of these Europeans
wearing the Abyssinian gala dress, silk shirts of gaudy colours,
trousers of the same material, the shama thrown over the left
shoulder, many with naked feet, several without covering to their
head. They had been so long in Abyssinia that I doubt not they
considered themselves very smart; and, if we did not admire them,
the natives certainly did. They pitched their camp a little distance
in rear of ours. A few days later their wives and children arrived,
and on more intimate acquaintance we soon perceived that several
amongst them were well-educated and well-informed men--not at all
despicable companions in that distant laud.

On the 12th of March our poor countrymen, so long in chains and
misery, at last arrived. We provided tents for those who had none,
and they remained in our inclosure. They all, more or less, bore
traces of the many sufferings they had endured; but Messrs. Stern
and Cameron more than the others. We endeavoured to cheer them up
by the prospect of a speedy return to Europe, and only regretted
that we could not show them more kindness; as Mr. Rassam did not
think it advisable, on account of Theodore's suspicious character,
to appear to be on too intimate terms with them. They knew the
Emperor better than we did, and now and then expressed doubts as
to the favourable issue of the affair. They had heard _en route_
that they would have to make boats for Theodore, and were always
anxious and nervous each time a messenger arrived from the Imperial

Theodore, after plundering Metcha, the fertile province at the southern
extremity of Lake Tana, destroyed the large and populous town of Zage,
and pitched his camp on a small strip of land connecting the promontory
of Zage with the mainland. The Emperor was very attentive;
he sent us 5,000 dollars more, supplies in abundance, and put thirty
milch cows at our disposal; he also sent us lion cubs, monkeys,
&c., and almost every second day wrote civil and courteous letters
to Mr. Rassam. All our interpreters, all the messengers, even Mr.
Rassam's butler, went one after the other to Zag to be invested
with "the order of the shirt." To the messenger who had brought us
down the false intelligence of Captain Cameron's release, he gave
a marguf (silk-bordered) shama, a title, and the government of a
district; and requested Mr. Rassam to love him, and cause him to
be loved by our Queen, as his stratagem had fortunately succeeded,
and had induced us to come to him. When one of our interpreters,
Omar Ali, a native of Massowah, went in his turn to be decorated,
he found his Majesty sitting near the beach making cartridges. He
told him, "You see my occupation; but I am not ashamed of it. I
cannot make up my mind to let Stern and Cameron go; but, for the
sake of your masters, I will. I like them because they are always
so well behaved, hold their caps in their hand as soon as they
approach my presence, and are respectful before me, whilst Cameron
used to pull his beard about all the time."

If I mention these apparent trifles, it is to show that Theodore
was still doubtful in his mind whether he would allow any one to
depart or not. As he was still wavering, he might, perhaps, have
allowed himself to be guided by his better qualities, had not a few
incidents that occurred at the time worked upon his suspicious

Theodore, always fond of showing himself as a just man before his
people, desired a kind of trial of the former captives to take
place, before him and us, and in presence of his soldiers; when,
had they acknowledged that they were wrong, and begged his Majesty's
pardon, he would probably have gone through the form of a public
reconciliation, and after presenting them with a few gifts, allowed
them to depart.

Mr. Rassam, on the contrary, believed it to be advisable that his
Majesty should not see the former captives, as their sight might
put him in a passion; and as everything appeared to progress so
favourably, he considered it more prudent to do his utmost to avoid
a meeting between the two.

Shortly after the arrival of the Magdala prisoners, who had been
joined at Debra Tabor by those who had been detained there on parole,
his Majesty, at Mr. Rassam's instigation, instead of calling them
to him as he had intended, sent several of his officers, his
secretary, etc., to Kourata, and requested us to have certain charges
read publicly to the captives, who would declare whether he or they
were in the wrong.

All the captives, the Gaffat people, and the Abyssinian officers,
being assembled in Mr. Rassam's tent, the scribe read the charges.
The first was against Captain Cameron. Theodore began by stating
that Cameron, on his representing himself to be a messenger from
the Queen, was received with all due honour and respect, and welcomed
to the best of his ability. He accepted with humility the presents
the Queen sent to him, and on Cameron explaining that an exchange
of consuls between the two countries would be greatly to the interest
of Abyssinia, Theodore, to use his own words, said, "I was glad on
hearing this, and said, very well!" He continued by stating that
he impressed upon the consul that the Turks were his enemies, and
requested him to protect the mission and presents he intended to
send to the Queen; that he gave him a friendly letter, and sent him
away, but Cameron, instead of delivering the letter, went to the
Turks who hated him, and before whom he insulted and lowered him;
that on Cameron's return, he asked him, "'Where is the answer to
the friendly letter I entrusted you with? what have you come for?'
He answered: 'I do not know;' so I said to him, 'You are not the
servant of my friend the Queen, as you had represented yourself to
be,' and by the power of my creator I imprisoned him. Ask him if
he can deny this."

The second charge was against Mr. Bardel; but he had evidently got
tired of the affair, as the charges against Stern, Rosenthal, &c.
are not specified; though on former occasion he several times
referred to his grievances against them. They are included in a
general charge which runs as follows:--

"The other prisoners have abused me, I am well aware, I used to
love, and honour them. A friend ought to be a shield to his friend,
and they ought to have shielded me. Why did they not defend me? On
this account I disliked them.

"Now, by the power of God! for the sake of the Queen, and the British
people, and yourselves, I cannot continue my dislike against them.
I wish you to make between us a reconciliation from the heart. If
I am in fault, do you tell me and I will requite them; but if you
find that I am wronged, I wish you to get them to requite me."

After the charges had been read, the captives were asked if they
had done wrong or not. It would have been absurd for them not to
have acknowledged their faults, and begged for pardon. We knew that
they were innocent, injured men, and that any errors of judgment
they might have committed were so trivial compared to the sufferings
they had undergone, that they could, under any other circumstances,
have applied for the requital he offered them. In acknowledging
that they were wrong they acted wisely: it was what we counselled,
nay ordered.

The sitting concluded with the public reading of the Amharic
translation of the Queen's letter, and of the reply which Theodore
said he would send by us.

Though all seemed smooth and favourable, no doubt a storm was
imminent; and shortly afterwards, though everything was as yet
friendly, we should have been far less confident had our knowledge
of Theodore been greater.

On our way to Kourata we had been asked indirectly by his servants
whether we knew anything about boat-making? We replied in the
negative. As I have stated, some of the escort had told Captain
Cameron, that at Kourata he would be employed in ship-building.
There was no doubt that his Majesty had made up his mind to have a
small navy, and I believe that the real reason we were sent to
Kourata, and the Gaffat people to keep us company there, was that
Theodore imagined that we knew more about making boats than we
wished to say, and hoped to coax us into undertaking the work. The
Gaffat people, were told to make boats; they replied that they knew
nothing about it, but would work with any one who could direct them:
at the same time they intimated that his Majesty ought to take
advantage of Mr. Rassam's friendship to ask him to write for some
proper person and instruments; that they had no doubt that on Mr.
Rassam making the application, his Majesty would obtain anything
he required.

A few days later Theodore wrote to Mr. Rassam requesting him to
write for workmen, and to await their return. Until that date all
had been plain sailing. I acknowledged that the letter was rather
a "damper" on Mr. Rassam. Two courses were left open to him: to
decline, in courteous terms, on the ground that his instructions
did not warrant his making such a request; or accept, on condition
that the former captives should be allowed to depart, himself
remaining with one of his companions until the workmen arrived.
Instead of that Mr. Rassam took a half-way course; he told Theodore
that it would be better for him if he was allowed to depart, as at
home he could better represent the desires of his Majesty, but if
the Emperor insisted upon it he would write.

Theodore was so far confirmed in the impression conveyed to him by
his workmen that through the intervention of Mr. Rassam he could
obtain anything he liked, that the only thing which for a few days
longer remained undecided by him was--should he endeavour to gain
his object by flatteries or by bullying? He at once went to work,
and did the best to succeed by amicable measures. For this purpose
he sent us a polite invitation to come and spend a day with him
at Zage, ordering at the same time his workmen to accompany him.
On the 25th of March we proceeded by native boats and reached Zage
after a four-hours' shower-bath; at a short distance from the landing-place
we dressed ourselves in uniform, and were met on our arrival by Ras
Engeddah (Commander-in-Chief), the Master of the Horse, and several other
high officials of the Imperial household. His Majesty had sent us by the
Ras polite greetings, and mounting the beautiful mules sent from the
royal stable, we proceeded to the Emperor's inclosure. We were at first
conducted to some silk tents, which had been pitched at a short distance
from his banqueting-hall, so that we might rest awhile and partake of
the collation his Queen had forwarded to us. In the afternoon the
Emperor sent us word that he would come and see us.

We shortly afterwards went out to meet him, and to our astonishment
saw him coming towards us, his cloth folded and the right arm
uncovered: a sign of inferiority, of high respect--an honour Theodore
was never known to have paid to any man. He was all smiles, all
amiability, sat down a few minutes on Mr. Rassam's couch, and when
he left he shook hands in the most friendly manner with him. A
little later we returned his call. We found him in the audience-hall,
seated on a carpet; he gracefully saluted us, and made us sit down
by his side. To his left stood his eldest son Prince Meshisha, and
Ras Engeddah; his workmen were also present standing in the centre
of the hall in front of him. He had before him quite an arsenal of
guns and pistols; he spoke about and showed those we had brought
with us, guns that had been made to order by the brother of a
gunmaker in his service, a manufacturer at St. Etienne, near Lyons.
He conversed on various topics, about the different ranks in his
army, presented us to his son, and ordered him at the conclusion
of the audience, together with the Gaffat people, to escort us back
to our tent.

The following day Theodore sent repeated kind messages; but we did
not see him. In the morning he called, all his chiefs together, and
asked them to advise him as to whether he should allow the Europeans
to depart or not. All exclaimed, "Let them go;" one only remarking
that if once out, and they wanted to fight, "let them come, we will
then have God on our side." As soon as he had dismissed his chiefs,
he called the Gaffat people and asked them also what he should do.
They told us that they had strongly advised him to let us depart.
It was reported that on returning to his house; his valet said to
him, "Every one tells you to let them go; you know that they are
your enemies, and what will you have in your hands?" In the evening
his Majesty was rather excited: he sent for the Gaffat people, and
taking hold of the rude pillar of his hut, said: "Is that the
dwelling fit for a king?" What conversation passed between them at
the time, I cannot say; but a few days afterwards one of them told
me that his Majesty was much put out, as Mr. Rassam had not mentioned
to him the objects he had so dear at heart, viz.: the artisans and
instruments, and that on our applying to be allowed to return to
Kourata, his Majesty looked very black at first, and refused, and
that they had had great fears that he might have forcibly detained

On our return to Kourata the correspondence between Theodore and
Mr. Rassam began afresh. The letters, as a rule, contained nothing
of importance, but the messages brought backwards and forwards were
highly special, and had significant reference to the former captives,
with whom Theodore was bent on having a reconciliation before their
departure. Apprehensive that Theodore might get into a passion at
the sight of them, Mr. Rassam endeavoured: by all means to avoid a
meeting he so much dreaded; and, at last, his Majesty seemed to
have been convinced by his friend's reasonings, and to all appearance
gave in to him. Some of the former captives were naturally anxious,
and would have much preferred the risk of having to bear a few harsh
words rather than excite Theodore's suspicions. It was too late.
He had already made up his mind to detain us forcibly, and at the
time he pretended to agree not to see the former captives, he was
all the while, building a fence for their reception.

Mr. Rassam, to divert the Emperor's mind, proposed to him to institute
an order to be called the "Cross of Christ and Solomon's Seal;" the
rules and regulations were drawn out, one of the workmen made a
model of the badges according to Mr. Rassam's direction, his Majesty
approved of them, and nine were ordered--three of the first, three
of the second, three of the third orders. Mr. Rassam, together with
Ras Engeddah and Prince Meshisha, were to be made knights of the
first order; the English officers of the mission were to be second
class; as for the third, I do not know for whom they were destined,
unless for such as Bappo, his butler.

Quite unaware of all that was going on behind the scenes, we fancied
that we had nothing more to fear, and that all obstacles had been
cleverly removed; we were building castles in the air--seeing in
imagination dear friendly faces once more, and, thinking we were
homeward bound, we laughed at the scorching heat of the Soudan's
hottest months: when suddenly all our plans, hopes, and expectations
were cruelly crushed.


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.

On the 13th of April we made our third experiment of the bulrush
boats, as the Emperor desired once more to see his dear friends
before they left. The European workmen of Gaffat accompanied us.
All the Magdala and Gaffat prisoners started the same day, but by
another route; the whole party was to rendezvous at Tankal, near
the north-west extremity of the lake, where the luggage was also
to be conveyed by boats.

On our arrival at Zage, we were received with the usual marks
of respect. Ras Engeddah and several high officers came to meet us
on the beach, and richly harnessed mules were provided for us from
the royal stables. We dismounted at the entrance of his Majesty's
inclosure, and were conducted at once to the large audience-hall,
erected quite close to the Emperor's private fence. On entering,
we were surprised to see the large hall lined on both sides by
Abyssinian officers in their gala dress. The throne had been placed
at the extremity of the hall, but was empty, and the large circular
space around it was filled with the highest officers of the realm.
We had only advanced a few stages, preceded by Ras Engeddah, when
he bowed and kissed the ground, we thought out of respect for the
throne; but it was the signal for an act of base treachery. No
sooner had the Ras prostrated himself, than nine men, posted for
the purpose, rushed upon each of us, and in less time than I can
express it our swords, belts, and caps were cast to the ground, our
uniforms torn, and the officers of the English mission, seized by
the arm and neck, were dragged, to the upper part of the hall,
degraded and reviled before the whole of Theodore's courtiers and

We were allowed to sit down, our captors sitting next to us. The
Emperor did not appear, but questions were brought to us by the Ras
Engeddah, Cantiba Hailo (the Emperor's adopted father), Samuel, and
the European workmen. Some of the questions asked by his Majesty
were, to say the least, childish: "Where are the prisoners? Why
have you not brought them to me? You had no right to send them
without my permission. I wished you to reconcile me with them. I
intended also to give to those who had no mule a mule, and to those
who had no money some money for the road. Why have you given them
fire-arms? Did you not come with a friendly letter from the Queen
of England? Why have you sent letters to the coast?" and such like

Many of the highest officers several times expressed openly their
approval of our answers--a rare proceeding in an Abyssinian Court.
They evidently did not like, nor could they justify, the treacherous
conduct of their master. Between the questions, a paper was partially
read, referring to his Majesty's pedigree. As it had nothing to
do with, our alleged offences, I could not understand its object,
except that it was a certain weakness of this _parvenu_ to
glory in his supposed ancestors. His Majesty's last message was:
"I have sent for your brethren, and when they arrive, I will see
what I shall do."

The assembly having been dismissed, we waited a little while, whilst
a tent was pitched for us near the Emperor's inclosure. At the time
we were undergoing our trial, all the luggage we had brought with
us was personally examined by his Majesty. All arms, money, papers,
knives, &c., were confiscated; the remainder being sent to us after
we had been escorted to the tent; We had hardly entered our new
abode, and had not yet recovered from our surprise at the turn the
Abyssinian _imbroglio_ had just taken, when cows and bread in
abundance were sent to us by Theodore a strange contrast to his
recent dealings.

At about the same hour which witnessed this reverse in our fortunes,
the released captives were also destined to meet with a fearful
disappointment. Their fate was even worse than ours. After about
two hours' ride they came to a village, and were resting under the
shade of a few trees, until their tents should be pitched, when
they were called for, and told to enter the house of the chief of
the village. As soon as they were all collected, a number of
soldiers entered, and the chief of the escort, showing them a letter,
asked them if it was his Majesty's seal. On their replying in the
affirmative, they were told to sit down. They were rather perplexed,
but imagined that perhaps his Majesty had sent them a letter to bid
them farewell, and that they were allowed to sit down as they were
tired. However, their conjectures were soon set at rest. On a signal
given by the chief of the escort, they were seized by the soldiers
who lined the room. The letter from Theodore was then read to them.
It was addressed to the chief of the escort, and ran thus:--"In the
name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to Bitwaddad Tadla.
By the power of God, we, Theodore, the king of kings, are well. We
are angry with our friends, and with the Europeans, who say, 'We
are going to our country,' and we are not yet reconciled. Until we
consult as to what we shall do, seize them; but do not make them
uncomfortable or afraid, and do not hurt them."

In the evening they were chained two by two, their servants were
watched, and but two allowed to each individual to prepare his food;
the following morning they were taken to Kourata. There they heard
of our arrest, and even reports to the effect that we had been
killed. The wives of the Gaffat people treated them very kindly:
they themselves were in great anguish, as they were quite ignorant
of the fate of their relatives. On the morning of the 15th they
were taken over by boat to Zage. On their arrival they were
received by guards, who conducted them to a fenced space; mules had
been brought for Captain Cameron, Mrs. Rosenthal, and Mrs. Flad,
and shortly afterwards the Emperor sent them cows, sheep, bread,
&c., in abundance.

The three days we spent in the small tent at Zage were days
of great anxiety. We had until then seen but the good side, the
amiable mood of our host, and we were not as yet accustomed to his
sudden bursts of temper, to his violence and treachery. As soon
as our luggage was returned, we destroyed every letter, paper, note,
diary, in our possession, and repeatedly questioned Samuel as to
our future prospects. On the morning of the second day Theodore
sent us his compliments, and told us that as soon as the captives
arrived, everything would be all right. We sent him some shirts
that had been made for him during our stay at Kourata; he received
them, but declined the soap that accompanied them, as, he said, we
should require it for the road. In the afternoon we watched him
through the links of the tent, whilst he was sitting for hours on
a raised platform in front of his inclosure. He appeared calm, and
remained, for a long time, in conversation with his favourite, Ras
Engeddah, who stood below.

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