The Magdala Campaign, 1867–8 Part II

The Fortress of Magdala, prior to its destruction in April 1868.

The land itself now began to fight for the Emperor. The route ahead was slashed by deep gorges and high ridges. Nevertheless Napier was confident he would reach Magdala by the end of the month. His intelligence reports told him Tewodros would reach the fortress at roughly the same time. It was going to be a close-run thing. An error by Colonel Phayre swung the race in the enemy’s favour. He and his advance party had been striking far ahead. He was directed by a rascally local chieftain called Wolde Jesus along some of the worst tracks they had yet seen. Finally even those petered out in the 1,600-ft pass of Fulluk Eimuk Oonzool. They turned back and the main column then took the obvious and direct route over the Amba Alajl Pass, but Phayre’s mistake cost them six precious days.

They marched on through the spectacular mountains of Wojerat Province. The Times man reported: ‘The country heaved with mountains in every direction, like a rough sea.’ The pace of the elephants and other animals fell below 8 miles a day. Again Napier ordered officers and men to shed more of their baggage, especially tents. Combined with fatigue and the prospect of ever more saw-toothed mountains to cross, this led to more restlessness in the ranks. One officer reported an increase in ‘swearing, grumbling and discontent . . . obscene and violent language’. Napier paraded the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, gave the tough Irishmen a severe tongue-lashing and switched them from their coveted place at the head of the column to the inglorious rear.

Weather and terrain worsened. Steep tracks, swollen rivers and hair-pin bends tested the ingenuity of the Sapper trail-blazers until Napier’s column reached the relative ease of the Wadela plateau. On this high plain the tribesmen were reputed to be the best and fiercest horsemen in Africa. Aware of the danger Napier halted to allow stragglers to catch up. After a much-needed rest they marched the 40 miles across the plateau until they reached the Jidda gorge, 3,500 ft deep and 8 miles across. Napier was startled to see clear evidence that Tewodros was ahead of him: the mammoth new roadway that the Abyssinians had cut in the sides of the precipice. He was astonished also to discover that it was not blocked by the Imperial army or even by a rearguard. If it had been, Napier wrote home, he would not have had a chance of getting across. Instead the British column enjoyed a route made easy by the enemy.

Some 12 miles from Magdala Napier saw the outlying spurs which hid the fortress itself. He realized at once the ‘formidable character of the whole position’. He wrote that he might need every man, on foot or steed, to scale its dizzy heights. Napier decided that the first flat-topped ridge at Fala should be his first objective. He aimed to muster his men on the level ground at Aroji, below a hill where, unknown to him, Tewodros had already positioned many of his heavy guns.

Tewodros had decisively won the race to Magdala. He entered the fortress on 27 March and carefully positioned his artillery on the ledge of Salamji and the twin peaks of Fala and Salassie which together overlooked the only viable approaches to the stronghold. For weeks while his army was on the move Tewodros had behaved like a general, a fine soldier, skilled tactician, a true leader of men. Once within the brooding, sinister Magdala fortress his unpredictable moods returned.

In a fit of belated generosity he ordered the prisoners freed of their shackles and given compensation of 2,000 silver thalers, 100 sheep and 50 cows. That order was quickly rescinded and Rassam was the only hostage unchained. Rassam used all his wiles to persuade the Emperor to unchain first Blanc and Prideaux, then Cameron and the other hostages. They were invited to stand with Tewodros to watch the heavy guns being dragged up the heights. He was in good humour even when the first British forces came within range of his telescope. He told one captive to take the glass and directed him: ‘There thou will see thy brethren who had come from England to kill me. I am pleased to see those red jackets.’ He was distressed only at the tattered appearance of his own men. He asked Rassam: ‘How can I show these ragged soldiers to your well-dressed troops?’

In another generous fit he began to release some of the hundreds of native prisoners, a good number of whom were crippled and starving, who had also been held at Magdala. On the first day 186 women and children and 37 minor chiefs were freed. Seven men were executed. The next day Tewodros decreed that all the rest should be released, apart from a handful of political prisoners. The removal of several hundred sets of shackles inevitably took time and some Galla prisoners unwisely demanded food and water. Tewodros went berserk. He screamed: ‘I will teach them to ask for food when my faithful soldiers are starving.’ He speared several prisoners on the ground. His soldiers, fearful and infected by the same bloodlust, carried on the grisly work with swords and guns until between 200 and 300 lay dead or dying. Both corpses and wounded were thrown off the high cliff at Salamji.

The following day, 10 April, was Good Friday. Tewodros joined a concentration of gunners and troops on Fala. Below them were coats of red and khaki. He exhorted his men to smite the English as David smote the Philistines.

The British expedition had so far been almost faultless in its care, preparation and execution. Napier made his first major error when he allowed the unguarded baggage train to pass onto the Aroji plateau, under the false impression that Phayre’s advance column would protect it. In fact Phayre was deep in a neighbouring ravine in search of a more suitable route for the pack animals and the heavy guns. The Abyssinians on the heights above saw the chance of easy prey. Napier quickly recognized his error and despatched the 23rd Punjab Pioneers and the King’s Own Regiment to save the baggage. By this time Tewodros’ tribesmen were swarming down the mountainside. The cannons on Fala, Selassie and Salamji opened fire at maximum range. They were too far away to do much damage but one heavy ball landed yards from Napier as he sat on horseback directing his hastily assembled troops.

The Sikhs were first in position at the head of a ravine between the attackers and the train. The King’s Own, with some engineers and members of the Naval Brigade, formed a line across the plateau just as the Abyssinians reached the level ground. The attackers, dressed in medieval armour and colourful cloaks, formed a solid mass of horsemen and foot soldiers 1,500 yards wide and seven men deep. The most reliable witnesses suggest they were 3,500 strong. They advanced not at some unruly ramble but at a steady, purposeful pace and with a cool courage that surprised the toughest British trooper. Facing them in the front line were perhaps 300 men of the King’s Own, strung out across a shooting gallery as flat as a billiard table. Their firepower, including double-barrelled rifles, was awesome. The new Snider rifles were effective at 500 yards and their breech-loading mechanism made them capable of firing seven rounds a minute. What followed was not battle. It was butchery.

The first shots fired were the rockets of the Naval Brigade. They passed narrowly over the heads of the King’s Own, causing more discomfort to the British than to the enemy. The British line opened fire at 250 yards. The first rank of Abyssinians fell. Among those initial casualties was the elderly General Babri, dressed in a red tunic laced with gold, whom some of the British mistook for the Emperor. Neither the shock of the rockets nor the withering volley caused the attackers to slow their pace. They were battle-hardened troops and their tactics had always been to soak up heavy casualties in the first volley and then rush forward while their enemy was reloading. They had no experience of the Sniders, the first metal-cartridge breech-loaders generally issued by the British Army. There was no time between volleys for them to dash to the front line: no respite from the non-stop fusillade. Hundreds fell before the attackers took cover behind scattered rocks and returned fire with their elderly and inefficient muzzle-loaders. A group of sixty warriors scorned their comrades’ good sense and marched to within 100 yards of the British lines until they too broke. The British counter-attacked as the day’s light faded but Napier ordered a halt. He did not want this first proper engagement to deteriorate into a series of night skirmishes over unknown territory from which his own men could all too easily emerge as the losers.

In the meantime a smaller Abyssinian force launched a flanking attack on what they thought was the baggage train. In fact it was a light mountain battery whose guns were already limbered up. They opened fire at 500 yards but shot and shell failed to stem the onrush of warriors. Neither did two volleys from the out-of-date muskets carried by the Sikh Pioneers. The tough, hugely built Indians met the charge of savage but smaller Amhari warriors head on, with bayonets fixed. It was basic, brutal killing. The bloody hand-to-hand fighting all but massacred the attackers. A splinter group managed to get around the Sikh defences but were met by searing volleys from a detachment of the King’s Own firing from behind the baggage. The survivors turned and fled, only to find themselves in a killing ground between the Sikhs and the mountain battery. Most died.

The night on the plateau was punctuated by the wails of women searching for their dead, the last death-throes of the dying and the snuffling of wild beasts. Stanley wrote: ‘In ravenous packs the jackals and the hyenas had come to devour the abundant feast spread out by the ruthless hand of war.’ British and Indian burial parties found that few Abyssinians had discarded their weapons as they attempted to flee the hail of shot. To the Victorian mind they had died like the very best kind of soldier. There was little rejoicing, much less gloating, in Napier’s camp that night. They buried 560 Abyssinians. The true death toll was estimated at 700 minimum with 1,500 wounded, many of whom must have perished later. Napier lost 2 dead and 18 wounded.

Tewodros watched the slaughter from the Fala hilltop. He was furious at the ineffectiveness of the heavy cannon he had dragged, sometimes with his own blistered hands, over the mountains. One of the largest guns, his namesake Theodorus, splintered on its first firing. Tewodros was driven to despair at the defeat of his army by what he knew could only be the vanguard of the main British force. He returned to Alamji and told Rassam to compose a letter of conciliation to Napier. Prideaux and Flad were sent to the British camp in the early hours of the following morning. Napier showed both European and native emissaries his cannon, his elephants and the rest of his forces which had doubled overnight, with more men streaming in by the hour. Napier’s letter of reply said: ‘It is my desire that no more blood may be shed.’ But his demands were tough. The prisoners must be released. Magdala must be given up. Tewodros must surrender unconditionally although Napier pledged ‘honourable treatment’ for the Emperor and his family. Tewodros was outraged. He scornfully described Napier as ‘that servant of a woman’. The two Europeans were sent back to the British camp with a threat that all hostages might be executed and with the message: ‘A warrior who has dandled strong men in his arms like infants will never suffer himself to be dandled in the arms of others.’ Tewodros then fell back into one of his commonplace moods of black despondency. He put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. His retainers wrestled the gun from his hand but the bullet grazed his head. His few trusted advisers persuaded him to make a gesture of peace.

Hardly believing their luck Rassam, Cameron and forty-seven other prisoners were allowed to pick their way down the mountain slopes to the British camp. Mr and Mrs Martin Flad stayed behind, along with European artisans who worked under contract to the Emperor and who had never considered themselves hostages. The British soldiers were surprised at the captives’ sleek, well-fed appearance. It had been assumed they had suffered horribly at the hands of the mad Emperor but there was precious little evidence of that. One of Napier’s staff officers wrote: ‘I must say I think they are a queer lot, taken as a whole. The rag-tag and bob-tail they have with them in the shape of followers etc., are wonderful to behold. They have about 20 servants of each sort, and the idea of being able to move with less than three mules for baggage seems to Mr Rassam as utterly impracticable.’ Overnight the number of freed hostages swelled to fifty with the birth of a baby to one of the wives. The captives found that after years of living, albeit as prisoners, in some considerable luxury they were now expected to sleep on the ground under canvas, like any common trooper, and eat tough soldier’s beef and chapatis. It was not a joyful reunion. Napier sent them grumbling to the rear where their dissatisfaction would not infect his troops.

Tewodros, by now desperate to appease, sent down the traditional Abyssinian gesture of peace: 100 cows and 500 sheep. They were rejected. Close to panic the Emperor ordered the remaining Europeans to descend to the British lines. They did so with 187 native servants, 323 domestic animals and large quantities of baggage, including more tents than were possessed by the British advance column.

Every European was now free and Napier had achieved everything except the surrender of the Emperor. He wrote to his wife: ‘It is not easy to express my gratitude to God for the complete success as regards the prisoners.’ However, his strict military sense dictated that the war must end with the surrender, capture or death of Tewodros. His army had been unmolested, indeed fed, by various tribes on the understanding that the British would rid them of the despot. If he failed to do so he would probably have to fight for every foot of the road back to the coast. He reassured one of the rebel barons: ‘We have come this far with an army to punish Theodorus for his ill-treatment of British and European servants.’

Tewodros gathered 2,000 followers within Magdala and planned to escape by a steep southern path to regroup elsewhere. Those of his supporters who elected not to fight with him ‘to the end’ he gave permission to flee or surrender. Many warriors did just that, including the commanders of the batteries on Fala and Selassie who agreed to surrender their positions in return for safe conduct. Thus Magdala’s outer defences, for which Napier had planned tough and bloody frontal assaults, fell without a shot. The way was clear for a direct attack on Salamji and the mighty Magdala fortress beyond.

The attack began at 9 a.m. on 13 April 1868. The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment led in fine drill formation, the band playing ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ as they marched. They were met not by a hail of fire but by a disorganized flood of refugees and warriors who threw down their weapons as they fled down the track. One British trooper likened the scene to the flight of the Israelites. Napier’s men found the Salamji plateau abandoned. Peering over the far edge they saw heaps of naked bodies, piled brokenly several corpses deep, the prisoners who had fallen victim to the Emperor’s earlier rage. The stench was horrible. The gruesome sight stiffened resolve among the horrified onlookers and did much to counter the stories of Tewodros’ civilized grace and courage which had circulated among the troops. The 300 twisted corpses were an eloquent vindication of the entire expedition. In the middle of the small plateau lay the giant gun Sebastopol. It had proved too heavy to drag the last stretch to the fortress. It, too, was a silent witness to the Emperor’s grandiose dreams, now lying in the dust.

As the British and Indian troops were assembling on the level ground ten or twelve horsemen burst from the fortress in a wild dash aimed at carrying off some small, abandoned brass cannon. Leading them, clad in a white tunic and lionskins, and carrying rifle, spear and sword, was Tewodros himself. It was typical of the man: gallant, medieval, hopeless. He shouted a challenge of single combat, preferably with Napier. The British commander was not present and the most senior officer on the plateau answered the challenge with a salvo of artillery fire. Tewodros, his robes swirling, his steed’s hooves raising a cloud of dust, screamed abuse at the British ranks. He and his wild warriors used their swords to make the sort of rude gestures that are universally understood, fired their rifles in the air, wheeled around and galloped back to the ancient fortress.

At 3 p.m. Napier ordered the final assault. A steep track flanked by sheer rock and thorn hedges climbed the final 300 feet to the twin gateways of Kokit Bir. After surveying the defences by telescope he assumed that defenders were concealed behind rock slabs overlooking the narrow approach and hidden within the craftily designed hedges. Napier’s artillery, 4 twelve-pounders, 12 seven-pounders, two 8-inch mortars and 16 rockets, bombarded those positions for an hour with little clear evidence of success. Napier recognized it could be a risky business which would mean heavy casualties if the fortress was heavily defended. He later wrote: ‘If simply old women had been at the top and, hiding behind the brow, had thrown down stones, they would have caused any force a serious loss.’ Colours flying, the attack was led by the scarlet-jacketed Royal Engineers and a detachment of Madras Sappers, followed by ten companies of the Duke of Wellington’s in their khaki. Two further regiments and two more companies of Indian Sappers – the Baluchi and Punjabi Pioneers – were lined up in support. Napier’s plan was for the Wellingtons (33rd) to give covering fire while the engineers blew the main gate.

A heavy downpour turned the path into a slippery mudbath. The attackers came under lacklustre musket fire which suggested that the morale of the defenders was broken. There were not even old women hurling rocks. The Irishmen of the 33rd were ‘firing and shouting like madmen’. So enthusiastic were they that some of the Sappers ahead were grazed by British bullets. The defenders on the gate were more spirited and inflicted nine casualties, none of them fatal, on the engineers milling in confusion below them. The Sappers were unable to force the gate because the Abyssinians had piled heavy stones to a distance of 15 feet behind it. They could not blast their way through because, through an incredible oversight, no one had brought gunpowder, axes or even ladders.

The commander of the 33rd, Major Cooper, sent his men around the right side of the ramparts to find a weak spot. One massive Irishman, Private James Bergin, got a handhold on the wall and used his bayonet to hack an opening in the wicked thorns that surmounted it. He asked drummer boy Michael Magner to give him a heave up but he was too heavy for the lad. Instead he hauled the boy on to his shoulders and then pushed him up the final few feet with his rifle butt. Sitting astride the wall in clear view of the Abyssinians Magner coolly pulled up his comrade and then more of the 33rd while Bergin poured shot after shot into a knot of defenders behind the outer gate. Ensign Walter Wynter, who carried the regimental colours, later wrote: ‘It was a tough pull up, but I was hardly ever on my feet as the men took me and the colours and passed us on to the front. I shall never forget the exhilaration of that moment.’ As more troopers added their rifle power to Bergin’s, the warriors at the gate broke and retreated across the outer bailey, taking casualties all the way. They ran through the inner gateway without bothering to lock it behind them.

Unknown to the Irish on the wall the warriors had included Tewodros. It was the final humiliation. It later emerged that only 250 men had stayed with him inside the huge fortress. He had been further disheartened by seeing his chief minister, Ras Engada, blown to pieces in the opening bombardment. The Emperor of All Abyssinia, Elect of God, King of Kings, sat down behind a hayrick and again put a pistol barrel in his mouth. This time there were no loyal retainers to deter him. With the last shot of the siege he blew an enormous hole in the back of his head. The pistol was silver-plated with an inscription on the butt declaring it had been presented to him by Queen Victoria ‘as a slight token of her gratitude for his kindness to her servant Plowden’.

When the British reached the inner fortress, passing through the unlocked gateway, they met no further resistance. The remaining warriors had laid down their weapons, with the Emperor’s permission, during his last moments of life. The burial parties got busy. The artillery bombardment killed 20 Abyssinians and wounded a further 120. Another 45 had been slain by British rifles, most of them in the turkey shoot between the two gateways. Napier’s forces suffered 10 wounded and 5 scratched by rock splinters. Most British reports admitted it had not been the most glorious or hard-fought battle in the history of the Empire. No one, however, begrudged Bergin and Magner the Victoria Crosses they were awarded on their return home. The citation read: ‘For their conspicuous gallantry on the 13th April last. Lieut.-General Lord Napier reports that, whilst the head of the column attack was checked by the obstacles at the gate, a small stream of officers and men of the 33rd Regiment, and an officer of Engineers, breaking away from the main approach to Magdala and climbing up a cliff, reached the defences, and forced their way over the wall and through the strong and thorny fence, thus turning the defences at the gateway. The first two men to enter, and the first in Magdala, were Drummer Magner and Private Bergin.’

The British and Indian troops plundered Magdala, guzzling many gallons of captured honey beer. Their loot included brand-new English rifles, silver-mounted spears, toy soldiers, photographic equipment, state umbrellas and Persian carpets. All such items were auctioned within the fortress and the £5,000 raised was divided among the troops, who each received 25 shillings or 15 rupees. A representative of the British Museum, one of the scholars who had gone with the expedition, spent £1,000 on 350 beautifully illustrated religious books, lovingly and piously collected by the dead Emperor. All but two remain in the Museum. The imperial crown of gold was sent back to London and presented to Victoria. Many years later George V returned it to Ethiopia as a goodwill gesture to Haile Selassie.

The Emperor’s wife Terunesh was discovered – a ‘pretty, fair girl of about 25 with large eyes and long hair’, according to an officer. She remained haughty in manner and treated the soldiers as servants. As a result she suffered the indignity of having her bottom smacked by coarse British hands until Napier took her under his protection. Tewodros’ eight-year-old son Alamayu was treated well. Napier respected his father’s wishes that he be given an English upbringing and education.

Tewodros’ body was cleaned and laid out briefly in state, then buried alongside a ramshackle church known as the Madhane Alam or Saviour of the World. His shallow grave was in unconsecrated ground as he had died by suicide, a poor end for a man who, however fatally flawed, had shown himself a devout and zealous patriot.

Napier ordered the destruction of fifteen smooth-bore cannon on Magdala’s ramparts and the dismantlement of the fortress walls. They were never rebuilt. Sebastopol was too heavy to move and lies there still. Everything else not looted by the victorious army was put to the torch. Napier recorded: ‘Magdala, on which so many victims have been slaughtered, has been committed to the flames, and remains only a scorched rock.’

Napier’s force retraced their steps, dragging a huge tail of refugees. Terunesh sickened and died on the march, despite the efforts of British doctors. She was buried with full honours. The column was hit by storms and by marauding bands of their recent allies, the war-like Gallas. Provisions ran low, although there were always daily issues of rum for the men, port and brandy for the officers and Press. Mules died in their hundreds and five of the elephants had to be shot. Other tribes were less friendly now that the tyrant was dead. Some even forgot past hatred and regarded Tewodros as a fallen hero, a martyr. Finally the exhausted and tattered force reached the coast and by 10 June the entire army was embarked on the waiting fleet. The drifting sands covered most signs of their passing. The Illustrated London News reported: ‘The military expedition to Abyssinia . . . so reluctantly determined upon, so carefully organised, so wonderfully successful, has come to a close.’

Napier returned home in triumph. Disraeli praised the campaign’s ‘completeness and precision’. He told the Queen: ‘So well planned, so quietly and thoroughly executed, the political part so judiciously managed, the troops so admirably handled during the long, trying march, the strength of Anglo-Indian organisation so strikingly demonstrated in the eyes of Europe, wiping out all the stories of Crimean blundering – the Abyssinian expedition stands apart.’

Napier’s casualty rate had been astonishingly light. Just thirty-five Europeans had died, mainly through illness and exhaustion on the long marches. Three hundred were ill or wounded. Losses among the Indian troops, although not precisely recorded, were much the same. Such a carefully planned and well-provisioned campaign did not come cheap and there was some political disquiet in London about the financial cost. Parliament had voted £2 million but the final bill came to £8,600,000. A Commons select committee found that some profiteers had made a fortune from the supply of mules. Almost 28,000 animals, most of them mules, had been lost, stolen or destroyed. The P & O Steamship Company was also criticized for its excessive transport charges. Disraeli replied: ‘Money is not to be considered in such matters – success alone is to be thought of.’

In his address to his troops Napier wrote: ‘You have traversed, often under a tropical sun, or amidst storms of rain and sleet, 400 miles of mountainous and difficult country. You have crossed many steep and precipitous ranges of mountains, more than 10,000 feet in altitude, where your supplies could not keep up with you . . . A host of many thousands have laid down their arms at your feet . . . Indian soldiers have forgotten the prejudices of race and creed to keep pace with their European comrades . . . You have been only eager for the moment when you could close with your enemy. The remembrance of your privations will pass away quickly but your gallant exploit will live in history.’

In a dispatch from Suez he summed up his late adversary: ‘Theodorous had acquired by conquest a Sovereignty which he knew only how to abuse. He was not strong enough to protect his people from other oppressors, while yet able to carry plunder and cruelty into every district he himself might visit. I fail to discover a single point of view from which it is possible to regard his removal with regret.’

Napier asked for and was given a peerage, becoming Lord Napier of Magdala. He was given a pension of £2,000 a year and the Freedom of the City of London. He was made an honorary citizen of Edinburgh and honorary colonel of the 3rd London Rifles. He received the thanks of Parliament, an honorary degree from Oxford and fellowship of the Royal Society. He was made a Knight Grand Commander of the Star of India. Although he saw no more action he served for several more years as Commander-in-Chief in India, becoming a field-marshal, before being appointed Governor of Gibralta. He died, aged eighty, of influenza in 1890. The German Emperor praised his ‘noble character, fine gentlemanly bearing, his simplicity and his splendid soldiering’. R.H. Vetch wrote: ‘Napier was a man of singular modesty and simplicity of character. No one who knew him could forget the magic of his voice and his courteous bearing. He had a great love of children . . . He never obtruded his knowledge or attainments and only those who knew him intimately had any idea of their extent and depth.’ He was buried in St Paul’s. No state military funeral since that of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 had been so imposing a spectacle.

Cameron received no honours on his return. His behaviour up to and including his ordeal as a hostage fell well short of what London expected of its overseas emissaries. He was pensioned off as consul and died shortly afterwards, complaining bitterly of his treatment to the end. By contrast Rassam, the expendable Turk, was given much well-deserved praise. He was awarded a special payment of £45,000 for services rendered. (Blanc and Prideaux received £2,000 each.) Rassam married an Englishwoman and died peacefully in Brighton. Magner and Killbricken-born Bergin continued their service with the West Riding Regiment although the latter eventually joined the 78th Highlanders. He died at Poona in 1880. Magner died in 1897.

With the British gone from Abyssinia the Egyptians occupied the coastal regions while bloody anarchy and civil war reigned inland. Various overlords fought to fill the throne left vacant by the death of Tewodros. It culminated in the savage battle of Adowa in 1872, won by Kassai of Tigrai who was aided by modern arms bought from the British. He was crowned Emperor Vohannes IV. His seventeen-year reign was not peaceful and the country was carved up between himself and Menelik, King of the Shoa, who by common consent succeeded Vohannes on his death. Both men inflicted crushing defeats on the Egyptians, subdued the Gallas, and reinstated the conditions for religious tolerance. For a time tensions faded and mass slaughter ceased until the Italians appeared on the scene – but that is a twentieth-century tragedy.

Alamayu was treated as an honoured guest and was brought up as a young English gentleman. He was schooled on the Isle of Wight, in India, in Cheltenham and finally at Rugby. He was thoroughly unhappy with the rigours of public school life and his mood did not improve when he was sent to Sandhurst to train as an officer. He took ill and became convinced he was being poisoned. He refused all food and medical aid and on 14 November 1879 he died, a sad and lost nineteen-year-old.

The queen was ‘grieved and shocked’. A brass plaque was set in the wall of the Chapel Royal at Windsor. It reads: ‘Near this spot lies buried Alamayu, the son of Theodore, King of Abyssinia . . . He was a stranger and ye took him in.’

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