AFROMET – The Association for the Return of The Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures – is an international organisation dedicated to retrieving priceless treasures looted during the British invasion of the country in 1867-8.
The British Government has already resisted one attempt to restore this gold crown to Ethiopia in 1923.
Captain W. Goodfellow of the Royal Engineers made some quick excavations in Adulis (in modern day Eritrea) in the aftermath of the seige, from May 28 to June 9 1868. He sent two cases of fragments home including “a bas-relief representing a cross”, suggesting an early Christian site.
British Library manuscripts (349)
Maqdala manuscripts make up almost half of the British Library’s collection of Ethiopian parchments. They were originally stored in the British Museum Library which was recently incorporated into the British Library.
A ceremonial drum was seized at Maqdala and sliced into three pieces, so that it could be handed out as battle honours to three regiments involved in the raid. The present day descendants of those regiments have refused to return the drum pieces, despite appeals.
Edinburgh University’s manuscripts (5)
Edinburgh University Library has 11 manuscripts written in Amharic or Ge’ez. Three of them are positively linked with Maqdala in the catalogue. Two others are dated from the same era.
Edinburgh’s torn manuscript
This double page was torn out of a manuscript of the Miracles of Mary, found in one of the churches at Maqdala. The page, which is beautifully illuminated on both sides, is listed as a “fragment” and kept in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The Duke of Wellington’s Regimental museum has a number of smaller items from Maqdala in its collection. They include a fly-whisk with a ram’s horn for a handle, an ammunition belt, complete with powder and shot, and a sword.
John Irving’s loot
Ensign John Beaufin Irving, of the 4th King’s Own regiment, reportedly broke into Maqdala single-handedly on the eve of the final battle. According to regimental accounts, he emerged with “some sacred vessels and a manuscript”. Apparently his family still has “various trophies of the campaign”.
Kwerata Reesu Icon
This painting, showing Jesus Christ looking downward, was taken from Maqdala by Sir Richard Holmes, representative of the British Museum on the expedition. He did not disclose his acquisition during his lifetime. The Kwerata Reesu, purchased in London in 1950, is now the property of a Portuguese collector who wishes to remain anonymous.
Manchester’s manuscripts (42)
Manchester’s John Rylands University Library picked up 42 Maqdala manuscripts in 1901 when it bought a private collection of papers owned by the 26th Earl of Crawford, James Ludovic Lindsay.
Panel of tablet-woven silk
This ecclesiastical cloth, part of a triptych that would have screened off the inner sanctum of a church, is currently on display as part of the British Museum’s African collection.
Henry M. Stanley, on the verge of a career as an African explorer, was at Maqdala, working as a journalist. After the fall, he boasted of acquiring a shield, a “royal cap”, part of Emperor Theodore’s tent and a decorated, be-jeweled saddle.
A processional cross taken at Maqdala is currently kept at the Norman church of St Nicholas, in Studland, in the English county of Dorset. According to one report, the church rector at the time obtained permission from Emperor Haile Selassie to keep it.
Ta’amra Maryam, 33 Miracles of the Virgin Mary and Document concerning a conciliation
This combined manuscript went on a remarkable journey after it was taken by a British soldier at the battle of Maqdala. The soldier sold it, along with a number of other Maqdala papers, to London’s Quaritch bookstore, a dealer in antique manuscripts. The British Museum looked into buying it but was in effect outbid by Lady Meux, a flambouyant figure in Victorian London, known for her collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts. She left it to the descendants of Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia, in her will.
The British Museum currently holds nine tabots taken in the aftermath of the battle of Magdala. Given the sacred nature of the tabots, Museum staff have promised never to put them on display. The gesture is appreciated. But it raises the question of why the Museum is insisting on holding on to exhibits that it can never show.
Windsor Castle manuscripts (6)
Six magnificently illustrated ecclesiastical manuscripts from Maqdala are currently part of the Queen of England’s personal collection in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle.
One of at least 11 Tabots (consecrated altar slabs) seized at Maqdala by British soldiers. This one was taken by a Captain Arbuthnot of the 14th Hussars who may have been an Aide de Camp to General Napier, the leader of the expedition. On return to Britain, recognising the religious significance of the artefact, he presented the Tabot to St. John’s Episcopal Church at the west end of Princes Street in Edinburgh.
Psalms of David
This hand-written copy of the Psalms of David was put up for sale in Maggs bookdealers, Mayfair, London by a private collector. Members of AROMET UK spotted it, raised £750 to buy it, and sent it back to Addis Ababa in the safe hands of Dr Richard Pankhurst in September 2003.
Tewodros’s ‘barbaric’ crown
The British Governemt agreed to return this Maqdala crown to Ethiopia during a state visit by Ras Tafari Makonnen (the future Emperor Haile Sellassie, who was then Regent and Heir to the Throne) in 1923.