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Memorandum on the Loot from Maqdala

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SOURCE: http://www.ethioembassy.org.uk/fact%20file/a-z/Looted%20Treasure/Afromet%20Memorandum%20on%20the%20Loot%20from%20Maqdala.htm

Introduction

The Association for the Return of the Ethiopian Maqdala
Treasures (AFROMET), which was founded in Addis Ababa in
1999 to work for the return to Ethiopia of the loot unjustly taken
by British troops as a result of the Napier expedition of 1867-8,
wishes to recall the basic facts of this looting to the Culture,
Media and Sport Committee of the United Kingdom Parliament.

In doing so AFROMET wishes to emphasise that the looting of
Emperor Tewodros’s mountain fortress of Maqdala in 1868 can
in no way be justified in international law, and was therefore, we
believe, in fact an act of injustice. We would further emphasise
that the British looting of Maqdala involved the seizure of church
property in the possession of the Church of Madhane Alam, or
Saviour of the World, at Maqdala, and was therefore an act of
sacrilege.

We feel that the injustice committed by the British at Maqdala, like
other injustices of the past, must be repaired; and that this can be
effected only by full restitution to Ethiopia of all cultural objects
unjustly looted from the country. We feel, in the words of a British
lover of justice, that nothing is truly settled until it is settled justly.

We would further emphasise that the objects looted, crowns,
manuscripts, processional crosses, and tabots (or altar slabs), etc.,
were an integral part of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage, which, we
believe, must be returned to their true owners: the Ethiopian people.

We would further emphasise that, whatever was the situation in
the past, Ethiopia now possesses modern libraries and museums
fully capable of preserving the loot unjustly taken from Maqdala.

We would note that the principle of restoring the loot unjustly taken
from Ethiopia has, in a way, long been accepted by the British
Government, which over the years has returned two crowns, a
royal seal, and an important manuscript to Ethiopia. These acts of
restitution were effected, however, only on a piecemeal basis.
AFROMET by contrast demands total restitution as a long overdue
act of justice.

We reiterate that we are asking for this restitution, pure and simply,
as an act of justice, and feel that the people of Britain, faced by
the looting of their own cultural heritage, would rightly demand no
less.

History

We feel that to clarify the situation of the loot from Maqdala it
may be useful to chronicle the story, as follows:

I THE FALL OF MAQDALA

The British capture of Maqdala, Emperor Tewodros’s mountain
capital in north-west Ethiopia, took place on 13 April 1868,
immediately after the Ethiopian monarch committed suicide to
avoid falling into the hands of his enemies. The seizure of the
citadel was described by an Ethiopian royal chronicler, Alaqa
Walda Mariam, who, looking at the event from an Ethiopian point
of view, states that when “everything fell into the hands of the
English general… every [Ethiopian] soldier at Maqdala threw his
weapons over the precipice and went and grovelled before the
enemy”. Those who failed to throw away their arms were, he
claims, “considered as belligerents and many men thus perished”,
presumably at the hands of the victorious army.

Elaborating on this assertion, he declares that “the English troops
rivalled one another” in “shooting down” any Ethiopian seen
carrying spears or guns, and that “when anyone was seen taking
up a weapon he was shot”.

The above grim picture, it is only fair to say, finds no confirmation
in British official records which, on the other hand, do not,
however, provide any contradictory evidence.

II. THE LOOTING OF THE FORTRESS

The pillage, and subsequent destruction, of Maqdala is well
documented in contemporary British accounts. The geographer
Clements Markham, one of the leading British historians of the
Expedition, recalls that Napier’s men, on entering the citadel,
swarmed around the body of the deceased monarch. They then
“gave three cheers over it, as if it had been a dead fox and then
began to pull and tear the clothes to pieces until it was nearly
naked”. This account is corroborated by the Anglo-American
journalist Henry M. Stanley, who reports seeing a “mob,
indiscriminate of officers and men, rudely jostling each other in the
endeavour to get possession of a small piece of Theodore’s
blood-stained shirt. No guard was placed over the body until it
was naked”.

The troops, it is agreed by all observers, also seized whatever
valuables they could find in and around the citadel. Markham
records that they “dispersed” all over the mountain-top and that
the Emperor’s treasury was “soon entirely rifled”.

The nearby church of Madhane Alam, literally, the Saviour of the
World, or at least its eqa bet, or store house, was apparently
looted, though this action, constituting as it did a gross act of
sacrilege, is glossed over in the British accounts. It is, however,
evident that most of the many religious manuscripts, crosses, and
other ecclesiastical objects acquired by the British troops at
Maqdala could only have come from one or other of the its two
churches. Several Ethiopian manuscripts later brought to Britain
moreover contain tell-tale inscriptions to the effect that they
belonged to Madhane Alem Church, while a manuscript in the
Bodleian Library in Oxford, (M.S. Aeth. d. 1) bears a pencil note,
in English, stating that it was “taken from a church at Maqdala in
1868”, i.e. the year of the Expedition.

One of the tabots, or altar slabs, in the British Museum, is likewise
incised with the words “TABOTA MADHANA ALAM”, i.e.
Tabot of Madhane Alam.

The loot from Maqdala, according to Stanley, included “an infinite
variety of gold, and silver and brass crosses”, as well as “heaps of
parchment royally illuminated”, and many other articles which
were, before long, “scattered in infinite bewilderment and
confusion until they dotted the whole surface of the rocky citadel,
the slopes of the hill and the entire road to the [British] camp two
miles off”.

III. SIR RICHARD HOLMES

One of those present at this act of plunder was Richard, later Sir
Richard, Holmes, Assistant in the British Museum’s Department of
Manuscripts, who had been appointed the Expedition’s
“archaeologist”. He claimed in an official British Museum report
that the British flag had “not been waved …much more than ten
minutes” before he himself had entered the fort. Shortly
afterwards, at dusk, he met a British soldier, who was carrying the
crown of the Abun, i.e. the Head of the Ethiopian Church, and a
“solid gold chalice weighing at least 6lbs”. Holmes succeeded in
purchasing both for £4 Sterling. He was, on the same occasion,
also offered several large manuscripts, but declined them because
they were, he says, too heavy to carry!

The British military authorities, which, in accordance with the
custom of the day, saw no objection to the principle of plunder,
sought, however, to regularise it: to render the distribution of booty
“fairer”, and in effect to ensure that officers, and others with ample
funds, could acquire the lion’s share – at the expense of the
ordinary soldiers.

The loot from Maqdala was accordingly collected, on Napier’s
orders, for subsequent auction.

IV. THE BURNING OF MAQDALA

Steps were meanwhile taken by the British military authorities, on
the afternoon 17 April, entirely to destroy the city. Working parties,
according to a British officer, Captain Hozier, laid mines under the
gate and other defences, as well as Tewodros’s artillery, which
had been cast with great difficulty by the Emperor’s European

artisans. The fort was then blown up, together, Markham notes,
with an “an ill-fated cow”, who, unfortunately for her, happened to
be present at that moment. The Emperor’s palace and all other
buildings, including the church of Madhane Alam, were next set
on fire. The conflagration, Hozier reports, “spread quickly from
habitation to habitation and sent up a heavy cloud of dense smoke
which could be seen for many miles”.

The British troops then secured “good positions”, Stanley states,
“from whence the mighty conflagration …could be seen to
advantage”.

Describing the destruction of Tewodros’s capital in some detail,
Stanley continues:

“The easterly wind gradually grew stronger, fanning incipient
tongues of flame visible on the roofs of houses until they grew
larger under the skilful nursing and finally sprang aloft in crimson
jets, darting upward and then circling round on their centres as the
breeze played with them. A steady puff of wind levelled the
flaming tongues in a wave, and the jets became united into an
igneous lake!

“The heat became more and more intense; loaded pistols and guns,
 and shells thrown in by the British batteries, but which had not
been discharged, exploded with deafening reports… Three
thousand houses and a million combustible things were burning.
Not one house would have escaped destruction in the mighty ebb
and flow of that deluge of fire”.

V TWO-DAY AUCTION

The loot from Maqdala was then transported, on fifteen elephants
and almost two hundred mules, to the nearby Dalanta Plain. There,
on 20 and 21 April, the British military authorities held a two-day
auction to raise “prize-money” for the troops. “Bidders”, Stanley
states, “were not scarce for every officer and civilian desired some
souvenir”, among them “richly illuminated Bibles and manuscripts”.
Holmes, acting on behalf of the British Museum, was one of the
principal purchasers. Stanley describes him “in his full glory” for,
“armed with ample funds, he out-bid all in most things”. Colonel
Frazer, buying for a regimental mess “ran him hard”, and “when
anything belonging personally to Theodore was offered for sale,
there were private gentlemen who outbid both”.

This officially organised sale raised a total of £5,000, which assured
each enlisted man “a trifle over four dollars”.

VI BRITISH MUSEUM AND OTHER BRITISH LIBRARY
ACQUISITIONS

As a result of Holmes, the British Museum, now the British Library,
became the receiver of 350 Ethiopian manuscripts, many of them
finely illuminated.

A further six exceptionally beautiful specimens were acquired by
the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

Sir Robert Napier later presented another manuscript to the Royal
Library in Vienna, while two others reached the German Kaiser,
and a further two the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Almost two hundred other volumes were subsequently acquired by
the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Cambridge University Library, the
John Rylands Library in Manchester, and several smaller British
collections.

Several of these manuscripts contain extensive archival material,
including Tewodros’s tax records, which have been edited by
Professor Richard Pankhurst in his Tax Records and Inventories
of Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia (London, 1978), constitute data
essential for the study of Ethiopian history, including that of the
history of the country’s art.

The loot also included: two crowns, and a royal cap, all three
seemingly belonging to Tewodros, and his imperial seal; a golden
chalice, probably that mentioned in Holmes’s above-mentioned
report; ten tabots, or altar slabs, evidently looted from the churches
of Maqdala; a number of beautiful processional crosses, which
ended up at the South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria and
Albert Museum; two of the Emperor’s richly embroidered tents,
which are now in the Museum of Mankind, in London; and pieces
of the deceased monarch’s hair, some of it to be seen to this day in
the National Army Museum, also in London.

VII. THE INITIATIVE OF EMPEROR YOHANNES IV

Tewodros’s successor, Emperor Yohannes IV, was deeply
grieved by the loss of the treasures from Maqdala. Having no hope
of obtaining full restitution he wrote two letters, on 10 August 1872,
to Queen Victoria and the British Foreign Secretary, Earl Granville,
respectively. In them he requested the return of two items, a
manuscript and an icon. Both were considered of particular
importance. The manuscript was a Kebra Nagast, or “Glory of
Kings”, which, though not specified in his letter, was of especial
interest in that its end-papers contained “historical notices and
other documents” relating to the city of Aksum, as Dr Dieu of the
British Museum was later to note.

The icon was no less notable. Known in Ge‘ez as a Kwer’ata
Re‘esu, literally “Striking of His Head”, it was a representation of
Christ with the Crown of Thorns. This painting had, since at least
the seventeenth century, been taken by Ethiopian rulers and their
armies with them whenever they went on a major, or particularly
hazardous, campaign. This highly prized painting had been captured
by the Sudanese in the eighteenth century, but had later been
repurchased, on which occasion, the Scottish traveller and historian
James Bruce recalls, Gondar, the then Ethiopian capital, was
“drunk with joy”.

On receiving the two letters from Emperor Yohannes, the British
Government informed the British Museum that it would be a
“gracious and friendly act”, if it complied with the Ethiopian
request. The Museum authorities, on investigating the matter,
found that they possessed two copies of the Kebra Nagast, both
taken from Maqdala, and accordingly agreed to return one, in Dr
Dieu’s view the less interesting.

This manuscript is noteworthy in that it was the only acquisition of
the Museum ever to be restored to its former owners, and thus
sets an interesting precedent for the return of loot not only to
Ethiopia, but also to the Third World.

VIII. THE MISSING ICON

The icon, unlike the manuscript, could not be found. Queen
Victoria accordingly replied to Emperor Yohannes, on 18
December, declaring: “Of the picture we can discover no trace
whatever, and we do not think it can have been brought to
England”.

In this belief Her Majesty was, however, completely mistaken, for
the painting had been acquired by Holmes, who had kept it for
himself. Having some time later left the Museum’s service, he was
at that very moment none other than the Queen’s Librarian at
Windsor Castle.

His ownership of the painting was not, however, publicly
acknowledged until 1890, a year after Yohannes’s death; and it was
not until 1905 that a photograph of the icon was allowed to appear in
The Burlington Magazine, an art journal with which Holmes was
associated. The reproduction bore the revealing caption:

“Head of Christ formerly in the possession of King Theodore of
Abyssinia, now in the possession of Sir Richard Holmes,
K.C.V.O.”

By then, the request by Emperor Yohannes for the restitution of
the icon had, of course, long since been filed away!

IX. LADY MEUX

The most famous private collection of Ethiopian manuscripts from
Maqdala was that acquired by an English woman, Lady Valorie
Meux, who had several of them published in London, in facsimile
editions, with translations by Sir Ernest Wallis Budge. These
manuscripts were seen by Emperor Menilek’s envoy Ras
Makonnen, who had come to England, in 1902, for the Coronation
of King Edward VII. When the Ras saw these manuscripts, he
expressed great admiration, stating that he had “never seen any
such beautiful manuscripts” in his country, and declared that he
would “ask the Emperor to buy them back”.

Later towards the end her life, when Lady Meux made her Will,
on 23 January 1910, she bequeathed her Ethiopian manuscripts to
Emperor Menilek. The Times, reporting this, stated that “envoys
from the Emperor were sent over to arrange for their [the
manuscripts’] recovery, and it is believed that the present bequest
is the fulfilment of a promise then given”.

Lady Meux died on 20 December of the same year. Her Will
created a sensation, because a section of the British public
apparently pined for the manuscripts’ retention in England. An
article in The Times, of 7 February 1911, stated: “Many persons
interested in Oriental Christianity… will view with extreme regret
the decision of Lady Meux to send her valuable MSS once and for
all out of the country”.

The Will was thereupon overturned, on the grounds that Menilek
was dead when Lady Meux died. He did not in fact die until
December 1913, and in any case had heirs. Lady Meux’s intention
was, however, frustrated. Ethiopia was in a sense robbed a second
time – for the manuscripts were retained in England.

X. TWENTIETH CENTURY PIECEMEAL
RESTITUTION

The story of the loot from Maqdala came to the fore again several
times in the twentieth century, and will continue to do so, no doubt,
until restitution is finally made.

The British Government, though thus far apparently unwilling to
recognise what would now be considered the original immorality of
looting Tewodros’s capital, found it convenient, when suitable
occasions arose, to dole out a few articles of loot, almost as
articles of charity.

During the visit of Ras Tafari Makonnen, the future Emperor Haile
Sellassie, to Britain in 1924, the British Government thus arranged
to send the then Ethiopian ruler, Empress Zawditu, one of the
Tewodros’s two crowns. The one selected was silver-gilt, enabling
the Victoria and Albert Museum to retain the more valuable, gold
crown. Forty years later, at the end of Queen Elizabeth’s State visit to Ethiopia in 1965, the British
Government likewise arranged that Her Majesty should present
Emperor Haile Sellassie, with Tewodros’ royal cap and seal.

The time has come, it is widely believed, to consider the return of
the loot from Maqdala in its entirety, rather than to continue with
such haphazard acts of belated repatriation.

(The above account is based on Professor Pankhurst’s article
“The Napier Expedition and the Loot form Maqdala”, which
appeared in Presence Africaine (1985), Nos. 133-4, pp. 233-40.
The latter article contains full bibliographical references to all the
passages above quoted).

Conclusion

AFROMET urges the United Kingdom Parliamentary Committee
to recognise the elementary right of all peoples to struggle for the
restitution of their cultural property, no less than for their freedom,
when taken away from them by force.

We recall that the British Expedition against Emperor Tewodros of
Ethiopia in 1867-8 was accompanied by extensive looting of his
capital at Maqdala.

We observe that this loot comprised numerous items of major
historical and cultural importance for Ethiopia. They include over
350 Ethiopian manuscripts on parchment, many of them exquisitely
illustrated; two crowns, one of them of almost pure gold; an early
sixteenth century icon of Christ with the Crown of Thorns,
traditionally carried by Ethiopian monarchs on campaign;
Tewodros’s two royal tents; ten tabots, or holy altar slabs; and
many fine processional church crosses.

We affirm our conviction that, whatever the rights and wrongs of
the case, the dispute between Emperor Tewodros and the British
Government over a hundred and thirty years ago, in no way
justified Ethiopia’s permanent deprivation of her cultural property.

We declare further that inasmuch as the loot was largely the
property of Maqdala’s church of Madhane Alam, i.e. Saviour of
the World, it constituted not only an act of injustice, but also one of
sacrilege.

We note further that British Governments, while insisting on the
unjust retention of this loot, have long recognised the value of
restitution. On three occasions, over the last century and a half,
Britain, when wishing to purchase Ethiopia’s good-will, returned a
total of four items looted from Maqdala. We urge that such
piecemeal restitution for political ends should be replaced by the
return of all property looted from Maqdala, as an act of elementary
justice.

Our Association, which has held numerous meetings on the subject
in Addis Ababa, welcomes the initiative of the British Parliament in
establishing your Committee, and trusts that, after due deliberation,
your Committee will (1) recognise the injustice of the looting of
Maqdala in 1868; and (2) recommend the restitution to Ethiopia of
this loot.

Andreas Eshete (Professor) Chairman
Richard Pankhurst (Professor) Historian
AFROMET

 

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Written by Tseday

November 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Ethiopia seeks prince’s remains

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BBC News – June 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6716921.stm

Ethiopia’s president has sent Queen Elizabeth II a formal request for the remains of a prince who died in Britain more than a century ago.

The royal household at Windsor Castle, where Prince Alemayehu was buried, is said to be considering the request.

President Woldegiorgis Girma hopes the prince’s bones can be reburied for millennium celebrations in September.

Ethiopia has been waging a lively campaign to get back historic treasures looted during the last two centuries.

Father’s suicide

Its most striking success has been in recovering a massive stone obelisk from Axum, carried off to Rome by Mussolini’s army.

But the campaign now has a new impetus.

Ethiopia’s calendar is more than seven years behind that of the rest of the world – here, it is still 1999 and Ethiopians are planning to mark what they believe is the 2000 anniversary of the birth of Christ with big celebrations in September.

Now the Ethiopian president has put in a formal request for the return of the remains of Prince Alemayehu.

His father, the Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide after his defeat by the British at the Battle of Magdala in 1868.

The young boy was taken to Britain and sent to boarding school and officers’ training school at Sandhurst, but died at the age of 18.

He was buried at Windsor Castle, with Queen Victoria describing as “too sad” his short life and early death.

The Ethiopian embassy in London says Windsor is now considering their request.

The young prince was not the only thing the British took from Magdala – they reportedly needed 15 elephants and nearly 200 mules to carry away the treasures that Tewodros had accumulated.

Many of them are still in Britain and the Queen has some of them – notably six of the very finest illuminated manuscripts, which are part of the royal collection in Windsor Castle.

Written by Tseday

November 20, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Out of Africa: The stolen prince

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By Cahal Milmo and Emily Duggan
18 June 2007
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/out-of-africa-the-stolen-prince-453572.html

Amid the gothic splendour of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle there is a little-noticed brass plaque. Erected in memory of Prince Alemayehu Tewodros, it reads: “I was a stranger and ye took me in.”

The memorial plate and the skeletal remains that lie behind it are the only concrete traces of the tragic and extraordinary tale of a seven-year-old boy who became embroiled in what many believe was the greatest orgy of looting conducted in the name of the British Empire.

The child prince, the son of the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II, who has a claimed bloodline stretching back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was captured in April 1868 by the British Army, which conquered the ancient citadel of Magdala.

Alemayehu, a royal orphan, was transported to England to be educated as a gentleman. Along with him came so many looted treasures, including religious artefacts and 350 manuscripts, that it reportedly took 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry them from Magdala to the nearest sea port. The prince died barely a decade later of pleurisy and a broken heart, some 4,000 miles from his homeland, in Leeds. Among his mourners was Queen Victoria herself.

While the life of Alemayehu ranks as little more than a colonial-era curiosity in Britain, the events of 139 years ago are still keenly felt as an injustice in Ethiopia. The country, where European visitors are proudly reminded that it was never occupied for more than two years by a colonial power, has conducted a decades-long campaign for the return of the treasures. It recently celebrated the return of a 70ft obelisk from Italy.

These sentiments were resurrected two weeks ago when the country’s President, Wolde-Giorgis Girma, formally wrote to the Queen asking for the remains of Prince Alemayehu to be exhumed and returned to Ethiopia for burial in time for the country celebrating its millennium in September. Ethiopia operates according to the Ethiopic calendar, which runs seven years behind the Western Julian calendar and marks the new year in September. The year 2000 will therefore arrive on 12 September 2007.

The campaign was further underlined yesterday when a nine-year-old schoolboy of Ethiopian origin delivered a petition to Downing Street calling for the restitution of the Magdala artefacts, which are spread throughout institutions such as the British Library and British Museum and include six illuminated manuscripts held in the royal library at Windsor.

Gabriel Kassayie, who collected more than 100 signatures among his classmates at a primary school in Hampstead, north London, said: “I wanted to do something. I learned how the artefacts were stolen from my country and how attempts to get them back were prevented. I wanted to do this for my ancestors.”

Campaigners in Ethiopia argue that the epitaph to the prince in St George’s Chapel is laden with irony: Alemayehu was not so much taken in as spirited away. Although Queen Victoria took a personal interest in Alemayehu’s upbringing (reputedly paying his fees for Rugby School), they argue he was just as much of a “war trophy” as the gold crowns and altar pieces seized by the army of Sir Robert Napier, sent by the monarch to crush Emperor Tewodros in 1868.

Mulugeta Aserate, a second cousin of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, and a senior figure on the organising committee of the millennium celebrations, said the return of the remains for burial in a monastery in the northern city of Gondar would remove a blight on relations with Britain. He told The Independent: “The prince was a prisoner of war. Our relations with Britain are good and warm but the episode of Prince Alemayehu represents a dark side of that relationship.

“His return would be a cause for celebration here and what better time for it than this very African millennium of ours? He died in a foreign land but Alemayehu’s name has not been forgotten in Ethiopia.” It is a further irony that the capture of the prince has its roots in an ill-fated attempt by his father to foster strong relations with Britain. In the late 1860s, the Christian emperor had sought the help of Britain in trying to protect Ethiopia from the Ottoman Empire and Egypt.

When his entreaties went ignored and he imprisoned the British diplomatic mission, Napier inflicted a crushing defeat against his army on 10 April 1868 at Magdala, a fortified mountaintop in central Ethiopia.

Tewodros freed the prisoners and sent the British general a gift of cattle to be slaughtered for Easter Sunday two days’ later. When Napier replied with thanks, offering a safe conduct for Tewodros and his family, the emperor angrily rejected the overture and vowed never to be taken alive. After heavy bombardment, Tewodros committed suicide on Easter Monday, leaving the British to loot the palaces and churches and capture his young heir.

The American journalist Henry Morton Stanley who witnessed the aftermath of the battle, describe how the plunder covered “the whole surface of the rocky citadel, the slopes of the hill and the entire road to the [British] camp two miles off”.

The British insisted it had been the dying wish of Emperor Tewodros that his son and his mother, Queen Terunesh, be looked after by the victorious power.

Whatever the truth of this, the leaders of the expedition recognised the usefulness of the prince as a potential pawn in its efforts to expand British dominion in east Africa to Abyssinia, as Ethiopia was then known.

When Queen Terunesh died a month later on the journey from Magdala to the Red Sea, a British officer, Captain Tristram Speedy, was appointed as the guardian of the young boy.

Speedy, who was 6ft 6in and sported a bushy red beard, was a veteran of British campaigns from India to New Zealand. Speedy, a speaker of Amharic, the Ethiopian language, dismissed the prince’s tutor, Alaqa Zenneb, before beginning the sea voyage to Britain and it seems he rapidly formed a close bond with his new charge. In his journal, he described how a terrified Alemayehu refused to leave his side, day or night.

Speedy wrote: “The distressing alarm that then seized him rendered him so timid that for the following three months no persuasion could induce him to sleep out of my arms, so great was his terror that if he happened to wake and find me asleep, he would wake me and earnestly beg me to remain awake until he should fall asleep, and it was only by continued care and tenderness that he is gradually losing his timidity.”

There is no evidence that such comforting by the “gentle giant” officer was anything other than paternal. But it is fitting proof of how the Victorian empire builders saw their obligations towards a young boy considered a near divinity in Ethiopia.

Once in England, the heir of the King Solomon, shown in early photographs with the braided hair and elaborate costume of Abyssinian royalty, began his conversion into an English gentleman. He left the care of Speedy and his wife in 1871 and was sent to live with Dr Thomas Jex-Blake, the headmaster of Cheltenham College, who later was appointed to the same post at Rugby School.

Later pictures of the teenage prince, who was patronisingly recorded on his voyage to Britain as not having “the faintest notion” what to do with a knife and fork and had to be shown how to put marmalade on his toast, show him dressed in a tweed suit reading a heavy tome. Evidence suggests the photos were showing Alemayehu as something which he was not. Speedy recorded “he had no interest in his books and had an utter dislike for anything in that line” while his tutors at Rugby stated baldly: “Progress in study he will never make.” Instead, the prince was dispatched to Sandhurst Military Academy. He was no happier there. Despite frequently expressing a desire to return to Ethiopia, the government refused all his requests.

Dr Mandefro Belayneh, an Ethiopian academic researching the life of Alemayehu, said: “He didn’t have any friends or family to call on. There were letters coming from Abyssinia from his grandmother … and all the letters said, ‘When are you coming back? Your people are expecting you’. But I suspect these letters were never shown to him.”

The prince died in October 1879. His funeral was held in St George’s Chapel.

Buckingham Palace yesterday declined to comment on the request from President Girma. Ethiopian sources suggested that although the request was being considered favourably, there were potential problems with identifying the remains.

But arguably, the official verdict on Britain’s role in the life of Prince Alemayehu was delivered long ago. After his death, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary: “It is too sad. All alone in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him. His was no happy life.”

Written by Tseday

October 11, 2008 at 4:55 am