The Prince and the Plunder

A book on how Britain took one boy and piles of treasures from Ethiopia

A 17th century manuscript taken to France then New York then sold on

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: Manuscript, probably 17th century, including discourses from the festivals of the angels Mikael and Rufael, and pictures of the virgin and Angels.

Where: One of five Ethiopian manuscripts in the collection of U.S. bibliographer, bibliophile and librarian Wilberforce Eames (1855-1937). They were put up for sale in 1905.

One of five Ethiopian manuscripts in the in the collection of bibliographer, bibliophile and librarian Wilberforce Eames. The manuscript is identified as from Magdala in Edgar J. Goodspeed’s 1904 paper Ethiopic Manuscripts from the Collection of Wilberforce Eames:

“A paper fly-leaf inside the first cover reports that the manuscript was part of the spoils taken after the overthrow of King Theodore, and was brought from Abyssinia to France by a French soldier who participated in the expedition against him. It doubtless came, like the great collection secured by the British Museum in 1868, from Magdala.”

A footnote gives the full note on the fly-leaf: “Ce manuscrit provient du colonel Gally-Passebosc, tué par les Canaques de la Nouvelle Calédonie, en 1878. Cet officier avait fait partie de l’expédition anglaise contre le roi Théodorus et il s’était emparé, lors de la défaite de ce prince, du tapis sur lequel il faisait ses prières, de son bouclier, et de ce manuscrit.”

[“This manuscript comes from Colonel Gally-Passebosc, killed by the Canaques of New Caledonia, in 1878. This officer had been part of the English expedition against King Theodorus and he had seized, during the defeat of this prince , the carpet on which he prayed, his shield, and this manuscript.”]

The footnote adds: “Other Ethiopic manuscripts secured at the same time were presented by this officer to the Bibliotheque nationale; cf. Zotenberg, Catalogue, No. 70, a manuscript once owned, like this one, by Kidana Maryam … This manuscript is noticed in Maisonneuve’s Oriental Catalogue, 6, No. 6569 (1881), AND 5, No. 6941 (1892).”

Three of the other manuscripts listed in the Wilberforce Eames collection could also have come from Ethiopia. A fifth is marked as from Jerusalem.

All five were put up for auction on Wednesday and Thursday, May 24 and 25 trough The Anderson Auction Company of 5 West 29th Street, New York. Here is the catalogue page. There are no details on who bought it.

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