The Prince and the Plunder

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

The Emperor’s amulet

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: The Amulet which Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia was wearing on 13 April 1868, the day of his dramatic suicide at Maqdala, returned to Ethiopia on 28 September 2002

Where: The Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa

The emperor’s amulet

Its story is told in this article by Richard Pankhurst, originally published in The Addis Tribune 08 November 2002:

‘The Secret of Emperor Tewodros’s Amulet

By Richard Pankhurst

It is now possible to piece together the greater part of the Amulet story. To do so we must however begin by going over part of the ground touched upon in these columns in the last two weeks.

The Suicide

Tewodros, rather than fall into the hands of his enemies, committed suicide, we would recall, on 13 April 1868. Lifting his pistol to his mouth he fired it, and fell down dead, thereby gaining a unique posittion in his country’s history. Within only a matter of moments British soldiers rushed into the citadel.

The British seizure of the fortress was followed, as we have seen, by extensive looting. Clements Markham, one of the leading British historians of the campaign, notes in his “History of the Abyssinian Expedition”, p. 359, that, immediately after the capture of the fortress, “the troops dispersed over the amba in search of plunder”.

Another eye-witness, the American writer Henry Stanley, writing of the loot in his book “Coomassie and Magdala”, pp. 457-9, observes: “There was an infinite variety of gold, and silver, and brass crosses… heaps of parchment royally illuminated; stacks of bibles; missals, and numberless albums… Over a space growing more and more extended in infinite bewilderment until they dotted the whole surface of the rocky citadel, the slopes of the hill, and the entire camp two miles off”.

Tewodros’s body

The British troops had by then found Tewodros’s body. This is reported by Markham, who recalls (p. 353) that “a crowd [of soldiers] came round the body, gave three cheers over it, as if it had been that of a dead fox, and then began to cut and tear the clothes to pieces until it was nearly naked”.

The above account is confirmed by Stanley. He reports (p. 459) seeing a “mob… of officers and men, rudely jostling each other in the endeavour to get possession of a small piece of Theodore’s blood-stained shirt”.

Sapper Bailey

Tewodros, in accordance with Ethiopian tradition, was wearing an Amulet round his neck when he died. This too was looted – by a certain Sapper Henry Bailey of the Tenth Regiment of the British Royal Engineers.

Sapper Bailey, we know for certain, was one of the first to enter the fortress of Maqdala. This is evident from a statement by his commanding officer, Major Pritchard, which appeared in the London Times, of 11 July, 1868. Thus quotes the major as stating that Bailey was “one of the first on the wall of Magdala”.

This caught the notice of the local press. Bailey was a Notting Hill man, so the Bayswater Chronicle, of 18 July, carried the following report:

“One of the HEROES OF MAGDALA – We understand that Henry Bailey, Sapper, 10th. Company Royal Engineers, who so nobly rushed off into Magdala and planted the British flag in that fortress was honourably mentioned in the despatches of Sir R. Napier, and whose name was read out on parade at Brompton barracks, Chatham, on Friday, July 10th., is the nephew of Mr. Dunford, superintendent to the late volunteer Fire Brigade of Notting-hill”.

The Amulet

Bailey, as one of the first to enter the fort, was, not surprisingly, one of the first to come across Tewodros’s body. This enabled him, as we now know, to snatch the deceased monarch’s Amulet.

Bailey certifies this in a note which he subsequently affixed to the still card on which the amulet was pasted. His statement reads as follows:

Tewodros’s Amulet

“I hereby certify that this charm was taken from the neck of King Theodore on the 12th. [a mistake for 13th.] of April 1868, as he lay dead inside the gates of Magdala by me. Henry Bailey, Sapper, 10th. Compy. R.E.” [i.e. 10th. Company Royal Engineers]

Bailey had, however, apparently no interest in keeping the “charm” as he called it. He accordingly gave it to his uncle, Mr. C.W. Dunford, who lived nearby at Sudbury Road, Notting Hill. This he did on 5 August, as certified by another note he attached to the amulet. It reads: “Presented to me by Mr. C.W. Dunford of Sudbury Road, Bayswater, on the 5th. August 1968. Henry Bailey, Sapper, 10th. company R.E”.

The Amulet Lost to View

Tewodros’s Amulet, like much else of the loot from Maqdala, then disappears from view. It is apparently not hear for an entire century – until 1968, when the present writer published a photograph of it with a brief note in Ethiopia Observer, Volume 6, Number 3, p. 291.

This publication of the above article has thus far not been noted on the press.

The Anonymous Donor

The Amulet’s then owner was firmly convinced that the Amulet should be returned to Ethiopia – at an appropriate moment, when its return could contribute to the wider cause of the restitution of Ethiopia’s looted heritage. That time came with the establishment, in 2000, of AFROMET: the Association for the Return of Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures; and the subsequent return, in 2002, of the Tabot most fortuitously discovered, and returned, by the Rev. John McLuckie of Edinburgh.

The present writer accordingly repatriated the Amulet, on behalf of the anonymous donor, at the end of September of this year.

AFROMET gave the Amulet’s return its full support, and organised an important and well-attended Press Conference, which was held at the Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, on Saturday 2 November at 10am. The event was introduced by AFROMET Vice-Chair Ato Tafari Wossen, and featured an exhibition on Maqdala organised by AFROMET-member artist Zeryehun Yetemgata. Professor Andreas Eshete, the Association’s Chair, began by explaining the aims and objectives, as well as the history, of AFROMET, and paid tribute to the importance of the return of the Tabot from Scotland, after which Mr. Tony Hickey read out a message of support from the Rev. John McLuckie of AFROMET-UK.

The New IES Library

The present writer thereupon related the story of the loot from Maqdala, and of the Amulet, and emphasised the importance of building the new IES Library. AFROMET-member Ato Hailu Habtu then read out the Ge’ez text of the Amulet, presented a provisional English translation of it, and explained that the document revealed that Tewodros’s christening or baptismal name had been Sarsa Dengel.

After this Professor Andreas presented the historic artifact to the Professor Baye Yimam, the Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. This gift was conceived as AFROMET’s contribution to the Institute’s New Library Project which is now actively underway.

Professor Baye Yimam, in receiving the gift from AFROMET, emphasised the historic importance of the Amulet, and observed that through it we felt that we were almost in Tewodros’s presence.

William Gladstone

All this cannot but remind us of the discussion in the British House of Commons, on 30 June 1871, when the great British statesman, William Gladstone, commenting on loot taken from Maqdala, observed, as quoted in “Hansard”:

“He deeply regretted that those articles were ever brought from Abyssinia, and could not conceive why they were so brought. They [the British people] were never at war with Abyssinia… he [Gladstone] deeply lamented, for the sake of all concerned, that those articles, to us insignificant, though to the Abyssinians probably sacred and imposing symbols, or at least hallowed by association, were thought fit to be brought away by the British army”.

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