The Prince and the Plunder

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

Tag: Unnamed buyer

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.

A silver-mounted Abyssinian kaskara and a machete

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What: A kaskara sword marked “Magdala 13th April 1868”, etched on one side with the Abyssinian crowned lion and on the other with maker’s initials ‘G.G’, and a machete

Where: Auctioned to unnamed buyer at Christie’s, London on 16 July 2003 for £502.

The Christie’s catalogue entry reads: “The first with straight double-edged European blade (some surface pitting) with two fullers on each face etched with scrolls and strapwork, the ricasso etched on one side with the Abyssinian crowned lion and on the other with maker’s initials ‘G.G’, silver quillons of diamond section swelling at the tips, plain ivory grip inlaid on one side with a silver ‘tau’ cross and with silver collars, and reeded cylindrical silver pommel, in its original tooled red leather scabbard with silver mounts including central band engraved ‘Magdala 13th April 1868’; the second entirely of brass with curved single-edged blade inlaid in silver on one side ‘LEG.XXII.’, and with a silver coin of the Roman Emperor Postumus inset in the brass pommel
29¼in. (74.2cm.) and 21¼in. (54cm.) blades (2)

The Bonhams sewing box

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What: A sewing box inscribed ‘Abyssinia 1867’, possibly a diplomatic gift, sold for £305 by Bonhams on 14 Dec 2005.

Where: Last in the hands of an unnamed buyer

The auction page, which has two pictures, describes: “A mid-19th century French ivory necessaire of rectangular curved end form, the lid engraved and black filled with a crest, motto and inscription ‘Abyssinia 1867’, the interior with a full complement of silver gilt tools, comprising; stiletto, bodkin, scissors, needlecase and thimble, all with matching dot engraved decoration, case 10.5 x 5.5cm.”

A footnote says: “Baron Napier of Magdala was appointed in May 1867 to command the British expedition to Abyssinia, however, the motto here is not his, but that of two other members of the family, namely Kilmachew and West Shandon of Dumbartonshire.”

Lot 729
Sale 14 Dec 2005, 10:00 GMT at Bonhams, Knowle

The Bonhams drinking horn ‘taken from Magdala’

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What: Horn, said to belong to Tewodros, later mounted in silver, engraved and turned into a pitcher

Where: Last in the hands of an unnamed buyer who paid £2,125 for it at Bonhams,in London in January 2017

According to the sale details, which include two photos:

the horn has a cover inscribed: “THE DRINKING HORN OF KING THEODORE’S WAS TAKEN FROM MAGDALA by Lieut C M Davidson ADJUTANT 4TH KINGS OWN ROYAL REGIMENT 13th April 1868”. There is a shied on the front inscribed: “TO Lieut Colonel Edmond A Shuldham OF COOLKELURE FROM HIS FRIEND Capt C M Davidson”.

There is a footnote saying Christopher Middlemass Davidson and Edmond Anderson Shuldham are linked through the South Cork Militia. It adds:

“Christopher Middlemass Davidson was born June 5th 1843 and became Ensign by purchase in the 4th Foot in Feb 1862. As Lieut. and Adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 4th Foot, he participated in the Abyssinian Campaign. He saw action at Arogee and was in the forefront in the Capture of Magdala. In 1869 he became Regimental Instructor of Musketry and with promotion to Captain in 1875 transferred to the 104th Foot. He served as Adjutant of the South Cork Militia from 1878 to 1881. In 1881 he was promoted to Major and retired from the Royal Munster Fusiliers as Lieut. Colonel in 1882. In 1889 Lt. Col. Davidson became a Gentleman at Arms. He served in the sovereign’s bodyguard under Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V. He was awarded the 4th Class MVO in 1921 and died April 6th 1922.”

Lot 72
Maker’s mark: WH, London 1879
Height 26.7cm
Sold for £ 2,125 inc. premium
The Gentleman’s Library Sale
19 Jan 2017, 10:00 GMT


The Christies horn cup ‘taken at the storming of Magdala’

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What: Horn cup, said to belong to Emperor Tewodros, taken by Captain Thomson during the storming of Magdala, sold via Christies in April 2014

Where: Last in the hands of an unnamed buyer

The auction page has a picture of the cup and describes it as “a white metal mounted buffalo horn cup”. It is unclear who added the metal mounting.


Lot 284
Sale 5953
Robert Kime, David Bedale, Piers von Westenholz and Christopher Gibbs – The English Home, 30 April 2014, London, South Kensington
Sold for £812
Estimate £600 – £900
13 in. (33 cm.) high; 6 in. (15.2 cm.) diameter