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The Abyssinian Expedition page 2

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The reader already knows what became of this remark able letter when it reached England. Consul Cameron - after expediting the letter to Massowah, whence it was conveyed to Aden, and home by the Indian mail steamer - turned aside to visit the district of Bogos, a little Abyssinian upland, nearly surrounded by the Egyptians and other Mussulmans of the plains. The Christians of Bogos had on some former occasion complained to the Consul at Massowah of ravages committed in their territory by the neighbouring tribes, and Captain Cameron wished to know whether things were now quiet there, and also whether there was any opening for trade. Mainly with this latter object, he next visited the Egyptian town of Kassala, and thence went to Matamma, a place just within the Abyssinian frontier. Here he remained a considerable time. Being taken ill at Matamma, he feared to return to Massowah across the arid and un healthy plains, but resolved to make his way back across Abyssinia. He arrived at Djenda, near the Lake of Dembea, in August, 1863, calculating that he would thus be in the country when the expected reply from England to the King's letter arrived. It appears that Theodore, who had become prone to suspicion, was offended when he heard that Consul Cameron had been at Kassala, among his mortal enemies the Egyptians; and his dissatisfaction, probably through the channel of Mr. Walker, the Vice-Consul at Massowah, had become known at the Foreign Office. Moreover, Lord Russell - who wrote soon after this to an English agent, that " he trusted that interference on behalf of a Christian country, as such, would never be the policy of the British Government " - entirely disapproved of the Consul's interesting himself in the Bogos people because they were Christians; his business was only to promote trade. Thus it happened that when, early in 1864, a young Irishman, named Kerans, whom Consul Cameron had appointed his secretary, arrived from England with despatches, Theodore, through the carelessness and incompetence of the Foreign Office, received no answer to his letter, while for the Consul there was only a despatch of a few lines, ordering him to return immediately to Massowah, and not to interfere any more in the internal affairs of Abyssinia. This letter was seen by Theodore, and enraged him greatly. He seems to have coupled it with the incident of the unanswered letter, and with the report that England had retired from the protection of Abyssinian Christians at Jerusalem,f and to have convinced himself that the Queen of England spurned his overtures and intended to abandon him to the encroaching and misbelieving Turks. Theodore had but one mode of retaliation open to him, and he adopted it. He seized Consul Cameron and all his suite ( January, 1864) and imprisoned them. There were two unfortunate missionaries, Stern and Rosenthal, already in confinement, charged with an offence which a vain and absolute ruler does not readily forgive. Stern had written a book on Abyssinia, passages in which reflected severely on Theodore's proceedings. This book had found its way out to Abyssinia, and translations of the offensive passages had been placed before his eyes. He at once ordered Stern to be flogged, and both missionaries to be kept close prisoners; they might consider themselves fortunate that their lives were spared. Soon after his arrest Cameron, together with Stern and Rosenthal, were tortured with ropes, with the view of extorting a confession of the names of the persons who had told the stories against the King in Stern's book. All three were shortly afterwards sent to the fortress at Magdala and put in irons.

Absolute power and sensual indulgence had; by this time turned Theodore's head, and many of his subsequent actions seem hardly to be those of a sane man. His cruelty, fickleness, and suspicion made his rule more and more intolerable to all his subjects. Rebellions were plotted in every province, and after a time broke out. Menilek, the young heir of Shoa, escaped from confinement, and, expelling Theodore's lieutenant, established himself as the independent ruler of that county. The chief Gobazye raised the standard of revolt in central Abyssinia, and one of his lieutenants, named Kâsa, a chief of the best blood of Tigré, rebelling against his principal, made himself independent in that province. The fabric of Theodore's Christian empire, ruined through his own degeneracy, was fast crumbling to pieces. Mean time, the news of Captain Cameron's imprisonment had caused a considerable sensation in England. There was now no British agent at Massowah, for Mr. Speedy, whom Cameron had left in charge of the Consulate there, had taken his departure for New Zealand in the beginning of 1864. The charge of Abyssinian affairs devolved upon Colonel Merewether, the Resident at Aden, an able and experienced officer, and he kept the Home Government fully informed of all that was passing. The Government resolved to send out a regular mission, bearing a letter, signed by the Queen, in answer to Theodore's long- neglected epistle, to demand the release of Cameron and the other captives. A Syrian, named Hormuzd Rassam, born at Mosul on the Tigris, who had passed some years in England in early life, had then been employed by Mr. Layard when carrying on excavations at Nineveh to manage his gang of native workmen, and had latterly been engaged in the diplomatic service at Aden under Colonel Merewether, was selected as the head of the mission. On some accounts an English officer of known standing, whether civil or military, would have been preferable; yet, on the other hand, Mr. Rassam's perfect knowledge of Arabic was greatly in his favour, and it is even possible that Theodore, in one of his fits of mad and drunken passion, might have subjected to yet worse treatment an envoy not so personally acceptable to him as Mr. Rassam undoubtedly was. To Rassam were added Dr. Blanc and Lieutenant Prideaux, two officers from the Bombay establishment.

The mission thus constituted, bearing the Queen's letter to Theodore, and presents of considerable value, arrived at Massowah in July, 1864, and immediately dispatched messengers to Theodore's camp, who should request permission to enter the country. For many months no answer came from Theodore, and the mission dragged on a miserable and undignified existence on the burning and fever-stricken shore of Massowah. Through a sort of back-stair intrigue - Rassam having ingratiated himself with the cousin of the chief steward of Theodore's household - a curt and ungracious permission was at last obtained from Theodore for the mission to proceed. The route indicated was by Matamma. Starting from Massowah on the 15th October, 1865, the mission reached Matamma on the 21st November. Here it was necessary again to communicate with the King, and a further delay of five weeks took place. At last a satisfactory letter was brought from the King, directing the mission to cross the frontier, and place itself under the guidance of the officials whom he would depute to conduct it to his presence. Leaving Matamma on the 28th December, and escorted by Theodore's servants through the country lying to the west of Lake Dembea into the fertile districts of Agow Meder and Damot, the mission arrived at the camp of Theodore on the 25th January, 1866. At that time the King was encamped at Ashfa, a village on the southern slope of Mount Geesh, the celebrated mountain - known to all the readers of Bruce's "Travels" - from which gushes the source of the Blue Nile.

Mr. Rassam's first interview with the King was on the 28th January, 1866. Theodore was in his tent, seated on a sofa, muffled up to the eyes in the common robe of the country, called a shamma. The Queen's letter of the 26th May, 1864, was presented by the envoy, and Theo dore received it graciously. He then entered upon the subject of his grievances. The cause of all the mischief, the prime offender, was the Abuna Salama, the Coptic Patriarch, who had told false and malicious stories about him to various Europeans. Against the missionaries he had a great deal to say, particularly against Mr. Stern, who had written and published in a book that his (Theo dore's) mother was a person of mean origin and calling; having been so informed by the Abuna. Against Mr. Cameron, besides the offence of never having brought him back an answer to his letter to the Queen (a piece of neglect for which Theodore, ignorant of the real offender, made the Consul responsible), he taxed him with having gone to visit his enemies the Turks and Egyptians, and been very friendly with them; and on one occasion, when he was at Kassala with the Pacha, with having brought the King and his army into contempt, by ordering his Abyssinian servants to imitate the war-dance of the royal troops. The King's story was, that only one of Mr. Cameron's servants could be induced to perform the dance, the sight of which made the Turks laugh; am7 they said, jeeringly, to the Abyssinians, " Is this the way the soldiers of your great King fight? " This story was told to the King by a discharged servant of Mr. Cameron's, named Ingada Wark, who had quarrelled with his master, and it is probably devoid of foundation. We give it here as a sample of the kind of insults and injuries over which the suspicious and wayward mind of Theodore was continually brooding, and of which Mr. Rassam's interesting report is full. It is also highly characteristic of the Abyssinians generally, who are extremely sensitive to gossip or calumny. Consul Plowden, in a report addressed to Lord Clarendon in 1854, after stating how hardened and indifferent the Abyssinians are about either committing or being taxed with any vice or crime, continues, " They are peculiarly sensitive, however, to ridicule and abuse, whether true or untrue; and half the time of an Abyssinian master is passed in deciding disputes on such subjects."

When the Queen's letter had been translated for him into Amharic, Theodore was much pleased with its contents. On the 29th January, he sent for Mr. Rassam, and told him, that for the sake of his friend the Queen of England, and in return for the trouble that he had taken in the matter of Consul Cameron, he was pleased to pardon all the European captives, and he had ordered their immediate release. He then ordered a scribe to read an Arabic translation of the letter which he had just written to the Queen, announcing the release of the captives. There is a touching humility, a childlike simplicity, in the tone of this letter, which, coming from one who so often appeared in the light of a bloodthirsty and capricious tyrant, afford a curious study of the complexities of human character. A day or two after, Mr. Rassam had another long conversation with the King. The misdeeds of Mr. Cameron again formed a prominent topic; and it is worth while to record a part of the King's indictment, because the language which he used on this occasion seems to cast a strong light on the actual sequence of feelings and ideas which influenced him in committing Cameron to prison. Theodore said that after he had written his famous letter to the Queen in the autumn of 1862, lie gave it to Consul Cameron, requesting that lie would take it down to the coast, and bring up an answer himself; that he gave him money for the journey, and ordered the chiefs of all the provinces between Gondar and Massowah to supply him and his followers with food, and treat him with respect and honour. What he chiefly wanted to effect by the letter was this - that since he had no navy of his own, the Queen should send a vessel to convey his ambassador to Suez, and should procure for him a safe conduct through Egypt. This was the meaning of the passage in his letter (ante, p. 310) where he expresses a wish that the Queen should "arrange for the safe passage of my ambassadors everywhere on the road." Instead of complying with his request, Mr. Cameron " had gone to play with the Turks " (this refers to the visit to Kassala), and after a long time came back to Gondar, but without an answer to his letter. Six months afterwards, Cameron sent him a letter, which he had received from his Government, and demanded his dismissal, that he might go down to Massowah. The King asked why he had re turned to Abyssinia if he wished to be at Massowah? Getting no satisfactory answer to this question, Theodore continued, " I sent and told him, by the power of God, you shall be detained in prison until I find out whether you are really the servant of the Queen." For why, Theodore would naturally argue, if he is indeed the servant of the Queen, has he not brought me long ere this an answer to my letter?

But the coming of Mr. Rassam, for whom Theodore, though he afterwards used him so roughly, seems to have conceived a genuine affection, appeared at first to have re moved all difficulties. It was arranged that the mission should travel to Korata, a beautiful village on the south eastern shore of Lake Dembea, and there await the arrival of the captives from Magdala; after which they should all leave the country together. For several days' march the mission accompanied the King and his army; but Theodore turned aside to Zagè, a place on the western shore of the lake, facing Korata across the water. Mr. Rassam reached Korata on the 14th February. A pro cession of a hundred priests came out to meet the envoy, and 'escorted him with distinguished honour to the quarters prepared for him. Some weeks elapsed, on almost every day in which the King sent a friendly message or letter to Rassam. The first indication of difficulty was on the 7th March, when the King wrote, " When the people [prisoners] reach you, we will consult;" that is, you shall not go home at once, as heretofore arranged, but the whole matter shall be reconsidered. The words filled Mr. Rassam with dismay. About the same time, a letter was delivered to the King from the traveller Dr. Beke, who had come out to Massowah, en closing a petition from the relations of Cameron, Stern, and several other captives, entreating the King to release them. Mr. Rassam feared, and the fear was probably well founded, that this officious action of Dr. Beke would perplex the King, and lead him to entertain doubts about the reality of Mr. Rassam's mission. That Beke's interference was merely the unauthorised act of an individual, was a notion that could not readily gain admission into the mind of an absolute monarch. He would naturally think, " Here has Rassam been giving himself out as a great man, and as invested with full powers to treat about the captives; but that cannot be so, else why should the Queen send out another envoy about the same business? Which is the pretender, and which is the true man?" Rassam tried in vain to make Dr. Beke see the prudence of abstaining from any interference in the difficult and delicate negotiation which was being carried on. For the King had now begun seriously to entertain the thought of detaining Rassam and his party till the envoy should have obtained for him from England a scientific man to teach his people the mechanical arts. He seems to have been haunted by the fear, that if lie once let the English captives go, relations between England and Abyssinia would thenceforth cease; and this he was determined to prevent, by fair means or foul. On the 12th March, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Stern, Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal, and eleven other captives, mostly Germans, arrived at Korata from Magdala. On the same day, the King wrote to Rassam, saying that he must have them all over to Zagè, and put them on their trial again. Rassam, however, obtained leave to try them at Korata; and, having gone through the forms of a mock trial, lie wrote to the King that " they all confessed that they had done wrong, and hoped that, as His Majesty had been good enough to re lease them for the sake of his friendship to their Queen, he would extend to them the forgiveness due from one Christian to another." It was thought prudent that the captives should thus confess themselves in the wrong, and throw themselves on the King's mercy; but the fabrication did no good, and probably would have been better left unattempted. Of course, Mr. Rassam remonstrated earnestly and long against the commission of so serious an offence against good faith and the comity of nations as the detention of the mission would involve. The King wavered. On the 25th March, he held separate consultations at Zagè, first with the German artisans, and afterwards with a body of Abyssinian chiefs, and pro pounded at each the question, Whether to detain Rassam or let him go? The chiefs and the artisans were equally unanimous in deciding that Rassam ought to be allowed to depart. Theodore was shaken, and yet he was not quite satisfied. He said that he " could not trust any European now, after the ill-behaviour of those whom he had treated like brothers." The pressure, however, seemed to be telling upon him, and he wrote to Rassam (April 8), desiring that he would come and pay him a farewell visit at Zagè " after the light of Easter," and bring Mr. Cameron and the other captives with him. This, however, Mr. Rassam - knowing the hatred which the King bore to Mr. Cameron and one or two others among the captives, and dreading lest the sight of them should re-awaken it, and bring them all into trouble - thought it more prudent not to do. He obtained the King's consent to leave them behind at Korata, with the understanding' that they were to start on a given day on their homeward journey, and himself proceeded to Zagè, on the 13th April, along with the other members of the mission. Unfortunately for them, Theodore for some time past had been drinking heavily, and the effect of this on his moody imagination and suspicious temper Was to fill his mind with a thousand preposterous apprehensions. He conceived the idea that Rassam had supplied, or meant to supply, his enemies, Cameron, Stern, and the others, with arms; that on his way down to the coast he would put arms in the hands of his revolted subjects, he made it a grievance that Rassam had not brought the captives to bid him farewell, in compliance with his first order, though he had himself afterwards acquiesced in their not being brought. The result of these drunken cogitations was a determination to detain the mission - at any rate, until by their means he should have obtained a supply of skilled artisans and machinery from England. When, therefore, Mr. Rassam with his two companions arrived at Zagè, to pay, as they supposed, their farewell visit, they experienced a reception which cannot be better described than in the words of one of them." We dismounted at the entrance of the royal enclosure, and, pre ceded by the Ras, walked towards a large house, lately erected as an adderasli, or banqueting-hall. As the Ras bowed to the ground at the door of this building, we naturally concluded that the King was inside, and fol lowed without suspicion. No sooner, however, had we crossed the threshold, than three sturdy fellows, all over six feet in height, pounced upon each of us; and while they pinioned our arms, our persons were diligently searched by others, doubtless for concealed weapons. While our uniforms were being partially dragged off in this unceremonious fashion, we had time to see that Theodore was not present in the hall, but" that it was filled by about 400 of his principal officers, all decked out in their silk and silver. The search concluded, we were forced along to the top of the hall, and directed to sit down." They were then subjected to a ridiculous examination, during which Theodore occupied the, for a king, undignified position of listening behind the door. While the interrogatory was going on, their boxes were opened, and all money and arms abstracted; their papers, how ever, were left untouched. The mock trial over, they were informed that Mr. Cameron and the other captives had been summoned to Zagè. Theodore, as it was after wards ascertained, had sent a trusty chief with a strong party to the first stage beyond Korata, with orders to arrest the Europeans on their arrival there, and bring them all £o Zagè. This order was punctually executed. Mr. Cameron and all his party - thus, after a brief gleam of liberty, consigned by the caprice of the barbarian monarch to a second term of captivity - were brought to Zagè two days after the arrest of Mr. Rassam.

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Pictures for The Abyssinian Expedition page 2

The Emperor Theodore
The Emperor Theodore >>>>
The Emperor Theodore treating a captive
The Emperor Theodore treating a captive >>>>
Map of Abyssinia
Map of Abyssinia >>>>
Putting the captives into irons
Putting the captives into irons >>>>
Sir Robert Napier
Sir Robert Napier >>>>
The Abyssinians at the river Beshilo
The Abyssinians at the river Beshilo >>>>
King Theodores house
King Theodores house >>>>
Interior of Magdala
Interior of Magdala >>>>
Church at Magdala
Church at Magdala >>>>

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