This is a photograph of a sad little boy, who was taken from his family, brought to England, only to die as a youth.
The boy in question was Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros, often referred to as HIH Prince Alemayehu or Alamayou of Ethiopia (23 April 1861 – 14 November 1879) who was the son of Emperor Tewodros II.
This carte de visite – which I have just bought – was produced by The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company of 54 Cheapside and 110 & 108 Regent Street. It must have been a fashionable establishment, since it boasts of being ‘photographers to HRH The Prince of Wales’.
As I reported before, in December 1867 Britain invaded Ethiopia on the orders of Queen Victoria. The aim was to put an end to Emperor Tewodros II, who had taken hostage a missionary and diplomats sent to free him. The campaign (which lasted from December 1867 – May 1868) was led by Sir Robert Napier.
The result was a vast punitive expedition, consisting of 13,000 British and Indian troops, reinforced by thousands of transport staff and camp followers, and including 44 trained Indian elephants.
Landing in Eritrea they made their way slowly through the Ethiopian highlands.
Finally they confronted the Emperor’s army at the fortress of Magdala, where the hostages were being held.
His forces defeated, Emperor Tewodros committed suicide rather than face the ignominy of imprisonment, with a pistol originally given him by Queen Victoria.
The young prince was taken to Britain, under the care of Captain Tristram Speedy an army officer with a knowledge of Ethiopia.
While staying at Speedy’s home on the Isle of Wight he was introduced to Queen Victoria at her home at Osborne House. She took a great interest in his life and education.
Alamayehu spent some time in India with Speedy and his wife, but the government decided he should be educated in England and he was sent to moved to Rugby School in 1875.
In 1878 he joined the officers’ training school at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, but he was not happy there and the following year went to Leeds, West Yorkshire, to stay with his old tutor Cyril Ransome. Within a week he had contracted pleurisy and died after six weeks of illness, despite the best efforts of a number of doctors.
Queen Victoria mentioned the death of the young prince in her diary, saying what a good and kind boy he had been and how sad it was that he should die so far from his family. She also mentioned how very unhappy the prince had been, and how conscious he was of people staring at him because of his colour.
Queen Victoria arranged for Alamayehu to be buried at Windsor Castle. The funeral took place on 21 November 1879, in the presence of Cyril Ransome, General Napier, and Captain Speedy. A brass plaque in the nave of St George’s chapel commemorates him and bears the words “I was a stranger and ye took me in”, but Alamayehu’s body is buried in a brick vault outside the chapel. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia arranged for second plaque commemorating the Prince to be placed in the chapel as well.
In 2007, the Ethiopian government requested the return of Alemayehu’s remains for reburial in Ethiopia.
President Girma Wolde-Giorgis, with the support of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, wrote to the Queen, asking for this to take place. In her response the Queen said that the prince’s remains had first been the chapel, then re-buried in the precinct of the chapel, along with nine others. Deciding to whom the individual the bones belonged to would be very difficult.
Richard Pankhurst, the well-known Ethiopianist, pointed out that the hair of Emperor Tewodros was in the British Army Museum, so it should be possible to find sufficient DNA to decide the matter. The Ethiopian government is willing to pay for the tests – despite the Prince being effectively a former Prisoner of War, but so far there has been no resolution of the issue.
As a result the remains of Prince Alemayehu lie in the ground in Britain, rather than in his homeland – Ethiopia.