The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Victoria by the Grace of God... A letter to Yohannis IV of Ethiopia

Elizabeth M. Zobel

published 1988

"Victoria , by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, & c; to our friend the King of Kings of Ethiopia, Johannes."

A document bearing this salutation was donated in 1983 to the Department of Manuscripts of the British Library by Dr. Hertha Zlabinger of Vienna, Austria. Its long, adventurous journey had come to an end. Cleaned, restored to its full colours and preserved under glass, it now presents, apart from its historical value, a splendid example of communication by the Foreign Office in the Victorian era.

The carefully hand lettered text (the Queen would not read print) (1) is bordered by colourful garlands. They wind their way to the top toward the emblems of the British Empire: the Royal Arms, flanked by the Union Flag and other banners.

The lines of a double fold, crosswise and lengthwise, are noticeable on the surface of the letter. It was stored in this way. The folds might stem from the time it was presented to the King in an ornate envelope. In 1884 Yohannis received a similar letter from the Queen through Admiral Hewett. "A most gorgeous document," writes A.B. Wylde, "however, in good taste, and the envelope was in velvet worked with gold thread." (2)

Queen Victoria and the Marquis of Salisbury, her then Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, signed the letter. The day of "August in the year of our Lord" is missing. However, in Accounts and Papers, where the letter is reproduced, the date reads: "the 11th day of August." (3)

The document was forwarded on 12th August by the Marquis of Salisbury to Mr. Gerald Portal in Cairo with instructions: "You should make the best arrangements you can for the safe transmission of the original letter and the translation to King John.... It would probably be better that he (the messenger) should be an Abyssinian, if a trustworthy one can be retained, at all events not a European." (4)

The gay, flowery splendour of this document contrasts with its important, serious mission: to prevent further outbreak of hostilities between the Italian Kingdom and Ethiopia after the events of Dogali.

The battle of Dogali - its centenary was commemorated in 1987 - was not planned warfare. It was a violent reaction, unfortunate but understandable, to yet another evidence of encroachment of Ethiopian territory by the Kingdom of Italy. Two contemporaries, Gerald H. Portal and Augustus B. Wylde, both British Foreign Service Officers, have given us accounts of the battle.

Portal reports in his book My Mission to Abyssinia that Ras Alula, the Abyssinian chief and King Yohannis' trusted general, had returned from an expedition directed against a concentration of dervishes near Kassala. His campaign had ended in victory but with an immense loss of life. The troops could not safely occupy Kassala. Retreating empty-handed with his army, he encountered the Italians in possession of Sahati, a watering place for caravans. His assault of the fort ended in failure. The next day a small reinforcement of 480 Italian soldiers was sent to relieve the garrison of Sahati. Enraged by the sight of these troops on Abyssinian ground, the General gave orders to attack. His army all but wiped out the entire battalion. 10,000 Abyssinian soldiers attacked and massacred 450 Italians, reported the dazed survivors of the battalion. The King was informed by Ras Alula that 5,000 Abyssinians had attacked 5,000 Italians.

"This battle or rather massacre of Dogali" observes Portal "may be looked upon as the beginning of all Italian troubles on the Red Sea coast, and in what is now called in Italy the colony of Eritrea. Few people could foresee how far-reaching would be its consequences, or how much it would eventually cost the already overburdened tax payer of Italy, but even at the moment it was impossible, while admiring the courage shown by Italian soldiers, to avoid criticising the rashness and overconfidence which allowed this half battalion to be caught in a veritable rat-trap. It is the old, old story - contempt of a gallant enemy because his skin happens to be chocolate or brown or black and because his men have not gone through orthodox courses in field firing, battalion drill or autumn manoeuvres." (5)

Portal tried to be objective in his observations despite a perilous and unsuccessful mission to King John. ("It was based on asking King John to sue for peace instead of coming to an amicable agreement with Italy," reports A.B. Wylde.) Gerald Portal was attached to the agency of the British Empire in Cairo whose Consul General, Sir Evelyn Baring, was a brilliant administrator in Egypt but had little use for the oriental mind which he called "slipshod". (6) It was well known to King Yohannis that Sir Evelyn Baring backed the Italians.

Augustus B. Wylde, a frequent visitor to Ethiopia, was respected by King Yohannis and a friend of Ras Alula. Yet, despite his attachment to this country, he also tried to give an impartial account of the battle of Dogali:

"As soon as the Italians considered they were strong enough to make a forward movement towards Abyssinia, they started from the land side, and seized Sahati and erected a small redoubt on the high land commanding the water supply for the caravans... Ras Alula had at that time left Asmara, his headquarters, for the Basen country, in the direction of Kassala to punish the dervishes for raiding the Dembala provinces. On hearing the news of the Italian advance he returned to Asmara and informed the Italian officials that they were infringing the treaty between Abyssinia, Egypt and England and that any further movement of troops toward Sahati would be considered a hostile action and would be treated accordingly. He pointed out that the redoubt was built on high land and could only be used for one purpose, namely Abyssinia.

"The answer to this letter was the strengthening of the redoubt and an increased garrison. Ras Alula then advanced to Ginda and the Aislet plain just above Sahati and on the dispatch of a strong body of troops from Massowah to Sahati, the Ras having learned of their departure from spies, and before they could arrive at the fortification they had erected, he attacked them at Dogali...and entirely defeated them, a very few and those nearly all wounded, getting back to Massowah. The Abyssinians as customary mutilated their dead, which created indignation at the time...

"There were faults at both sides," comments Wylde, "according to our English treaty with Abyssinia, the Italians had no right to go on high ground round Sahati and fortify it, nor did they justify their advances which they could easily have done by saying it was a defensive measure against the dervishes; and Ras Aloula was in the wrong for going farther than Sahati and attacking the Italians in their zone, but no general in any part of the world, would allow neutral territory to be occupied and fortified without doing what he could to prevent his enemy from seizing and erecting fortifications on a strategic position that did not belong to him." (7)

Wylde served with the India Administration, a government agency which took over the East India Company in 1858. Unlike the British government agency in Cairo, which was of more recent origin, the India Administration exhibited a much more seasoned approach in dealing with native populations and their sovereigns.

Almost five months had elapsed after the debacle of Dogali when a letter from King Yohannis to Queen Victoria arrived at the British Embassy In Paris. "It has been left," reports Viscount Lyon in a dispatch to the Marquis of Salisbury, "at this embassy by M.F. Soumaque, who describes himself as Consul Honoraire and Vice Consul de France at Massowah." (8)

It might have been King Yohannis' suspicion of Sir Evelyn Baring that made him entrust this letter to one of the foreigners - who were known to stay at the court - instead of sending it by messenger to Cairo. They might also have advised the King to contact the Queen and tell his side of the story.

Judging from the reproduction of an earlier letter to the Queen, King Yohannis' letters were penned in Amharic characters without attention to layout let alone ornament. Only the opening: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Grace of God, Johannes, King...," indicated the royal origin of the letter. The King, who was an absolute monarch, was assisted in his task only by his secretary, his scribes and his interpreters at the court.

In his letter King Yohannis airs his grievances about the agreement that was broken (the treaty between Great Britain, Egypt and Abyssinia). He had fulfilled his obligations at great sacrifice, while the promises made to the Abyssinians were not kept. "Since then," writes the King, "a man came from the Italians as a friend, writing affectionate letters, and some presents to spy out my country, but when at last he came where the Egyptians had been, he said, "We shall occupy this". Then I said, "What have you to do with my country?" Therefore they came by force and made in two places forts and stopped there. Ras Aloula went down to enquire, "What business have you to do with my own country?" The Italian chief gave an order to prepare to meet him, and fought with him.

Now I write to you that you may see if there is anything wrong done by me...

Now then, if it is with your permission that the Italians have come, send me a message, but if they have come by force God will be the weaker (sic.)

Written in the town of Mekelleh, the 30 of February 1887." (9)

To better appreciate the origin the smouldering hostility that flared up with the occupation of Sahati, it is necessary to become acquainted with the background of the country, its people and the development of colonisation in East Africa due to technical progress.

The Kingdom of Ethiopia, "The Amharic Bastion", a country that existed as a nation for over 2,000 years, is located on a fertile plateau without an immediate outlet to the sea. This enabled it to preserve much of its original character. Because of its secluded location, it attracted the curiosity of explorers and navigators ever since antiquity. "These Ethiopians are the tallest of all people we know" writes Scylax, a mariner in the service of the Persian emperor Darius (sixth century BC) in one of his travelogues "(they are) greater than four cubits, some are five cubits (seven and a half to ten feet) and they wear a beard and long hair and are the handsomest of all people." (10)

Having been converted by St. Frumentius, Ethiopia was known as an outpost of Christianity during the time of the crusades. Tales about the mysterious Prester John stirred the imagination of the kings and emperors in search of an ally in their fight against the "infidels", the Moslems. King John of Portugal even sent an emissary who remained at the court and opened the way to the Portuguese whose influence lasted until the seventeenth century, only to be replaced by the Arab Emirates. It was via the Arab Emirates that the British East India Company dealt with Ethiopia. In 1841 they sent captain Cornwall Harris on a mission to Ethiopia which had remained unchanged and undeveloped. His visit to King Sahla Selassie proved successful.

The development of the steamship in the first half of the nineteenth century attracted the attention of the European powers to Africa. It was the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 that made the Red Sea littoral and with it Ethiopia accessible and vulnerable.

In the meantime King Theodore had ascended to the throne of Ethiopia. He was "the first of these emperors through whose efforts the empire in its modern form came into being." (11) But during the later part of his reign reports reached Europe and India of the imprisonment of the British Consul, members of his staff and missionaries.

The news prompted the House of Commons to vote £2,000,000 for an expedition to Ethiopia. Outfitted by the India Administration and under the command of General (Sir Robert) Napier, the expedition defeated Theodore's army at Magdala. Theodore committed suicide. General Napier appointed the supportive Prince Kassai of Tigre to rule the Empire. "The Abyssinians were pleased with Lord Napier's expedition, deeply impressed with the determination, honesty and dis-interestedness of a nation" writes G. H. Portal. (12)

Though Napier's advice was respected, it was not listened to. Abyssinia was ignored for the next sixteen years.

King Yohannis, crowned in Aksum, never forgot that he owed the throne to the British. He, the protagonist in this drama, shared his part with no one. Alone he faced the gigantic apparatus of the British Foreign Office, he took on the emissaries from the Italian Kingdom, the Egyptians, the Mahdis and King Menelik of Shoa (who conspired with the Italians). European agents were found at the court of the King. Yet the influence of the British outweighed that of any other power. King Yohannis was said to listen to advice. "His reign was conservative, for he represented the old aristocratic and religious Ethiopia." (13)

Yohannis IV was a Christian King, an ardent religious reformer. His zeal to convert Moslems of his country to Christianity resembles the fervour of the eighth century King Charlemagne, who forced the Saxons to be baptized. In Yohannis' kingdom adultery was punished by death. "No women are allowed within three hundred yards of his palace," reports General Gordon after a visit to the King. "and he cuts off the lips of the smokers and the noses of the snuffers." (14) "Yohannis was not as cruel," corrects A.B. Wylde, "he did not like the smell, of tobacco and slightly scarred the noses and lips of those who used it in his presence or near him. Until the slight wound healed they could not use tobacco." (15)

To General Gordon King Yohannis and the Ethiopians were anathema. "I have seen many people," writes Gordon "but I have never met with a more fierce and savage set than these!" (16) General Gordon, a great success in the Crimea and in China - where he led a troop of 2,500 peasants - never understood East Africa, a fact that became his undoing. Unaware of General Gordon's feelings, King Yohannis respected him.

The second in command in Ethiopia was Ras Alula, the King's general. A favourite of King Yohannis, a childhood friend, he had the reputation of a good general, a skilled tactician and a rapid marcher. Both the Egyptians and the Italians learned that he and his soldiers were not to be trifled with.

A.B. Wylde reminisces in his book Modern Abyssinia: "I can only say my acquaintance with this man lasted for nearly twenty years and I always found him most kind and sincere and what he said could be believed; and although he defeated the Italians they bore him no ill will and they used to call him the Garibaldi of Abyssinia!" (17)

There were bad feelings between Egypt and Ethiopia: borderline clashes, a fight at Massawah. Their hostilities were interrupted when their common enemy - the followers of the Mahdi - rebelled in the Sudan in 1882, overpowered Egyptian rule there and endangered the security of Egypt. The rise of the Mahdi, the slave traders and dervishes, prompted England to occupy Egypt in 1882.

Its benevolent colonialism under the efficient administration of Sir Evelyn Baring benefited the Egyptians. "The Egyptians are not a military nation," notes Wylde, "but being looked after by competent civilians they are able to take their place among the list of prosperous and respected countries." (18)

In 1883 Wylde was sent by Baker Pasha and Admiral Hewett to report what was going on along the borders of Abyssinia. It became necessary to evacuate the Egyptians from the Sudan. To facilitate their withdrawal, Admiral Hewett was sent on a mission to King Yohannis. Wylde accompanied him.

"It seemed strange to send the Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies on a mission to Africa. was the best mission sent by any foreign power." (19) "Great credit is due to the Admiral for the skill and tact with which he carried out his business...both at Suakir and during the campaign in Abyssinia," writes Wylde "The natives seemed delighted with him, and his sojourn at Adowa will always be looked back upon as a red letter epoch in their existence." (20)

The purpose of the British Mission under Admiral Sir William Hewett was "to put an end to the old enmity between Abyssinia and Egypt and to induce King John to assist the Egyptian troops to the coast." (21) King Yohannis who had faith in her Majesty's Government, welcomed the Admiral when he presented him with the Queen's letter and with gifts. The King's scribes, his secretary and the translators were at work preparing the treaty.

Mr. Harrison Smith served as the Admiral's secretary. (The latter would be entrusted by the British Foreign Office with a mission to the King in 1885)

The "Hewett Treaty" of 3 July, 1884 specified:

I. Free transit to and from Massowah for all goods, including arms... under British protection.
II. Bogos shall be restored to the Negus.
III. Withdrawal of Egyptian troops through Ethiopia to Massowah.
IV. The Negus is granted the right to appoint his own Abuna.
V. Exchange of criminals between Ethiopia and Egypt.
VI. All differences between Ethiopia and Egypt were to be settled by her Majesty.
VII. Ratification of treaty: Four copies were signed; two copies were forwarded to her Majesty's Government, one for retention, one for signature to King John.

A second treaty, dealing with the suppression of the slave trade, was signed at the that time also.

As Wylde commented: "We had no representative at Massowah to carry out this treaty... had someone been left with King Yohannis to report to our government what was taking place in Abyssinia, its history would have been different." (22)

King Yohannis, a man of his word, fulfilled his commitments to the treaty. "With hard trouble during a flood, which destroyed very many of my army, I sent a great many soldiers - when the Egyptians were being surrounded by the enemy in great fear - and rescued them with my arms and sent them home with the consent of my soldiers," writes King Yohannis in his letter of 30 February 1887. (23)

In February 1885 Italy occupied Massowah, promising to undertake England's obligations under the Hewett treaty. (24) What were the reasons for this seemingly sudden turn of events?

In January 1885 General Gordon was killed at Khartoum. The Sudan was left in turmoil under the rule of the Mahdi. The borders of Ethiopia and of Egypt were endangered, which presented a strain on the British forces. In search of an ally, the British government welcomed Italy's interest in the development on the Red Sea littoral. It acquiesced to Italy's taking over Massawah. Even Wylde, a friend of the Ethiopians had to admit: "The moment the Italian flag went up at Massowah, Mahdism could not make headway and its power was gone." (25)

The British Government's eagerness to preserve the "status quo" on the European continent is seen by D. Mathew as another reason for agreeing to the occupation of Massawah. He writes: "The British Government began to eye with tolerant good will the expansionist project of the weaker member of the concert of Europe." (26)

The India Administration, many of whose officers and troops had served in the East African territory, could not spare its forces to police the Red Sea littoral. Russia's threat to the border of Afghanistan demanded an army available for combat. It lent needed emphasis to Salisbury's famous message to St. Petersburg: "Herat means war." (27)

Thus the agenda dealing with East Africa were now processed in Cairo. Sir Evelyn Baring, the British Consul General, though a brilliant administrator, found it easier to communicate with Europeans. He influenced the Foreign Office's decision in favour of the Italians.

The King was never informed of the new developments.

King Yohannis did not object to Italians. Among foreigners General Gordon encountered at the King's court were three Italians - among them Giuseppe Naretti, an architect from Ivrea who built the King's palace and who remained there for the rest of his life.

Italy first settled in Ethiopia in 1869 when the Suez Canal neared completion. The Societa di Navigazione Rubbatino acquired the Port of Assab. As the major powers began to take over their countries' private enterprises, Italy followed their example. It established itself and expanded along the coast from Assab toward Massawah. But the military occupation, coupled with their eagerness to gain yet more territory, had little in common with the "benevolent" colonialism the British Empire was known for. A succession of Italian generals occupied Massawah, while a civilian Foreign Service Officer ran the agency of the British Empire at Cairo.

"The Italians," explains Wylde, "have been most persevering in their endeavours to have commercial intercourse with Abyssinia but as their overtures have always been made after further annexation of coast they have not been successful." (28) As to commerce, Wylde remarks: "the dollar is not a natural product of Italy, and it is a scarce commodity from all accounts in that country. Macaroni and olive oil the Abyssinians do not eat." (29)

Aware of the dissension between Abyssinia and Italy, the British assigned F. Harrison Smith in December 1885 as envoy to the King. He was to deliver a letter from the Queen and a sword of honour, a reward for King Yohannis fulfilling his obligation in the treaty. An Italian delegation was to accompany him. Rome postponed the Italian mission. The King knew F. Harrison Smith from the time he served as secretary to Admiral Hewett. "Since the Italian occupation of Massowah, the Englishman was not entirely the persona grata he had been before that event," reports F.H. Smith in his book Through Abyssinia. (30) Yet the King received him well and when he departed - after a lengthy delay - the King invited him to inspect the newly erected palace at Makalleh.

Smith's suggestions to the British government were: "We might do much by turning to good account our influence in Abyssinia, and by formally defining the limits of that country, at present but vaguely fixed, and likely to lead to complications hereafter either with the Italians or the Sudanese." (31)

King Yohannis, who was threatened by the Italians on the North and the Dervishes on the West, found out that Menelik, the King of Shoa, the Southern province, was receiving arms from the Italians, with whom he had contact since 1882. The result of this atmosphere of heightened tension was the battle of Dogali.

"The universal cry for vengeance which arose on the news of this massacre, will, be remembered by everybody," reports G.H. Portal. The Italians outfitted an expedition. Measures were taken to dispatch an army of 20 - 30,000 men to the Red Sea. But the onset of the heat and the rainy season made it necessary to postpone action till the beginning of winter.

Beset by the Mahdis, the British Government was eager to avoid further clashes in East Africa. It welcomed King Yohannis' long awaited letter that was presented in Paris in July. The news of its arrival spread to Italy. "The Italian chargé d'Affaires called today and requested me to allow him to see a letter from the King of Abyssinia," wrote the Marquis of Salisbury on 20 July, 1887 to the British chargé d'Affaires in Rome, Mr. Kennedy. (32) He also mentioned that the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Corti, had suggested, "that England should use her good offices for the restoration of peace between Italy and Abyssinia." Mr. Catalani, the Italian chargé d'Affaires, called at the Foreign Office on 2nd August to explain the view of the Italian Government as to the nature of the communication which might be made to the King in reply to his letter. But, the envoy stated, that Italy would continue its preparations and would have to act unless some agreement could be arrived at by the end of November.

The Italian Government and the Italian Foreign Office collaborated with the British Foreign Office in the Queen's reply to the solitary Monarch's letter: (33)

Victoria by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, & c.; to our friend the King of Kings of Ethiopia, Johannes.

We have received your Majesty's letter, and thank you for your kind inquiries after our health. We, thank God, are well. We are glad to hear that you are well, and hope you may continue so.

As regards the Italians, we are sorry that you should have disputes with them, They are a powerful nation, with friendly and good intentions.

When first they went to Massowah they promised us that they would maintain and observe the engagements which we had made with you through Admiral Hewett, as to the freedom of trade.

When you complained that these engagements were not fully executed, we sent Mr. Harrison Smith to inquire how the misunderstanding had arisen, and we hoped that after seeing him you would have friendly communications with the Italians, and that all would be amicably settled. We intended also to send an agent to Massowah, who should watch over the freedom of commerce.

But your General, Ras Alula, has misunderstood the intentions of the Italians, who had posted troops at Saati and Wua. Those troops were only for the protection of caravans, and not to attack Abyssinia.

Now Ras Alula has attacked the Italians unjustly, and there is war between you and them. The Italians have declared that they will not be satisfied unless they receive reparation for the attack which has been made upon them by Ras Alula and that they are fully determined to prosecute the war. They are a powerful nation. But if you wish for peace, we will ask them on what condition they will be ready to make peace, and we will try to assist you in coming to an agreement.

And so, with our sincere wishes for your Majesty's health and happiness, and for the prosperity and welfare of your dominions, we recommend you to the protection of the Almighty.

Given at our Court at Osborne, the 11th day of August, in the year of our Lord 1887, and in the 51st year of our reign.

(Signed) Victoria R. & I.
(Countersigned) Salisbury

G.H. Portal was entrusted by the Marquis of Salisbury with the transmission of the letter to the King. The Queen's letter and a copy (to be carefully and correctly rendered into Amharic) should be sent by Mr. Portal. It should not appear to be in any way connected with the Italian Government. Portal turned to Colonel Kitchener (later Lord Kitchener of Khartoum) for advice. His contact in the region could be relied on. The letter, translated into Amharic and Arabic, was turned over to an Abyssinian messenger in Suakin on 28th August, 1887.

Since the reply to the Queen's letter could not be expected before the beginning of November and since the Italians could not wait beyond the end of the rainy season, Sir Evelyn Baring suggested sending Portal on a mission to the King.

Portal's mission ended in failure. Yohannis greeted him with distrust and hostility and was infuriated at the suggestion that he sue for peace when he regarded himself as the injured party.

Meanwhile the King's reply to the Queen's letter was anxiously awaited by the Italian Government. On 22nd October, Sir Evelyn Baring telegraphed the Marquis of Salisbury that the messenger sent to the King was expected to return at the earliest about the 10th November.

On 2nd November, a report arrived from Rome: "The object of the Italian Government," wrote Sir J. Savile, "is by an imposing display of troops to easily obtain the concessions they require from the Negus... The enthusiastic demonstrations which attended the departure of the troops have considerably diminished... some of the public papers which formerly urged the government to carry out a colonial policy in the Red Sea, now freely admit that it would have been infinitely better that Italy should never have gone to Massowah." (34)

In his letter of 15th December Sir Savile suggests that the answer to the Queen's letter was delayed beyond measure, maybe with a view of gaining time. The Italians already decided not to attack the Abyssinians unless they attacked. (35)

However, the King's letter was on its way. Sir Evelyn Baring relayed a message from Colonel Kitchener that the King's answer was about to arrive. A telegram of 7th December informed the Marquis of Salisbury of the substance of the letter. On 2nd January a translation, arranged by Colonel Kitchener, arrived in London.

After an opening befitting a "Christian King" and enquiries about the wellbeing of the Queen and "her army", King Yohannis wrote that in older times there was no enmity between him and the Italians. Then, the Italians had come and occupied the country. Contrary to the Hewett treaty, the Abyssinian merchants had to pay taxes to the Italians in Massawah. The Italians imported arms and started rebellions. While he, the King, did not desire to make war with Christians, the Italians wished to make war with Abyssinia.

He would be willing to accept her Majesty's offer of mediation, continued the King, but, since he was the aggrieved why should he be punished? "God does not assist injustice. Only God knows the result of war and victory is Christ's gift... The Italians had they not taken Massowah they would not think of taking Abyssinia and would not have brought all this trouble upon us." (36)

This letter arrived in London two and a half months after it was written in the palace (on 19th October, 1887).

In Abyssinia the armies confronted each other. Yet no battle erupted. The Western frontier was threatened by the Mahdis. To fight them, the King had to withdraw his troops. In the victorious battle of Metema, King Yohannis was killed in March 1889.

His successor, King Menelik II, had been a friend of the Italians since 1882. For a time hostile confrontations stopped. However, the unfair terms of the treaty of Uccialli caused a rebellion. It was then that the Italians occupied Adowa and Macalle. For a brief time Major Toselli used the King's Palace and received the local chiefs in that high throne Naretti had warranted to be the throne of King Solomon. (37)

It was there that the late King Yohannis had written his letters to the Queen and received, the Queen's letter of August 1887. Was it during the occupation of the palace that the Queen's letter became part of the loot that went to Italy? Major Toselli was killed in an ambush nearby. Yet among the military men who occupied the palace in l895 might have been the general in whose house in northern Italy the letter was found 22 years later.

In 1917, during the First World War, a battalion of the Austro-Hungarian Army entered Italy, advancing from Cortina d'Ampezzo to Belluno. Somewhere in this area they occupied a general's home. Looking around, the commanding officer came across the Queen's letter and admired it. His devoted orderly - despite instructions not to loot - removed the letter and - on his furlough in Vienna presented it to the officer's wife. It remained with the officer's family until 1983 when Dr. Hertha Zlabinger, the officer's daughter, offered it to the Department of Manuscripts of the British Library. Mr. John Mills, then the representative of the British Council in Austria, assisted Dr. Zlabinger with the transfer.



1 L. Penson; Foreign Affairs under the third Marquis of Salisbury, p. 5.
2 A. B. Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 10.
3 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 3, No. 4.
4 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 4, No. 6.
5 G. H. Portal; My Mission to Abyssinia, p. 9.
6 Encyclopaedia Britannica (Micropaedia); 'Baring, Evelyn' - 'Cromer'.
7 A. B. Wylde; Modern Abyssinia, p. 49.
8 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 1, No. 1.
9 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 1, Inclosure in No. 1.
10 D. J. Boorstein; The Discoverers, p. 147.
11 D. Mathew; Ethiopia, the Study of a Polity, p. 206.
12 G. H. Portal; My Mission to Abyssinia, p. 11.
13 D. Mathew; Ethiopia, the Study of a Polity, p. 208.
14 D. Mathew; Ethiopia, the Study of a Polity, p. 216.
15 A. B. Wylde; Modern Abyssinia, p. 44.
16 D. Mathew; Ethiopia, the Study of a Polity, p. 213.
17 A. B. Wylde; Modern Abyssinia, p. 29.
18 A. B. Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 226.
19 A. B. Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 43.
20 A. B. Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 43.
21 F. H. Smith; Through Abyssinia, An Envoy's Ride to the King of Zion, p.15.
22 A. B. Wylde; Modern Abyssinia, p. 473-474.
23 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 1, No. 1 (Inclosure)
24 H. F. H. Smith; Through Abyssinia, An Envoy's Ride to the King of Zion, p.14.
25 A. B.Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 229.
26 D. Mathew; Ethiopia, the Study of a Polity, p. 217.
27 L. Penson; Foreign Affairs under the third Marquis of Salisbury, p. 14.
28 A. B. Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 341.
29 A. B. Wylde; '83 - '87 in the Soudan, Vol. II, p. 342.
30 H. F. H. Smith; Through Abyssinia, An Envoy's Ride to the King of Zion, p. 194.
31 H. F. H. Smith; Pacification of the Sudan, p. 12.
32 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 2, No. 2.
33 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 3, No. 4.
34 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 14, No. 36.
35 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 21, No. 49.
36 Accounts and Papers; Vol. 109, Abyssinia, p. 26 - 27, No. 61.
37 D. Mathew; Ethiopia, the Study of a Polity, p. 229.



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First published as an Occasional Paper in 1988

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