Europeans in Abyssinia - Bell and Plowden - Their Career and Deaths - Consul Cameron - M. Lejean - M. Bardel and Napoleon's Answer to Theodore - The Gaffat People - Mr. Stern and the Djenda Mission - State of Affairs at the end of 1863...
Abyssinia seems to have had a strange fascination for Europeans. The two first who were connected with the late Abyssinian affairs are Messrs. Bell and Plowden, who both entered Abyssinia in 1842. Mr. John Bell, better known in that country under the name of Johannes, first attached himself to the fortunes of Ras Ali. He took service with that prince, and was elevated to the rank of basha (captain); but it seems that Ras Ali never gave him much confidence, and tolerated him rather on account of his (Ras Ali's) friendship for Plowden, than for any liking for Bell himself. Bell shortly afterwards married a young lady belonging to one of the good families of Begemder. From this union he had three children: two daughters, afterwards married to two of the King's European workmen, and a son, who left the country together with the released captives. Bell fought by Ras Ali's side at the battle of Amba Djisella, which ended so fatally for that prince, and afterwards retired into a church, awaiting in that asylum the good pleasure of the victor. Theodore hearing of the presence of a European in the sanctuary, sent him word to come to him, giving him a most solemn pledge that he would be treated as a friend. Bell obeyed, and a strong friendship sprang up between the Emperor and the Englishman.
Bell had for many years quite identified himself with the Abyssinians both in dress and mode of life. He was a man of sound judgment, brave, well-informed, appreciated all that was great and good; and seeing in Theodore an ideal he had often conceived, he attached himself to him with disinterested affection - almost worshipped him. Theodore gave him the rank of likamaquas, and always kept him near his person. Bell slept at the door of his friend's tent, dined off the same dish, joined in every expedition, and would frequently remain for hours, at the Emperor's request, narrating to him all the wonders of civilized life, the advantages of military discipline, and the rules of good government. Theodore gave him on several occasions a few hundred young men to drill; but European tactics being distasteful to the unruly Abyssinians, he obtained such indifferent results that the Emperor soon relieved him from that hopeless task. Theodore ordered his friend to marry his wife "by the sacrament." Bell at once consented; but, strange to say, the family of his wife, out of dislike to Theodore, refused to give their consent. Whereupon the Emperor presented him with a Galla slave, to whom he was married, the Emperor officiating as father to the bride.
Bell was much beloved by all who knew him, and all Europeans who came into the country were sure to find in him a friend. Between him and Plowden the brotherly friendship that united them only increased with time; and on hearing of the murder of his friend, Bell took a solemn oath that he would avenge his death. About seven months afterwards the Emperor marched against Garad, and suddenly came upon him not far from the spot where Plowden fell. The Emperor was riding ahead, next to him came his faithful chamberlain; on their entering a small wood the two brothers Garad appeared in the middle of the road, only a few yards in front of them. Seeing the danger that threatened his master, Bell rushed forward, placed himself before the Emperor, so as to protect him with his body, and, with a steady aim, fired at his friend Plowden's murderer. Garad fell. Immediately the brother, who had been watching the Emperor's movements, turned upon Bell, and shot him through the heart. Theodore promptly avenged his faithful friend, for hardly had Bell fallen to the ground than his opponent was mortally wounded by the Emperor himself.
Theodore ordered the place to be at once surrounded, and all Garad's followers - some 1,600, I believe - were made prisoners and murdered in cold blood. Theodore mourned for several days the death of his faithful follower, in whom he lost more than a brave chief and a hardy soldier: I may almost say he lost his kingdom, for none dared honestly to advise and fearlessly to counsel him as Bell had done, and none ever enjoyed that confidence which rendered Bell's advice so acceptable.
Plowden seems to have been of a more ambitious turn of mind than his friend. Whilst Bell adopted Abyssinia as his home, and contented himself with service under the native princes, it is evident that Plowden strove to represent England in that distant land, and to be acknowledged by the rulers of Abyssinia as consuls are in the East, - a small imperium in imperio. He went the right way to work: induced Ras Ali to send presents to the Queen, and carried them himself; impressed upon Lord Palmerston the advantages of a treaty with Abyssinia; spoke a great deal about Mussulmans, slave-trade, oppressed Christians, &c.; and at length prevailed upon the Foreign Secretary to assent to his plans, and appoint him consul for Abyssinia. In justice to him, I must say, that from all accounts no man could have been better fitted for the post: he was beloved by all classes, and his name is still mentioned with respect. He did not, so much as Bell, identify himself with the natives; he always wore a European dress, and kept his house in a semi-English style. On the other hand, he was fond of show, and never travelled without being followed by several hundred servants, all well armed - a mere parade, as on the day of his death his numerous retinue did not afford him the slightest assistance.