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.

Plowden returned to Abyssinia as consul in 1846. He was well received by Ras Ali, with whom he was a favourite, and he soon after concluded a paper treaty with that prince. Ras Ali was a weak-minded debauchee; all he asked for was to be left alone, and on the same principle he allowed every one around him to do pretty well as they liked. One day Plowden asked permission to erect a flag-staff. Ras Ali gave a willing consent, but added, "Do not ask me to protect it, I do not care for such things; but I fear the people will not like it." Plowden hoisted the Union Jack above his consulate; a few hours afterwards it was torn to pieces by the mob. "Did not I tell you so?" was all the satisfaction he could obtain from the ruler of the land. After the fall of Ras Ali, Bell, who had, as I have already mentioned, followed the fortunes of Theodore, wrote to his friend in enthusiastic terms, depicted in the eloquent language of admiring friendship all the good qualities of the rising man, and advised Plowden to present himself before the powerful chieftain who undoubtedly before long would be the acknowledged ruler of the whole of Abyssinia.

Plowden's first reception by Theodore was courteous in the extreme; but he had this time to deal with a very different kind of man to his predecessor. Theodore was all amiability, even offered money, but declined to recognize in him "the consul," or to ratify the treaty he (Plowden) had made with Ras Ali. For several years Plowden seemed to have joined his friend Bell in singing the praises of Theodore; he was to be the reformer of his country, had introduced a certain discipline in his army, and, to use Plowden's own words, "he is an honest man, and strives to be just, and, though firm, far from cruel."

During the last years of his life, Plowden's opinion had been greatly modified. Theodore did not like him; he feared him; and it was only on account of his friendship for Bell that he did not lay violent hands on him. Plowden, on one occasion, was told to accompany his Majesty to Magdala; arrived there, Theodore called for the Head of the mountain, who was at that time the son of the Galla queen, Workite, and asked him his advice as to whether he should put Plowden in chains or not. The prince, who had a great regard for Plowden, told his Majesty that if they watched him with the eye it was sufficient, and that he would be answerable for his prisoner. Plowden returned with Theodore some time afterwards to the Amhara country, but was constantly surrounded by spies. All his actions were reported to the Emperor, and for a long time, under some pretence or the other, he was refused leave to return to England. At last, broken in health, and disappointed, Plowden almost insisted on going. His Majesty granted his request, but at the same time informed him that the roads were infested with rebels and thieves, and strongly advised him to await his return. I was told on good authority that his Majesty only acquiesced in Plowden's wishes because he believed that it was quite impossible for him to leave.

However, Plowden, trusting in his popularity, and, perhaps, also in his retinue, started at once on his homeward journey. At a short distance from Gondar he was attacked and made prisoner by a rebel named Garad, a cousin of Theodore. It is probable that he would have been let off with a ransom, but for an unfortunate circumstance. Plowden, sick and tired, was resting under a tree, and while Garad was speaking to him, put his hand towards his belt, as his servant told us, to take out his handkerchief; but the rebel chief, believing that he intended to draw a pistol, immediately wounded him mortally with the lance he held in his hands. Plowden was ransomed by the Gondar merchants, but died a few days afterwards, in March, 1860, from the effects of the wound.

During our stay at Kuarata, at the time we were in high favour, office copies of Plowden's official letters for the year preceding his death, were brought to us. How altered his impression, how changed his opinion! He had begun to see through the fine words of the Emperor; he more than suspected that before long a hateful tyranny would replace the firm but just rule he had formerly so greatly admired. I remember well that at Zage, when our luggage was returned to us a few hours after the arrest, with what haste and anxiety Prideaux, in whose charge the manuscript was at the time, opened his trunk behind his bed, so that the guards should not perceive the dangerous paper before he had time to destroy it.

If Bell and Plowden had been both living, it may be asked, would Theodore have dealt with them so as ultimately to call for the intervention of Government on Abyssinian affairs? I believe so. The King, as I have said, disliked Plowden personally; he repaid his ransom to the Gondar merchants, it is true, but it was only a political "dodge" of his; he knew well to whom he gave the money, and took it back "with interest," a few years later. Often he has been heard to sneer at the manner in which Plowden was killed, and say, "The white men are cowards: look at Plowden; he was armed, but he allowed himself to be killed without even defending himself." This was a malicious assertion on the part of Theodore, as he was well aware that Plowden was so sick at the time that he could hardly walk, and that though he carried a pistol, it was not loaded. Not long before his own death, Theodore spoke, on several occasions, in very harsh terms of Bell's eldest daughter, and on some of her friends representing to his Majesty that he should not forget that she was the daughter of the man who died protecting him, Theodore quietly replied, "Bell was a fool; he would never carry a shield!"

A few months after the news of Consul Plowden's death had reached England, Captain Charles Duncan Cameron was appointed to the vacant post, but for some reason or other, he reached Massowah only in February, 1862, and Gondar in July of the same year. Captain Cameron had not only served with distinction during the Kaffir war, and passed alone through more than 200 miles of the enemy's country, but had also been employed on the staff of General Williams, and had been for several years in the consular service. He was, in all respects, well fitted for his post; but, unfortunately for him, when he entered Abyssinia he had to deal with a fascinating, vainglorious, shrewd man, hiding his cunning under an appearance of modesty: in a word, with Theodore who had become an over-bearing despot. On his first arrival, Cameron was received with great honours, and treated by the Emperor with marked respect, and when he left in October, 1862, he was loaded with presents, escorted by the Emperor's servants, and almost acknowledged as a consul. Like so many others - I can say, like ourselves, - at first he had been so completely taken in by Theodore's manners that he did not discern the true character of the man he had to deal with, and but too late found out the worth of his gracious reception and the flatteries which had been so liberally bestowed upon him.

From Adowa Captain Cameron forwarded Theodore's letter to our Queen by native messengers, and proceeded to the province of Bogos, where he deemed his presence necessary. He found out during his stay that Samuel, the Georgis balderaba [Footnote: An introducer: generally given to foreigners in the capacity of a spy.] whom Theodore had given him - a clever, but rather unscrupulous Shoho - was intriguing with the chiefs of the neighbourhood, tributaries of Turkey, in favour of his imperial master. Captain Cameron thought it therefore advisable, in order to avoid future difficulties with the Egyptian Government, to leave Samuel behind with the Servants he did not require. Samuel was much hurt at not being allowed to accompany Cameron in his tour through the Soudan, and though he pretended to be well pleased with the arrangement, he shortly afterwards wrote a long letter to his master in which he spoke in very unfavourable terms of Captain Cameron. Arrived at Kassala, Captain Cameron one evening at a friend's house asked his Abyssinian servants to show the guests their native war-dance; some refused, others complied, but as it was not appreciated by the spectators, they were told to leave off. (I mention this fact as it was made a serious offence by Theodore, and is a sample of the pretences adopted by him when he desired to vindicate his conduct.) Arrived at Metemma, Cameron, who was at the time suffering from fever, wrote to his Majesty to inform him of his arrival, and requesting his permission to proceed to the missionary station of Djenda; which was granted.

Mr. Bardel, a Frenchman, had accompanied Cameron on his first voyage to Abyssinia; they disagreed, and Bardel left Cameron's service to enter the Emperor's. At the time Theodore sent Cameron with a letter to the Queen of England, he also entrusted one to Bardel for the Emperor of the French. During Bardel's absence M. Lejean, the French Consul at Massowah, arrived in Abyssinia; he was the bearer of credentials to the Emperor Theodore, and also brought with him a few trifles to be presented to his Majesty in the name of the Emperor Napoleon. M. Lejean was not allowed to leave before the arrival of Mr. Bardel; who returned to Gondar in September, 1863, with an answer from the French Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whom he described to Theodore as the mouthpiece ( afa negus) of Napoleon. All the Europeans were summoned from Gondar to witness the reading of the letter; the King, seated at the window of the palace, had the letter read, and asked Bardel how he had been received.

"Badly," he replied. "I had an audience with the Emperor, when Mr. D'Abbadie whispered to him that your Majesty was in the habit of cutting off hands and feet; on that, without a word more, Napoleon turned his back upon me."

Theodore then took the letter, and, tearing it to pieces, said: - "Who is that Napoleon? Are not my ancestors greater than his? If God made him great, can he not make me also great?" After which his Majesty ordered a safe conduct to be given to M. Lejean, with orders that he should leave the country at once.

The Abouna, at that time in favour, afraid above all things of the Roman Catholics, urged the Emperor to let Lejean depart, lest the French should be afforded an excuse for taking possession of some part of the country, from whence their priests would endeavour to propagate their doctrines. But two days after Lejean's departure, Theodore, who had by that time regretted that he had let him go, sent to have him arrested on the road and brought back to Gondar.

In the autumn of 1863 the Europeans in Abyssinia numbered about twenty-five; they were, Cameron and his European servants, the Basle mission, the Scottish mission, the missionaries of the London Society for the Conversion of the Jews, and some adventurers.

In 1855 Dr. Krapf, accompanied by Mr. Flad, entered Abyssinia as pioneers for a mission which Bishop Gobat desired to establish in that country. The lay missionaries he intended to send were to be workmen, who would receive a small salary, if necessary, but were supposed to support themselves by their work: they were also to open schools, and seize every opportunity to preach the Word of God. Mr. Flad made several journeys backwards and forwards, and, at the time of the first trouble that befell the Europeans since the beginning of Theodore's reign, the lay missionaries, who had been joined by a few adventurers, - the whole of them better known by natives and Europeans under the name of the "Gaffat people" (on account of the name of the village they usually resided in), amounted to eight. Mr. Flad had some time previously abandoned the Basle Mission for the London Mission for the Conversion of the Jews.

The "Gaffat people" played an important part in all the transactions that, from 1863, took place between his Abyssinian Majesty and the Europeans residing in the country. Their position was not an enviable one; they had not only to please his Majesty, but, in order to keep themselves free from imprisonment or chains, to forestall his wishes, and to keep his fickle nature always interested in their work by devising some new toy suited to please his childish love for novelty. On their first arrival in the country they did their best to fulfil the instructions of their patron, the Bishop of Jerusalem. But on Theodore learning that these men were able workmen, he sent for them one day and told them, "I do not want teachers in my country, but workmen: will you work for me?" They bowed, and with good grace placed themselves at his Majesty's disposal. Gaffat, a small hillock about four miles from Debra Tabor, was assigned to them as a place of residence. There they built semi-European houses, established workshops, &c. Knowing that he would have a greater hold upon them, and that they would have more difficulty in leaving the country, Theodore ordered them to marry: they all consented. The little colony flourished, and Theodore for a long time behaved very liberally to them; gave them large sums of money, grain, honey, butter, and all necessary supplies in great abundance. They were also presented with silver shields, gold-worked saddles, mules, horses, &c.; their wives with richly embroidered burnouses, ornaments of gold and silver; and to enhance their position in the country they were allowed all the privileges of a Ras.

"His children," as Theodore called them, so far had nothing to complain of; but the Emperor soon got tired of carriages, pickaxes, doors, and such like; he was bent on having cannons and mortars cast in his country. He gently insinuated his desire; but they firmly refused, on the ground that they had no knowledge of such work. Theodore knew how to make them consent; he had only to appear displeased, to frown a little, and they awaited in trembling to have his good pleasure made known to them. Theodore asked for cannons; they would try. His Majesty smiled; he knew the men he had to deal with. After the guns, they made mortars; then gunpowder; then brandy; again more cannons, shells, shots, &c. Some were sent to make roads, others erected foundries; a large number of intelligent natives were apprenticed to them, and with their assistance executed some really remarkable works. I, who happened to witness one day the harsh, imperative tone he took with them because he felt annoyed at a mere trifle, can well understand their complete submission to his iron will, and cannot blame them. They had given in at first, and accepted his bounty; they had wives and children, and desired to be left in quiet possession of their homes, and were only anxious to please their hard taskmaster.

Another missionary station had been established at Djenda. These gentlemen, most of them scripture-readers, not conversant with any trade, and striving but for one object, - the conversion of the Falashas, or native Jews, - declined to work for Theodore. The Emperor could not understand their refusal. According to his notions every European could work in some way or the other. He attributed their refusal to ill-will towards him, and only awaited a suitable opportunity to visit them with his displeasure. They and the Gaffat people were not in accord; though, for appearance' sake, a kind of brotherhood was kept up between the rival stations.

The Djenda Mission consisted of two missionaries, of the Scottish Society: a man named Cornelius, [Footnote: He died at Gaffat in the beginning of 1865.] brought to Abyssinia by Mr. Stern, on his first trip; of Mr. and Mrs. Flad, and of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal, who had accompanied Mr. Stern on his second journey to Abyssinia. The Rev. Henry Stern is really a martyr to his faith. A fine type of the brave self-denying missionary, he had already exposed his life in Arabia, where he had, with the recklessness of conviction, undertaken a dangerous, almost impossible, journey, in order to bring the "good tidings" to his oppressed brethren the Jews of Yemen and Sanaa. He had just escaped almost by a miracle from the hands of the bigoted Arabs, when he undertook a first voyage to Abyssinia, in order to establish a mission in that country, where thousands of Jews were living.

Mr. Stern arrived in Abyssinia in 1860, was well received and kindly treated by his Majesty. On his return to Europe he published a valuable account of his tour, under the title of Wanderings amongst the Falashas of Abyssinia. In that book Mr. Stern gives a very favourable account of Theodore; but, as becomes a true historian, gave some details of the Emperor's family, which were, to a certain extent, the cause of many of the sufferings he had afterwards to undergo. About that time several articles appeared in one of the Egyptian newspapers, purporting to have issued from the pen of Mr. Stern, and reflecting rather severely on the marriage of the Gaffat people. Mr. Stern has always denied having been the author of these articles; and though I, and every one else who knows Mr. Stern, will place unlimited confidence in his word, still the Gaffat people would not accept his denial: to the very last they believed him to have written the obnoxious articles, and harboured bitter feelings against him, in consequence.

Mr. Stern undertook a second journey to Abyssinia in the autumn of 1862, accompanied this time by Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal. He and his party reached Djenda in April, 1863.

As soon as the Gaffat people heard of the arrival of Mr. Stern at Massowah, they went in a body to the Emperor and begged him not to allow Mr. Stern to enter Abyssinia. His Majesty gave an evasive answer, but did not comply with the request; on the contrary, he seems to have rejoiced at the idea of an enmity existing between the Europeans in his country, and chuckled at the prospect of the advantages he might reap from their jealousy and rivalry. Mr. Stern soon perceived the great change that had already taken place in the deportment of Theodore, and saw but too plainly, during his several missionary tours, abundant proofs of the cruelty of the man he had so shortly before admired and praised. The Abouna (Abyssinian bishop) at the time in frequent collision with the Emperor, spoke but too openly of the many vices of the ruling sovereign, and as he had always been friendly disposed towards Mr. Stern, this gentleman frequently visited him, even made some short stays in his house. This friendship was construed by the Emperor as implying an understanding between the bishop and the English priest unfavourable to himself, and with a view to the cession of the church lands for a certain sum of money, which was to be placed in Egypt at the Abouna's disposal.

To sum up, this was the state of the different parties when the storm at last burst on the head of the unfortunate Mr. Stern: - Bell and Plowden, the only Europeans who might have had some influence for good over the mind of the Emperor, were dead. The Gaffat people worked for the King, were frequently near his person, and entertained anything but friendly feelings towards Mr. Stern and the Djenda Mission. While Captain Cameron and his party were watched in Gondar, and in no way mixed up with the differences that unfortunately divided the other Europeans.