Imprisonment of Mr. Stern - Mr. Kerans arrives with Letters and Carpet - Cameron, with his Followers, is put in Chains - Mr. Bardel's Return from the Soudan - Theodore's Dealings with Foreigners - The Coptic Patriarch - Abdul Rahman Bey...

Such was the state of affairs when Mr. Stern obtained leave to return to the coast. Unfortunately it was impossible for him to avail himself at once of this permission. On Mr. Stern at last taking his departure he had to remain at Gondar a few days, and, but too late, thought of presenting his respects to his Majesty. He also accepted during his short stay there the hospitality of the bishop. On the 13th October Mr. Stern, accompanied for a short distance by Consul Cameron and Mr. Bardel, started on his homeward journey. On arriving on the Waggera Plain he perceived the King's tent. What followed is well known: how that unfortunate gentleman was almost beaten, to death; and from that hour, almost without remission, loaded with chains, tortured, and dragged from prison to prison, until the day of his deliverance from Magdala by the British army.

When speaking of Theodore's treatment of foreigners, I will endeavour to explain the real cause of the misfortunes that befell Mr. Stern. That he was only the victim of circumstances, is a fact beyond any doubt. The extracts from his book and the notes from his diary, brought as charges against him, were only discovered several weeks after many cruelties had been inflicted upon him. But I believe that many small, apparently trifling, incidents combined to make him the first European victim of the Abyssinian monarch. The Emperor could not endure the thought that Europeans in his country should do aught else but work for him. On his first interview with Mr. Stern, after this gentleman's return to Abyssinia, Theodore, on being informed as to the motives of Mr. Stern's journey, said, in an angry mood, "I have enough of your Bibles." Theodore also believed that by ill-using Mr. Stern he would please his "Gaffat children," therefore, immediately after Mr. Stern's imprisonment, he wrote to them saying, "I have chained your enemy and mine."

That the crisis was at last brought on by malicious representations to his Majesty of trifling incidents, was proved to us quite accidentally on our way down. At Antalo I had a few friends at dinner, amongst them Mr. Stern, when, in the evening, Peter Beru, an Abyssinian who had received his education at Malta and had been one of the interpreters of Mr. Stern's book at the famous public trial at Gondar, came into the tent, and, being a little excited, told Mr. Stern that three things had called down upon him the King's displeasure: first, the enmity of the Gaffat people against him; secondly, his (Mr. Stern's) intimacy with the Abouna; thirdly, his not having called upon his Majesty during his last stay at Gondar.

On the 22nd of November Mr. Laurence Kerans arrived at Gondar. He came for the purpose of joining Captain Cameron in the capacity of private secretary. He brought with him some letters for Captain Cameron; amongst them one from Earl Russell ordering the consul back to his post at Massowah. Of all the captives none deserves greater sympathy than poor Kerans. Quite a youth when he entered Abyssinia, he suffered four years of imprisonment in chains, for no reason whatever except that he arrived at an inauspicious time. It is true that, according to his wonted habit, his Majesty charged him with having intended to insult him by offering him a carpet representing Gerard the lion-killer. Gerard, in his Zouave costume, Theodore said, represented the Turks, the lion was himself, upon whom the infidel was firing, the attendant a Frenchman; but he added, "I do not see the Englishman who ought to be by my side." Poor Kerans remained only a few weeks in semi-liberty at Gondar; he had presented on his own account a rifle to his Majesty (the carpet was supposed to have been sent by Captain Speedy, who had previously been in Abyssinia); and every morning Samuel, who was the balderaba of the Europeans, would present himself, with supposed compliments from his Majesty, adding, "The Emperor desires to know what you would like?" Kerans answered, "A horse, a shield, and a lance." The next morning Samuel would ask, from his Majesty, what kind of horse he preferred, and so on, until at last the poor lad, who was obliged every day to bow to the ground in thankfulness for the supposed gift, began to suspect that all was not right.

Consul Cameron, a few days after the arrival of Kerans, was called to the King's camp and told to remain there until further orders. He was already so far a prisoner that he was not allowed to return to Gondar, when, on the plea of bad health, he applied for permission to do so. Cameron waited until the beginning of January, daily expecting a letter for the Emperor, but at last, as none came, he considered himself bound to obey his instructions, and accordingly, informed his Majesty that he had received orders from his Government to return to Massowah, and begged that he might be allowed to leave in a few days.

The next morning, 4th January, Cameron, his European servants, the missionaries from Gondar, and Messrs. Stern and Rosenthal (both since some time already in chains), were all sent for by his Majesty. They were ushered into a tent close to the Emperor's inclosure, with two loaded twelve-pounders placed in front of it and pointed in that direction. The place was crowded with soldiers; everything was so arranged as to make resistance impossible. Shortly after Cameron's arrival Theodore sent several messages, asking, "Where is the answer to the letter I gave you? Why did you go to my enemies the Turks? Are you a consul?" At last the messages ceased with this last one: "I will keep you a prisoner until I get an answer, and see if you are a consul or not." On that Cameron was very rudely handled by the soldiers; he was knocked down, his beard torn off, and heavy fetters hammered on him. The captives were all placed in a tent near the Emperor's inclosure; for a time they were well supplied with rations, and, apart from the fetters, not otherwise ill used.

On the 3rd of February Mr. Bardel returned from a mission the Emperor had intrusted to him, viz., to spy the land, and report about the doings of an Egyptian general, who, at the head of a considerable force, had been for some time staying at Metemma, the nearest post to Abyssinia on the north-west frontier. The following day the Gaffat people were called by the Emperor to consult about the liberation of the European captives. On their recommendation, two missionaries of the Scottish society, two German hunters, Mr. Flad and Cornelius, were freed from their fetters, and allowed to remain at Gaffat with the workmen. The head of the Gaffat people then told Captain Cameron that he would request Theodore to release the whole of them and allow them to depart, if Captain Cameron would give a written document to the effect that no steps would be taken by England to avenge the insult inflicted upon her in the person of her representative. Cameron, not considering himself justified in taking upon himself such a responsibility, declined. A few days afterwards Mr. Bardel having offended his Majesty, or rather being of no more use to him, was sent to join those whom he had been greatly instrumental in depriving of their liberty.

The Rev. Mr. Stern has ably described the painful captivity which he and his fellow-sufferers experienced up to their first release on the arrival of our mission in the beginning of 1865; how they were dragged from Gondar to Azazo; the horrid torture inflicted upon them on the 12th of May: their long march in chains from Azazo to Magdala; their confinement in chains on that amba in the common jail; and the horrid tale of sufferings and misery they had for so many months to endure. Suffice it to say, that on the date of Captain Cameron's note - 14th of February, 1864 - which gave the first intimation of their imprisonment, the captives, eight altogether, were Captain Cameron and his followers (Kerans, Bavdel, McKilvie, Makerer, and Pietro), Messrs. Stern and Rosenthal.

Much of what I have said, and a great deal of what I have still to narrate, would appear unintelligible if I were not to describe the conduct Theodore had adopted towards foreigners. It is plain, from facts that I will now adduce, that Theodore had for several years systematically insulted them. He did so partly to dazzle the people with his power, and partly because he believed that complete impunity would always attend his grossest misdeeds.

In December, 1856, David, the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, arrived in Abyssinia, bearer of certain presents for Theodore, and the expression of the good-will of the Pasha of Egypt. The fame of Theodore had spread far and wide in the Soudan; and probably the Egyptian authorities, in order to save that province from being plundered, or unwilling to engage at the time in an expensive war with their powerful neighbour, adopted that expedient as the best suited to appease the ire of their former foe. As usual, Theodore found an excuse for the ill treatment he inflicted upon the aged Patriarch, on the ground that a diamond cross presented to him was only intended as an insult: it meant, he said, that they considered him as a vassal; and on the Patriarch proposing that he should send a letter to the Pasha, accompanied with suitable presents, and that the Pasha would in return send him fire-arms, cannons, and officers to drill his troops, his Majesty exclaimed, "I see, they now desire me to declare myself their tributary."

Most probably Theodore, always jealous of the power of the Church, took advantage of the presence of its highest dignitary to show to his army whom they had to fear and obey. On the pretexts above mentioned he caused one day a hedge to be built around the Patriarch's residence, and for several days the eldest son of the Coptic Church kept his father in close confinement. Theodore had some time previously been excommunicated by the Bishop; he therefore enjoyed very much the disreputable quarrel which took place on that matter, as he induced the Patriarch, through fear, to take off the excommunication of his inferior. After a while, however, Theodore apologized, and allowed the terrified old man to depart. The Patriarch on his return told his tale, but the fame for justice and wisdom of the would-be descendant of Solomon was so great that, far from being credited, the Turkish Government, who attributed the failure of the negotiation to the unfitness of their agent, soon after despatched a mission on a larger scale, together with numerous and costly presents, under the orders of an experienced and trusty officer, Abdul Rahman Bey.

The Egyptian envoy reached Dembea in March, 1859. At first Theodore, gratified at receiving such beautiful gifts, treated the ambassador with all courtesy and distinction; but on account of the unsafe condition of the country at the time, he took his guest with him, and considering Magdala a proper and suitable place of residence, left him there. He soon ignored him entirely, and the unfortunate man had to remain nearly two years, a semi-prisoner, on that amba. At last, on the reception of several strongly worded and threatening letters from the Egyptian Government, he allowed him to depart, but caused him to be plundered of all he had near the frontier, by the Shum of Tschelga. Theodore, after the departure of Abdul Rahman Bey, wrote to the Egyptian Government, denying any knowledge of the plunder, and accusing the envoy of serious crimes. Hearing of this, the unfortunate Bey, fearing that his denials would not stand against the charge brought against him by the pious Emperor, poisoned himself at Berber.

His third victim was the Nab of Arkiko. He had accompanied the Emperor to Godjam, when, without reason given, the Emperor cast him into prison and loaded him with chains. It was only on the representation of several influential merchants, who, fearing that the Nab's relations would retaliate on the Abyssinian caravans, impressed upon his Majesty the prudence of letting him depart, that the Emperor allowed his vassal to return to his country.

The same day on which he imprisoned the Nab of Arkiko, M. Lejean, a member of the French diplomatic service, disgusted with Abyssinia and the many discomforts of camp life, presented himself before the Emperor to apply for leave to depart. Theodore could not grant the desired interview, but M. Lejean persisted in his demand, and sent a second time, representing that, as his Majesty was en route for Godjam, each day would increase the difficulty of his return. Such presumption could not be tolerated. Theodore had defied Egypt; he would now defy France. Lejean was seized, and had to remain in full uniform for twenty-four hours in chains. He was only released on his making an humble apology, and desisting from his desire to leave the country. He was sent to Gaffat, and ordered to abide there until the return of Mr. Bardel.

Theodore scoffed at and imprisoned the Patriarch of Alexandria; the Egyptian ambassador he kept a semi-prisoner for several years; the Nab he chained; the French consul he chained, insulted, and kicked out of the country. Nothing came of all this: on the contrary, in his own camp his influence was greater. Under these circumstances, any barbarian would have done and thought exactly as Theodore did. He came to the conviction that, either through fear of his power or the impossibility of reaching him, whatever ill treatment he might inflict on strangers, no punishment could possibly overtake him. That such was his impression is evident from the gradually increasing brutality of his conduct, always most severe, but never so outrageous as in the case of the British captives. The savage, barbarous treatment he inflicted on Messrs. Stern, Cameron, Rosenthal, and their followers, is without precedent in modern history. Theodore at last took no trouble to hide his contempt for Europeans and their governments.

He knew in August, 1864, that before a month an answer to his letter to the Queen had arrived at Massowah. "Let them wait my good pleasure," was the only observation he made on the subject. It is probable that he would never have taken any notice of her Majesty's letter or of the mission sent to him, if his rapid fall - at that time beginning - had not influenced his conduct. When we arrived at Massowah in July, 1864, Theodore was still powerful, at the head of a large army, and master of the greater part of the country. His campaign to Shoa in 1865 was most disastrous. He lost by it, not only that prosperous kingdom, but a large portion of his army; the Gallas seizing the occasion to annoy him greatly on his return. He foresaw his fall, and it probably struck him that the friendship of England might be useful to him; or should he doubt its possibility, he might seize us as hostages, in order to make capital out of us; therefore, but with apparent reluctance, he granted us the long-expected permission to enter his country.

We have now the solution of a part of this difficult problem; we can understand, to a certain degree, the strange character of this man so remarkable in many ways. Imbued with a few European notions, he longed to obtain some of the advantages he had heard of: but how? England and France would only return his friendship by words - he wanted deeds; sweet phrases he would not listen to. He soon became convinced that he might with impunity insult foreigners or envoys from friendly states; and at last it struck him that, while he insulted and ill used Europeans, he might as well keep in his hands an important man like a consul, as a hostage.