The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Tuesday 16th September 2003

The Life of Prince Alamayu Teodros in the UK

Given by - Dr Sandy Holt-Wilson

Reviewed by - Julian Kay


An excellent speaker yet in his own words not an expert, an interesting subject plus a considerable audience by Society standards (over 50 in number) and including Rita and Richard Pankhurst and Afewerk Tekle: such was the 'happy concatenation of circumstances' for Dr Sandy Holt-Wilson's fascinating lecture on Prince Alamayu Teodros on 16th September.

It had been the wish of the Emperor Theodore that Alamayu his only son should for his own safety be handed over to the British and be brought up in England. Alamayu became heir to the throne of Abyssinia after the suicide of Theodore following the defeat at Magdala. Not long after, his mother Queen Terunish as she lay dying asked Captain Speedy to be a father to her child. The remarkable Speedy who was of an Indian Army family had come to Ethiopia in 1860. Later Napier asked him to join his expedition to free the hostages. He spoke Amharic, indeed in his last years in Shropshire he would write an English-Amharic dictionary (now in the British Library). If one had to choose a single parent then there was surely no better person for the seven year old orphan than the red-bearded 6'6'' gentle giant of a man. In a letter to Napier Queen Victoria refers to Speedy's 'kindly judicious and almost maternal care.. the one person to whom he seems to cling most tenderly', and we learn from Speedy (who was worried by this) that in 1868 there was a period of three months when the child would not sleep unless he was in Speedy's arms.

In 1871 much to the fury of Queen Victoria the child left the care of Captain Speedy (and his wife) and was handed over to Dr. Jex-Blake the headmaster of Cheltenham College. He and Mrs Jex-Blake together with their nine daughters 'in varying stages of infancy, adolescence and nubility' must have appeared at times as formidable (though worthy) an institution to the ten year old Alamayu as Rugby and Sandhurst.

It was Lowe, Gladstone's republican-leaning Chancellor of the Exchequer who had engineered Alamayu's break with the Speedys, and he would appear to have been the villain in this saga. Education was a problem. The boy was fond of sports and horsemanship but as Speedy complained 'he had no interest in his books and had an utter dislike for anything in that line'. No Chancellor could justify the public expenditure of £700 on the young prince (of which £300 was for his guardian's expenses) when after four years with Speedy Alamayu could neither read nor write.

The newly discovered letters shown to the audience by Dr Holt-Wilson written in 1874 (one of which was to Lady Biddulph, wife of Sir Thomas Biddulph the Master of the Queen's Household) would suggest that Alamayu must have found school-work pretty hard-going. After Cheltenham he followed the family to Rugby on Dr. Jex-Blake's appointment as headmaster. In 1877 we learn (as if we had not been warned before) that 'progress in study he will never make'. His only future would be the army. He was allowed to enter Sandhurst (where Queen Victoria knew he would not be happy) without having to undergo an examination.

He was unfitted for a public school. He did not like Sandhurst but he was fond of Cyril Ransome, the second master and his Military Tutor. It was in Ransome's home in Leeds where Alamayu contracted pleurisy in October 1879 and died on 14th November. His funeral a week later at St. George's Chapel, Windsor was attended by Captain Speedy, Dr Jex-Blake, Sir Stafford Northcote and the Queen's son-in-law, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.

Later the Queen recorded in her Journal 'It is too sad! All alone in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him... His was no happy life'.

A sad tale, skilfully told - and with touches of humour.

First Published in News File Winter 2003

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