The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopian Study Visit - Saturday 4th February 2012

Captain Speedy Collection, British Museum

Given by - organised by Dorothea McEwan

Reviewed by - Anne Parsons

The British Museum has a considerable holding of Ethiopian items collected by Captain Tristram C. S. Speedy, interpreter during the Abyssinian Expedition of 1867-68 and guardian to Prince Alemayou, son of Emperor Theodore. Most of these items were donated to the Museum in 1912 by his widow, Mrs Cornelia Mary Speedy; others were given by Mrs Henry Perrin in 1939.

The study visit was led by Heidi Cutts from the British Museum and she had put out a very good selection of objects for us to look at. Most of the clothes or textiles collected in Ethiopia by Captain Speedy are not housed in Bloomsbury but at the Textile Centre near Olympia and will form part of the Society study visit in October 2012.

The Museum website has a very good online catalogue where you can search quite easily for these Speedy items - or indeed for anything else that might take your fancy! All have acquisition details and descriptions and many have photos as well.

Many of the items collected are believed to have been gifts to Speedy from Emperor Theodore and comments in the online catalogue indicate that some may also have been gifts from Emperor Menelik.

We saw objects that ranged from those used in everyday life to rather sumptuous or ceremonial items. Many reflected the military nature of the collector: swords and daggers, shields, saddles and bridles, and bandoliers. Also on display were photographs of Prince Alemayou.

My personal favourites included: an ammunition belt which was exquisitely embroidered with two lions (registration number: Af1939,09.18) and was probably for ceremonial use; a red and gold woven silk waist belt of a Fitawari (registration number: Af1912,0410.19) was also very impressive; and a lovely manuscript book of Psalms (Af1912,0410.37.b), which had belonged to Emperor Theodore's wife, being most interesting for the small square inlaid mirror inside the front cover.

Several of the Society members attending had personal connections with the Magdala story (descendents of the British forces, of the hostages, and of Captain Speedy himself) and we all had a wonderful time. We thank Heidi enormously for hosting this visit.

First Published in News File Spring 2012

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