The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Wednesday 13th June 2012

In the footsteps of Napier: to Magdala, via the Beshilo ravine and the King's Road

Given by - John Macfarlane

Reviewed by - Richard Snailham

On Wednesday June 13th members of the Society attended a fascinating and beautifully presented talk by Dr John Macfarlane on his retracing of part of the route of Sir Robert Napier's force which marched to Magdala from the Red Sea coast in 1868 to free some European hostages. With his wife Rosamund and two friends, Macfarlane travelled in a 4x4 Toyota from Adigrat to a point south of Gashena on the Woldia-Debre Tabor road and took six further days to walk from Bet Hor to Magdala with thirteen hired donkeys.

They experienced some of the rigours that Napier's men had - climbing into and out of the Jitta and Beshilo river gorges and struggling over basalt rocks to reach the King's Road up to the battlefield at Aroge.

It was all brilliantly illustrated. I particularly enjoyed seeing the same views juxtaposed in Macfarlane's slides, Illustrated London News engravings, and Colonel James' paintings.

Still pictures were alternated with video clips, and there were numerous and helpful captions.

It was a discerning audience. Many had visited Magdala and knew the story: together with some of Macfarlane's party there were Stephen Bell, who had walked the whole route, John Broadbent, great grandson of one of the soldiers in the campaign, Annie Betts, great granddaughter of Wilhelm Schimper one of the hostages, and Susan Belgrave, the granddaughter of Napier's second-in-command, Major General Charles Staveley.

There was much that was new to me: I had never seen a Snider rifle, cannon balls and matchlock shot from the Aroge field (the group I went with in 1996 took a metal detector and found nothing), Fitaurari Gabre's grave, Yohannes IV's palace and Henry Morton Stanley's tent site, a Russian howitzer shellcase as a modern lithophone, and much more besides. All in all it was a memorable evening.

First Published in News File Winter 2012

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