The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Book Review - A Paire of Intelopers: The English Abyssinian Warriors
Reviewer - Paul Salt
The book's cover immediately catches one's eye, and sure enough it is The Mountains of Samen, by Henry Salt. Then, that strange title, A Paire of Intelopers, which turns out to be a quotation from one of the self-styled "intelopers" himself in the early 1800s. Next, and not least, the author's name certainly rings a bell. Peta Rée is, of course, a member of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society, and we all remember that she was co-author, with Deborah Manley, of Henry Salt: Artist, Traveller, Diplomat, Egyptologist (Libri, 2001). I suppose it is fair to say that the new book continues in a comparable way, resurrecting the lives of unfamiliar and neglected figures from the annals of history, often in their own words.
These adventures follow six "Heroes". First, Welled Selasse, Ras of Tigre, the most powerful man in Abyssinia in the early 1800s. Second, Subegadis, turning from rebel to benevolent despot until defeated, captured and beheaded in 1831. Third, Viscount Valentia, who sponsored Salt's overseas ventures and pulled embryonic diplomatic strings at home. Fourth, Henry Salt, 1780-1827, remembered for his pioneering journeys to Abyssinia, for his art, and for his consulate duties and collections in Egypt. Fifth, Nathaniel Pearce, 1779-1820, a little-known adventurer and "inteloper" who occasionally appears as a mere footnote in historical works. Sixth, William Coffin, c1782-1854, employed by Viscount Valentia in 1802 on a journey to India and beyond, culminating in a period of over 40 years as another "inteloper" in Abyssinia.
As it happened, the Englishmen arrived in Abyssinia in the furnace of a fierce civil war, during the Era of the Princes. Whilst the Emperor still resided in Gondar, real power and wealth lay in the northern provinces, thanks to control of the salt caravans and supplies of arms from the port of Massawa. Into this conflict in 1805 stepped our adventurous Englishmen, oblivious to local history.
Nathaniel Pearce stayed in this Abyssinian cauldron for many years. His memoirs transport you from the comfort of your armchair and fling you headlong into battle as he risks life and limb alongside local warriors, whilst providing unique insights into daily life and social customs of the time. He was joined by Coffin, and both men kept journals of their experiences. For several years, they stayed close together, sharing adventures, and dicing with death.
The book has been meticulously researched, as you would expect from Peta Rée, with copious footnotes at the back, and a select index of names and bibliography. Spelling of names is consistent, but one has to bear in mind the idiosyncrasies of translation over a timescale of two centuries. Nevertheless, I feel that maps would help an understanding of towns, regions and distances. I am always willing to overlook occasional typographical errors, which seem to be increasingly prevalent these days, but I was disappointed to find that my copy of the book was missing 14 pages, and I trust that this omission can soon be rectified. Despite this, it is highly recommended
A Paire of Intelopers: The
English Abyssinian Warriors.