057: Black London, 1882

The Times reported that on 28 January 1882 William Grant of Sierra Leone had died in London. Born in the colony of Ibo parents around 1831, Grant was in London seeking plantation machinery. He was the owner of the West African Reporter and a member of the colony’s legislative council. His daughter Edith was married to lawyer Samuel Lewis (who died in London in 1904 – see page 021).

Most of August 1882 saw crowds outside 18 Melbury Road in Kensington, a substantial house rented by the Colonial Office to house Cetshwayo the leader of the Zulus, who arrived in Plymouth on 3 August with five colleagues. The Crystal Palace entertainment complex in south London advertised they would be on show there on 10 August, but the visit was for state purposes. Cetshwayo met Lord Kimberley (the colonial secretary) at the Colonial Office, for talks lasting one hour, on 7 August and later. The Zulus went to the Isle of Wight and met Queen Victoria at Osborne Palace, and again at Windsor.

Visitors included leaders of temperance societies, and Virginia-born ex-slave Thomas Lewis Johnson and his wife Sarah — Johnson mentioned this in his 1909 Twenty-eight Years a Slave – the first small edition of his story was published in 1882. After visiting the botanical gardens at Kew, knowing his position as sovereign of the Zulu people had been restored by the British government, Cetshwayo and his colleagues left at the beginning of September 1882.

In 2006 a blue plaque was placed on 18 Melbury Road to commemorate the African visitor. It was a successful visit by the Africans – later visitors were to be disappointed by the British government’s decisions.


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