063: Moses Wallace, the African Prince, 1869

The Times, 13 April 1869
The Times, 13 April 1869

The British press carried numerous reports of the activities of an African prince in 1869. An early example is the Glasgow Herald (6 April) in a report from the magistrate’s court in Marlborough Street, London when James Manna “a man of colour” was remanded, following evidence that he had rented accommodation in Marylebone where the landlord then found him apparently studying watches and other valuables. He had told the landlord he was son of the King of Dahomey, was paid £10,000 a year by the government of Sierra Leone, and had shipped items to England including £17,000 of gold dust and £7,000 of palm oil. The landlord asked the Liberian consul, and a city hotel manager, having been informed that the “beautiful” white woman who accompanied the African prince was the daughter of the Lord Chamberlain. The African had come to England to study law. But when detained he was wearing an admiral’s uniform, the woman was a “bad character”, and Manna was thought to have been a servant although he had been seen wearing his uniform at the Crystal Palace entertainment centre in south London. Reports appeared between 6 and 10 April in Liverpool, London, Dundee, Belfast, and Manchester newspapers.

On 13 April the Pall Mall Gazette reported Manna’s return to court where the magistrate heard he had ordered articles costing £70, a piano (£80), books, wine, tea etc. He was wanted in Liverpool, and had been tried at Maidstone for stealing clothing in Chatham. A law professor said Manna had told him he wanted to study law, and so the professor had settled his Inns of Court hotel bill. Hotel keepers had been victims of Manna. He was again remanded for a week. The London Standard (13 April) repeated this and added that he claimed to be the “son and heir to the King of the Gallinas” [the coastal south east of Sierra Leone, adjoining Liberia]. He also had claimed to have arrived in Liverpool on the City of Edinburgh but that ship had not been in Liverpool in the period he indicated. Manna denied he was a sailor. At a Haymarket, London, hotel he had claimed to be a General Sulliman, and at the Langham he was that general’s servant. Other reports also noted that a James Harris who had lived in the Gallinas and knew Prince Manna there said the prisoner had no link to that family. The Illustrated Police News (17 April) said when detained at the Holborn casino Manna’s admiral’s uniform had a coat that was too long and the trousers were turned up at the bottom by “a few inches”. The Birmingham Daily Post (21 April) then reported he had been sent to prison for six weeks, with hard labour, for one of his offences.

The Belfast Newsletter of 26 May carried a report from the New York Tribune which indicated Manna, or rather Moses Doyle, had been released from prison there in April 1868. He had obtained accommodation in Brooklyn for himself and a “mulatto” princess, his “wife”, saying he was the Prince of Acra (sic) son of the king of that country. He had been in the U.S. Navy, as a cook – and had now turned up in London as James Manna.

As Moses Doyle Wallace, aged about 20, he was charged with fraud at the police court in Glasgow, for he had (as “James Kelly”) claimed to be the owner of some ships in the Clyde and so obtained accommodation. The Dundee Courier (2 September) added that he had been jailed, and on release had become engaged to a local woman. He borrowed £5 from a merchant, who became suspicious and went to the police station where he was told the truth. His fiancee swore to get her revenge. Her would-be husband had been arrested on the day of the wedding. Wallace/Kelly said he had two fathers and one mother, and one father was a king in Africa and the other a merchant in Demerara [then a common name for British Guiana, in South America]. He had just arrived from Demerara, but had been in Britain before when he was studying at Oxford. The news of the bogus African caused one man to write to the Glasgow Herald on 1 September (it was published the next day), signing himself “A Mulatto, who toils hard for his bread at Patterson Street, Kingston”. Wallace was an imposter, “a little, mean, dwarfish black, full of low cunning”. The Glasgow police might be thinking that he was Wallace! The man brought attention to the fact that last Sunday a “son of Africa” filled the pulpit of a Glasgow church, that today a police-dock had another “of her sons”, and tonight “another son of the South is to play his part on a Glasgow stage” [Morgan Smith, the American actor]. Moses Doyle Wallace alias James Kelly, charged with obtaining money under false pretences, was sentenced to 30 days (Belfast Newsletter and Cardiff’s Western Mail, 4 September 1869).

Moses D. Wallace alias John M’Quiver was arrested in Liverpool in November 1869, reported as “Arrest of ‘an African Prince'” in the Liverpool Mercury (19 November). He had purchased a gold watch and chain for £600, issuing a forged bill of exchange. He was “dressed in the height of fashion” and had ordered goods on credit and again stayed at several hotels sometimes as Captain James Brookes. He was to be sent to Glasgow.

The Glasgow Herald of 20 November had items about the African Prince on both page 4 and page 5. “The ‘African Prince’ again in trouble”, having immediately on release from prison ordered goods, saying he had started studying at Glasgow University. He obtained a gown on credit, and shopped in the city’s main street, then had sailed for Liverpool. There he visited clothing and jewellery shops.

Whoever he was – American (he had served in the Navy), from British Guiana, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast [today: Ghana] where Accra was an important town – Moses Wallace’s career in Britain in 1869 was somewhat typical of the several bogus African princes who appear time and again in Britain. Obtaining credit, dressing well, getting into close associations with local women, and bouncing back from time in prison. Some have been studied: Joseph Howard Lee born in Baltimore in 1887, became Bata Kindai Amgoza Ibn Lobagola, from Dahomey (see David Killingray’s study in Bernth Lindfors, Africans on Stage [1999]); Peter Lobengula, from southern Africa, in Ben Shephard’s Kitty and the Prince (2003); and the Jamaican Isaac Brown who claimed both South African and Ethiopian descent was detailed in 2010 in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (he is mentioned in Jeffrey Green, Black Edwardians, 1998).

The gullibility of the British made all this possible, of course.


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