221 : African princes in Victorian Britain

A letter in The Times of 12 August 1882 (p 4) quoted from a statement made by Colonial Secretary Lord Carnarvon in 1881: ‘The experiment had been tried more than once of bringing West African princes to this country in order to adapt them to an English career and send them back more capable of carrying out our policy in that part of the world. He could not recall a single instance in which that policy had been a success’. Failure was usual and there was ‘a strong suspicion of treachery’ when they returned home.
In September 1851 ‘a young African prince in Liverpool’ had been interviewed by a reporter of the Liverpool Standard, reprinted in London’s Daily News, Morning Post and provincial newspapers. ‘A pleasing interview with a remarkably intelligent boy’ aged five and a half, Thomas Canray Caulker the son of the ‘King of Bompey’ (Bumpe) in Sierra Leone had come to Britain with Captain Swinton of the Newcastle ship Adeline, Swinton acting as his guardian. The reporter thought the habits and culture the lad was to receive in Britain would benefit his country. He was at school in Liverpool for two years but some thought Swinton was unsuitable and custody should be with a church or another individual, and a writ of habeas corpus was served on Swinton in April 1853 and the African was produced in court. The Cheltenham Examiner noted his new guardian was the Countess of Huntingdon’s Missionary Society (a Nonconformist Christian church active in Sierra Leone). He had lived in Cheltenham for six years where many residents had seen ‘a coloured boy walking with his friend and instructor, the Rev. J. K. Forster’. His parents died, his uncle became the heir and he became blind. He had given ‘clear proof that the African mind, under proper cultivation, is capable of intellectual and religious attainments’ and had learned to read ‘with his fingers’ (Braille). Caulker died in Islington on 1 June 1859. Classmates from the Blind Asylum sung a favourite hymn at the interment at Abney Park cemetery, London’s main Nonconformist cemetery. His headstone stated he was ‘A native of Western Africa’ [Daily News, 10 September 1851; Glasgow Herald, 12 September 1851; Liverpool Mercury, 26 April 1853; Standard (London), 16 June 1859, p 2; Derby Mercury , 22 June 1859.]
In May 1853 the arrival of an ‘African prince’ at Southampton was noted in London. He arrived from St Vincent on the Severn sailing from Brazil. Prince Sidi was to travel on to France with governor of Senegal where he lived. ‘A fine young man’ he wanted to see Europe. Aged twenty, he was a Muslim whose religious devotions had been carefully followed whilst on the Severn. He spoke Arabic and some French but the governor’s Black servant was the interpreter. He was heir to a region between the Gambia and Senegal rivers. St Vincent was surely Sao Vincente in the Cape Verde Islands. The prince stayed at a Southampton hotel for three nights, visited nearby Netley Abbey and departed for Le Havre on 18 May. He wore trousers under his robes, generally ate rice and mutton chops and slept on a bed at the hotel (the reporter must have talked to the chambermaids) Daily News (London), 18 and 19 May 1853; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 26 May 1853, p 1.
The Church Missionary Society had a school for Africans in Islington, north London where the future Archbishop Samuel Crowther had trained in the 1840s, and built a residential college and a grammar school in Freetown. Many Africans who studied in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century had attended one or both. Wesleyan missionaries also encouraged education, and Charles Knight and Joseph Wright trained in London and in 1848 became full ministers of that church. In 1852 Scipio Wright was ordained in England by the Huntingdonians [Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, Oxford University Press, 1962, pp 236-7, 254 and 260.]
Africans came to Britain for many reasons, often self-motivated. Charles and George Jo Jo were born in Natal and out of curiosity made their way to Norway and then England in the 1870s. Charles worked for some months as ‘King Koffee’ in a circus and a menagerie. His elder brother was befriended by Harry Gratton Guinness. Guinness’s Christian mission in east London took care of George Jo Jo, and Charles joined him. They returned to South Africa and went to college at Lovedale [Lovedale Register, Past and Present (Lovedale, 1887), p 103 courtesy Catharina Weinek]. That Britons were unworthy must have crossed the mind of Kafi Intee the son of an African monarch who, on arrival in London via Liverpool from Sierra Leone on the Ethiopia in 1875 found he had been robbed of diamonds worth over £3,000 according to the Liverpool Mercury of 18 June 1875.
Traditional leader Ja Ja of Opobo, eastern Nigeria, had his son Warobo sent, under the protection of a Glasgow merchant active in Opobo to study in England in 1881. He went to a small school run by Revd R. Borwick in Frodsham, on the Welsh-Cheshire border. He caught a chill and died from a chest infection in April 1882. The parish church in the tiny village of Overton saw his funeral on 26 April, and six school colleagues carried the coffin to the grave. He was thirteen years old. This was reported in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London), 30 April 1882 and in the Liverpool Mercury of 27 April 1882 and the Cheshire Observer of 29 April 1882, p 4.
George Pepple I of Bonny (born 1849) spent eight years in Britain and was a ‘diehard convert to Christianity’. George Pepple had attended Hall Place School in Bexley, Kent (he was there when the census was taken in 1861). He read The Times, made many trips to Britain and was interested in British popular culture. In June 1878 he was at a meeting of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Mansion House. A bishop, a millionairess, the head of the police, Lord Aberdare and a leading banker were named along with the King of Bonny – there were 1,500 people present. In June 1878 he sat on the magistrate’s bench at the Mansion House court in London. One month later he was presented to Queen Victoria’s heir when the Prince of Wales visited the London Hospital. Between 1870 and 1884 his chiefs opposed his views but by 1886 they too realised that ‘missionary enterprise could be of decisive political and economic advantage to their territory’. A contemporary recalled he ‘spoke and wrote English like an Englishman and dressed as we do’. Disagreements with other local leaders led to factional politics, uncertainty over the palm kernel harvests which were shipped to Europe for processing, and the pagan versus Christianity arguments led to King George being deposed between 1883 and 1886, when he was restored and a British protectorate declared. He died in 1888. [The Times (London), 22 June 1878, p 13; The Times (London), 23 July 1878, p 6; Lancaster Gazette, 19 June 1878; and Harry Johnson, The Story of My Life,(Garden City NJ: 1923), p 180.]
An African monarch named Dejatch Alamayu came to Britain from Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) in 1868 with a male attendant named Kassa. The seven year old orphaned son of the Emperor Tewodros or Theodore II went to India in mid-1869. Then he attended Cheltenham College from 1871 and was a ward of College head Thomas Jex-Blake from March 1872. He followed Jex-Blake to Rugby School in 1874. The aim was to become an officer in the British Indian army. He went to Sandhurst in 1877, his entry facilitated by Queen Victoria’s interest in him. He died from pleurisy in Leeds on 14 November 1879. Photographed by the famed Julia Margaret Cameron and others in 1868, a sculptured likeness was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880. Victoria asked for Alamayu to be buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor (where many British monarchs, princes and princesses are buried). She wrote in her journal: ‘His was no happy life’. His father’s kingdom had been invaded by the British in 1868, defeating the Ethiopian forces at Magdala where Tewodros’s body had been found (probably a suicide). Items taken from Ethiopia remain in British museums, an account of the campaign was written by future African traveller Henry Morton Stanley, the commanding general Robert Napier (full title: Lord Napier of Magdala) has his equestrian statue in London’s Kensington Road and some British pubs are named Magdala. The British and Indian regiments departed, and both the campaign and Alamayu became memories, with a tablet to him on the wall of the chapel at Rugby.
That memorial is one extreme of these African princely souvenirs in Britain: the grave of Warobo is at another extreme.


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