259: George Samuel Bailey alias Dr F. J. B. Ahmadia, 1920

Claiming a false identity, perhaps wearing a uniform, or stating you had professional qualifications, and generally attempting to trick members of the public still attracts people, both as participants and as newspaper readers. Such claims can be traced back many years, and the charlatans included women — such as Mary Willcocks who claimed to be Princess Caraboo from Javasu. She died in Bedminster (Bristol) in 1875. The Tichborne Claimant was a London butcher who lived in Australia, not Sir Roger Tichborne who died at sea near Brazil in 1854. The law suits in London lasted several months (see page 161). Isaac Brown was a young Jamaican whose claims to be an African prince led to newspaper coverage in 1907.

In 1920 newspapers which covered life in the south Wales region centred on Cardiff and Pontypridd carried reports of the arrest and trial of George Samuel Bailey, also known as Dr F. J. B. Ahmadia. He had been arrested wearing an army uniform, and was also charged with not complying with the law which, as an American alien, meant he should have registered with the police.

Contemporary reports contain contradictions. And his statements to the authorities included inventions as he admitted. There were thousands of army uniforms, badges and medals circulating in Britain following the end of the 1914-1918 war, and Bailey was wearing one when arrested. He said he was entitled to wear it, as he had been an officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, and had been demobilised in Damascus. This he soon said was false. Reported in Cardiff’s Western Mail of 16 November 1920, page 9, under a heading ‘Coloured American charged at Pontypridd’, he was said to have been born in Texas and was ‘alias Dr. F. J. B. Ahmadia’.

Two days later the Western Mail (page 8) said he had been an officer in R battery of the Royal Horse Artillery. A police officer stated he had found a doctor’s stethoscope at Bailey’s lodgings. No one seems to have noted that the RHA’s R battery had been a training battery at Woolwich in London.

The Western Mail of 19 November (page 4) headed a report ‘West Indian’s Career at Pontypridd’, stating Bailey said he had been born in Jamaica in 1888 and had lived from 1904 to 1915 in Mexico. He had been a sailor, and was shipwrecked in 1908. He lived in the U.S.A. 1914-1915, where he applied to the British authorities in Florida, seeking to enlist. ‘Unable to do so’ he sailed to England in April 1915. He had graduated from the detective’s training school in Kansas City, and so applied to Scotland Yard to be a detective in London. He was not accepted. He went to Pontypridd where from 1915 to 1917 he worked in the Ty Mawr coal mine. He then moved to London where he worked as a hotel porter. A police officer testified that Bailey had represented himself as a doctor.

The Pontypridd Observer of 20 November 1920 (page 5) had ‘Coloured Man at Pontypridd’ above its court report, where Bailey alias Dr Ahmadia was ‘described as an American citizen’. He said he had been a sailor, a detective, a doctor and a porter. He was found guilty of unlawfully wearing a military uniform and failing, as an alien, to register with the authorities. He was found guilty and the two sentences combined to four months.

As a British citizen (if the Jamaica story was true) the alien registration law would not have applied to him; and if American he could be expelled from Britain as soon as the prison period had ended. Pretending to be a doctor was a serious matter and the absence of police action and any witnesses also suggest that the British legal authorities were content with the four months which Bailey was to serve.

Bogus Africans such as racing tipster Prince Monolulu (1881-1965) (see page 018) and Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola, born Joseph Howard Lee in Baltimore in 1887, who authored An African Savage’s Own Story in 1930 are quite well known, but they were far from unique. The grave in Salford near Manchester where an African coal-miner and showman was buried in 1915 says he was Prince Peter Lobengula, but he did not speak the language of the Ndebele people whose monarch was claimed to be his father (see Ben Shephard, Kitty and the Prince London: Profile Books, 2003).