The prince and the adventurer

By Wight Living

Prince Alemayehu Tewodros (Photo:  Julia Margaret Cameron.)
Prince Alemayehu Tewodros (Photo: Julia Margaret Cameron.)

FOR ME, one of the most haunting of all the images captured by Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is of an Ethiopian prince and his captor.

The picture illustrates the paradoxes of Britain’s 19th century imperial adventure.

By 1900, the British Empire controlled a quarter of the planet. Although ultimately enforced by the death-rattle of the Gatling machine gun, this imperial edifice was justified by what the French called ‘the civilising mission’.

Julia Margaret Cameron herself was a product of the empire. She was born in Calcutta in 1815, when it was ruled by the East India Company and she died on her family estates in Sri Lanka in 1879.

These pictures were taken at her studio at Dimbola in Freshwater Bay, where she lived from 1860 to 1875.

In her room, she captured a series of Victorian celebrities for posterity by photography when it was still a difficult technical process.

Tristram Speedy, the man in the pictures, was also born in India — in the army barracks at Meerut in 1836. He was an imperial adventurer, who served on the Indian North-West Frontier and in New Zealand.

While hunting in the Horn of Africa, he was employed by King Tewdros II of Ethiopia to train troops in the modern style and learned Amharic. Later, he served as a consul in nearby Masala on the Red Sea coast. Read more