A letter penned from inside the Magdala Fortress – September 16, 1866

— On this date on September 16,  1866, a letter was penned and signed from the Magdala fortress by a British woman being held captive by Emperor Tewodros II.  The captive was among dozens being held in a drama that would lead to the downfall of the Ethiopian Emperor hailed for uniting Ethiopia from the Era of Princes. Magdala, September 16, 1866 My dear Colonel, I HAVE written already twice on all that happened to us, so I must trust that one will reach. I might send you many pages full of all we feel and see, but qui bene? it may perhaps only bring us into a scrape, and after all can do no good. Abyssinian prison life is a curious one: we are silent prisoners, still the friends of His gracious Majesty, and treated with the favour only shown to a few privileged captives. A ring is hammered on each leg(anything but a pleasant operation), and three links passed in the rings keep the legs in close proximity to one another; the iron resting on the ancle is very painful, so that every morning we put some bandages above the ancle to avoid the friction. Still it is a nuisance, as with all care vermin do get into them. We have altogether a curious aspect–nothing of the Officer, the Consul, and the Reverend — some of us, I amongst them, without shoes or stockings (and that for the very good reason that having only a pair of shoes I keep them in case (!!) we should ever go out), with trousers ripped on the side and buttoned so as to be able to put them on, or else made of a very thin Abyssinian cloth, so as to be able to pass between the rings. Clothes more or less worn out, with straggling beards and shaven heads, sunburnt, and altogther’ seedy looking, we have more the appearance of real criminals than of mer hostages. Mr. Stern is rather breaking down, he worries to much. Cameron is picking up wonderfully–eats like ten men and absorbs liquid in the same proportion. Mr. Rosenthal is quite well, and Rassam is fat and well, though much older. Prideaux is well too; though it does not show much, on account of the natural light colour of his hair. Before coming here we used to say that a good glass of sale and a good cheroot were amongst the blessings of civilized life we most regretted; now we only long for a walk, our ambition not reaching even to a ride. Books, letters, and papers are what we most require. A lon day without anything to do but read a stupid book again and again is the Magdala day ; the evening, Rassam, Prideaux, and myself have a game at whist; the others are too much down in the mouth, and kill themselves, morally at least, by brooding over their misery. As it can do no good, I for one try to make myself as jolly as possible under the circumstances, rather a difficult thing, but not, however, to be dispaired. Do not forget us a few stores : some tobacco, cheroots, and anything to enliven the poor prisoners. (signed) H. BLANCC. (Photo: Emperor Tewodros II statue in Gondar)

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