Magdala Road, TW7

Place Name

Named after the fortress taken by the British Expedition to Abyssinia to rescue several missionaries and representatives of the British government taken hostage by the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II. The Ethiopian monarch had taken the prisoners in a bid to get the British government’s attention after it turned down his requests for military assistance against Islamic rebels. Led by General Sir Robert Napier the mission was hailed a great success in the face of formidable obstacles. General Sir Robert Cornelis Napier also known as Lord Napier of Magdala was given charge of the rescue described by The Times as “the most remarkable military undertaking in the career of Lord Napier of Magdala was the war in Abyssinia. His successful conduct of that brief but dramatic campaign has rendered his name memorable in history.” In October 1862, the Abyssinian Emperor Tewodros II, who styled himself King of Kings, made a rash decision as he sought help from Queen Victoria. Throughout the 1850s, Tewodros had conquered tribes and fought his way to the throne of Ethiopia, at first his rule was benevolent liberating slaves and bringing peace to the region but his decisions became increasing erratic. A Christian and Shakespeare lover, Tewodros wanted British expertise to modernise his vast, warlord-ridden domain. He asked the British consul, Charles Duncan Cameron, to take his request to London. The letter was passed around the Civil Service for many months, when the response came it provoked outrage – instead of the engineers and armaments, he had requested, he was sent a carpet. To make matters worse the design chosen featured a lion being attacked by a turbaned zouave. He responded by kidnapping Cameron and several other Europeans. Hormuzd Rassam, the Assistant British Resident in Aden, was dispatched with a judiciously phrased letter. But Tewodros concluded that his abduction techniques were finally getting him noticed. So he kidnapped Rassam as well. When appeasement failed to secure the release of the captives, the British sent an expeditionary force of 5,000 men under Sir Robert Napier. It defeated Tewodros’s army in April 1868. When Napier appealed to the Emperor to surrender, he suggested a duel with Napier. Instead, the British bombarded the hilltop citadel of Magdala. Rather than be taken alive, Tewodros shot himself. At his mother’s request, Tewodros’s seven-year-old son, Alamayehu, also left with the conquering general. Queen Victoria paid his fees at Rugby School. However, his health collapsed and he died in Leeds and he was buried in the royal vault at Windsor.

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