To Eritrea and Ethiopia: Retracing a Victorian Expedition


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             Expedition bridgeExpedition bridge

To Eritrea and Ethiopia: Retracing a Victorian Expedition

In 1868 the British government mounted an extraordinary bid to rescue a clutch of European hostages deep in the Ethiopian highlands. They built a Red Sea port, then a railway across the coastal plain, and finally imported 44 Indian elephants and commissioned 26,000 local people to serve the soldiers and carry their heavy guns into the heart of Africa.

        Route mapRoute map

A hundred and fifty years later, John followed in their footsteps and looked at the changes that have swept through Eritrea and Ethiopia since that time. He says, “It’s very exciting to be back in Africa – a chance to think about how Europe’s relations with the two countries have moved forward, and about how far we still have to go.”

               The Queen's armyThe Queen’s army

“Only the Victorians would have set off on such a mad mission. The captives were being held in a supposedly impregnable hilltop fortress 400 miles inland. Despite arduous conditions, the invaders reached it, freed them, and put an end to the emperor who for four years had been their persecutor. They then looted his rich collection of treasures – which they saw as booty – but to its credit Whitehall resisted the temptation to turn the success into a full-scale colonisation bid. Had it done so, the Horn of Africa’s history might have turned out rather differently. Instead, they simply made their way back to the coast, dismantled the equipment and took their elephants home.”

            John's donkeyJohn’s donkey

Follow John’s journey as it happened through his monthly updates:

31st December 201723rd January 20186th February 201812th March 201814th April 2018

First updateLast update

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