‘The Abyssinian Difficulty’: A Victorian Expedition


More talksMore about JohnBooks and how to orderSome impressions
Come to a talk!Contact detailsEmail John nowIntro and main menu


             Expedition bridgeExpedition bridge

‘The Abyssinian Difficulty’: Retracing a Victorian Expedition

In 1868 the British government mounted an extraordinary bid to rescue a clutch of European hostages 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 artillery into the heart of Africa.

A hundred and fifty years later, John will follow in their footsteps and look at the changes that have swept through Eritrea and Ethiopia in the intervening years. He says, “I’m very excited about going back to Africa. This will be a chance to think about how Europe’s relations with Eritrea and Ethiopia have moved forward, but most of all about how far we still have to go.”

           On the marchOn the march

“Only the Victorians would have set off on such a mad mission. The captives were being held in a supposedly impregnable hilltop fortress near Lalibela, 300 miles inland. Despite arduous conditions, the invaders reached it, freed them, and vanquished the emperor who for four years had been their persecutor. They then looted his rich collection of art 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 infrastructure and took their elephants home.”

                Post-mortem reportPost-mortem report

Follow John’s journey as it happens, through his updates from December 2017 to April 2018

Come to a talk!


Book now for his new slide/sound show, available from October 2018

View details of talk  ‘The Abyssinian Difficulty’   (Right-click to download)


Back to topMore talksMore about JohnBooks and how to orderSome impressions
Come to a talk!Contact detailsEmail John nowIntro and main menu

Made on a Mac