Orphaned in tragic circumstances in the weeks following the Battle of Magdala in 1868, Déjatch Alámáyou (1861–1879), heir of Emperor Tewodros (Theodore) II of Ethiopia, was brought to England by British forces while under the guardianship of Captain Tristram Speedy (1836–1911). On arrival in England, Alámáyou was introduced to Queen Victoria at Osborne House, her summer home on the Isle of Wight. It was at this time that Cameron took a series of photographs of Déjatch, his attendant Casa, and Captain Speedy.
Charles Darwin’s wife Emma would later write to her son George: “Yesterday the little Abyssinian prince & his Capt. Speedy came to be pho[tograph]ed – they dressed up in Abyssinian dress & we went to see them” (Ford & Cox, Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs, 2001). This image is not in Ford & Cox, who record 2 other versions of this composition.
Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros, often referred to as HIH Prince Alemayehu or Alamayou of Ethiopia (23 April 1861 – 14 November 1879) was the son of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia. Emperor Tewodros II committed suicide after his defeat by the British, led by Sir Robert Napier, at the Battle of Magdala in 1868. Alemayehu’s mother was Empress Tiruwork Wube.
The young prince was taken to Britain, under the care of Captain Tristram Speedy. The Empress Tiruwork had intended to travel to Britain with her son following the death of her husband, but died on the way to the coast leaving Alemayehu an orphan. Initially, Empress Tiruwork had resisted Captain Speedy’s efforts to be named the child’s guardian, and had even asked the commander of the British forces, Lord Napier, to keep Speedy away from her child and herself. After the death of the Empress however, Napier allowed Speedy to assume the role of caretaker. Upon the arrival of the little Prince’s party in Alexandria however, Speedy dismissed the entire Ethiopian entourage of the Prince much to their distress and they returned to Ethiopia.
While staying at Speedy’s home on the Isle of Wight he was introduced to Queen Victoria at her home at Osborne House. She took a great interest in his life and education. Alamayehu spent some time in India with Speedy and his wife, but the government decided he should be educated in England and he was sent to Cheltenham to be educated under the care of Thomas Jex-Blake, principal of Cheltenham College. He moved to Rugby School with Jex-Blake in 1875, where one of his tutors was Cyril Ransome (the future father of Arthur Ransome). In 1878 he joined the officers’ training school at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, but he was not happy there and the following year went to Far Headingley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, to stay with his old tutor Cyril Ransome. Within a week he had contracted pleurisy and died after six weeks of illness, despite the attentions of Dr Clifford Allbutt of Leeds and other respected consultants.
Queen Victoria mentioned the death of the young prince in her diary, saying what a good and kind boy he had been and how sad it was that he should die so far from his family. She also mentioned how very unhappy the prince had been, and how conscious he was of people staring at him because of his colour.
Queen Victoria arranged for Alamayehu to be buried at Windsor Castle. The funeral took place on 21 November 1879, in the presence of Cyril Ransome, Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford Northcote, General Napier, and Captain Speedy. A brass plaque in the nave of St George’s chapel commemorates him and bears the words “I was a stranger and ye took me in”, but Alamayehu’s body is buried in a brick vault outside the chapel. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia arranged for second plaque commemorating the Prince to be placed in the chapel as well.
In 2007, the Ethiopian government requested the return of Alemayehu’s remains for reburial in Ethiopia.
And this is another photo of the prince, from the same year, after they dressed him up in Western attire: