Only lock of hair belonging to an Ethiopian prince has been returned to his homeland, but his story is quite sad.
Prince Alemayehu shouldn’t have been in the United Kingdom, but miscommunication and the quickness to resort to arms caused his tragic life story.
His father, Emperor Tewodros II, sought an alliance with the UK in 1862 but Queen Victoria did not respond. So, he took matters into his own hands and held Europeans hostage, leading to a military expedition to rescue them.
In 1868, they seized Tewodros’ mountain fortress in northern Ethiopia, leading to the British plundering thousands of cultural and religious artefacts.
Emperor Tewodros chose to kill himself rather than be captured by the British. Prince Alemayehu was also taken away, possibly to prevent capture and possibly death.
The prince’s situation and his status as an orphan gained Queen Victoria’s sympathy after he arrived in Britain in June 1868. A few miles off the south coast of England, on the Isle of Wight, the two met for the first time.
She consented to provide for his financial needs and gave Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, who had travelled to Ethiopia with the prince, custody of the child.
Captain Speedy and the Ethiopian Prince [bbc]
After living together for a while on the Isle of Wight, Captain Speedy took him on trips to other countries, including India.
The prince, however, was mandated to receive a formal education. He was assigned to a public school in Rugby, England, but he did not enjoy it. Later, he relocated to Sandhurst’s Royal Military College, where he experienced bullying.
According to correspondence cited by Heavens, the prince had a “hankering” to go back home, but that desire was quickly squashed.
According to Ethiopian royal descendant Abebech Kasa, “He was uprooted from Ethiopia, from Africa, from the land of the black people and remained there as if he had no home.”
Alemayehu eventually found himself receiving instruction in a private Leeds residence. However, he fell ill—possibly with pneumonia—and at one point resisted getting help because he believed he had been poisoned.
The prince passed away in 1879 at the age of barely 18 after spending ten years in exile. He was buried on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Queen Victoria expressed her sadness at the death of Alemayehu, describing his life as difficult and traumatic and arranging for his burial at Windsor Castle.
After many requests by his family members for his body to be returned, Buckingham Palace responded that they couldn’t exhume his body since it would disturb the resting places of other bodies buried in the vicinity. A lock of hair from a deceased Ethiopian prince has now been handed over to his home country’s representatives in the UK.