March to Magdala, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

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Ethiopia, Africa
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Created On: Nov 23, 2011
Last Edited On: Nov 23, 2011


It is possible to retrace the final 150 miles of the route taken by General Napier in his famous Abyssinian Campaign of 1868 - the March to Magdala.

In 1862, Emperor Tewodros II of Abyssinia made a request to the British for munitions and military experts. He was a Coptic Christian who was regularly engaged in warfare with his Muslim neighbours. He thought that an infusion of expertise from the British could help his realm in this turbulent part of the world. With this in mind he dispatched a letter to Queen Victoria asking for help.

As time passed by, it became clear that the British Foreign Office had completely ignored this particular request. This did not please the King at all. He became even further infuriated when he found out that the British Consul, Captain Charles Cameron, had just returned back to Abyssinia after a visit to neighbouring Egypt; A country that the King considered to be one of his enemies. Exasperated by this antipathy of the British, Emperor Tewodros decided to hold Captain Cameron, and others, as hostages until he received a reply to his letter.

At the time of this event, Gladstone and the Liberals were the ruling party in Britain and they were deeply reluctant to get involved in any imperial adventures. This was despite the fact that their own inaction had helped to create this particular problem. Letters from Captain Cameron to the British press, and the fact that British women and children were numbered amongst the hostages, meant that the profile of this incident was high in the public imagination.
A relief expedition was organised and the British Indian army landed at a bay in what is now Eritrea. The march took two and a half months before the army successfully stormed the kings fortress high in the Simien Mountains. General Napier lead this expedition accompanied by infantry, artillery, cavalry altogether about 13000 British and Indian soldiers, 26000 camp followers and 40000 pack animals, including camels and elephants. The 390 mile long expedition began in Kumayli, at the Red Sea, crossing Eritrea, along Lake Hashengie and ended finally in Magdala. Tewodros II committed suicide when he was defeated by the English troops.

Getting There

The easiest way to the start point of the route at Lake Hashengie is to fly from Addis Ababa to Mekele. It is then a short drive down to Lake Hashengie. The return journey is from the town of Tenta to Addis Ababa.

Route Description

The route passes from the start point at Lake Hashengie through the edge of the Simien Mountains, deep gorges and remote villages. The villages of Muja and Kon are en-route to the final fortress at Magdala.

External Links

The route was recreated in 2003 by a team from the museum of the Kings Own Royal Regiment

There is an expedition planned in April 2012 by Secret Compass


March to Magdala, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

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