Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September 1, 1882 --- Zulu Chieftain

September 1 --- (1882) --- The great Zulu leader, Cetshwayo, sails from Southampton, returning to his homeland where British officials plan to place him back upon his throne. He had been brought to England to discuss the prospect of lasting peace in turbulent Zululand.  In the Zulu War of 1879, his warriors had badly embarrassed and bloodied the Queen's forces at Isandlwana.  Sir Garnet Wolseley's reinforcements crushed Cetshwayo's forces later at Ulundi.

A captive for three years, the chief proved an able diplomat. The Foreign Office and Prime Minister Gladstone agreed to his return, under strict British control. The "sable potentate" was the sensation of the normally dull London summer.  He lodged in fashionable South Kensington (there's now a Blue Plaque honoring his stay at 18 Melbury Road).  Cetshwayo was seen everywhere; at the Zoo, the Crystal. Palace, at a major temperance convention where he promised to ban spirits from Zululand, but not beer, which he called "mere gruel."  The highlight of his stay was an audience with the Queen at Osborne: "Cetawayo (a variant spelling) is a very fine man ... tall with a good-humored countenance and an intelligent face. Unfortunately, he appeared in a hideous black frock coat and trousers."  The chief's traditional necklace of animal claws had been taken by Wolseley and broken up for souvenirs for the wives of influential politicians.

In Southampton, The Times correspondent notes: "His Majesty looked remarkably well, his generally grave features occasionally lighting up with a smile at the cordiality which he met with on his departure to open a new chapter in South African history."

The new chapter is a brief one. Rival chieftains, using Cetshwayo's ties to London against him, quickly brought him down. Punch had prophesized as much:

Good bye Great Cetawayo? I think you'll understand
That what is right in London may be wrong in Zululand.

The chief died while a "guest" at the British residency at Eshowe in 1884..

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