The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

'Abyssinian Curiosities'

'Abyssinian Curiosities'

The British military expedition to Abyssinia [modern-day Ethiopia] of 1867 numbered some 13,000 soldiers. When the fortress of Magdala fell, anything of any value in the city was plundered by the British forces. Many of these treasures were displayed as the spoils of war in an 1868 exhibition at the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A), where some of them can still be seen today. This photograph shows the precious objects collected by Major Arbuthnot, probably Major George Arbuthnot.

Born on 9 June 1836, he was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He joined the Royal Artillery as a Lieutenant on 24 September 1855; he was promoted Captain on 10 December 1864 and Major on 15 August 1868. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel on 25 August 1877.

He served in India as a Volunteer with the 14th Light Dragoons during the Indian Mutiny (twice mentioned in despatches, medal with clasp). He later served in the Abyssinian Campaign 1867-1868 as ADC to Sir Charles Staveley and was present at the capture of Magdala (three times mentioned in despatches, brevet of Major, medal). After his retirement from the Army, he served as the MP (Conservative) for Hereford from 1871 to 1874 and again from 1878 to 1880. He was also a JP for Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. He died at Hillingdon in Middlesex, aged 76, on 26 December 1912.

According to his obituary in the Times (30 December 1912), in 1870 he married Caroline Emma Nepean Aitchison, daughter of Captain Andrew Nepean Aitchison. The marriage produced three sons and three daughters.

Photographer unidentified.

Code: 123013
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