In 1868 the British Army undertook an expedition into Abyssinia (now Ethiopia and Eritrea) to rescue a group of British subjects at Magdala, who had been imprisoned by the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II.

Photograph: Copyright of John Pilkington, 2019

They returned with the freed subjects and several objects taken forcibly after the Emperor committed suicide. Ethiopian authorities and supporters have long campaigned for the return of these looted items, including the son of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, Richard Pankhurst. 

Photograph: Copyright of John Pilkington, 2019

 Earlier this year, the National Army Museum trustees made a decision to return a lock of hair belonging to Tewodros II. However, many are now held in British cultural collections, including the gold crown at the V&A Museum in London (one of a number of crowns taken). It is an important symbol of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

In this story, our guest ‘global storyteller’, the explorer John Pilkington, retraces the route of the expedition and considers the changes that have swept through Eritrea and Ethiopia since then.

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