In 1868 the British government mounted an extraordinary bid to rescue a clutch of European hostages in the Ethiopian highlands. They built a Red Sea port, then a railway across the coastal plain, and finally imported 44 Indian elephants and commissioned 26,000 local people to serve the soldiers and carry their heavy artillery into the heart of Africa.
A hundred and fifty years later, John has been following their route, partly on foot with a donkey, and has been comparing Ethiopia then and now. He’s found a people who are boisterous and charming, living in a dramatic and extremely challenging land. History and adventure combined! On his return he said, “Only the Victorians would have set off on such a mad mission. The captives were being held in a supposedly impregnable hilltop fortress 400 miles inland. Despite arduous conditions, the invaders reached it, freed them, and put an end to the emperor who for four years had been their persecutor. They then looted his rich collection of treasures – which they saw as booty – but to its credit Whitehall resisted the temptation to turn the success into a full-scale colonisation bid. Had it done so, the Horn of Africa’s history might have turned out rather differently. Instead, they simply made their way back to the coast, dismantled the equipment and took their elephants home. “As well as meeting today’s Eritreans and Ethiopians, of course I captured the drama of the route with lots of photographs, and have put the best of them into this new presentation