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Captain Tristram Charles Speedy, Circa 1885

 undefined — Frame: 2
Identifier: 2

Scope and Contents

Signed cabinet photograph of Captain Speedy of the 1868 Abyssinian Campaign. Strommeyer & Heymann, Cairo, circa 1885 [possibly taken at the time of Sir W. Hewett’s Embassy to King John of Abyssinia].


  • Circa 1885


Language of Materials


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Biographical Note

Captain Charles Tristram Speedy epitomises the concept of a Victorian swashbuckling adventurer, a concept which this photograph does nothing to dispel. His name is inextricably linked with Abyssinia in the second half of the nineteenth century. After a period of service with the army in India, Speedy resigned his commission and travelled to Abyssinia in 1860. There he was invited by King Theodore to enter his service, an offer which Speedy declined, though he remained in the country, learned Amharic and was accorded the nickname of “Basha Fellaka” (as noted by Speedy on the reverse of the photograph).

Biographical / Historical

“Basha” is a corruption of the Turkish title “Pasha” and “Fellaka” means “speedy” in Amharic. It also has a secondary meaning, “glittering”, a reference to the fact that Speedy wore spectacles which glittered in the sun. An imposing figure (he was 6’ 6” tall), he appears to have delighted in his exotic title and ‘uniform’. In 1863 he served as Vice-Consul in Massawa to Consul Cameron, who later became one of the prisoners detained by Theodore. Speedy then went to New Zealand but in 1867 was recalled to Abyssinia by Sir Robert Napier and, wearing his Basha Fellaka costume, played a significant part in the successful expedition to secure the release of Theodore’s prisoners. At its conclusion, Theodore’s young son, Prince Alamayu, was taken back to England and Speedy was appointed by Napier as his guardian (see catalogue item 1, no. 9). Speedy’s wife wrote a little memoir, under the pseudonym “C.C.” (Cornelia Cotton, her maiden name) after Alamayu died from pneumonia in England, at the age of eighteen. Mrs. Speedy also published the letters which she had written to her mother under the title Wanderings in the Sudan (London, 1884). Speedy’s involvement with Abyssinia did not end with the 1868 expedition. His linguistic skills, knowledge of the country and his contacts made him an indispensable member of Admiral Sir W. Hewett’s Embassy to King John of Abyssinia in 1885. He also accompanied the mission headed by Mr. Rennell Rodd (later to become Lord Rennell of Rodd) to the Court of the Emperor Menelik in 1897. The Illustrated London News used photographs taken by Speedy to illustrate its report on the mission.


1 photograph (1 photograph, 10 x 16 cm.)


Albumen print (10 x 16 cm.), depicting Captain Speedy reclining in a studio setting, sporting his Abyssinian costume and holding a spear. Signed on the reverse, ‘Yours very truly, T. C. S. Speedy as “Basha Fellaka”.


Title supplied by cataloger.

Library Details

Part of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies Repository

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Evanston IL 60208-2300 US