Captain Speedy goes to Ethiopia - Travel and Photography sale at Bonhams

An exceptionally rare photographic album of Ethiopian images is to be auctioned in the Travel & Photography including India and Beyond sale at Bonhams in London on 4th December. It is just one of many such rare albums by the leading photographers of the day including Woodbury, Page and Beato ranging in price from £600 to £15,000.

This particular album, estimated to sell for £600-800 covers upwards of 180 views and portraits taken in Ethiopia including a number of self portraits of the intriguing character Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy(1836-1910) known by his Amharic name 'Báshá Félíka' meaning 'speedy'. This enterprising officer learned to speak Amharic and adopted native dress.

Captain Speedy, a six foot five red-haired bearded giant, had a long association with Ethiopia, first traveling there at the end of 1860 to assist King Tewodros train his army, returning at the beginning of 1868 as civilian interpreter to General Sir Robert Napier, and on the death of King Tewodros becoming guardian to his son Alamayu. In 1897 he made his final visit, as adviser on a diplomatic mission relating to Britain's campaign to re-conquer the Sudan. It is believed that this album was borne out of this visit. The aim was to settle the Sudan-Abyssinia frontiers.

Images include: upwards of 20 self portraits of Speedy, some in traditional Abyssinian dress (which he was famous for adopting, notably recorded in portraits taken of him by Julia Margaret Cameron), and others in the guise of a Bedouin chief, a Nubian chief, a Nubian warrior, and several in which he is acting out various moods and expressions, including "ignorance," "superiority," and "equality." Other views include: the serving of Tej (Ethiopian mead); an Ethiopia harp player; group portraits of Somalis, including a Somali war dance; a portraits of Abune Petros VII; a portrait of Mattheos X; a profile portrait of Emperor Menelik; a bridal party, and men "eating raw beef."


An exceptionally rare set of photographic albums of Java in the Dutch East Indies by the pioneering Victorian photographers, Walter Woodbury and James Page, will also be auctioned on 4th December.

The two volumes with some 60 topographical views and portraits in Java, mostly around Batavia, are estimated to sell for between £10,000-15,000. These volumes are an invaluable historical, social, political and cultural resource and represent a significant part of Woodbury and Page's total photographic output.

Woodbury went on to invent and patent the Woodburytype which between 1870 and 1900 became the standard printing process for illustrating fine books. Woodbury died in Margate in 1885 at the age of 51 of an overdose of opium, whether accidental or deliberate the coroner was unable to determine. James Page died in Java at just 32 in 1865.


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