Revealing Glimpse of Forgotten Events; King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen - Victorian Britain T Hrough African Eyes. by Neil Parsons (University of Chicago Press). Reviewed by Ross Reyburn

Article excerpt

In 1895, three African chiefs travelled to England to persuade Queen Victoria not to give their lands to Cecil Rhodes and negotiating the stairs at Cadbury's Bournville factory provided one of the most anxious moments of the trip.

The Birmingham Post reported that the Bechuana chiefs, Khama, Sebele and Bathoen, unused to multi-storey living, were hesitant in using stairs:

"The party had to pass up a short flight of stairs, the entrance to which looked at the first glance a little dark. One of the guides motioned to Sebele to make the ascent, but the wary African hung back, and, when pressed, he pushed forward an attendant , who quickly made a trial trip, and called from the top of the stairs to his chief. Sebele then essayed the climb, not, however, without visible misgiving."

This tale is one of many entertaining anecdotes provided by University of Botswana history professor Neil Parsons in his book on this unusual episode in British history.

The chief expressed astonishment at the number of people working at Bournville. And their Birmingham visit proved a success for it helped sway Secretary of State for the colonies Joseph Chamberlain to draft the agreement that secured their territories.

No doubt their sense of humour helped. …