Black History Hits Blackpool

Prince Peter Kushana Lobengula, Heir Apparent or Heir Pretender to the Matabele Crown, in town September 1902.
The Philadelphia Times 7th August 1899

The story of Prince Lobengula, of which much is written, is the story of the clash of black and white of its day, and both the evident and the perceived superiority of British Imperialism over the subjects of its land acquisitions. It starts in Africa and ends in Salford, and calls at Blackpool and other places in between. It spans the end of the Victorian age, the whole of the Edwardian, and ends with George V in 1913. The name Lobengula, the Zulu chief who defiantly took on the British machine guns with spears and shields as they occupied the land of the Matabele, has now enough status and memory to be associated with the renowned Mandela name. He might have been a ‘legend’ but that word is over used and normally associated with today’s rock stars or footballers. Prince Peter Lobengula was a reputed son of that King from one of his many wives, a claim that was disputed especially by his detractors, but it was a claim he tried to prove until his dying day and, after his death, taken over by those few who believed in his cause.

So, in Blackpool, on September 5th 1902 Mary Toomey was fined 10s (50p; over £60 today) for hitting Lily, the wife of Prince Lobengula, reputed son of the king of Matabeleland, over the head with an umbrella. The incident took place during an argument by a carriage parked near the Alhambra, situated on the corner of Victoria Street and the Promenade in the town. While it is recorded that Prince Lobengula was to be seen performing in the South Africa Show in the town within the grounds of the Great Wheel with all its varied attractions and itself took a thousand passengers daily, there was also an Ashanti village, ostensibly a travelogue but in reality more of a freak show of an unintelligible culture, on show across town at the Coliseum. Ironic perhaps in today’s understanding, that the incident with Mary Toomey should take place outside the Alhambra where Blackpool’s own Victoria Monks was wooing the appreciative audiences with her ’coon’ act, solidly established within her increasingly popular comedic repertoire on the vaudeville stage. The Alhambra was an establishment that was in financial trouble at the time and was in line to be taken over by its rival the Blackpool Tower Company, its next door neighbour.

Mary Toomey, whose patronymic reflects the dystopia of murder and suicide in a tragic family life in Blackpool, had been sat in the carriage, but it is not clear whether she was driving it or whether she was a passenger as she was speaking to Prince Lobengula who was stood by it. Neither is it entirely known what the content of the conversation was between her and the Prince, but it was a unique opportunity for her to flirt with a handsome, dark skinned male, and by all reports a reputed lady’s man, and who was more than likely flirting back. She’d heard about these dusky men who were allowed to show off their bodies at the Show, outside the convention of contemporary dress, and they didn’t come around every day so she would have been keen to take the opportunity. She’d perhaps even been to the Coliseum where there were several of them to give her eyes a feast and maybe engage in a little conversation. For his part, Prince Lobengula probably enjoyed the legitimate attention to his physique but, when Mrs Lobengula, arrived at the scene to speak to her husband, and accused the woman in front of her of following (‘stalking’ in today’s terms, I guess) her husband, it seems that the female demon flew out of Mary Toomey in a rage, and social niceness left her, resulting in foul words followed by the attack on the head with the umbrella. On the defensive in argument, Mary Toomey claimed that it was not her but her sister who was continually following him, and when she drove away she offered a Parthian shot at her rival in affection by calling her a ‘dirty cat’, which could perhaps be regarded as a weak insult compared with today’s language. Prince Lobengula was black and African, young and good looking and at 6’ tall, an imposing figure. His wife, Lily was white and Irish, reportedly red haired and, if like my grandmother, probably not short of a harsh word or two when upset with a sense of righteousness. The grievance was settled in court, the successful complainant being Lily, Peter’s second wife, or rather common law wife as there is no evidence of a marriage between the two. His association with Lily was a much more stable relationship than his first,
and a daughter of their union was born in the resort while they were lodging there. His first marriage had had everything against it as black and white in the society around them collided in full force, kicking up a prejudicial dust which obscured the equality of two human beings in the observing eyes of the day. During the court proceedings in Blackpool, Peter remained regally in the public gallery as an observer, dressed smartly in black and, no doubt of some influence by his presence.

It was Prince Peter Lobengula’s claim that he was the son of King Lobengula of Matebeleland, a king who had risen to the title through merit within his ethnic group of dispersed Zulus. Having successfully moved north from the more southern regions of Africa and claiming the title by prowess in battle during in-fighting among the claimants to the royal title, the settled Matabele (Ndebele) people then had to face and succumb to the ultimately greater fire power of the European settlers. Eventually, this led to the absorption of the territories into the country styled Rhodesia, later to become Zimbabwe. So, in England, Prince Lobengula’s claim was that he was the displaced heir to this King of the Matabele. However, in the white community that he had been brought to live in, he was a lost young man in a strange world that considered him merely as a savage, a society that rejected him and used him as a curiosity only. He was certainly Matabele but whether he was the direct heir to the King was under scrutiny all his life. He did however, it seems, try his best to adapt to English customs as a young man, though. He was known to be a fighter and prepared to use his fists. The males of the Ndebele people of his ethnicity had blind courage embedded in their psyches and to run away from a fight was a cowardice that would give a man no worth at all. Like the Spartan military society of the classical Greeks, turning around and running away were not on the agenda of a warrior and a wound in the back was a sign of that unacceptable cowardice. Peter had already been bound over for good behaviour after a disturbance outside Earl’s Court, in an incident involving his suit cases which had been held back in order to prevent his forthcoming marriage in 1899. He was no stranger to the courts which could almost be regarded as his second homes in their various locations. He also got drunk, not for the first time, in a pub in his adopted home town of Salford, smashed a few windows and had a fight with a couple of policeman outside. His Matabele, Zulu orientated, fighting spirit was just representing the furor Celticus, the empire building Romans, the invading hordes of Hengist and Horsa, the Viking berserkers, and the Norman crown grabbers, within the country that had, during its social evolution, contained and absorbed all these ethnic elements to create what we have today. So he was just doing his bit to integrate, while adding to the mix. He only reverted to his polite African manner when he had sobered up the next day and showed remorse in the Court, vowing never to touch drink again. Though where a young lad in his twenties is concerned the promise of abstention from drink is worth only the words of the moment and not the deed to follow the promise through.

While in Blackpool, Prince Lobengula was ‘on exhibition’ being hired by the ‘Savage South Africa’ tour, a grand affair which needed the space in its entirety for its renowned military spectacles. The South Africa tour was first aired at the Great Britain Exhibition which had been displayed at Earl’s Court. The Earl’s Court was perhaps a model for the eventuality of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach which in 1902 was a gypsy camp and the de facto pleasure beach that was already there was a thorn in the side for the respectable area of South Shore and the property developers of the town. While it was claimed to lower the tone of respectability of the area, it was nevertheless valuable land oozing potential profit. One of its tenants, the clever Ellis family, always at loggerheads with the Council with their political differences and greater sympathies with the human psyche, was fined at every opportunity. The site was bought up, the gypsies removed and replaced, somewhat ironically perhaps, with a Pleasure Beach.

While at Earl’s Court in 1899, its Kaffir kraal, with a separate entrance fee, contained about 200 (numbers vary) African men women and children, living an authentic life in 35 mud huts and a wooden hut for the Prince. A smaller version of this would have been in Blackpool. They could be observed as they were involved in daily life making beads and trinkets and selling them to the visitors. They were ‘scantily’ dressed and to the female observer the men, especially in their war paint ‘are imposing, as they are fine athletic looking men.’ Thus the role of the Prince and his compatriots however was not as the entertainer (though he would be on the cast in Robinson Crusoe in pantomime on the theatre in Manchester later on when he was looking for work) but as the very entertainment themselves. As entertainment, it was perhaps just a continuation of the curiosity of ‘black’ that had been evident on the foreshore in Blackpool once the Victorian watering place had first been made available to the masses after the arrival of the railways. At this time, blackness was represented by minstrels with blue eyes, Irish accents and little bits of pink showing through inadequately applied face paint, or later, as the ‘burnt cork’ stooges on the music hall stage, the occasional black comedian in his own right, not being immediately evident on the vaudeville stages.

The show per se was ostensibly a travelogue that would be popularly and more respectfully available today in a glossy brochure or a TV programme but, at the turn of the 20th century, it would have been only available through the tour of such a show which came to town for a week or two each year. To the Victorian and Edwardian visitor it was an exercise in superiority over a conquered people, a voyeuristic spectacle of conceited greatness, in modern terms, a collective narcissism on the dark side of a cultish nationalism which still persists today and is an ever present danger to world stability and peace. The show that toured the provinces was a curtailed version of the original show at Earl’s Court. There were many shows which brought the empire to the Britain as there were in Europe, too, and which brought their own empires home and which extended to Eskimos, Indians and other ethnic groups from annexed territories.  But the curtailed tour nevertheless included six elephants, a team of oxen and a large human contingent, as well as all the military paraphernalia (and at Earl’s Court at least, a cinematograph.) There were torch dances by the ‘natives’ and an escape on horseback by a despatch rider chased by the same ‘hostile natives’ and a demonstration of big game hunting, all things anachronistic in today’s world. My grandmother, a young teenager at the time, was free with the ‘n’ word when I knew her, derived from the popular understanding of the day. Perhaps she was taking the opportunity to show a contempt for an ethnic group of an enforced, lower social status than her own Irishness in the annexed country of the West Britain of her parents and the largely unsympathetic Liverpool of her birth in the hostile division of Christianity, a division which more represented the differences of culture and economic status. The oral heritage that she quoted included land confiscation, the denial of suffrage, torture, hanging and eviction. Children were burnt out of houses and defenceless, old men cudgelled to death and would continue to be so as the years rolled. To look on savagery in another culture was a denial of its existence in one’s own. In Blackpool, a year later in 1903, the year after the incident involving Peter Lobengula, Henry Starr hacked his wife to death with a knife at his mother-in-law’s house on Lord Street.

Manchester Courier June 25th 1900

Originally this show at Salford was a three week engagement and consisted of a two hour show. The military aspects represented the unashamed self-indulgence of successful British imperialism, which was demonstrated at all the annual shows throughout the country where enough space could be found to re-enact a British military victory. In this case it was the victories over both the Matabele (and to include in its repertoire a glorious defeat of the British by the Matabele) and the Boers and, while Prince Lobengula could look upon the demonstration of the culture of his own ethnic group with pride to the wonderment of the civilian audience who had never seen anything like it before, he had to accept the subjugation of his heritage/bloodline before those very same eyes. It has been quoted that he had the bullet wounds in his legs, received during his involvement in a fight against the British. He would have been about seventeen years old by the time of the second Matabele war of 1896, and could well have been amongst the ranks of Zulu impi and talked of this later to his workmates at the mine where he worked and who had black faces and exposed bodies down the mine but reverted to white when out out on top . The awkward King Lobengula had died just a couple of years’ earlier making it easier for the advance of the settlers. The mystery of the demise of King Lobengula still persists today. He was never captured and so is considered as undefeated and as such the Ndebele are not defeated because defeat, in their concept of defeat, only exists in the capture of the king, a bit like a game of chess. He died mysteriously, some say by committing suicide with poison, but the place is not known nor the whereabouts of his grave nor his reputed, or mythical, riches. In the ethnically divided country of his rule, now Zimbabwe, it seems he is a symbol, revered by some and feared by others who are afraid of a power shift in the politics of a contemporary world.

The Scottish Referee December 7th 1900

The two hour show kept audiences enthusiastically entertained for the duration. The year is 1900 and the 2nd Boer War is raging in South Africa. The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry volunteers had come to train in Blackpool and two train loads of men and equipment had left north station on a cold, February morning to embark at Liverpool for the 19 day journey to the conflict. Lieutenant Topping and his recently formed and under-funded Blackpool contingent left later in March. It was a war that would be remembered for its ultimate victory, but conveniently forgotten for the savagery of its concentration camps.

But at the performance in Blackpool, Prince Lobengula sat in state on his throne, watching proceedings and dressed in lion skin and ostrich feathers. In a show of colourful ethnicities, many of the local African groups were in demonstration and included Zulus, Swazis, Hottentots, Basutos and Cape Boys and other groups defined as ‘tribes’, Cape Boys being ‘coloureds’ or of mixed race, set apart from both white and black and boys, somewhat patronisingly perhaps as perceivably lacking in maturity, more with the meaning of ‘men’ than ‘boys’. During the First World War Lance Corporal Alexander Lobengula served with the South African Native Labour Corps otherwise described, rightly or wrongly, as Cape Boys. There are many Lobengulas in the Cape Province records.

The nature of the life of these people, was seen more as uncultured, exotic creatures in the eyes and minds of the day and were looked upon with wonderment and a kind of unselfconscious superiority sewn rigidly to the psyche and which still persists today. For the ladies of the day though, (and a closeted gay male, no doubt, too) they were fine and attractive specimens of men, denied them and unavailable even in collecting card pictures as the overdressed males of the day had the unofficial privilege of secreting their own cards of scantily dressed females in their pockets, a solace of imagination in the dire trenches of the later Word War.

However, the Prince wasn’t always purely on show. On one occasion at least, in a brief interlude, and at the other end of the social scale Peter in his role as a prince, had a chance to show off his royalty. In a monarchy orientated and class conscious nation, princes were ok. Probably even if they were green. In September of 1901 he was at the Royal Dublin horse show, listed among all the titled guests many of who had very long names and, ‘Prince Lobengula caused quite considerable interest, appearing in his native, regal robes. Huge nodding plumes on his head and a sweeping tigerskin cloak made him a picturesque and imposing aspect.’ While there are no indigenous tigers in Africa, he may have borrowed it from somewhere and the praise, more than patronising ridicule, given him was from the Queen publication, a ladies’ paper. In the terrier dog race at the event there was even a dog called Lobengula, as his father’s famous name held a mystery, a respect and a renown which enjoyed a refrain in the world of horse racing some thirty years later.

The Bradford Observer 6th May 1901

Once more, Prince Lobengula is the centre of attraction as he sits in state between the acts which number 49 in all, except when he gets up to charge with his warriors, the renowned Zulu impi, 200  in number while the show was at Earl’s Court, but greatly reduced in number as the show toured the provinces, including Blackpool. Military re-enactments and demonstrations predominate the show including the battle of Elandslaagte, a British victory over the Boers in which the lancers played a significant part, the climax of the show being a ‘daring leap of a lancer, putting the finishing touches to the scene.’ This daring leap was described as being one of 30 feet in height. The demonstration of the Maxim guns, a gun invented by its eponymous maker which had such destructive power that it would make war undesirable, was also of gripping interest. Maxim died in 1916, the year of the Somme battle while another of his inventions the flying machine installed at Blackpool’s emerging Pleasure Beach had given pleasure and enjoyment to many. But on the Somme the very neat rows upon rows of dead men were the husbands and sons of those who had marvelled at the gun’s power at these shows. They lay peacefully dead above the trenches they had just left having taken little more than a single step, victim of that same, deadly enemy machine gun power, leaving the proposed, peaceful promotional objective of his weapon in tatters. Such is the reward of hindsight. Its deadliness was as much evident in Blackpool which possessed one of the largest military convalescent hospitals in the country and was the headquarters of the medical arm of the military. The same sentiment about weapons being so destructive that by their very threat, they would prevent the need to engage in war, was spoken after the nuclear bomb had been invented and demonstrated in 1945, the hibakusha and the very young children of its orphaned population left alone to suffer and make repair. The gun was invented in America by its prolific inventor but there was nowhere to demonstrate it in anger, and then the Matabele war came along and, as the British were usually involved in a war somewhere on the planet, its deadly fire power was taken advantage of and duly demonstrated. And from one or two of these many bullets, Prince Lobengula may have received the wounds in the leg.

Another, more peaceful, demonstration of horse riding during the show was given by a Mr and Mrs Fillis, organisers of the show and those responsible for bringing the people and the props all the way from South Africa. The musical accompaniment was provided by a Dutch, ‘Africander’ band. The women also get in on the act of violence, usually the privilege of the men, by a Miss Lilian Reiner ‘Champion lady shot of the Transvaal.’ One of the gripping features was the last stand of Major Wilson against the Matebele. A bit like Custer’s last stand, a patrol of about thirty or so men (numbers vary with different reports), had been promised portions of land if they succeeded in their mission in tracking down King Lobengula, the awkward and resilient ruler of the Matabele, who had moved north and who was making it difficult for European settlers to mine and farm with impunity on his land. The mission, under Major Wilson had overstepped its remit somewhat and found itself surrounded at a point on the river Shangani. They fought to the last man and though there was no-one to record the incident, only bodies to be found later, the defeat went down as a victory for heroism. As committed soldiers, they died bravely for Queen and Country as much as the Matabele soldiers were prepared to die for King and Country. It might not have been necessary as King Lobengula had sued for peace, but the more productive Matabele land, and its mineral riches, its big game hunting and it vast acres of  farmland, was needed for the settling farmers and mine operators. Guns, including the newly demonstrated Maxim machine gun, won over shields and spears. It is curious to understand what Prince Lobengula’s thoughts were as he watched a characterisation of his Matabele nation with his reputed father, whom he probably nevertheless didn’t know very well, at the head, in battle, fighting against the English culture that Peter was attempting to adopt. The Matabele themselves, as a sub group of the Zulus, had invaded the land from the south. A newspaper report of February 1900 gives the story of the Zulu diaspora northwards as beginning with the rise of Shaka Zulu in the early 19th century, when one of his favourite generals, Moselekatsie, had kept the booty of some cattle gained in a regular raid on other groups, which incensed Shaka and orders were sent out to kill him. Instead of coming home, Moselekatsie ‘the Lion’ went north and, with a repute of cruelty and slaughter, easily displaced the peaceful population of the Mashonas. After the death of Moselekatsie in 1870, Lobengula, ‘the Defender’, his second son, became King after some in-fighting and continued a cruel and uncompromising rule. Soon after, the Boers arrived to settle and they fought the Matabele and then the British arrived to settle and farm and mine the land and they fought both the Boers and the Matabele in what was then Matabeleland.

Within the African performers at the show however, humans being humans whatever their colour, there was continuing rivalry and distrust, which centred on Africander George. He was not as dark as the Zulus in the group and since his ethnicity was in doubt, he became an object of scorn when he claimed a greater status regarding wages. It was he who, along with the son of Frank Fillis, were the rough riders and gun experts and so had a little more status than those ‘more dusky’ Zulus. He bragged about being paid more than the others but in reality it was only a few pence and it was his mistake not to keep it to himself. At one time he had been stabbed in the thigh in an argument concerning a half penny when his assailants, the ‘dusky’ Zulus, in particular a lad called Epes, were fined in court in Middlesbrough where the Show was exhibiting in 1901. At another time in Glasgow Prince Lobengula was in court pleading in the defence of the Zulus who once more had been accused of assaulting the same Africander George (another newspaper report identifies Africander George as Prince Lobengula, though he may have had to stand in for that role in the many absences of the Prince). This same Lobengula who had been accused of (rather than merely described as) being illiterate a little more than a year earlier, spoke in excellent English and acted as interpreter for the all the men, when also he had been equally accused, just a year previously, of not being able to speak the Matabele language either, and so couldn’t possibly be the son of the celebrated King Lobengula. Though Peter was illiterate in the sense that he couldn’t read or write and proven by the fact that he signed the 1911 census with a cross, it was used as a weapon of contempt against him by his willing detractors. Africander George Thomas wasn’t as dusky as the Zulus, but neither was he described as a Cape Boy which resulted in some unfair fun with his lighter colour at his expense in the court. It appears however that the sheriff giving judgment in the case, fined all the men involved in the assault £3, claiming that ‘in this country quarrels could not be settled with sticks or clubs’. A cynic among the dusky accused might have thought, ‘No you don’t. You just go into other countries and do it.’ Whether it was ultimately for the better or the worse, the ending of the suttee practice in India or the tyrannical and feared long ju-ju of West Africa with its cruel, summary justice, or the spread of a potentially fairer system, especially for females, and of a partial democracy through a different concept of culture throughout is, perhaps, a permanent debate in the arrangement of human groups.

Prince Lobengula’s time in England was rather rocky. For his supporters he was reputedly educated and Christianised in his homeland along with those brothers who could be identified as sons of the King, but he was also described by those who wanted to deny his royal status as merely illiterate and working as a kitchen boy while in Capetown. But prince or pauper while in England, he was nevertheless like a fish out of water in a cultural kind of way. It was often convenient for his detractors to believe he was uneducated and savage and couldn’t read or write, a phenomenon of illiteracy that nevertheless existed in the community he had come to live among in the lower, working classes. Soon however, to tackle illiteracy in this community, there would be a legally defined obligation for the provision of secondary education and a school leaver would soon have to produce a certificate of age to show they were not too young to work. Blackpool’s first Council secondary schools would open for the first time early in the first decade of the 20th century.

The Penny Illustrated Paper August 19th 1899

Prince Peter Lobengula had come to England sometime after the death of his father in 1894, and how and when and with whom or who he came was eagerly debated to justify an argument. But it reasonable to expect his arrival to have been in 1899 with the Savage South Africa Show in which he had been engaged by Frank Fillis, though the press liked to discuss and argue to make a controversy out of it. So, in ignorance, the newspapers speculate, sometimes with innocent question and at other times cynical contempt when it became evident that the black, African prince had the effrontery to consider marrying a white girl. Variously it was discussed that he had either come to England with his fiancé, come alone, arrived as a prisoner of war or, had been engaged by the ‘Savage South Africa Show’ and was shipped to England as such. It is claimed that when his father, the king had died it disqualified him from his allowance received from the British South Africa Company and he had had to find work at various jobs of a mundane nature in South Africa. The controversy of black and white, whether the one was equal to the other, came to a head when it became evident that Peter had developed a steady relationship with a white girl and when marriage was mentioned, the whole affair exploded into the social consciousness with a great cry of despair which reached as far as the Heavens. And it had occurred in the homeland of all that was considered right and proper. Lobengula was described as a handsome prince, a lady killer and the girl in question, Florence Jewell, rich, young and good looking and being worth £700 (over £86,000 today) a year and due to receive £30,000 (approaching £4m today) on the death of her mother, her father having deceased. The newspapers were all in a dither as to whether they had met earlier in South Africa or whether it wasn’t until they were both in London and the Prince was on exhibition at Earl’s Court, but it was most likely at the Earls Court show. Florence Kate Jewell is referred to as a Jewess, and at the time of the Dreyfus trial in France, Jews were themselves under the critical spotlight. Her father was a mine owner and originally from Redruth in Cornwall, where Florence was born, a county from where many miners had emigrated to find work in the South African mines and would send the money back home to their families. In the somewhat rebellious nature of youth, Florence had evidently defied her parent’s strictly established regime and fallen in love (or had become infatuated or, as a girl who had everything and just wanted a bit more than her society would let her have the toy she wanted), with a ‘native’, in whom she found some freedom of expression away from the strict rules of her mother. Later she claims she only succumbed to the insistent attentions of the prince and jokingly agreed to his proposal of marriage and then found herself forced into it, which doesn’t actually ring entirely true in an understanding of the events surrounding their courtship and marriage. Perhaps Peter was just a hunter’s trophy for her which had little significance beyond the kill itself. Her mother and associates later claimed that she had fallen on her head on Table Mountain when she was younger and through the near death injury sustained, and the subsequent operation, she was not able to act in manner that could be called compos mentis, and she was, indeed, ‘insane’. Another report, which is the more likely, states that she had fallen in love (or had become uncontrollably infatuated) with Prince Peter on her regular visits to the Earl’s Court exhibition and, after some time it became evident that there was something going on between the two, and thus the two were in England when their association began. She had fallen for the good looking man dressed with pride in his full, colourful gear of bright feathers and skins standing firm, tall and masculine with his shield and assegai and able to naturally present plenty of black, glistening muscle and flesh, in full view of the admiring females, a view which was normally denied them by their overdressed European men and the masculinity of these ‘dusky’ men increased as they charged into mock battle in front of a packed and delighted audience. In fact such was the interest shown, mostly by society women, in the men of the show that there was a legal attempt to ban women from entering the Kaffir Kraal part of the show at the Earl’s Court, claiming it was immoral. It seems that the worst offence was for a black man to shake hands with a white woman, incomprehensible in today’s world, though the agony of both racism and sexism still persists. A placard was to be placed at the entrance to the show stating that no females should enter. But there was no placard erected, only a sign suggesting that no alcohol should be given to the ‘natives’, and so when those ladies, unaware of the ban, arrived at the Show, they were told at the turnstile, with their sixpence entrance fee at the ready, that they couldn’t enter the kraal where the excitingly virile bodies of the men were on show. The press of the day was a male privilege and gives little opportunity for the observation of the female, which today would be quite loud and damning, but one female correspondent, with restrained contempt described her disappointment at the turnstile being unfairly blocked to her legitimate request to gain admission. She and the other disappointed ladies would just have to wait outside for the men to exit on their way to the Empress theatre to put on their show. There was further disappointment here however, as they not only had to wait in the rain, but the men came out loosely covered in dishevelled overcoats, not just because of the rain but because body exposure was considered immodest. So there were none of the engaging pecks and biceps on view. The case against the ban on women was eventually countered and won, by the South African Company against the London Exhibitions, the landlords, who wanted the ban, but the question of compensation for loss of income, claimed at 50% equalling an amount of £500, (nearly £62,000 today) due to the exclusion of women was not considered. The men of the kaffir kraal themselves did not want the proposed double barrier separating them from the public as a concession to letting the women in when they couldn’t get too close to them, because they refused ‘to be caged in like wild animals’, a frustration that would become increasingly evident as the show progressed on tour. And so the women were allowed to enter, ogle and admire the men, throw pennies into their huts and furnish them with gifts of jewellery and cash, which the Prince, being the favourite, received most, and enjoyed to wear. The women got so close to the men in conversation and admiration, that ‘Kaffir’ words became commonplace at the more reserved and fashionable parties and afternoon teas. Two words quoted are makaza and ubtshengi which are quoted as meaning cold and jewellery respectively. The women were however, the object of the jealousies of the men of their own society for making ‘consummate asses’ of themselves to the ‘swarthy heroes of this mimic warfare’ and Florence’s affair with the Prince is one of these ‘attacks of female idiocy’ and that marriage between black and white should be made a criminal offence.

The Graphic August 19th 1899

The marriage was to take place, then didn’t take place, then couldn’t take place then nearly did, then definitely didn’t again and eventually definitely did when all the fuss was dispensed with. Or as the US papers called it, ’The Marriage that has caused an uproar in England’. Even by 1967 and the release of the film, ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ the marriage between black and white was illegal in many US states.

Whether they had travelled from South Africa together or not, Florence had money that she was free to use. It is more likely that Peter had been engaged by the South Africa Company and brought to England by Frank Fillis on a specially charted ship with all the people, animals and extensive props of the show. Florence was a materially privileged girl who had travelled to England before with her maid, and who might have felt claustrophobic within the strict guidelines of her parents and who wanted to break from them. For Peter’s part, he had a rich, young and good looking girl doting on him and his resistance to her attentions might naturally have been minimal. Or maybe he took advantage of a naïve young girl using his good looks and charm to negate her resistance. For him, he had the potentially very rich, displaced Prince card to play, but nothing that he was easily able to prove. Peter’s reputed father however, a man of note of both fame and notoriety, King Lobengula, was the man with the riches and his hidden wealth of gold, minerals and diamonds was subsequently the stuff of the dreams of later, frustrated treasure hunters. A hidden hoard of £2,800,000 in coin, 36 bars of raw gold and four hundred diamonds has been quoted and which had been searched for, speculatively located, but never found. Perhaps, if he had known of his father’s reputed riches, he may have intimated the fact to Florence in order to ensnare her interest which might have been the stronger part of affection. Because he was a prince, Peter was given a wooden hut to live at the kraal with a bed and two boxes as tables, whereas the other participants in the show lived in mud huts which appeared to represent the permanent feature of the demonstration of a Kaffir kraal. But here it was legitimate and quite acceptable of the time period, to pay a sixpence and  voyeuristically watch a group of people living their ordinary, daily lives, a bit like peering through a neighbour’s window to see what they might be up to, if you were so unusually inclined to do so. The women, while they are usually portrayed as bare breasted, this is never referred to in the newspapers and perhaps a compromise had been made and they wore a loose and coloured robe instead.

When the news of the impending marriage of Prince Lobengula was broken at the kraal‘there was much jubilation among the savages’. For them, perhaps, it was one back in the face of their virtual captors as well as one of genuine appreciation. It seems that this permanent exhibition of huts had lasted for four months by the time of his marriage and the public viewers threw money into donation boxes from which Prince Lobengula had earned an estimated £200 (incredibly nearly £26,000 today) for the time he had been on exhibition, though it is not disclosed how much his employers took from that. The couple had been seen together at Earl’s Court where they took a ride on the lake in a boat and then took a turn on the water chute. Tongues wagged from then on. A large, diamond ring worn by the Prince on this occasion was allegedly given to him by his fiancé and she had arranged for a bespoke wedding suit to be made at her personal tailor’s. They hadn’t been seen on the Great together as before he had met Florence he had already had a taste of it. As he had some celebratory status, it had made news when the wheel was stopped halfway for an emergency check causing him some consternation as he had to be lowered down in a basket giving, so he had probably seen enough of it. The incident did give the condescending commentators ample opportunity to ridicule in conversation over a glass of wine or more permanently in print. On this occasion he was dressed in a tweed suit, so he was quite prepared to adapt to European dress. And he sported a Bulawayo hat on the occasion, though I haven’t yet found what specifically this Bulawayo hat would represent. He and his compatriots had also been taken around the town on a sightseeing tour in a rather patronising manner to show them the marvels of a more advanced society. For some reason they were given a large cigar each, and Prince Lobengula had sat in the front box seat of the first of the seven hired ‘brakes’, Victoria omnibuses driven by Daimler engines and it was a subject of alarm for the technologically naïve guests that these carriages were propelled along without the assistance of horses. Their experience described by those same condescending commentators reported a language of surprise and alarm that would later find their exaggerated way into the comic strip magazines of my youth. The touring party found the city quite claustrophobic as they were used to the wide open plains of their African homeland or the natural overgrowth of the bush. Indunas and indabas, official words, and quoted by the travelling group found their way, a little bit anglicised, into the English language in black and white print without any controversy on the printed page. And Buckingham Palace was the place of the great indaba where the it elicited shouts of raise in a kind of reverence to the ‘Great White Queen.’ Keeping in with the Jones’ as it were in a country where they were numerically in a vast minority. On her 80th birthday, on the 24th May and in their innate reverence to monarchy they conducted their own ceremony at the kraal, in praise of the queen and in which each chief stood forward to sing his praises to her and they engaged someone to write their eulogy, ’Prince Lobengula, Luhlupo and Valughla, the Zulu Chiefs, and Joapan, Chief of the Swazies, beg me to write that today they and 200 of their warriors bowed low in a deepest reverence and prayer for the good of the Great Queen, and they tender the hearts of their nations to the powerful and most peace loving ruler of all the lands and water they have ever seen.’ Whether politic or sincere, it seems that they received no reply. I’m not actually sure that empire building and peace go hand in hand, though.

Throughout August, the couple’s attempt to wed was a fiasco. On August of 10th 1899 Peter and his bride-to-be, Florence Kate Jewell, having the necessary licences, expected to get married at St Matthias’ Church on Warwick Road in Earl’s Court, London. Their attempts to get married in a conventional manner were thwarted at every possible opportunity. If she was a Jewess then there would be a problem in getting wed in an Anglican Church. Also the bachelorhood of Prince Lobengula had to be established as he had especially been derived from a polygamous society. The wedding became the scandalous talk of London. Florence might have enjoyed the notoriety in a conceited sort of way (a portrait of her perhaps shows the self-indulgence of a young, selfish and headstrong woman of means). Peter might have wondered what all the fuss was about. In South Africa, white men married black women at will, so why the problem the other way round here, and he was a Prince so his status as an eligible bachelor had no question.

When, on one of the two occasions they attempted a church wedding, armed with the correct licences and expecting the service to take place, he wore a striped, blue serge suit, a white hat and brown shoes while the bride was originally going to wear an elaborate white dress, but had changed in the circumstances to a simple frock of blue spotted muslin. While he might have enjoyed the somewhat eccentric colour, which was quite African, it was also claimed that he was dressed like that because they were the only clothes he had, Miss Jewell claiming in an interview that he had broken his contract with Savage South Africa and they had retained all his luggage, a situation which had evidently caused fisticuffs, a repute of the Prince. Peter was a lad who would have fit into the current professional boxing circuit, no doubt with sufficient success to become a king of the ring. Peter had declared that he was fed up of England after all this fuss but the manager of the exhibition, a Mr Moore, wasn’t letting him out of his sight in case he got married before he broke his contract and left. He had booked a ticket for him on a boat from Southampton back to South Africa the following Saturday, just to get rid of him and so the wedding couldn’t take place. This ticket had been booked steerage as it was believed he was a mere kitchen boy in Capetown so it was a ticket of the lowest class, which denied him the respect of a princely status. At that time however, Peter was able to give the manager the slip from the tight attention given to him, and before reaching Southampton, he was able to disappear and then pretend that the couple had been married at the registry office.

And he appears to get in trouble with his luggage once more. At their lodgings in Flamborough Road, South Kensington in February of 1900, (a short time after they had been legally married in a Registry Office), the landlady had detained his boxes since Florence hadn’t paid the rent and no-one knew where she was. The magistrate decided that he could have his boxes back if he paid the rent due. It was certainly a stormy relationship both before and after the marriage where they had originally been living together as Mr and Mrs Jackson at 8 Kingsford Gardens (also reported as Kempton Gardens) and where they are somewhat sarcastically recorded as ‘the lady and His Dusky Highness.’

The attempt at a legitimate wedding was a complicated affair with the couple eventually playing a game of cat and mouse with the authorities. On their first attempt at getting married previously, the acting curate of the church dared not sanction the union while the vicar was away, probably under pressure from outside somewhere. Florence’s mother had been prepared to object at the altar, claiming her daughter’s insanity and she was backed up by three men who it seems were there as heavies to prevent the wedding taking place if it came to that, conjuring up scenes more relevant to the storylines of a modern wrestling entertainment circuit rather than the sanctity of church procedures. Letters had gone back and forth between the parties explaining why, and Florence had complied by obtaining what she thought was the legitimate licence. On one occasion Florence had brought her maid along with her, a maid that seemed to accompany them everywhere, less of a chaperone more of a general dog’s body. But the assembled crowd which had come to witness the affair that had created quite a stir in the society, and had London jaws acheing, had to wait for the ceremony to be completed and an hour later, it was confirmed that the wedding party had left the building by the vestry door because there was a complication in the procedures and the wedding could not be completed. Then from the morning to the early evening the technical details of the ecclesiastical requirements to legitimise the marriage were discussed at the registry office of the Bishop of London at St Pauls’s Churchyard. For some reason, possibly through the filibustering of her mother and associates, though both parties were 24 years of age, Florence’s age had to be reaffirmed and after a long day’s wait, and after the arrival of the Chancellor of the diocese, a doctor Tristram QC, the objections to the marriage were overruled and it was left to the couple to rearrange a future date for the ceremony. For black to marry white was unthinkable and confusing, and the bride to be was not only white but also English and white. Outwardly it appeared that there was a technical, ecclesiastical or, as the evidence of history reveals, a prejudicial motive for preventing the marriage. It was a long and agonising day’s wait for two young people keen on consummation, even if they had enjoyed the physical delights of companionship already. Though it was left to the couple to decide on a future date for the wedding it seems that the licence was revoked later by the Chancellor of the diocese. As far as the couple were concerned they were so fed up they would go to South Africa where they would be able to marry. To put everyone off the scent, Peter had spread it about that he had now no intention of getting married any more. They then hadn’t bothered to get married right away and, in a change of plan, it wasn’t until early in the following year that they formalised their live-in relationship via the Registry Office in Holborn.

For a short time no-one knew where the couple were. In the celebratory notoriety status of the affair, they were sought after news, thought to be in Eastbourne with grand designs of living at Pevensey. A crowd had also previously assembled at Dover where probably via the loyal maid’s decoy letter they had intended to embark for France. Instead they were discovered in Southampton, a place already familiar to Florence, and where a tall, black man and his white wife would not find concealment easily. They had been staying there before they would allegedly leave for his Matabele homeland and it was claimed that Prince Loben as he was referred to had a farm and was keen to return there with his bride, a claim that doesn’t ring entirely true, but perhaps put about by the couple forced into a situation of self defence. It was also claimed, in an attempt to add credence to the objections to his marriage, that he had a wife and child in Capetown, too. Disheartened at the way he had been treated he was probably enjoying keeping the press off his scent, and maybe enjoyed the attention too, for attention is what prince’s had to expect anyway. In the end, it seems that they didn’t travel at all, they just stayed in Southampton for a while, before returning to London. There were those who wanted to believe he was a prince, and thus of some status, and there were many who had no intention of believing in the fear of sanctioning the union of black and white, a popular mindset of the day that was not able to cope with it. The English press were also despondent about the fact the Continental press had pigeon holed all English women in the style of Miss Jewell as they were all foolish enough to be prepared to marry a black man, ‘oh pudeur! Oh vertu anglaises! The French, always quick to satire with impunity, were busy with their own empire building in Africa at the time and in conflict with the people living there.

However the marriage didn’t last long. It had been doomed from the start. Even before the marriage, and while they were living together there were accusations and counter accusations of violence between the two, and Florence had even accused Peter of stealing £5 from her, charges that were dropped in the magistrate’s court in West London. By January 1902 while the nation was preparing for the coronation of the new king of England, the son of the king of Matableland was in the divorce court when the couple are known as Mr and Mrs Lo Ben. Peter did not defend the case. It was shown that the couple had married at the Registry Office (thus dispensing with all the palaver of going through a Church wedding that they had experienced previously) in Holborn, London on February 20th 1900. In the Divorce Court it was, perhaps smugly, brought to the attention of ‘his lordship Sir Francis Jeune’ that there had been serious concern about the marriage of the two in the first place. It was then claimed that very soon after the marriage, Prince Lobengula, while performing in Glasgow had bitten his wife’s finger in a rage and had also had an inappropriate relationship with a Maud Wilson while they were in Leeds. Kate had also gone missing in Leeds and the police had dragged the canal in the search for her body, a rather dramatic and perhaps attention seeking episode as she had left a note and some clothes by the canal between Stretford and Sale identified as ‘Kitty Jewell’ and similarly left a letter with the landlady of their lodgings. Evidently she had had a row with her husband who had hit her and she had consequently left him. It is not known whether this incident occurred before or after the infidelity. He had also given her two black eyes and attacked her with an assegai on another occasion about the same time. Further than that witnesses also professed to having seen him throw bottles at his wife. The couple had moved about from town to town in his role as showman and it was not only the alleged violence of her husband that caused the occasional injury. In the first provincial show of the tour of that year in Sheffield, in front of a crowd of 8,000, the stalls where she and a few others were seated were knocked over by a waggon pulled by a team of twelve mules and driven, rather anonymously and dismissively by two ‘Cape boys’. She and the others, including a policeman, were not seriously injured but needed treatment. There was a team of elephants also and perhaps it was a god job it wasn’t those which trampled the stalls at the time. The incident at the canal was the end of the affair, it seems. Apart from the divorce court, Florence had written to Peter to say she was going around the world with her mother. It is not known whether this is true or not or whether she had made it up with her mother. In the same letter she states that if he ever wanted a friend, she would be there for him. It seems that it was the kind of friendship that is strongest, and works best, when it is kept apart. There must have been a base for a genuine association between the two, though kept apart by practicalities and the existence of an unsympathetic society all around them. Peter for his part remembers her on the birth of his second daughter whom he names Katherine Florence and colloquially referred to as ‘Kitty’, which was Florence’s popular name. Whether Lilian his partner, the mother of the child was aware of the reference or not is not known, but it is hard to image that she wasn’t.

During the divorce proceedings the question of his residency in England was also brought up and it seems that eyebrows were raised when it was learnt that he had no intention of going back to his own country, an indication in the mindset of the nation was such that it could only accept a temporary residence in the country for such exotic and wild specimens of a subhuman group, Prince or no Prince. In contrast to Prince Lobengula, many of the ‘savages’ involved in the cultural demonstrations of their homeland in the Savage South Africa Show at Earl’s Court had returned home when the show had been curtailed for its provincial tour. It was decided that Prince Lobengula would be sent home if a legitimate domicile in the country could not be determined. But it never was, so he stayed. Mrs Lo Ben found no sympathy in the judge because, in his words, she had married a ‘savage’. It was then all she could have expected and she would have known it from the outset. Hindsight is the leveller of any married couple after the acute emotional and physical needs of the nature of a starry eyed love have been extinguished. The male judge could not understand why so many white women fell for these ‘savages’. He perhaps couldn’t understand that the healthy bare, glistening torso of a young adult male in all its glory was the natural stuff of dreams for an ordinary heterosexual female. And women of the day in the society of the perceived cultured rather than the perceived savage, had only the off white shirts of rolled up sleeves and drab coloured outer garments of the male of their own culture to observe from day to day. For most of these women, an innocent display of muscle in public was a sad rarity and an opportunity to be taken with enthusiasm.

The incident at the carriage in Blackpool, was one of several that caused Prince Lobengula to invite a connection with the Courts. In May of 1901 a warrant was issued for his arrest after he had allegedly run off with his performance costume, an ostrich feather head dress, a skirt and a lion skin and wild cat tails, which was claimed to be the property of the proprietor, Mr Frank Edward Fillis the organiser of the Show. It was while the Show was performing at the Valley Parade football ground, Manningham, Bradford. He was later arrested at St Pancras station in London and brought back to Bradford where he spent four nights on remand in a high class cell over the weekend. Frank Fillis, the complainant said that he was fed up of the unruly behaviour of the members of the show and in particular Prince Lobengula who had not turned up for a couple of performances and then arrived in his tent drunk on his return. For their part the performers were probably now more than aggrieved at the demeaning attitude of both the show’s organisers and its audiences. Eventually the Prince had disappeared altogether as he had been lured away to perform in another show in Vienna, and last seen boarding a train for London. The courtroom was packed and the Prince in relaxed mood, after he had been allowed a visit from his wife while in the cell, was wearing a ‘smartly-cut black suit with an ‘Algey’ collar and brilliant red tie, and was wearing in his button-hole a beautiful white rose.’  I’m not sure what an Algey collar is. But, the charge was dropped, as it was shown to be a misunderstanding, after he had been brought back to Bradford where the alleged theft had taken place. It seemed that a rival show on the Continent had tried to lure the Prince away in an incident that elicited some ridicule in the Showman periodical. It is here in the courtroom that, in the words of Frank Fillis, we learn that the Prince had come to England with him on the same boat in 1899 and also claims that the Prince had no wife at the time of his engagement for the show in South Africa.

Later in October of the same year of 1900 it seemed he had dispensed with the show altogether and his wife, Florence, was indignant that, not only was her husband’s name being falsely used but worse, that she was highly indignant that she should be associated with the ‘horrid man’ that was employed to take his place and was prepared to take legal action over it. It seems that during Peter’s AWOL absences another chap was engaged to take his place as the loss of a pivotal character would be a disaster.

It was in Salford, which was where he eventually settled down, that he showed he was integrating well with the true values of an English male when he got drunk and smashed several panes of glass. He had been drinking in the Fox Inn on Regent Road in the town, run by the well-known footballer Miles Gledhill. Here, with too much ale, he had innocently picked up a child which someone objected to, and the ale did the rest. He broke a window in the pub and then some, and continued his spree of destruction when he took exception to the remonstrations of Miles Gledhill. Spilling out into the street he continued his drunken disorderliness until restrained by two policemen. Miles Gledhill, at 25 years of age and described as a footballer, was actually a rugby footballer who played for Salford and Hull KR. It was in the days when footballers were considered sissies and rugby players were the real men. Nothing is free if prejudice, it seems. Miles Gledhill, a Yorkshire man by birth, was probably a big lad and described as a ‘heavily built’ forward and elsewhere as a ‘bloated publican’. He was not averse to throwing out undesirable drunks from his premises. A couple of years later he was stabbed in the back for doing the same. For his part, Peter, now sobered up, deserted the manner of a true Englishmen when he showed remorse the following day and not just because he had to pay a fine of 12s 6d (65p; almost £124 today) a big chunk out of his meagre family budget.  Here it was demonstrated that he was receiving £50 a month pension from the Government but received no sympathy from the judge who accused him of irresponsibly drinking it all.

But the South Africa tour was relatively short lived and Peter found work, in mundane jobs including pantomime to support his second partner, Lily and his family, whom he’d been associated with since at least 1901. He settled in Salford and eventually found more permanent work at the Agecroft colliery in Pendleton. As Irish, Lily, from the north, like my grandmother from the south, and probably on different sides of the divide,had seen her homeland disrupted by the conflict of landlord and tenant, and the unfair distribution of wealth resulting in the violence of intense hate, mixed up with an association to different ideas of religion, so the couple had the common denominator of controversies, and the inability of human groups to get on with each other indelibly written into their backgrounds. It seems that it was from here in the poor living conditions of the city, an engine room of the nation’s wealth, that he had contracted TB which eventually caused his death after a six months illness.

In Peter’s personal and private life, the Rev SD Rees had baptised at least one of his children at St Thomas’s Church, Pendleton. In the Christianised occupation of the homeland of Prince Lobengula, he would have been no stranger to Anglican custom. It seems that from the 1911 census Peter claims to have been married for nine years making a marriage date for 1902, which is also the birth date of their first child and then for the conception of the child in July of that year, an association with Lily can go back further to late 1901. However there is no record of a marriage so it seems that the couple lived together as common law partners. There is only a record of a Lilian Magowan recorded in her birth name at the time of her death. Alexandra was born in the Fylde in July of 1902 at the time that Peter was involved in the South African tour in Blackpool. She would have been only two months old when the recorded incident at the carriage happened, but there would have been plenty of willing baby sitters in the travelling group to look after her, and Lilian’s Irish heritage would probably have been one of community self help as it was for my grandmother’s community.

On the 8th December 1904 the daughters of Peter and Lilian, Alexandra May and Kathleen Florence (Kitty) were baptised, Alexandra having been born on 13th July 1902 and Kathleen 15th Feb 1904. Peter, described as the Hereditary Chief of Matabeleland, was living at 11 Barton Street and was working as a labourer. On the 15th May 1907 their son Peter Leslie was born, and baptised 20th June 1907 at the same church (though there is a birth for Peter Leslie in June of 1906 who presumably died as an infant.) By the 13th February 1913, the baptism date of his son Vincent Stanley, Peter senior was working as a collier. Peter Vincent had been born on 12th January of that year but sadly died later on in the same year, the same year of Peter senior’s death. Kathleen followed soon after in 1916 at twelve years old and Alexandra in 1918 at 16 years old. On the 1911 census Peter and Lilian (Lily) were living at 11 Barton Street Pendleton, and Peter is working as a collier. All the children are at home and are recorded as being born in Pendleton (but the Bmd records show Alexandra as being born in the Fylde). By 29th June of 1913, and the baptism of Dollina the family had moved address to 19 Phillips Street and Peter is now a miner, presumably underground now rather than on the pit head.

Dollina had been born on the 10th March 1909. Her baptism had been delayed for some reason but had been made necessary when it became apparent that she was dying and her death occurred only days afterwards. In this year of 1913, while Peter is also dying with TB, one of his sons is unable to walk because of an ‘affection of the legs’. His wife Lilian is described as ‘a cheerful, patient Irishwoman’, not the woman who vociferously countered Mary Toomey in Blackpool over a decade earlier, but one who it seems has mellowed into a dedicated mother looking after her family while herself in the early stages of TB, such is the potential resilience of the human being when it is called to account. The family had also changed parishes to St George’s of Pendleton where the vicar is S D Rees. After the death of Peter, Lillie is found on the electoral rolls in 1920 at the same address in Phillips Street. Peter himself was admitted onto the electoral rolls for the Charlestown Ward. Rather surprisingly, it might seem, it was the Liberal candidate who objected to the application for a vote, and it was the Conservative who validated it, claiming that since Britain had annexed Matabeleland, he was entitled to a vote. The Conservative candidate got Peter’s vote. During these proceedings, it was stated that he had been brought to Britain as a prisoner of war after the Matabele conflicts showing even at the time that it was Peter, as long s it worked in his favour.

At the time of Peter’s first marriage a correspondent of the Ipswich Evening Star wrote in 1899 that he recalled a ‘black’ wedding taking place in South Africa in which the Earl of Stamford had, within the last twenty years, married a Hottentot girl. The Earl had attained the peerage before he died and had the issue of the marriage been a son and not daughter then there would have been ‘black’ blood in the House of Lords. Such is the unfair privilege of male heritage it may seem.

Daily Mirror November 26th 1913

Peter Lobengula died on November 24th 1913 and is buried in Salford Northern Cemetery, Agecroft. He was 38 years old. The vicar of St George’s, Pendleton, the Reverend S D Rees had taken up his cause and supported him and his family from fund raising and attempts to establish the real fact that he was indeed the son of King Lobengula. He had died in poverty and when he couldn’t work anymore, the National Insurance pension he received was insufficient to keep him and his family from starvation and he relied on the natural generosity of his neighbours who would themselves have known what poverty was in real terms. On the inscription of his grave, provided with a stone cross by public subscription and the energies off the vicar of the church sometime later in 1915 it reads; ‘In memory of Prince Peter Lobengula, who died November 24th, 1913, aged 38 years. This memorial was erected from public subscription by Rev S D Rees, FSA., Vicar of St George’s, Whit Lane, Manchester.’ The funeral took place in the afternoon of Thursday 27th November 1927. There was plenty of respect shown to a man who would be king, as working women followed the funeral procession from the church to the Salford Northern Cemetery. Passing the colliery where he worked, the men raised their caps. To them, in the succinctness of working language, he was ‘Ben’ and they had enjoyed listening to his stories of Africa and the Matabele wars where, in a kind of guerrilla warfare, the Matabele hid in caves but the English were ultimately too good for them. Not only were the British good and competent soldiers, they also had guns which no doubt helped to achieve that superiority. His wife Lily was also suffering from TB (consumption/phthisis) at the time, and by 1914, she was expected to be admitted to the Sanitorium at Drinkwater Park and the children would be looked after in a home. She survived until 1920. The Reverend Rees had taken up his cause claiming that the Prince’s lack of success in establishing his right to the Matabele crown had weighed heavily upon him and was a contributory cause of his death and that everything should be done to look after his family. But perhaps Peter’s status could most easily be explained by a letter received by the Reverend S D Rees from Bishop Colonso in South Africa via the Bishop of the Manchester diocese in January 1914 and dated 15th December of the previous year. It was from the mother of Prince Lobengula who had learnt of her son’s death in the local, Pretoria paper. It reads, ’I am Delvalt mother of the late Peter Lobengula, of whom I presume your Lordship has already heard, and my idea in writing is to get some information as regards my son’s death. It is nearly three years since I last heard from him, until last week, when I saw in one of the daily papers here by cable that my son was dead. So I will be very glad if my Lord will be kind enough as to let me know all about his last days upon earth. I further saw in the paper that my son persisted to the end that he was the son of Lobengula. Now my Lord, as his heartbroken mother, I just want to clear the public mind as to the identity of my son. He was not the son of the late Lobengula, but the grandson. My first husband was the eldest son of Lobengula by his first wife. He was named by the Dutch as ‘Voorloop’ and by the natives as ‘Machuewane’. My husband died when Peter was four years old, and that will show that according to native and European laws he had the right to call himself Peter Lobengula.’

So if there is proof in the letter then Peter was definitely derived from the DNA of the renowned King of the Matabele. Not his son, but his grandson.

It seems that the only surviving member of the family was Peter Leslie who worked as a garage attendant in Salford. He married Nora Hart in 1935 and there doesn’t appear to be any children from this marriage nor from that of his second marriage to Eva Brooksbank in 1962. His first marriage appeared to end in divorce as a Nora Lobengula remarried in 1947. At the time that Peter was working at the garage in 1939, Eva Brooksbank is described as a packer and shoe black. Peter died in 1977, at the good age of 71. Eva lasted a little longer until 1983.

In the end it seems he was a prince after all, but not a very significant one, but a claim to be a prince was well worthy of notice especially in a monarchist nation such as England. In a male dominated society, the king of Matabeleland had about 40 wives so there was presumably sufficient male issue to lay claim to the title of Prince. He, it was suggested, during the controversy of his status, was the son of the seventeenth wife (other reports claim the tenth wife.) He was perhaps au fait with the largely male dominated society of Britain that he arrived in at the turn of the century. The movement for the rights of women was growing, but it would take imprisonment, violence, agitation and death before even a partial suffrage was achieved. In Blackpool and in competition with a church service, the suffragists would be chased off the beach with violence by an angry crowd, to find sanctuary in a store with police protection until the angry crowd could be dispersed. 

Peter was a regular attendant at St George’s parish church and it was the Reverend Rees, who had taken up his cause, either out of compassion or a sense of duty either spiritually or worldly, since he regretted that England had lamentably not been able to exercise its ‘tradition of generosity to its vanquished adversaries’ and a man who had complied with its customs and laws. It was the Reverend who had stimulated contact between the Salford Civic League of Help and the British South Africa Company to investigate Peter’s claims, but which replied through the Native Department of the Administration that, since King Lobengula had multiple wives arranged, in a male dominated society, in a natural hierarchy of most favoured to less favoured and with the highest ranking being the favourite, that he may well have been a progeny of this system but highly unlikely to have been a direct heir, and thus could not claim any entitlement. The British South Africa company had already, it claimed, made provision for two of the king’s wives and also two of his sons and it was possible that Peter was a son of one of the wives, but proof was lacking. The evidence they presented showed that Prince Lobengula was a stage name and Peter (the mere ‘native’ in question) was actually engaged by the Savage South Africa Company in Natal. So this claim was either a truth or a way of getting out of responsibility. In 1907 a son of King Lobengula (deceased in 1894) enters the Denstone English College Staffordshire. Whether Peter knew he had one of his numerous brothers (or uncles) in the country is not known but I am not aware of a record to show this.

‘Native’ was a word I grew up with meaning ‘savage’ with caricatures of indigenous cultures, especially in Africa, of nearly naked people with bones through their noses standing around a cooking pot and speaking in an exaggerated and satirised pidgin English. Little wonder that the cross suspicion of black and white in a contemporary world, and the perceived supremacy of the white anglo saxon can still claim to exist. Before the end of the 19th century, newspapers could show King Lobengula as an unsophisticated and half naked king with spear and shield and one of his wives, though naturalistic, nevertheless in virtual caricature, scantily clad and bare breasted, somewhat sarcastically referred to as a ‘belle’. In great contrast to the entire wardrobes of voluminous clothing worn by its European readers, when body exposure was considered uncultured and immoral. Today however as all things fluctuate or move in eternal cycles it is the technologically advanced nations who now admire those who live off the land and who make no demands on the diminishing material resources and it is perhaps those technological societies who qualify as today’s savages and who attack the earth to drain it of what little it has got left to provide.

While he worked at the coal mine he would have seen many white faces turned black.  I worked in a flour mill in London when many black faces turned white. Whilst there was segregation in the mill, the workers would hang out of the doors of the separate changing rooms in a natural camaraderie of conversation where it was desired. My other grandmother was in Capetown in the first years of the 20th century having been drawn out there from her native north east by her father’s role in the Boer War. Her mother however, being reportedly uncomfortable, I would like to think through compassion rather than prejudice, with native ‘black’ servants in the house, and perhaps aware of the extreme conditions of the concentration camps of both enemy and non-combatant ‘blacks’, left her husband, packed her bags and bought her children home to England and chose Blackpool where she passed her time until she naturally applied for admission to Layton Cemetery.

Sources and Acknowledgements

The body of information comes from the British Library newspapers and documents via findmypast. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( All other information sourced is mentioned below;

Parish records;

Cape Boys;

Matabele battle;

An extract from the Kings Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle reflects.

‘Subsequent to the vanquishing of Lobengula and his tribesmen, Rixon settled down on a farm on the Insiza.’

Rixon was a brave and committed soldier. Ironic that his bravery, paid for later by his life, a Major by then, for his ‘beloved England’ in Flanders, should represent the repelling of an invader, while his military activities in Matabeleland represented himself and his country as the invader of the territory of others. But then the diaspora of a section of the Zulu’s northwards represented themselves as the invaders… and so on it goes….

Inflation calculator used;

Peter’s grave site at Salford;

Here, research shows the history of the Jewell family.

The Zulu migration

To quote the web page for the Agecroft colliery; ‘In 1896 Pendleton Nos. 1 & 2 pits employed 441 underground and 126 surface workers and in 1933 employed 272 underground and 117 on the surface.’

Thanks to Kieran Heaney for personal observations on Ireland to corroborate my grandmother’s oral histories.

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