Fly whisk

before 1868 (made)


Length: 34 cm

849-1868 MET

Fly whisk of horsehair with silver handle, Ethiopia, before 1868.

Switch of horsehair dyed red at tips and end and undyed/dyed yellow in the middle, attached to a silver handle around which gilt cording has been wound. Handle ends with gold cross finial.

This fly whisk was presented to the South Kensington Museum (later V&A) by the Foreign Office in 1868. It had formerly been given to a British civil servant, Hormuzd Rassam, by Salama III, the Abuna, or head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from 1841 to 1867. Rassam had been serving as a political agent in Aden (Yemen) when he was asked to deliver a letter from Queen Victoria to the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II (Theodore). Frustrated by a previous lack of communication from Victoria’s government, Tewodros had taken a number of Europeans captive, including the British consul, Captain Duncan Cameron, in 1864. The letter conveyed by Rassam sought their release. Rassam, however, was also captured and remained at Tewodros’ Magdala mountain fortress until 1868 when a British military expedition defeated the emperor’s forces. Shortly afterwards Tewodros committed suicide. The Abuna, formerly an ally of the emperor, had also been imprisoned at Magdala following a series of disagreements with Tewodros. The gift of this fly whisk to Rassam reflects the esteem he held for his fellow captive. The Abuna died of bronchitis whilst under incarceration.

Accessions register entry: 'Fly Flapper. The handle of silver parcel gilt with cord ornament. Presented by the late Aboona Salaman Patriarch of Abyssinia to Mr Hormuzd Rassam. Modern Abyssinian. Presented by the Foreign Office. Date of receipt from stores 14th July 1868.' Displayed in "V and A Africa: Exploring Hidden Histories" 15th November 2012- 3rd February 2013

Presented by the Foreign Office

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website