Imvubu Newsletter

The Galla Slaves of Lovedale

© Pienaar, S. Imvubu 2003: 2

In September 1888 the British warship HMS Osprey was cruising in the Red Sea. Private information came to the captain that certain Arab slave dhows were expected to leave the African coast bound for Mocha,of coffee celebrity, where there was an immense market for slaves. The dhows were captured, though not without the loss of some lives, both of the slavers and their victims. Most of the slaves originated from Gallaland near Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). With the exception of four men, all the slaves were women and children, and all in a pitiful condition, particularly the young boys. Nearly all had to be lifted on board the Osprey, their limbs having been so cramped by confinement that they could not function.

The dhows were towed into Aden harbour and the children were housed by the government authorities there. The Keith-Falconer Mission of the Free Church of Scotland, situated near Aden, was communicated with and asked to take part or all of them. In the summer of 1889 the roll was augmented by others who were rescued in small parties. By this time it had become necessary to seek a new and more healthy home for them, and Lovedale Missionary Institution was decided upon. When the party sailed out of Aden for the south, it numbered 64, 22 girls and 42 boys. Dr Alexander Paterson and a teacher colleague was in charge of the party.

They arrived in East London on the Conway Castle on 20.08.1890 and were accommodated for the night in the spacious woolsheds of Mr Coutts, a local merchant. While at East London they were guests of the children of the Presbyterian Sunday School. The next morning they had the adventure of travelling to King William’s Town by train, and were fed and accommodated for some hours by Mr & Mrs J.W. Weir. Finally, they left in three wagons for Lovedale, spent a night at Green River, and reached their destination the next afternoon.

The Gallas brought a new and interesting element into the life of the Institution. They were all young, none of them over 18, and most of them much younger, down to the age of 8 or 9. Many of them had been bought and sold in slavery eight or ten times. Lovedale had set up boarding houses especially for them. The children quickly settled into Lovedale ways and by 1900 most of the Gallas had already left the institution. Some of them, however, kept in contact with the Lovedale staff. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) a local King William’s Town newspaper, the Cape Mercury, stated that one of the Galla students joined the Transport Department, of the 1st Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. This youth – his name is Tolassa Wayessa, resided at Lovedale for eight years. In addition to his general education he was taught photography by Mr Alex Geddes, the Boarding Master of the Gallas,, and eventually proved a very capable assistant to that gentlemen. In fact, Mr Wayessa finally left Lovedale to take up a situation with a photographer in East London. Here are some extracts of Wayessa’s letter to Mr Geddes giving us some insights on his view and experiences of the Anglo-Boer War:

Acton Homes, Natal

Jan. 22, 1900

We left Maritzburg on New Year’s Day and came to Estcourt. Left Estcourt after staying a week. From Estcourt we came to Frere Camp, after a day and night’s march. We did not remain long at Frere Camp; we came to Springfield. In all these marchings man after man dropped out on the way. Some were worn out by the long marching and others through want of water. At Springfield Farm four spies were caught – one English, two Dutch and one Native. They were sent to Maritzburg. After two days’ stay at Springfield we left the place. All tents were left there. We started at 6 a.m. and marched a whole night. In the early morning we were within a few miles of the Tugela River, and our guns began shelling. Firing went on till about 11 a.m. At about 12 two bridges were made across the Tugela, one of the wagons and the other for the troops. In crossing the river one man was killed belonging to the Dorsetshire Regiment; two wounded belonging to the Devonshire Regiment. These men were building the bridges when the Boers shot at them; one Boer was caught afterwards. The same day, while crossing the Tugela, one of the 13th Hussars was drowned and the transport mules belonging to the Dublin Fusiliers. It is going on for four days since we came here and on three of these days we have heard nothing but the sound of cannon and the hissing of bullets overhead. Yesterday and the day before yesterday 12 cannon were in action. It is said that 322 men are killed and wounded today. Of course we do not know exactly how many are killed on the side of the Boers. It is said that their trenches are full of dead. In every engagement the Boers are being driven back farther and farther. Before yesterday they shelled the position where we were and killed one man, wounded about half-a-dozen others and killed a number of transport horses and mules. It is easy to speak about war, but it is very hard to look on dead and wounded men. I did not like to look at the man who was shot by the shell of the Boers. The shell knocked a hole through his chest and came out at the back. We have two naval guns and one maxim in every regiment and howitzer batteries. The Boers are almost surrounded on every side. They are on three hills, on the right, left and front. They are driven from the left hill to the centre and right hills. Genl. Buller was here yesterday and today. Our transport is right in the fighting line, while the transport belonging to other regiments keeps about half a mile from the regiments. Being under cover of the guns a number of our mules were shot. I cannot tell you all that is going on just now, but I will tell you some time, if I return safely.

What became of the Gallas ultimately? Between the years 1892 and 1895 ten of the boys and three of the girls died. In the Christian Express of June 1900, brief biographies of the 51 survivors were published. These showed that almost all the girls entered domestic service in European homes in various parts of the Cape Province. The majority of the boys, after training at Lovedale, became tradesmen or were employed as storemen in various forms of business. A few were in Kimberley and some in Ladysmith while these towns were besieged in the Anglo-Boer War. Quite a number, both young men and women, found their way back to Ethiopia. One became an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society at Harar. Another, Gamoches Garba, who died at Sheikh Othman near Aden in 1900, was most favourably reported upon by Dr John Young, then missionary there. Dr Young, when visiting Addis Ababa in 1923, came into touch with several other of the Gallas. By 1925, nine of the Gallas were still living in Ethopia.


Shepherd, R.H.W. 1971 Lovedale, South Africa, Lovedale Press, Alice.

Stewart, James 1894 Lovedale, South Africa, Andrew Elliot, Edinburgh.

‘At the Front – Another Galla boy writes an interesting letter’ in Cape Mercury, 14 February 1900 p. 3.

Photograph caption: A rare photograph of the Galla slaves and probably their care takers, Dr Alexander Paterson and a colleague.