IV. The burning of Maqdala
Steps were meanwhile taken by the British military authorities, on the afternoon 17 April, entirely to destroy the city. Working-parties, according to a British officer, Captain Hozier, laid mines under the gate and other defences, as well as Tewodros’s artillery which had been cast with great difficulty by the Emperor’s European artisans. The fort was then blown up, together, Markham notes, with “an ill-fated cow”, who, unfortunately for her, happened to be present at that moment. The Emperor’s palace and all other buildings, including the church of Madhane Alam, were next set on fire. The conflagration, Hozier reports, “spread quickly from habitation to habitation and sent up a heavy cloud of dense smoke which could be seen for many miles”.
The British troops then secured “good positions”, Stanley states “from whence the mighty conflagration . . . could be seen to advantage”.
Describing the destruction of Tewodros’s capital in some detail, Stanley continues:
“The easterly wind gradually grew stronger, fanning incipient tongues of flame visible on the roofs of houses until they grew larger under the skilful nursing and finally sprang aloft in crimson jets, darting upward and then circling round on their centres as the breeze played with them. A steady puff of wind levelled the flaming tongues in a wave, and the jets became united into an igneous lake!”