In 1910, Horace de Vere Cole and five friends, including Virginia Stephen (who would marry Leonard Woolf in 1912) and her brother Adrian Stephen (a classmate of Cole’s), coordinated and successfully carried out an elaborate hoax against the Royal Navy.
Cole began by sending a telegram to the HMS Dreadnought, moored in Dorset, telling the crew to expect a visit from a group of North African princes.
Dressed as the “The Emperor of Abyssinia” and his attendants, the group was received by the Dreadnought‘s crew, and was given a tour of the ship. The group spoke to each other in broken Latin, and shouted made-up words to show their appreciation.
Following the event, Cole sent this photograph to the Daily Mail to reveal the ruse. When the Royal Navy demanded that Cole be punished, he countered that it was they who should be punished for allowing themselves to be fooled.
In the photo of the group, Virginia Stephen can be seen, in beard and turban, on the far left. (Click on the image to see an enlarged version.)
An account of the “Dreadnought Hoax” was written by Adrian Stephen and published in 1936 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press. 2530 copies of the book were printed, though 1530 copies were later pulped.
Unlike earlier Hogarth publications which were handprinted by the Woolfs and decorated with unique handmade papers, The Dreadnought Hoax is rather simple, printed commercially, and decorated only with photos of the adventure. The photo above is the frontispiece.
*EC9.W8827.Z936s. Purchased with the Theodore Sedgwick Library Fund. Image may not be reproduced without permission.
The A Woolf in sheikh’s clothing by Modern Books and Manuscripts, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Terms and conditions beyond the scope of this license may be available at blogs.law.harvard.edu.