Postcard politics

This postcard from the 1930s is for all those British subjects who will vote in the General election today – or not, as the case may be.

Vintage Bamforth comic postcard.

I suspect this might be a rare Bamforth card because it doesn’t involve sex, large middle-aged women and their henpecked husbands, or Scotsmen, their kilts, and speculation about what lies beneath. Those were simpler times!


The King of Uganda

The photograph below has been cropped from a postcard published by J. Valentine in 1913 and shows a small party of tourists on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle. A caption on the original card says “Figure in White is King of Uganda.” The amount of P.R. “spin” that might be incorporated in the syndicated report that follows is open to conjecture.

King of Uganda

Daudi C[h]wa, the young King of Uganda, who has never before left his home, arrived recently in England, accompanied by his English tutor, Mr. J. C. R. Sturrock, of Oxford. The visit is unofficial and undertaken for educational purposes. It is possible that a tour will be made through the manufacturing districts. The young king also intends to visit France and Germany.

Daudi – which means David – is seventeen years of age. Next year he will, according to present arrangements, attain his majority and take up the reins of rulership. Meanwhile the Prime Minister – Sir Apolo Kag[g]wa, the only negro knight – acts on his behalf in the Native Council, according to an agreement drawn up when a British protectorate was declared over Uganda in 1894.

King Daudi is quiet and unassuming. Of fine physique, and over six feet in height, he is extremely fond of British sports. He has adopted European habits and customs, but is a non-smoker and a teetotaller. He speaks and writes English well, and has read English books of adventure with great relish. He plays an excellent game of golf, and has a motorcycle, which he often uses, as there are excellent roads in his kingdom. He is also an enthusiastic photographer.

He has been brought up in the Anglican faith, and regularly attends the mission service at Mengo, on one of the seven hills that comprise Kampala, where he lives. His palace is on one of the hills. The King is entitled to a salute of nine guns on ceremonial occasions, the only time when he puts away his European clothes for his state costume. The national dress of Uganda is of “bark cloth” (obtained from the bark of a fig tree) wrapped loosely round the body, but many of the chiefs and people now wear European clothes. He is a great favorite among Europeans, and is very popular in his own kingdom.

Though King David shows great partiality to many kinds of English foods, he has not forsaken the staple food of Uganda – the banana, of which fruit there are twenty different varieties in his country. The natives bake the banana and then make it into a stew. The variety used for cooking is not suitable for eating when raw. He has his own private band of thirty drums, which are kept in tune by specially appointed drummers, who play at sundown each evening.

The question of the King’s marriage has not been forgotten. It is probable that he will chose a wife from among his own people, or a Princess from one of the other Uganda kingdoms of Unyoro or Toro, though inter-marriage between tribes is not customary.

David’s father, Mwanga, was a clever but despotic King, and ended his days in exile in the Seychelles Islands, whither he was banished after the Mohammedan rebellion in Uganda in 1898. The Waganda trace back their kings in a direct line for about 1000 years.
‘Hawera & Normanby Star’ (N.Z.). 30 August 1913.

Daudi Chwa was knighted by King George V on this visit and, before his coronation the following year, married the first of multiple wives (despite his alleged Anglican faith) who bore him 14 children. Caught between the British Colonial administration and a Prime Minister who didn’t want to relinquish control, he was never allowed to be more than a figurehead, to his eternal frustration. In his later years the teetotaller found a taste for alcohol and withdrew from public life. He died of heartfailure on 22nd November 1939.
Source – Dictionary of African Biography, Vol. 1. Oxford University Press.

The politics of tourism

1925 postcard of Piazza Cordusio, Milan, Italy.

A postcard of Milan, Italy, registered in November 1925

From ‘Propaganda Boom’, A. J. Mackenzie, LL.B. The Right Book Club, London, 1938.
Fascist Italy set up in 1925 a special body for systematising ‘the healthy and advantageous employment of leisure’. Known as the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro, this organisation has grown remarkably, although membership is voluntary. For the student of propaganda, its chief interest lies in the political development of tourism for which it is responsible.

Tourism is now, as always, one of Italy’s major industries and no efforts are spared to attract foreign visitors. The organisation of the hotels on the ‘coupon’ system, under which travellers buy coupons in any one of five categories whenever they cross the frontier, is a boon to the holiday-maker, for constant inspection ensures that even the cheapest of these registered hotels are reasonably clean and comfortable. During the height of the bitter anti-British campaign [in Italy], readers of British newspapers were constantly being tempted by large and attractive State-sponsored advertisements to pay a visit to Italy. On the other hand, for years no Italian paper was permitted to publish articles dealing with the attractions of foreign holiday resorts.

An exception to this ban has now been made for Germany. In May 1937 a tourist agreement was arranged by Italy and Germany, and special concessions allowed visitors from each country to take with them a larger amount of money than is permitted when they are travelling to non-Fascist countries. The scheme is organised on the Italian side by the Dolopavoro, and in Germany by the ‘Strength through Joy’ movement which is building a special fleet of large ships to carry the 150,000 holiday-makers who go cruising under its auspices from Germany every year.

One of the ‘Strength Through Joy’ liners came into prominence in April 1938 when used as a polling booth on the high seas for German residents in Britain who wished to take part in the Austrian plebiscite.

Both organisations have a high propaganda value since State subsidies enable extraordinarily low fares to be charged. They cater for all classes, and undoubtedly enable the working classes to enjoy holidays which compare very favourably with those within the reach of British workers.

Beating the Big Drum

A blatantly aggressive spirit in a nation, as in many individuals, is frequently the product of a deep-rooted inferiority complex. By beating the big drum, by feverish window-dressing, it strives to convince both its own people and foreigners that here is a force to be reckoned with. It makes a parade of arrogance to impress the world. On the other hand, a people who, despite differences of opinion on many important points, are conscious of a fundamental unity, do not feel compelled to indulge in perpetual heroics.

In an autocracy or dictatorship the rulers aim always to link the power of the State with the dogma of their own indispensability…….. To provide an animate link between the emotions of the herd and the abstract entity of the State, the leader emerges and on him is concentrated the frenzied adulation of the people.

Linked with this combative instinct is the emotion of fear. When people are afraid the foundations of the social order are crumbling, they willingly surrender the right to decide their own destinies. The strong hand is welcome and if the minority rebels the strong hand is ruthless. Later, if the mutterings of revolt become ominously loud, the orthodox solution is to unearth a new terror beyond the frontiers. This point is too obvious, has been too frequently illustrated, to require emphasis. The psychology of the nursery has time and again been utilised by the propagandist to cow a restive people. They are hushed: the bogey-man is near.

‘Propaganda Boom’, A.J. MacKenzie, The Right Book Club, London. 1938.

In a world of their own

Captain Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, reached the Cape of Good Hope in the last week of December 1897 and, soon afterwards, met a politician in denial.


…..the Spray ran into a calm under Table Mountain, where she lay quietly till the generous sun rose over the land and drew a breeze in from the sea.

The steam-tug Alert, then out looking for ships, came to the Spray off the Lion’s Rump, and in lieu of a larger ship towed her into port. The sea being smooth, she came to anchor in the bay off the city of Cape Town, where she remained a day, simply to rest clear of the bustle of commerce. The good harbour-master sent his steam-launch to bring the sloop to a berth in dock at once, but I preferred to remain for one day alone, in the quiet of a smooth sea, enjoying the retrospect of the passage of the two great capes. On the following morning the Spray sailed into the Alfred Dry Docks, where she remained for about three months in the care of the port authorities, while I travelled the country over, from Simons Town to Pretoria, being accorded by the colonial government a free railroad pass over all the land.

Kerk Straat, Pretoria, around 1900, from a vintage postcard.

The trip to Kimberley, Johannesburg, and Pretoria was a pleasant one. At the last-named place I met Mr. Kruger, the Transvaal president. His Excellency received me cordially enough; but my friend Judge Beyers, the gentleman who presented me, by mentioning that I was on a voyage around the world, unwittingly gave great offence to the venerable statesman, which we both regretted deeply. Mr. Kruger corrected the judge rather sharply, reminding him that the world is flat. “You don’t mean round the world,” said the president; “it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible!” he said, “impossible!” and not another word did he utter either to the judge or to me.


Oom (uncle) Paul Kruger and his wife Tante (auntie) Senna.

The judge looked at me and I looked at the judge, who should have known his ground, so to speak, and Mr. Kruger glowered at us both. My friend the judge seemed embarrassed, but I was delighted; the incident pleased me more than anything else that could have happened. It was a nugget of information quarried out of Oom Paul, some of whose sayings are famous. Of the English he said, “They took first my coat and then my trousers.” He also said, “Dynamite is the corner-stone of the South African Republic.” Only unthinking people call President Kruger dull.

‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, Capt. Jushua Slocum. Rupert Hart-Davis. 1948.
Original edition published 1900.

It seems incredible that, as recently as 120 years ago, a man who achieved the presidency of his country still believed, in spite of the evidence, that the world was flat. In 120 years from now, what will people think of a president who believed, in spite of the evidence, that the idea of global warming and climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese as an act of industrial sabotage against his country? Assuming, of course, there are any people left to think about anything.


Rivalry at the Suez Canal


The Suez Canal from Port Said on the Mediterranean to Suez on the Red Sea, built by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, and opened in 1869, takes advantage of some lakes on its route, and for ninety miles runs through the desert as a commercial highway of the greatest importance to all nations, especially our own. By it the journey to India is very nearly halved. A great share in its control was gained when the Khedive’s shares were bought for our country [1875]. These have proved not only a good financial investment, but also a great leverage in the diplomacy necessary for maintaining a hold on Egypt…..


A cargo ship on the “commercial highway” at Tussun Curve

The importance of Egypt on the highway to India has brought it under British control which has been maintained since 1882.

Text from The World, a British school textbook by McDougall’s Educational Co. Ltd. c.1913/14.
This gives the impression that Britain supported the Canal proposal from the start. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The official position was that it would be a threat to British maritime supremacy and was “merely a device for French interference in the East”. Paranoia turned to farce after the Canal opened….

……. argument about the Suez Canal rumbled on in London, even after Disraeli’s dramatic purchase of Canal company shares. That purchase gave the British places on the Canal company’s Board of Directors but it still seemed to them that the French were using the Canal as a weapon against them…… The French had set up a Sanitary Board in Egypt, nominally meant to keep the country free of cholera. It decreed that if a ship passed through the Canal without a clean bill of health, it must not have any contact with the shore, and nobody on shore must go on board it. Yet all ships using the Canal had to be controlled by a pilot. In effect, no ship – and they were mostly British – which approached from the south could present a bill of health from every Eastern port she had called at, some of which might have had a case of cholera. British ships were told that they must have a pilot, that he must not go on the ship but go ahead of it in a tug boat, shouting his instructions. That took an unconscionable time, the Canal company charged the earth for it, and it led to frequent strandings.

The French would have taken a different view and insisted their Sanitary Board was a necessary protection. But it never got to that stage. The British Foreign Office, still hating the thought that the Canal was under French control, demanded a second canal, to be strictly British, and in 1883 it offered de Lesseps £8 million to dig it.

[Thomas] Sutherland [Managing Director of P&O] was elected Chairman of a Committee representing all the British shipping lines which used or might use the Canal, with instructions to put the scheme into effect. De Lesseps had all the cards in his hand, not least the firm offer of £8 million. But luckily Sutherland, and presumably de Lesseps too, came to see after very long discussions that there must be some more practical answer to the problems, and the rather crazy idea of a second Suez Canal parallel with the first was allowed to fall out of sight.

The Story of P&O, David Howarth and Stephen Howarth, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986.


The P&O ship Caledonia (1894-1925) leaving Port Said.