The Dreadnought Hoax

One hundred years ago today, the Prince of Abyssinia visited the British Navy battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought. The prince and his retinue took a tour of the vessel and were accorded diplomatic honors as fitting for visiting royalty. The guests spoke a language the sailors did not understand, but they figured "Bunga Bunga" was a polite greeting because the royal group used it a lot. But this wasn't the prince of Abyssinia! The Navy learned about the hoax when it hit the newspapers.
The next day the Navy was mortified to learn that the party they had escorted around the warship had not been Abyssinian dignitaries at all. Instead it had been a group of young, upper class pranksters who had blackened their faces, donned elaborate theatrical costumes, and then forged an official telegram in order to gain access to the ship. Their ringleader was a man named Horace de Vere Cole, but the entourage also included a young woman called Virginia Stephen who would later be better known as the writer Virginia Woolf.

By February 12 the British newspapers were full of the story of the stunt. "Bunga Bungle!" the Western Daily Mercury trumpeted. For a few days the Navy was the laughingstock of Britain. Sailors were greeted with cries of "Bunga, Bunga" wherever they went. One newspaper suggested that the Dreadnought change its name to the Abyssinian.

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