In 1867, Emperor Theodore, crowned King of Ethiopia in 1855, found his power in the country rapidly waning. Having drained the resources of the territory to sustain his vast standing army, the Provinces began to rebel. A breakdown in communication between the Emperor and the English Government led to the imprisonment of the English consul and his suite and in turn to the resolution to send an army under Sir Robert Napier into Abyssinia to enforce the release of the captives.
The present watercolour illustrates the recoinnotering party which was despatched in advance, under Colonel Merewether, to find a landing place and an anchorage, and to explore the passes leading into the interior. In January 1868 Merewether was followed by Napier and up to thirty-two thousand men who marched four hundred miles over mountainous and little-known country to Theodore's fortress. The British released the captives and Theodore was killed after unsuccessfully suing for peace. The British forces withdrew from Abyssinia in May 1868 and Prince Kassai of Tigré succeeded Theodore, proclaiming himself King of Abyssinia in 1872.