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Tony Flynn
FROM THE VIDEO ARCHIVE: SALFORD'S AFRICAN PRINCE
Were you aware of the fact that buried in Agecroft cemetery is a man who could have been an African Prince, who lived a colourful and controversial life and died of consumption, virtually destitute in Salford? If not, then read on.

 

Peter Lobengula professed to be the son of King Lobengula of Matebela, which became Rhodesia after the Matebela wars of 1893, and is now modern-day Zimbabwe. 

He came to England at the request of Frank Fillis, a showman entreprenuer, in a show called Savage South Africa which alleged to show the battles that Cecil Rhodes had fought against the Matabele tribesmen. 

Fillis had heard about the success of the Buffalo Bill Wild West tours and saw this a great chance to jump onto the bandwagon and make a pile of cash into the bargain. 

Prince Peter was the star of the show and even got to drink champagne with the Prince of Wales in 1899 when he visited the London show at Earls Court. 

Controversy dogged the show with the London press complaining that local women were becoming too friendly with the African showmen, going so far as to describe the Africans as "savages". 

Matters were not helped when Prince Peter announced that he was going to marry a white woman called Kitty Jewell, thus causing further outrage, with the London Evening News going as far as to say, "there is something inexpressibly disgusting about the mating of a white girl with a dusky savage". 

Their attempts to get married were obstructed by the local vicar, the owners of the show and by Kitty's mother, this prompted Lobengula to quit the show and threatened to return to South Africa, which he never did. 

The Savage South Africa Show moved to Salford in 1900 and set up camp at Broughton Football Club where Prince Peter reappeared but lower down on the casting; the Boer War had just started and the show's main attraction were families of Boers that Frank Fillis had brought over. 

Again the show ran into trouble, local people were often in the Magistrates court for causing trouble with the black performers, also more trouble occured when Kitty Jewell ran away from Lobengula threatening suicide going so far as to leave a suicide note on the canal bank. It has to be said that Kitty was never seen again, but there is no evidence of suicide. 

The show lasted for eight weeks before moving to Blackpool, Leeds and Liverpool, however losses of £1,800 a week meant that Frank Fillis sold the props and moved back to South Africa. 

Peter Lobengula remained in Salford and little was known of him apart from the odd court appearance for drunkeness, it is known that he married an Irish woman called Catherine and had four children, living in Gladstone Street, off Indigo Street, Pendleton whilst working as a collier at Agecroft colliery. 

He made the news again in 1913 when he appeared at Salford Magistrates Court saying that as son of King Lobengula of Matabele then part of Rhodesia he was entitled to vote. 

He won the case and was allowed to vote in the Salford East ward. 

His health had deterioated over the years and he contracted consumption, the local vicar of his parish applied for a pension for him, this caused further controversy when The British South Africa Company investigated Lobengulas family tree and declared him to be a hoaxer and therefore not entitled to the money. 

Sadly Prince Peter Lobengula died from consumption in November 1913 and was buried in a public grave in Agecroft cemetery. By 1920 his wife and four of their children were to join him in the cemetery. 

As a footnote I was pleased to read that after his death, his funeral cortege passed by Agecroft colliery and that his workmates dropped their hats as a mark of respect to their friend, also crowds lined the route to the cemetery. 

We will never know if he was a Prince or not, but he certainly conducted himself like one and showed better manners than many of his so called superiors, an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life. 

Many thanks to Salford Local History Library for allowing us to use the image of Peter Lobengula. 

This article first appeared on SalfordOnline on 21st June 2011 and is reproduced here courtesy of the unenviable Tony Flynn.


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