Hoaxes in History The Boarding of the H.M.S. Dreadnaught Part 1
About the famous hoax in history were practical joker Horace de Vere Cole was able to board the H.M.S. Dreadnaught.
OUTRAGEOUS HOAXES IN HISTORY
The Boarding of H.M.S. Dreadnought
H.M.S. Dreadnought, flagship of the British Navy's Home Fleet, was anchored at Weymouth-an irresistible target for a practical joker and hoaxer like Horace de Vere Cole. Cole was a wealthy young dilettante. He wrote poetry, studied art, and pulled pranks at every opportunity.
Prior to the Dreadnought affair, the highlight of Cole's career had been puncturing the vanity of a young member of Parliament named Oliver Locker-Lampson, who had boasted that an M.P. could never be arrested. Of the same social standing as the supercilious lawmaker, Cole arranged for the two of them to take a stroll together through Piccadilly. As they were walking, Cole slipped his gold watch into the young man's pocket and then suggested that they race a short distance. Cole quickly fell behind the sprinting M.P. and began shouting, "Stop, thief!"
Captured by constables, the confused lawmaker was charged with stealing Cole's watch and was hauled off to police headquarters. Although Cole attempted to keep the entire incident out of the newspapers, the full story greeted the public the following morning. A two-hour speech of contrition was all that saved the once proud politician from a forced resignation.
By comparison, the boarding of the Dreadnought was a far more complicated undertaking. For one thing, Cole was to be accompanied by five fellow conspirators, increasing the opportunity for human error-and consequent failure of the hoax-fivefold. For another, the victim would not be some obscure M.P., but the entire British Navy.
In addition to Cole, the conspiratorial band consisted of author-naturalist Anthony Buxton, artist Duncan Grant, son of a prominent judge Guy Ridley, and a brother-sister combination of Adrian and Virginia Stephen. (Virginia Stephen would later become famous in another context entirely under her married name-Virginia Woolf.)
Of the six, four-Anthony, Duncan, Guy, and Virginia-were to don African robes and put on blackface in order to pose as Ethiopian royalty. Anthony Buxton would be the emperor and the others (Virginia cut her hair short for the occasion) princes. Of the remaining two pranksters, Horace Cole assumed the role of Mr. Herbert Cholmondley of the Foreign Office, and Adrian Stephen became a German named Herr Kauffmann. Cholmondley was to be the British government's official escort for the Ethiopians, Kauffmann their interpreter.
Early on a February morning in 1910, the six transformed themselves into their temporary identities; four were in makeup and rented theatrical robes, turbans, and crosses, while Cole wore top hat and tails. When all preparations were completed, the bizarre group set off for Paddington Station, there to catch the train for Weymouth and a fate none of them could guess.
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