Hoaxes in History The Boarding of the H.M.S. Dreadnaught Part 3

About the famous hoax in history were practical joker Horace de Vere Cole was able to board the H.M.S. Dreadnaught.


The Boarding of H.M.S. Dreadnought

All was going perfectly until a light rain started to fall. Adrian Stephen was the first to detect the possible disaster which lay in store for all of them when he noticed Duncan Grant's false mustache beginning to lose its grip. Realizing that the precipitation would soon start everyone's makeup running, he hurriedly suggested to the captain that the Ethiopians would be more comfortable below the deck. Fortunately, Stephen's suggestion was acted upon quickly, and Grant was able to repair his mustache surreptitiously as they proceeded inside.

Forty minutes after boarding the Dreadnought, the conspirators were back ashore, and soon after reaching land, they were on a train back to London. But Horace Cole was still not satisfied. Maintaining his identity as Herbert Cholmondley of the Foreign Office, he politely but firmly informed the railroad personnel that the royal travelers could be served food only by individuals wearing white kid gloves. As a consequence, when the train stopped at Reading, one of the staff raced to a store in pursuit of the required gloves. Soon he returned triumphant, and only then did the ersatz Ethiopians eat.

Cole and his friends finally called a halt to the hoax when they arrived safely back in London. After posing for a group photograph, they cleaned off the blackface and returned the rented costumes. Then all but Horace Cole settled back to enjoy in private the delicious memories of how they had pulled the leg of the British Navy.

Unable to keep the story of the successful prank a secret, Cole went to the newspapers. Within a week the group photograph and a complete account of the hoax were on the front pages of several London dailies. Although none of the conspirators' names appeared in the articles, some of the stuffier members of Parliament, investigators at Scotland Yard, officers of the Admiralty, and editors of the newspapers demanded that the rogues be captured and brought to justice. But the most serious criminal act committed, as even these humorless types were forced to admit, was the sending of a telegram under a false name.

For the most part, however, Britons recognized the comic dimension of the prank, and they quickly adopted the phrase "bunga, bunga" as a favorite exclamation to express delight or surprise. Naturally, the names of the participants finally leaked out, and after the public learned of Horace Cole's role in the Dreadnought hoax, he was granted the unofficial title of "prince of the practical jokers."

Never again, though, did Cole attempt so daring an escapade. In fact, his last years were a definite anticlimax to his stunt-filled youth. As the Depression of the 1930s depleted his once substantial fortune, he drifted off into comparative obscurity, eventually moving to France, where he died of a heart attack in 1936 at the age of 53.

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