Rather than present a full article today I thought I’d write an introduction and background piece to accompany a YouTube video of the subject I want to cover.
Being April Fool’s Day it provides a good enough reason to recount a famous hoax from the beginning of the 20th century co-created by a member of the lgbt community. It became the prelude to a bigger hoax that he helped to create.
The first of these hoaxes is referred to as the Zanzibar Hoax. It was a daring attempt by students at Cambridge University to fool the city council into thinking they were being visited by royalty from the sultanate of Zanzibar.
The instigator of the hoax was a notorious prankster called Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936). He had gained a reputation as a constant prankster and the Zanzibar Hoax was his most ambitious to date. In order to carry it out he enlisted the help of his friend and fellow student Adrian Stephen (1883-1948).
Adrian Stephen was, like Horace de Vere Cole, from a well-connected family. Adrian’s father was Sir Leslie Stephen and his sister was Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). His father died in 1904 while Adrian was in his second year studying law and history at Cambridge University. His family moved to Bloomsbury and it was there that the Stephens and their friends and relatives formed the Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers, many of them lgbt.
So, here is the video, and I’ll write some additional information afterwards.
The video fails to give the proper names to all of the participants in the hoax. Here they are:
Leland Buxton (1884-1967),
Robert Bowen-Colthurst (1883-1915), and
Lyulph “Drummer” Howard (1885-1915).
Bowen-Colthurst and Howard were both killed in action during the First World War.
Adrian Stephen was the only gay member of the Zanzibar Hoax. He had an affair with the artist Duncan Grant (1885-1978) when he left Cambridge. Like so many gay men of his era Adrian married and had children. However, his bride, Karin Costelloe, made it clear when she accepted his marriage proposal that she didn’t love him. In fact, she treated him very badly all through the marriage.
The success of the Zanzibar Hoax, as the video says, led Horace to persuade Adrian to help in another one. This was the Dreadnought Hoax. Adrian persuaded his sister Virginia and Duncan Grant to join them.
If you haven’t already gone on to the Dreadnought video I hope you can wait for a couple of weeks when I’ll be writing about that.