Weymouth, England — In 1910, the year of the hoax, the H.M.S. Dreadnought was the largest ship in the world. In the preceding months, the Admiralty put on several choreographed displays intended to “stage naval strength and encourage public enthusiasm” in British military investments (Jones 82). The Dreadnought was “a powerful cultural agent of empire” that “inspired feelings of imperial unity (Jones 82). It was a symbol of naval, imperial, cultural might, wrought with “ideas of efficiency, masculinity, and superiority” (Jones 82).
On February 7th, Virginia Woolf (then Stephen), along with her brother Adrian and some of his friends from Cambridge, took a train to Weymouth, disguised as four Abyssinian princes, a translator, and an official from the Foreign Office. Beforehand, the group had sent a telegram to the admiral, claiming to be from the Foreign Office, requesting that the crew “treat them with all courtesy” (Garnett 372). They received the honor of a 45-minute tour of the Dreadnought, at a time when thousands of citizens were clamoring to get aboard the ship for even a short visit (Jones 80, 83).The prank was “a flouting of authority,” completely undermining that image of might that the navy had worked so hard to cultivate. (Garnett 372). A few disguises, makeup, and amateur acting were all it took to infiltrate the world’s most powerful vessel, the pride of the British navy.
Following the hoax, newspapers from all over the world reported on the issue, spreading the embarrassment of the British navy from England, to New York, and even to South Africa.
Posted by: Jack Needham
Garnett, David. “Virginia Woolf.” The American Scholar, Vol. 34, No. 3. Summer (1965): 371-386. JSTOR. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
Jones, Danell. “The Dreadnought Hoax and the Theatres Of War.” Literature & History 22.1 (2013): 80-94. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
The H.M.S. Dreadnought. Digital image. Ibiblio – The Public’s Library and Digital Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
Photo of pranksters responsible for the hoax. Digital image. Flickr. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.