The Dreadnought Hoax was a very embarrasing prank played on the Royal Navy in 1910 by the Bloombury Set. Led by the Irish Born prankster; Horace de Vere Cole, born in Ballincollig, Co. Cork.
Cole reprised an earlier prank, where he led a delegation of the Royal Family of Zanibar on a tour of Cambridge in 1905, greatly upsetting the Mayor who hosted a reception for them.
For the Dreadnought they pretended to be the Abyssinian Royals, with Virginia Wolfe sporting a beard and blackface as one of the delegates (far left in photo). Today we look a the photo above and marvel that they pulled it off with such poor disguises and obvious stage makeup, but the world was a smaller place in those days.
The visit was a diplomatic farce in any case. The Royal Navy had no Abyssinian flag on board so they flew the flag of Zanzibar and played the Zanzibar national anthem.
As the delegation wandered about the Royal Navy ship they called out “Bunga-bunga” to marvel at the various wonders. The phrase was taken up by the press and used as a catch all for the embarassment of the royal navy.
A hit song in the music halls that year was:
When I went on board a Dreadnought ship
I looked like a costermonger;
They said I was an Abyssinian prince
‘Cos I shouted ‘Bunga Bunga!