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The Dreadnought hoax was a practical joke pulled by Horace de Vere Cole in 1910. Cole tricked the Royal Navy into showing their flagship, the warship HMS Dreadnought, to a supposed delegation of Abyssinian royals. The hoax drew attention in Britain to the emergence of the Bloomsbury Group, among whom many of Cole's collaborators numbered.
The hoax involved Cole and five friends—writer Virginia Stephen (later Virginia Woolf), her brother Adrian Stephen, Guy Ridley, Anthony Buxton and artist Duncan Grant—who had themselves disguised by Willy Clarkson with skin darkeners and turbans to resemble members of the Abyssinian royal family. The main limitation of the disguises was that the "royals" could not eat anything or their make-up would be ruined. Adrian Stephen took the role of "interpreter".
On 7 February 1910 the hoax was set in motion. Cole organised for an accomplice to send a telegram to HMS Dreadnought which was then moored in Portland, Dorset. The message said that the ship must be prepared for the visit of a group of princes from Abyssinia and was purportedly signed by Foreign Office Under-secretary Sir Charles Hardinge.
Cole with his entourage went to London's Paddington station where Cole claimed that he was "Herbert Cholmondeley" of the UK Foreign Office and demanded a special train to Weymouth; the stationmaster arranged a VIP coach.
The group inspected the fleet. To show their appreciation, they communicated in a gibberish of words drawn from Latin and Greek; they asked for prayer mats and attempted to bestow fake military honours on some of the officers. An officer familiar with both Cole and Virginia Stephen failed to recognise either.
When the prank was uncovered in London, the ringleader Horace de Vere Cole contacted the press and sent a photo of the "princes" to the Daily Mirror. The group's pacifist views were considered a source of embarrassment, and the Royal Navy briefly became an object of ridicule. The Navy later demanded that Cole be arrested. However, Cole and his compatriots had not broken any law. The Navy sent two officers to cane Cole as a punishment but Cole countered that it was they who should be caned because they had been fooled in the first place.
During the visit to Dreadnought, the visitors had repeatedly shown amazement or appreciation by exclaiming "Bunga! Bunga!". In 1915 during the First World War, HMS Dreadnought rammed and sank a German submarine. Among the telegrams of congratulation was one that read "BUNGA BUNGA".
Contemporary media coverage 
- Downer, Martyn (April 2010). The Sultan of Zanzibar: The Bizarre World and Spectacular Hoaxes of Horace de Vere Cole. London: Black Spring Press. ISBN 978-0-948238-43-7.
- Stephen, Adrian (October 1983) . The "Dreadnought" Hoax. London: originally published by Hogarth Press; reprinted by Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0-7011-2747-3. LCCN 83186536.
- Woolf, Virginia (October 2008). "Dreadnought Hoax Talk". In Rosenbaum, Stanford Patrick. The Platform of Time: Memoirs of Family and Friends (expanded ed.). Hesperus Press. pp. 154–163, 182–202. ISBN 978-1-84391-711-3.