Africana Votes and Views #13
Let us revisit this month, the hunting (or should that be killing?) fields of
As already mentioned in my previous Votes #4, “Karamojo”
Nor does Bell’s little effort at buffalo hunting make any dent in the all-time slaughter records of American bison – to the tune of Frank Carvers’s year’s total of 5500, Buffalo Bill Cody’s tally of 4280 and A C Myers’s little bag of 4200. These three guys must have been serious competition to the best harpooners of blue whales in the heyday of whaling – even if only in terms of actual biomass exterminated. But wait – my authority has managed to exceed even those numbers for big game – in the personages of the Elector Johann Georg of
So merely as a little diversion from the main theme of great African hunters, let us delve further into the histories of the chase. During the early Middle Ages, men, in this case mostly of noble blood or landed gentry in the case of the Brits, were the only ones permitted to slay any beast (with the exception of people of conflicting interests and opinions, of course, as these could be topped by any common ceorl or villein). These latter low classes took their life in their hands if they developed a taste for venison that rightfully belonged to their lords and masters. Since the pleasure of hunting was only sporadically interrupted by spells of government and wars, it followed that the nobles could expend an uncommon amount of effort in the chase. In addition it gave them something to brag about when they foregathered at the round table of an evening, devouring the best of boar and
Naturally the Prince of this, the Archduke of that, the Baron of the other, and assorted Freiherrn, Comtes etc, liked to let those of similar interests know where they stood on the ladder of achievement, and so there was no shortage of hunting literature. The next generation, and the next, and so on, read of their predecessors’ glorious experiences, and within a short time (geologically speaking) you end up with the likes of me or my son, equally hunting mad and slavering at the leash to be let loose on the dwindling wild life of this planet. Small problem – we are not part of a numerically insignificant noble elite, and almost anyone can afford a precision instrument, to wit, a powerful rifle and scope. The rest, as they say, coupled with an inordinately fecund species of primate overrunning the world and ripping up prime habitat, is history. Forgive the diversion, but I was lured off the main subject by this wealth of information which I wanted to share.
Back to the great Nimrods of the
A gigantic, but romantic Scot of great ineptitude is next under the lens. Roualeyn Gordon Cumming found the hunting of the great stag on the highlands was not enough to fire his blood, so he came to South Africa for a five year stint of hard labour, killing the braw and wee beasties i’ the bush. Of his experiences he wrote the widely acclaimed and oft reprinted work Five Years of a Hunter’s Life in the Far Interior of South Africa (John Murray, 1850 et al), which is quite entertaining for a while, but tends to get wearisome as the great Nimrod struggles manfully to down the gigantic beast “from half-past eleven till the sun was under, when his tough old spirit fled and he fell pierced with fifty-seven balls”. Another time it took a mere thirty-five and thirty balls respectively. No one could say Cumming didna have the balls. I mean, at 4 ounces each, someone must have been carrying the better part of 7 kg of lead in their pouch – or was it in their sporran – on that first occasion mentioned. And then to write about it? I would have been too ashamed to confess to keeping an entire mining sector occupied in my efforts to obtain a little sport, but not our man. To be fair, the seemingly huge numbers of corpses achieved were spread over five years – and then condensed into 756 pages, but he would have presented himself in a far more favourable light as a hunter and sportsman if he had left the rifle in the gunroom and confined himself to sticking a sgian dubh into a royal stag, or something. Needless to say, his bag of elephants did not place him in the hall of fame.
Yet another wee Highlander was the third son of Viscount Strathallan, one William Henry Drummond, who wrote The Large Game and Natural History of South and South-East Africa (Edmonston & Douglas, 1875); a learned-sounding title, but in fact a quite entertaining account of five years’ hair-raising adventures in Zululand and Swaziland, during which he hunted mainly buffalo, as well as a few elephants and smaller game. I read the book quite recently, and must admit that I became quite interested in it. His natural history observations are pretty good, as far as I can judge, and I became utterly amazed at his courage – no, foolhardiness, in rushing in where people a hundred years later, armed with modern magazine rifles, would hesitate to tiptoe in pursuit of wounded buff. It is difficult to gauge how many animals fell to this hunter, as there always seemed a goodly number of (mostly black) hunters in his company, and with everyone blazing away into the bushes, it must have given one the uncomfortable feeling of being in the middle of a swarm of bumble bees. Nonetheless they floored large numbers of buffaloes daily, with not too much loss of life and limb among the humans. Drummond returned to
A man who had a great reputation, which far exceeded his actual achievements, was Arthur Neumann. An interesting person, who had a chequered career, from farming, prospecting, trading, later becoming a magistrate, before being lured by the great quarry. He scrimped and saved for years before outfitting his own safari, with which he explored and hunted with the Nderobo tribe near Mount Kenya for three years, and explored north towards
William Finaughty, on the other hand, was a man who won little renown during his lifetime, though he richly deserved it. It was only due to the services of an American, who met the old man in 1913 shortly before his death, that his Recollections of William Finaughty – Elephant Hunter (Privately published by G. L. Harrison, 1916) appeared, and that we have learnt about his exploits. He did most of his hunting from the saddle in the more open country of
Talking about cannons on the loose among the herds, the notable Sir Samuel Baker, who wreaked havoc among the fauna of Ceylon, who stalked the noble stags of Scotland and who explored and hunted the length of the White Nile, must take the prize. He persuaded the firm of
Let us not forget some of the early Boer hunters. Mostly we have to rely on the reports of their fellow-enthusiasts to inform us of their exploits, since they left no written records. In the case of Petrus Jacobs, we only know what F C Selous had to relate with regard to his mode of hunting. He loved to hunt from horseback for the sake of the sport, and was reputed to have shot between 400 and 500 elephants, as well as a hundred-odd lions, one of the latter of which chewed him over considerably, so putting him out of action for two months before he was able to remount to resume his pursuit at the ripe old age of seventy-three. Truly, they were men in those days. In his books Jagkonings (1945) and Veldsmanne (1958) J von Moltke records a number of interviews with surviving descendants and friends of notable hunters of yore. They mostly hunted in
Among the other heavyweights are, of course, the rhinos. Somehow their horns lacked appeal during the great hunting era of the 19th century, and most of the great hunters shot them in staggering numbers, purely, it would seem, because of their nuisance value, or at best for carriers’ rations. The Swedish trader/hunter C J Andersson probably put a sizeable dent into the rhino population of Namibia; he records bags of “scores” of these animals in Lake Ngami (Hurst & Blackett,1856), his best tally being eight beasts killed at a waterhole during one nightly vigil. Not unlike dynamiting fish in a pool – especially since another dozen or so other heads of game bit the dust that night as well. W C Oswell seemed to enjoy hunting rhino, and while no numbers were recorded in the book by his son, William Cotton Oswell, Hunter and Explorer (Heinemann, 1900), it does mention that Oswell and a companion kept a starving tribe of six hundred souls alive for a couple of months on this strong diet. The aforementioned Finaughty, in addition to his sizeable bag of tuskers also managed the odd baker’s dozen of rhinos on at least one day when the elephants stayed away. Towards the end of the 19th century rhino horn suddenly attained popularity – possibly due to a population explosion of Middle Easterners reaching puberty thus needing ornate daggers hafted in this material – or maybe due to a suspected drop in population in India and China, which required some rejuvenation of the male libidos in those parts. Whichever, suddenly traders were arming the tribesmen with blunderbusses and sending them off after the hapless animals, of which there seemed to have been an almost inexhaustible supply until the 1930s, when the game clearances to eradicate Nagana in Zululand almost spelled an end to the genus Diceros in
The king of beasts, the lion, should certainly be considered when one chronicles the great hunters of yore. However, it is difficult to get to grips with exact numbers, since all too often hunters were canny enough to have a back-up rifle nearby, not to speak of packs of baying curs, trackers and gunbearers armed variously with rifles and spears – because lions are fast and deadly, especially when wounded. So while we read that a certain Paul Rainey killed over two hundred, one Clifford Hill “had been in on the death of 160 lions”; Sir Alfred Pease was a famous hunter with a bag of about 135 lions, Petrus Jacobs killed more than a hundred in his time, and Selous was no slouch himself when it came to hunting the big cats – most of these men had the odd bit of help here and there, making it difficult to apportion exact numbers. What is probably not widely known is that the great conservator, James Stevenson-Hamilton, of
I have left that Beau Geste of the African hunt as last but not least. Frederick Courteney Selous, although not the man with the biggest bag of anything in the annals of the genre, was certainly one of the most fêted of hunter-writers of the late Victorian era. He was the British gentleman, the adventurer, the Nimrod, the naturalist and finally the soldier and fallen hero. His early life was not entirely blameless, as he was prone to trespassing, poaching and brawling in his youth, which almost resulted in his arrest. He was fortunate to be able to leave
Hippos, though reputed to be the most dangerous mammal to man on the continent, do not seem to figure largely in bag totals. The reason is simple – they were considered as food, not a worthy quarry. True, they often presented only a small target to the marksman, as they raised their nostrils and eyes above the surface of the water to breathe, but they were in another element, and the hunter could sit with impunity on the bank of the river/lake and take potshots at whatever rose from the depths. Very few hunters would have had the temerity to take on a grown hippo on land at night, and numerous were the boats upset and people killed in the waters when they trespassed on the territories of the countless “river horses” that populated most African waters. Millions were exterminated between the time van Riebeeck landed at the
Leopards, although dangerous and iconic large cats, did not seem to make it into the record books. Although their skins were sought-after trophies for the home and library floor, the relative ease with which they could be killed by a man wielding nothing more deadly than a spear – no, even by some men with bare hands alone – meant that no great kudos accrued to the hunter from a kill. While the same did not apply to the Indian leopards, some of whom became noted maneaters and killers, making them very worthy adversaries, not to be tackled with impunity, the African cats only became deadly to man once wounded. A fair number of Nimrods misjudged these bantamweight killers and paid the price after wounding them and following them into thick bush.
There we must leave the successful and notable hunters of the last two hundred years. There are still many more who made a name for themselves in the deserts, bush and forests of the continent, and possibly we shall revisit some other guise of the same subject at another time.