Hailed as the adventure-writing successor to Hemingway and Ruark, only Peter Hathaway Capstick “can write action as cleanly and suspensefully as the best of his predecessors’ (Sports Illustrated). This long-awaited sequel to Death in the Silent Places brings to life four turn-of-the-century adventurers and the savage frontiers they braved.
* Frederick Selous, a British hunter, naturalist, and soldier, rewrote the history books with his fearless treks deep into Africa.
* English game ranger Constantine “Iodine” Ionides saved Tanganyikan villages from man-eating lions and leopards. He also gained lasting fame for his uncanny ability to capture black mambas, cobras, Gaboon vipers, and other deadly snakes.
* The dashing Brit Johnny Boyes who gained the chieftainship of the Kikuyu tribe with sheer bravado and survived the ferocious battles and ambushes of intertribal warfare.
* And Scottish ex-boxer, Jim Sutherland, one of the best ivory hunters who ever lived. His tracking skills and stamina afoot became the stuff of African hunting legend.
In The African Adventurers: A Return to the Silent Places, Capstick delivers “the kind of chilling stories that Hemingway only heard second-hand...with a flair and style that Papa himself would admire” (Guns and Ammo). The author’s pungent wit and his authenticity gained from years in the bush make this quartet of vintage heroics an unforgettable return to the silent places.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)|
About the Author
Peter Hathaway Capstick (1940-1996), a former Wall Street stockbroker turned professional adventurer, was critically acclaimed as the successor to Hemingway and Ruark in African hunting literature. After giving up his career, the New Jersey native hunted in Central and South America before going to Africa in 1968, where he held professional hunting licenses in Ethiopia, Zambia, Botswana, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Capstick also served in that most perilous of tradesElephant and Buffalo Cropping Officer. In addition to writing about hunting, he was also featured in an award-winning safari video and audio tapes.
Captstick settled in Pretoria, South Africa with his wife Fiona until his death at age 56.
Read an Excerpt
African Adventurers, The
Frederick Courteney Selous
It was not just cold, it was cold.
The giraffe hunt was almost a distant memory, the faces of Dorehill and Mandy almost blurs; that of Sadlier, who had taken the extra horses, a blank.
The nineteen-year-old imagined the path to be parallel to the road. Upon seeing some twenty giraffes, the party had split, the youngster was on one side and the two older men on the other. The newcomer and his friend and partner, Dorehill, had already grown tired of the lean African game; the prospect of a giraffe in fine condition, oozing fat that crackled and spit in the fire, was almost too much. Yet the young man was alone. He had fired three shots and had had an answer at a distance off to his right. But although he had fired twice more, the bushveld of King Khama's country was as silent as a good child. Fighting hard, he swallowed the panic in his already dry throat and settled down for the icy night, the ancient sands of Gondwanaland spreading their chill through his buttocks.
He had ridden a long way, so far that the sun had already set, thin and anemic, a washed-out reddish disc in the west. Where was the road? he thought. It should have been here before this. That the road was only faint wagon tracks bothered him not a lot; his friends should have taken a similar line. They would be just ahead. Sure they would ... .
There was no night wind, the killing wind, as he settled down. It was a creepingcold, a cold that oozed like water into his limbs and ignored him as he pulled the thin shirt around him. It was so cold that he decided to make tracks toward where the road had to be. Shivering, he resaddled his horse and moved wraithlike into the brassy moonlight.
It was perhaps three hours before he called a halt. He had to have a fire. He had heard of chattering teeth but he didn't really believe it before this. Yet, he was new to the country of Khama, and as fast as he would break open the huge paper cartridges for his four-bore, ignite the powder with his percussion caps, the fire was snuffed out by the dew-dampened grass. Suddenly he was out of ammunition, the greasy dark gunpowder spread into the torn fragments of his shirttail gone. Frustrated but still sure that he would hit the road, he cut some damp grass with his clasp knife and lay down for the night. Using his felt hat for a pillow, he slipped down to his icy bed, the saddle over his chest. Still, the cold attacked, sliding inexorably from his numb feet to his bare head. Soon, his shivering became uncontrollable and he was forced to sprint back and forth to a nearby tree to keep his chilled blood flowing. So much for tropical Africa, he thought. The lonely, lunatic calls of spotted hyenasperhaps on their way to drink?haunted his shudders until finally the sun advertised that it would be along shortly and, with it, some warmth.
It was the end of the first day.
There is no color in the winter bushveld, only the flitting and chirping of fire finches and waxbills; and only these where there is water. There were no birds. There was no water, either.
He pulled the saddle over the exhausted hunting pony and freed and tied-off reins, noting how the belly of the horse had shrunk as he tightened the cinch. The horse would only plod along at a slow walk, its thirst and hunger obvious. Yet, it was a good horse for which the young man had traded for the equivalent of seventy-five British pounds. Considering that a first-class ticket by steamer to England from South Africacost less than half that, it was a most valuable horse indeed, having survived the horse sickness or horse distemper. Yet, without water it was nothing, not so much as the creaking of leather that it produced as it walked.
He still had the smooth-bore, the huge four-gauge, but it was useless without its ammunition, which had been wasted trying to make the fire. His trousers, bush-torn and tattered, were as futile against the night cold as was his hat. If only he had brought his coat with him from the wagon when they had first seen the giraffes in the wonderful heat of day. If only ...
A tree loomed ahead as the sun began to slide silently upward and the young man decided to climb it. Perhaps in this land of few landmarks there might be just one? The winter bush was uniformly gray, but there was a scraggly line of furred hills in the distance, a single koppie, as the Afrikaners call it, a huge mound of rocks in front of the bearded shadow of the hills. Was it familiar? The young man didn't know. Three gemsbuck, the giant oryx antelope of southern Africa, passed very close, as if knowing that there was no ammunition left.
The man continued, his sun-blond hair now matted and streaked with precious sweat. He knew the Southern Cross and its brilliance in Khama's skies and decided to follow it, but he had convinced himself that he had already crossed the road of wagon tracks in the dim light of early morning. His horse, nearly dead with thirst, hunger, and exhaustion, reluctantly spun about when the man decided to retrace his tracks. After all, he was positive. It was a very expensive conviction in early Africa.
The miles melted by in a grayness of bush. At last, there was a small koppie, home to hyrax, leopards, and cobras. The man climbed it and looked into the distance. He climbed it, arguing with himself all the time if the road lay ahead or behind. But the mocking winter gray of the bush met his every glance until he turned around. There was a thin, tenuoustendril of smoke. He thought it too central a spire to be a grass fire and he thought that it was kindled by some Masarwahalf-breed black Bushmenwho would be able to guide him to Pelatsi, his goal.
He turned his horse around and made for the fire, but when he arrived at the point where he thought the smoke should be, there was nothing. He concluded that the road was now behind him and swung his horse around once more. As the sun was at its highest, he decided that he was again wrong. There was no road and he would die, dried to leather if the hyenas didn't get him. They probably would.
At this point, the blond young man realized that he had never reached the road and he thought that he might have passed it during the low light of dawn or night. His spirits buoyed by his realization, he thought how good a cup of tea might taste when he reached his wagons at shortly after sundown. Yet, his thoughts sank with the copper and cerise of the sun as it bedded down for another night. So did the young man, now as parched and hungry as his bedraggled horse.
The second night was spent on the icy earth, under the gaze of a full moon that tinted the colorless bush into gilded foliage. As the young man thought, there was no food, water, fire, or blanket, and he was right. Leaving his own problems, he turned to those of his horse. Rather than tie all seventy-five British pounds worth of him to a tree, he decided to hobble him with riempiesrawhide thongsin the hope that the horse could crop enough of the pale, shriveled winter grass to carry its master when dawn came up, frozen and chill. Perhaps, the young man thought, the horse might even wind water.
It was even colder than the night before, a Kalahari blackness that would freeze even the tea kettle if he were back in camp. When dawn reluctantly bled over the eastern sky, the man found that he could not even rise, so wooden had his legs become through the long night. After some minutes, he was able to restore circulation by frenzied rubbing and wentin search of the horse. It wasn't there. Gone. Disappeared.
After a few hundred yards, the young man realized that he had not the strength to follow the hard, scuffed spoor on the dry earth. Now, he had nothing, neither fire nor blanket, neither loaded gun nor even horse. He was as completely alone as he would ever be and, he knew, he was close to death.
He knew he could not carry the saddle and hung it in the crotch of a tree above the reach of hyenas, who would love the leather as much as his own hide if they caught him. Yet, he shouldered the empty smooth-bore duck gun rather than leave it behind. To leave it would have been a sort of surrender that he was not prepared to make, at least not yet.
He walked as fast as he could go, a mechanical, drag-stepped shuffle, all of that day toward another long row of hills that he prayed might be the Bamangwato Range. Thirst corroded his mouth and tongue, making swallowing almost impossible. But, then, there was no saliva left to swallow in any case. He knew that hunger had reached its long, cold hand far past his belly and was now gnawing on his ever-weaker muscles. When the moon was an hour high for the third night he reached the edge of the mysterious hills. Praying that cool, wind-washed fields of native corn would meet his gaze, he almost foundered. More bush and no sign of water or food. Blinking back tears of desperation, he wandered his bloodshot blue eyes over more rocky, low hills and, with a strangled cry of horror, fell to a ragged sitting position. With no promise of water or food he knew that his best ally was rest. Far away, a jackal mocked him.
The young man slipped behind a boulder and thought for a few moments of his fate. Bamangwatothe small native settlementwas not there. Realistically, he knew that he was almost surely doomed to die of hunger and thirst in a place that might not even be known to God, let alone to any rescue party. Yet, he thought further and summoned his remarkable powers of recuperation. It would be too much, he thought,to die like this, like a rat in a hole. He was still thinking about this when he fell into an exhausted sleep, warmer tonight due to the slight elevation and freedom from the shrouds of cold that haunted the low valleys like a lonely wraith.
When he awoke, it was near dawn of the fourth day without food or water. He hated the cold, but he also knew that if he had to contend with heat at night he would be dead by now. Already his terrible hunger pangs had ceasedhe knew this was a very bad signbut his thirst was a living, dry, strangling noose that ran from his swollen lips down past his protruding tongue into his raw throat. As the taunting varicose veins of dawn stretched ahead, and he glanced across the wilderness of broken rock and bush, he noticed a smallish koppie that somehow looked familiar. It looked curiously like one that he knew to be near the Shakani vleis or dried marshlands. In fact, several other features seemed familiar, including a low line of stone hills and a few more koppies. There were a few Bushmen tending goats there, he recalled, if it was the same place. In his desperation, the young man convinced himself that they were the same features of his memory, although when looking at them he never dreamed that their further identification would mean his life.
But they were far away, gleaming in a purplish hue in the distance. Staggering and limping, he made his way down from his evening eyrie and finally made the plain while the sun was still relatively low. As he reached the plain and started forward, he knew that he could not survive another night without water or food. He was completely exhausted, but also saw that the bush was so dense that he would be forced to climb trees now and then to keep his bearings. Although he knew that he must rest, he also knew that delay meant death and when he stopped, each two or three minutes drove him onward with what might well be futile hope. For some reason he noticed a cock and hen ostrich on his tortured march. So run the minds of the delirious ... .
The sun was making its last, fatal move below the horizonwhen the man saw two Bushmen at some distance, coppery and shimmering in the late sun. A garbled scream caught their attention and they hastened over to the man, one taking the four-bore gun and the other helping the youngster to camp. There were three huts that denoted the scarcity of what was then the rarest animal of the desert areas: man. Collapsing into a rather dignified heap, the young man thought he was saved and that fountains of precious water would be his for the asking. Wrong. An old Bushman, fondling a section of giraffe intestine full of water spoke in Setswana: "Buy the water."
The young man was stunned. He knew that the spring at the vlei was only two hundred steps away, but he was caved in. While he battled with his irritation and his lack of trade goods, a child came in with a big calabash full of goat's milk.
"Reka marsi," the young man croaked. "I'll buy the milk."
He pulled out his large folding knife to trade and was rewarded with not only the milk but the water as well.
The only problem that the young man had from then on was with the language. He spoke no Bushman dialect at all and but little Setswanathe general language of Khama's land of Tswana peoplebut was finally able to make arrangements (although he would have to walk all the way himself) to reach Pelatsi, where the wagons were. That night no one ever had a more restful sleep at the side of a large fire and with a small chunk of duiker antelope rumbling around his stomach, making that organ remember what it was meant for.
When he arrived at Pelatsi after an absence of five nights and four days he was almost considered a modern Lazarus. A huge feed was prepared for him and he drank enough water to pry amazement from his companions, hardened bush hands. He was saved.
The next day he found that his friends had not deserted him but had hired six men, four Bechuana Kafirs (a regretfully still-used term originally used by the Arabs to designate a nonbeliever in The Prophet and which became later pejorative)and two Masarwa Bushmen to track the young man. That the six shunned their duty after a few miles and declared to a man that the youngster had galloped to Bamangwato was obviously not so. The trackers had been supplied with meat and no doubt sat against some trees and ate it with no further thought of their charge. I hope it went hard with them. Incidentally, the horse made it to Bamangwato alive through what must have been serried ranks of hyenas and lions. Despite his value, the young man took a price of ten pounds in case the horse should return, which he thought unlikely. this was money that transferred ownership of the animal based upon speculation at a fraction of the regular price. If the horse did not come home, the buyer was out the price. In any case, although the animal did come back, he was badly injured by his rawhide hobbles, which reduced the horse's value.
The young man was almost well again, his ordeal a memory, and he could laugh at a story that one of his bush pals told. The great American frontiersman, Daniel Boone, was once asked if he had ever been lost in the wild territories of America. Dan'l thought for a few moments and said: "Nope. Ain't never bin lost. But there was a time in Kaintuck when I was powerful confused for five days."
The young man was Frederick Courteney Selous, probably the most shining example of English manhood that the Victorian Empire could field in the Britain of those days.
Selous was the beau ideal of the "playing fields of Rugby." In fact, he was not the only hero of Africa who went to the school: several, including Ionides, also attended. My treatment of Selous should be explained in the context of my own efforts.
I really don't care about his miscegenational love life or his intrigues when he led the "Pioneer Column" into what is now Zimbabwe or his friction with Cecil John Rhodes in doing so. I am a hunting writer and hardly fit to handle the nuances of sex,personality, or performance that are apparently most important to British writers. Thus, please excuse me if I do not get into the intrigue of Selous's life. I can recommend two excellent books on his life if this sort of thing appeals to you. Try the older book by his close friend, John G. Millais, The Life of Frederick Courtenay [sic] Selous, D.S.O. or a much newer and well-researched work entitled The Mighty Nimrod by British author Stephen Taylor. Taylor writes very well and cannot be blamed if he had not had exposure to early hunting terms such as Baldwin's use of "lions, tigers and wolves" in his classic book African Hunting and Adventure. Taylor says correctly that the last two species don't exist in Africa. Well, not in English, they don't. But theyor their translationsdo in the early language of the interior, which was far more Dutch or Afrikaans than English. The leopard was called the tijger (tiger) and "wolves" covered a plethora of doglike carnivora such as Cape hunting dogs and, sometimes in early works, jackals and other critters that went whooop or yawwwrl in the night. Hell, the early Flemish peasants who became the Afrikaners even called the wildebeest a "wild cow."
Why Millais chose to substitute an "a" instead of the correct "e" in Selous's middle name is one of the great questions of Africana collecting. Just put it down to error, I suppose. If anybody meant well by his biography, it was Millais, Selous's old friend.
I recall a remonstration that was common when I was, several hundred years ago, in the army. Recruits were somewhat fuzzy about the difference between "gun" and "rifle." Only for a while. They used the M-1 Garand in my day, and any recruit who became confused about the relativity (a gun being smooth-bored and a rifle with rifling) was required under threat of a stroke of lightning from God to hold their Garands at a right angle to their bodies and repeat fifty times: "This is my rifle, this is my gun"pointing to their lizardthis is for fightin', this is for fun."
I am only interested in Selous's rifle ... .
It is pronounced "Sel-oo," and a hell of a Victorian he was. He came from a good family and had the best of education, although he and University never met. He went to Rugby, which is about as elite as you can get, but didn't go to college in the American sense: he was in Africa at age nineteen. That pleases me; I was never able to get past freshman mathematics although I tried four times. I went eight semesters to the University of Virginia but could never pass it. Never even close, even though it was the same course. Since I deal in such esoterica as mathematical internal, external, and terminal ballistics with no problems, you'd think I would have learned by rote. Nope. That I never got more than a "C" in English is obvious. No sense of humor, those professors. They certainly professed doom for me ... .
Seeing as how we might as well call him Fred, as his family did, he arrived in Africa on September 4th, 1871, at what was then Algoa Bay and now Port Elizabeth in South Africa. He had 400 British pounds in his pocket, which was a mighty amount of wherewithal at that date. It was $2000, and very lucky was the laborer who earned $10 a month. Fred Selous had trained for this moment all his life, even sleeping on the bare wood floor of his shared room at Rugby as well as raiding innumerable birds' nests for his egg collection while he was growing up. Probably nobody arrived with the will that he did to make a great career of the "Far Interior," as it had been called by such luminaries as William Cornwallis Harris (one of the earliest hunter/adventurers who went north from South Africa some forty years before Selous).
Fred started trying to make his independent fortune on the diamond mines in Kimberly. But he also realized that the farther north he went, the easier it would be to break off and head directly for the Far Interior. That he had 300 pounds of luggage consigned to a transport rider (a huge amount for personal luggage in those days even for a stay of years) showed his greenness. The young man journeyed for twomonths to Kimberly, arriving on October 28th. Fred had some "small" shooting on the route. He killed a male bushbuck, a springbuck, a klipspringer, and eight rheboks. He was most proud that he had carried them all to the wagons on his own shoulders. He was five-foot-nine, at his greatest height and all muscle, although he didn't know what to be in shape meant until he started hunting elephant.
Selous learned about Africa early, the day he arrived at Kimberly. A "small double breech-loading rifle by Reilly" was stolen without a trace from his wagon. He now had a double ten-bore by Vaughan, "a very inferior weapon as it threw its bullets across one another, and a little double gun that shot well with both shot and bullet." Might it have been one of the very early Fosbury Patents of rifle and ball guns?
Whatever, Selous rode over to Pneil, a gold town, and there met one Arthur Laing, then going on to the gold and diamond field by cart. Although completely broke, Laing charmed Selous into writing the following in later years: "A passionate devotion to the flowing bowl had dragged him down step by step, till he did not own so much as the shoes he stood in. He was, however, in his sober moments, which, when within ten miles of canteen, were both short and infrequent, an intelligent and a well-informed man."
This not being a biography, suffice it to say that Selous and his partner made it to Kimberly and beyond, and Kuruman, which was more or less the jumping-off place for the Interior. Since he had first left by ox wagon, Selous had formed a friendship and a partnership with "a young man about my age named Dorehill, a son of General Dorehill, with whom I had contracted a great friendship on board ship." Dorehill was sharing digs and a tent with Sadlier, whom Selous proposed to come along into the Interior, and Sadlier accepted.
Selous and his young partners had not very much money for tea, coffee, mealie meal (corn meal), sugar, or salt, but decided to try anyway. A few beads completed their outfit. Selous had paid 145 pounds for their wagon, 6 pounds 10shillings each for at least twelve head of oxen, and 11 pounds apiece for some horses. He was no longer a rich immigrant.
Sadlier had been in the American Civil War and knew something of how things went on trek. Probably his first test was occasioned by a terrible turn of events when Dorehill leaned over Selous's shoulder as Selous was reloading ammunition and about a pound of black powder was free. Of course, thanks to one of Murphy's antecedents, a spark got into the powder, which went up with a whoof!, and burned both Selous's face and that of Dorehill until they were almost skinless. Sadlier mixed a solution of salt and oil that was "guaranteed" to prevent scarification. Though it was something less than painless, Selous remained without marks of the black powder even though he took weeks to recover.
In the meantime, Selous had been forced to buy two muzzle-loading duck guns, smooth-bores that would take a four-ounce ball. God Almighty, they kicked something fierce when given a load of a handful of black powder, well over twelve drams when loaded. This is substantially more than triple the magnum load of a twelve-gauge in modern times, and three times the resistance of the ball to shoulder, which translates into "kick." But does it! I've tried a four-bore.
Selous, in later years, said that he was "heartily sorry that I ever had anything to do with them." Their kick made a "ferocious" sound like a love word. Several times Selous was smashed out of the saddle by recoil and many times more was knocked over by raw kick. He said that his reputation as a hunter was not due to fine shooting and perhaps these early four-bores by Hollis of Birmingham had something to do with it. They destroyed his nerves and he never shot really well again. That he was a great hunter was due to his ability at getting in close where he could not miss.
A fortunately atypical circumstance arose when he was hunting elephant some time later. He was using the Hollis four-bores. Incidentally, the definition of "bore" is the numberof pure lead balls that equated the diameter of the gun. A four-bore or gauge (the same) meant that it would take a quarter-pound, four ounces of round lead, about .91 calibera lot more trouble than the quarter-pounder that you buy at a fast-food chain.
Selous was hunting with his gunbearer, Balamoya, and another retainer, Nuta, when he had a failure of his cap, meaning that the gun would not go off. He "snapped" ignition of his first shot when one of the Hollises did not fire. Selous was following a bull elephant when he was handed the second gun. He put a ball straight into the bull's chest and brought the bull to his knees, but he was up again and ran past Selous at thirty yards: "Taking a good sight for the middle of his shoulder, I pulled the trigger." He didn't know that the gunbearer had reloaded it again with a four-ounce ball and another twelve drams of powder!
This time the gun went offit was a four-bore elephant gun, loaded twice over, and the powder thrown in each time by a Kafir with his handsand I went off too! I was lifted, from the ground, and turning round in the air, fell with my face in the sand, whilst the gun was carried yards away over my shoulder. At first I was almost stunned from the shock, and I soon found that I could not lift my right arm. Besides this, I was covered with blood, which spurted from a deep wound under the right cheek-bone, caused by the stock of the gun as it flew upwards from the violence of the recoil. The stock itselfthough it had been bound, as are all elephants guns, with the inside skin of an elephant's ear [it works, I tried it] put on green, which when dry holds it as firmly as ironwas shattered to pieces, and the only wonder was that the barrel did not burst. Whether the two bullets hit the elephant or not I cannot say. But I think they must have done so, for he only went a few yards after I fired, and then stood still, raising his trunk every now and then, and dashing water tinged with blood over his chest. I went cautiously up to forty yards or so of him, and sat down. Though I could not hold my arm out, I could raise my forearm, so as to get hold of the trigger; but the shock had so told on me, that I found that Icould not keep the sight within a yard or so of the right place. The elephant remained perfectly still; so I got Nuta to work my arm about gently, in order to restore its power, and hoped that in the meantime the Kafir, whose shouting had originally brought the elephant to me, would be able to go up and fetch W[ood]. No doubt if I had shouted he would have come at once, for he could have not been very far off; but had I done so, the elephant might either have charged, or else continued his flight, neither of which alternatives did I desire. After a short time, seeing no chance of aid arriving, and my nerves having got a little steadier, I took my favorite gun from Nuta, and, resting my elbow on my knee, took a quiet pot shot. I was, however, still very unsteady in this position, but I do not think the bullet could have struck very far from the right place. The elephant on receiving the shot made a rush forwards, crashing through the bushes at a quick walk, so that we had to run at a quick trot to keep him in sight. He now seemed very vicious, for, hearing a dry branch snap, he turned and ran toward us, and then stood with his ears up to try and get our wind.
Sclous was many things, but an author who was especially subdued or terrified by paragraphs was not one of his weak points.
Selous, in his first visit to the Far Interior, was one of the early hunters to reach the kraal of the Matabele despot, Lobengula. The Matabele people held sway in the north, but they had also been an immense power in the relative south until the Afrikaners drove them from the Vaal River north to mostly the area of today's Zimbabwe, not even Rhodesia at the time of their move. They had been founded as a fighting tribe by one Mzilikazi, an impi (or regimental) leader under the famous Shaka Zulu, the black conqueror of southern Africa. Mzilikaziall spellings of his name are phoneticwas esentially a bad-ass. He grabbed a good amount of cattle, in which tribal wealth was then and even now reckoned, and refused to pay his tribute to Shaka. The translation of Matabele has some astonishing presumptions, but it is generallyconceded that it meant "refugees" or "runaways." Makes sense to me.
Lobengula called his capital Gubulawayo, the "place of killing," and it was not badly named. Even to sneeze in the presence of the king meant instant death by having one's brains bashed out with knobkerriesthe fierce fighting clubs of the Matabele. He was a true ruler, his word being law. Yet for all of the folderol he was a pretty nice guy, at least to Selous. But Fred was hardly the first to enter Mzilikazi's country.
There was Mr. G. A. "Elephant" Phillips and a host of other men, mostly Afrikaans names, some of whom were famous despite the fact that their owners were usually illiterate. Perhaps Selous's early book, A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa (Richard Bentley & Son, London, 1881) painted them too pale. Besides Phillips in the kraal were a Mr. Kisch, late auditor-general of the Transvaal, Sadlier, Jan Viljoen, and several others.
When Phillips translated at his meeting with Lobengula, Selous was badly underestimated. Lobengula was a little under six feet, according to Selousa corpulent chocolate majesty dressed in a greasy shirt and a dirty pair of white men's trousers. Yet there was no question that he was regal.
Lobengula, son of Mzilikazi, asked Selous's interpreter, Phillips, whose wagons were before him. Phillips explained that they belonged to the young Selous. Lobengula asked why he was at the kraal and what Selous intended to do.
"I have come to hunt elephants," said the fuzzy-bearded Englishman. Lobengula burst out laughing.
"Was it not steenbucks that you came to hunt? Why, you're only a boy."
Selous answered that although he was only a boy, this was his purpose. Lobengula, without answering, rose and left followed by fifty retainers who called out his praise names, Black Elephant, Prince of Princes, Calf of the Black Cow, and such. Selous noted the low doors of the Zulu/Matabelehuts-made low so that an enemy could only enter by crawling, thus reducing his fighting effectivenessand Lobengula's difficulty in crawling in because of his bulk. Well, Selous thought, at least the king has not said no.
Two days of indecision racked Selous until he was able to see the king again. Phillips again interpreted: "I ask leave to hunt elephants in your country," said the Englishman.
"Have you ever seen an elephant?" asked Lobengula.
"No," answered Selous through Phillips.
"Oh, they will soon drive you out of the country, but you may go and see what you can do."
Selous grabbed the initiative and, as Lobengula had relegated elephant hunting to certain parts of his realm, asked the potentate where he might hunt.
"Oh, you may go wherever you like; you are only a boy." Selous's early trip was made.
Selous had always been fascinated by the statement of Dr. Livingstone, when the great man had himself been mauled by a lion that the claw and teeth wounds had not hurt until after the mauling. One of the great characters of Selous's early acquaintance was the then-old Petrus Jacobus, who Selous reckoned to be the oldest and most experienced elephant and lion hunter of all. Jacobus was even then recuperating from a severe difference of opinion with a lion about eight days before. Selous had learned quite a bit of the Dutch-based Afrikaans language and was able to speak to the old man.
This meeting was with many other Afrikaans hunters on the River Sebakwe, north of Gubulawayo. Selous, who had barely driven off a night-intruding lion not long before, asked Jacobus how he had come to be mauled.
Petrus Jacobus had been on the Umnyati River, some distance to the north, with only his daughter-in-law. I know the area pretty well, having hunted there myself in 1971. Jacobus was resting in the shade of one of his wagons when the young woman saw what she thought was a wart hog coming down to water. Jacobus grabbed his rifle with the commentthat the pig was a lion and that it was stalking the horses. Petrus Jacobus took off after it with three dogs.
Jacobus tried a running shot at the lion with his muzzle-loader but missed, yet the dogs had bayed the lion. Jacobus approached with a small black boy. The lion, on the side of a hill, immediately broke through the ring of dogs and charged straight at Jacobus. Still a distance away, he fired his only shot and missed. Reaching the old man, the big cat slammed into him and bit him terribly in the left thigh and then in the left arm and hand. Fortunately, the three dogs were all this time doing their own chewing at the lion's tail end and eventually drew him off. Selous says that Jacobus was terribly mangled and thought that the lion "had done for him."
Always believing in home remedies as they had little access to drugstores, the Afrikaners were great fans of herbal medicine. In the case of Jacobus, this entailed bathing the wounds in a mixture of fresh milk and castor oil. Well, it worked and Jacobus recovered to tell Selous, many years later, that his wounds sometimes gave him great pain, especially in wet weather.
Some forty miles due south of the Sebakwe lie the first kraals of the Mashuna (now known as Mashona or Shona) people and Selous had a high opinion of them from the start. They were the fragmented clans who won the Rhodesian bush war against the whites and many of the Matabele in the 1980s. Curiously, as my good friend Brian Marsh, the novelist and writer, points out, it was Selous who later gave the name to the Shonas of "Maswina." As Brian notes, the name has a very interesting origin, although it is now considered beneath Shona dignity to use such a derogatory name for themselves.
This interesting footnote to history was a product of 1890, when Selous was both building roads for the Pioneer Column that invaded what would become Southern Rhodesia and making treaties with certain Portuguese East African tribes such as the Manica, who were settled about where Wally Johnson lived and hunted ivory (see The Last Ivory Hunter, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988).
An old informant of Brian told the tale that when Selous was using Shonas to build roads, the labor was always hungry. When an antelope was shot by Selous, the road builders would gut it and run sections of intestines through their fingers to clean them before throwing the ropelike intestinal lengths on the fire to cook.
Selous asked his interpreterhe could speak no Shona dialect at the timewhat it was called in Shona when the men cleaned out pieces of offal between thumb and forefinger as they did.
"Ku-svina," the interpreter said, using the verb form.
"Then they shall be known as Masvina [those who strip entrails] from now on," pronounced Selous, using the plural Ma- form. This became "Maswina" as the whites could not properly pronounce the word in Shona and each time Selous would kill an antelope he would call upon the Masvina to eat it. In fact, the word became a general term for the many fragmented tribes and clans of the Shona who shared a similar language. As Brian says, the people became known in those days as the Maswina and their language as Chiswina, the tongue of the Maswina. Interesting stuff, history.
Fred Selous is generally considered to be one of the finest hunters produced by Western civilization. Curiously, he did not agree with such a pronouncement, declaring that the fact he hunted a lot did not necessarily make him a great hunter. But on his first trip to Mashunaland, as Selous called it, he did spend some time with a man who was Selous's own idea of the greatest hunter. He was a diminutive, alcoholic ex-jockey from Grahamstown in South Africa, a Hottentot named Cigar.
Cigar was himself well worthy of inclusion on the list of great African hunters. He shot a six-bore gun, which was in itself quite remarkable for a man so slight that he had once been a jockey. He originally got to the Far Interior driving a wagon for a Henry McGillewe some years before Selous methim and was even employed on "halves"just like the grubstake of the itinerant prospector, getting a horse, gun, ammo, and food in exchange for half of the ivory, or other species such as rhino, that he shotby none other than the scalliwag and great elephant hunter William Finaughty. (See the Peter Capstick Library of classic reprints of African hunting.) Selous had originally been slated to join the company of the Boer hunter Jan Viljoen but he sliced his foot badly and was unable to leave with the group on time. Sadlier went with Viljoen's party with the promise that Selous would be picked up later when his foot had healed. This hope proved in vain and it being an ill wind that blows nobody any good, Selous was blown to Cigar.
Selous thought the world of the wizened little hunter and declared that he had never seen his equal on foot after elephants, which was really saying something as Selous hunted with some of the great names of the Interior. At first, as Cigar says himself, he was scared green of elephants, which shows that he was no idiot. Gradually, he got over his nervousness and his natural fine marksmanship against game won out. He became one of the aces of the ivory world.
Cigar took Selous under his wing and tried either to teach him or kill him. The Boers lived roughly, even their families subsisting in pole-and-dagga huts during the hunting season, but with the luxury of coffee, sugar, and tobacco. The "native" hunters had none of these frills and Selous lived the same way. Hunting was on foot, through necessity, in tsetse country. They had their guns, limited ammunitiontwenty shotsblankets, some mealie meal, and water. Selous had run out of tea (he was an inveterate tea drinker all his life and nearly a teetotaler) as well as sugar but Cigar allowed himself no such luxuries.
When Selous and Cigar left the wagons, they were eighttwo men also hunting who carried their own gear as well as three porters lugging fresh meat and incidentals and one teenager of Selous, what the Zulus used to call an indibiboy, who humped his blankets ana spare ammunition. Selous carried one of the old Hollises himself. Very possibly, he was the first Englishmanat least with a Rugby educationwho had assaulted the bush with so little. He was to get so much from the experience.
As he said, "This was hardly doing the thing en grand seigneur, I was young and enthusiastic in those days, and trudged along under the now intense heat with a light heart."
You know, to really appreciate the hunting Selous had with Cigar, you really must read A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa. Space, short of a hunting biography, does not permit going into each kill that Selous, Cigar, and his followers made. Yet from this crucible was formed a great personality who could run for hours on spoor and usually kill when his run stopped.
Selous had jumped off from a place called Jomani, and when he returned with Cigar, his pals Mandy and Dorehill had arrived. Mandy had been hunting with a George Wood, the same who shared many close ones with Selous. I would leave this part of Selous's history but for a macabre incident that would warm the heart of any exploratory small boy ... .
There wasas Selous calls hima "bastard" man named Lucas who had a Hottentot employee. I think that he means a "Baster" man, whose community now lives in Namibia and whose name implies no illegitimacy. The Hottentot had, however, lost his cool and executed one black servant for not serving water quickly enough. I presume he was very thirsty, as he killed the boy quite dead by blowing out his brains. Most efficient. However, that same nightto use Selous's wordsLucas caught and bound the young murderer and brought him into the encampment.
All the Kafirs at once assembled and demanded his life in expiration of that of their comrade, and upon Lucas giving him up, at once knocked his brains out with knobkerries. I did not know anything about it until the execution was over. From what Lucas told me there was little doubt that the ruffian deserved hisfate, but I was glad I did not see him killed. His body was dragged just over a little ridge not three hundred yards from the wagons. In the night hyenas came and laughed and howled around the corpse for hours, but never touched it. The second night the same thing happened, but on the third they ate him up. Now, as these hyenas were beasts belonging to an uninhabited country, they were unused to human remains, and had not, I think, lost their instinctive dread of the smell of man; for in the Matabele country, where the bodies of people killed for witchcraft are always "given to the hyenas," a corpse is invariably dragged off even from the very gates of a kraal before the first night is many hours old.
Trust Selous to be the naturalist interested even in hyenas eating bodies.
Following his time in the bush with Cigar, during which he had killed his first elephant, Fred came away with almost 450 pounds of ivory that he had shot himself and another 1200 pounds that he had accumulated by trade. His net was about 300 British pounds, a mighty nice living for anybody in the 1870s, and a very fine return on his original (or his father's) investment of 400 pounds. But his great triumph came when he saw Lobengula at Gubulawayo again: "When I told the king that his elephants had not driven me out of the country, but that, on the contrary, I had killed several, he said laughingly, 'Why, you are a man; when are you going to take a wife?'and upon my telling him that if he would give me one I would take her at once, he said. 'Oh! You must combeesa [sic] [court one] yourself; there are lots of them.'"
Selous decided to stay in the Matabele country while his friends such as Dorehill figured on going to the diamond diggings, probably for a bit of recreation and trading. Selous reckoned on remaining behind to do the next dry season hunting elephant with his new pal, George Wood.
Wood was known as a hard, smooth article, which Selous endorsed when he confirmed him to be "a very cool and courageous man, one whose pulse beat as calmly when face toface with a wounded elephant and snarling lion, as it did when quietly eating his breakfast." He had hunted for many years with Henry Hartley, William Finaughty, Gifford, Leask, and Biles, all retired since things had gone the tsetse fly's way. They were all horsemen, hunting from the saddle. It took a different breed of man to hunt elephant on foot. Selous was one of the new ones ... .
Wood, according to Selous, arrived from the gold and diamond fields somewhat shop-worn. He stopped at Hope Fountain (taken from the Afrikaans fontein meaning "spring") and was nursed by Mrs. Thompson, the wife of the local missionary, for quite some time. His problem was not at all raremalaria, called just "fever" in those days. In fact, he had to be lifted out of his wagon and carried to the house, so bad were his symptoms. Yet, he recovered, which was fairly unusual in that place and time.
Wood was strictly H. Rider Haggard material. He was raised in the north of England, Yorkshire, and had an excellent education but, like yours truly, he was an African at heart. Wood was a white chameleon, fitting in with the most elaborate African ceremonies. He astonished the young Selous with his fluency in Sindebele and his demeanor at the beer drinks and meals. He was, to all practicalities, a white Ndebele.
Selous spent the best part of two years with George Wood, although they hunted separately. The Matabele, when there was no brewing facility availablebrewing was usually done by the womenused "pot" or, if you want to be formal, cannabis, to revive their spirits. Certainly, they were revived ... .
Selous had now been in Africa for about three years and had transmuted his original stake from 400 pounds into almost 2000, a pretty fair return, although he had earned it in blood and sweat.
When he returned to Tati, a small village full of lazing dogs, hot wind, and the smell of dung in bright sunshine, he got his mail for the first time and, unknown to history, decidedto go back to England, where he stayed, avoiding the biographer's pen from May of 1875 until February of 1876. Family problems? We just don't know.
Fred was a pretty good son and, when there had been no contact at all for these three years, he was thought at home to be dead. There is no surviving mail whatever to his mother, Ann Selous, for all this time. Personally, I suspect that it had been lost somewhere in the Interior before it reached the mail ship. It was not like Fred Selous not to write for three years. When he arrived home, the fatted calf was killed and he was a hero both to his family and his friends. Whether he had not written or his correspondence was lost remains to be seen, but he promised his mother that he would write regularly, especially if he was off into "the blue" and would not be in touch for some time.
Selous was largely educated in public school (why it is called public school when it is private has always eluded me, despite some serious research), at Rugby, by a headmaster named James Wilson, who took over in 1869 from a man named Temple, himself an institution. Wilson always overlooked major transgressions such as Selous's having a gun, although Selous thought he was much more clever than he was. Wilson knew all about it and other such infringements. There was a supper in Fred's honor, the "Old Boy" come home. That it was an extraordinary success was to the great surprise of Selous himself, who thought that he had no particular talent in public speaking. History was to prove him wrong.
Fred made his second landing at Algoa Bay on the ides of March, 1876. Perhaps, like Caesar, he should have taken note ... .
Selous had decided to go to the Zambesi River and put most of his early profits into the endeavor. He had an immense amount of baggagethree tonsand it was so much that another ship rather than his transport to South Africahad to take it. The ship was about six weeks late and Selous had to wait for its arrival. To put it mildly, he was royally irked, and it took him another four months to get to the Matabele country. Also, the freight rates by wagon were up about fifty percent, which did not please him either. Of course, most of his 6000 pounds of baggage were trade goods with which he planned to buy ivory.
After a rather extended giraffe hunt, he got mixed up with a wounded lionthe wound being caused by Selous the afternoon before the showdown.
At this point, Fred and his partner, Dorehill, had joined up with two other English sportsmen/hunters, William Grandy, and Lewis Horner, capital chaps, what? Yet, Fred was alone when he stuck a ballten-boreinto a large male lion and finally lost it after hours of tracking through the wait-a-bit thorn near Tati. Yet, despite some showers, the spoor and the blood were still sufficiently visible to enable the lion to be tracked. As the hunting party drew near to give the lion his quietus, it roared in a hollow vortex that rattled the bushveld. Selous was likely scaredor stupid not to bebut he walked in on the spot where the grunting roars were emanating from. It charged.
It rushed, as lions usually do, in a low, khaki streak rather than bounding like those who have not been charged by lions would have you believe. Let Fred tell it:
As it was, however, I was peering about into the bush to try and catch sight of him, holding my rifle advanced in front of me, and on full cock, when I became aware that he was coming at me through the bush. The next instant out he burst. I was so close that I had not even time to take a sight, but, stepping a pace backwards, got the rifle to my shoulder, and, when his head was close upon the muzzle, pulled the trigger, and jumped to one side. The lion fell Almost at my very feet, certainly not six feet from the muzzle of the rifle. Grandy and Horner, who had a good view of the charge, say that he just dropped in his tracks when I fired, which I could not see for the smoke [of his blackpowder rifle]. One thing, however, I had time to notice, and that was he did not come at me in bounds, [this was Selous's first wounded lion] but with a rush along the ground. Perhaps it was his broken shoulder that hindered him from springing, but for all that he came at a very great rate, and with his mouth open. Seeing him on the ground, I thought I must have shattered his skull and killed him, when, as we were advancing toward him, he stood up again. [Oh, my ...] Dorehill at once fired with a Martini-Henry rifle and shot him through the thigh. On this he fell down again, and, rolling over on to his side, lay gasping. We now went up to him, but as he still continued to open his mouth, Horner gave him a shot in the head ... . He was an average sized-lion, his pegged-out skin [rather than between the pegs] measuring 10 ft. 3 in. from nose to tip of tail, sleek, and in find condition, and his teeth long and perfect.
Selous had shot him above the right eye, which he believed caused enough brain damage to kill the lion. Both his English pals had fired at the lion but, with the exception of the thigh shot, had missed as there were no bullet marks. Take it from me, an angry lion in a hurry can be a tough target.
Selous's initial problems on his return to Africa after his English trip seemed to portend how his life would change for the worse. It was during the prolonged stay at Tati that George Westbeech would enter his life as well as those of Dorehill, Grandy, and Horner.
Westbeech was practically as much of a fixture of Mashonaland as was Lobengula. He was really sort of an African Davy Crockett who had known and been a pal of Lobengula since before he became king and was also a good friend of Sepopa, the ferocious king of the Barotses. Westbeech was almost larger than life. He had come to the Matabele dominions almost fifteen years before, a well-educated man turned about as native as a white could get. He was almost malaria-proof, a strange brand of British Levantine who typified the energetic trader. He had traded with Sepopa since 1871 some 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of ivory at favorable rates as he stocked bettertrade goodsespecially guns and powderthan did his competitors. But as there was considerable tribal warfare when Selous met him in 1876, ivory poundage was drastically down.
Because of these firearms in the hands of the tribes, Selous found out from Westbeech that Matabeleland was almost "shot out" of elephant, and he elected to head down to Kimberly from Tati on a round-trip journey that took five months. Among the incidents of his trip were the killing and eating of his horse by a lion that got away wounded and a fall from another horse that cracked the tibia, bone serum actually leaking from his leg. Typical of Selous, the injury is only mentioned in a brief footnote.
It was April of 1877, the beginning of the winter dry season, when Selous again arrived at Tati and found out what had happened to the hunting party Westbeech had organized to the Zambesi. Fred had decided against goinginstead heading down to Kimberlybecause of the severe risk of malaria during the wet season. Just as well that he did: Grandy had died of it just when he seemed to have the fever beaten and both Dorehill and Horner also contracted bad bouts. Selous left for the Zambesi, having gambled all his earlier profits on outfitting a party that included an Englishman, Mr. Kingsley, a young colonist reputed to be a fine shot and rider, a Mr. Miller, and five Africans. All his companions were shooting for Selous on "halves" and a disaster was the result. The total score of the trip was the taking of three small elephants by Miller and a gross profit of two pounds! The party hunted separately to cover more ground and Selous never so much as saw an elephant.
Thirst, hunger, fever, and lions were not the only adversaries that nearly cost Selous his life. There were also Cape buffalo. One of his closest shaves took place on the Nata River, near the modern border of present-day Botswana and Zimbabwe, in May 1874.
Fred was hunting for the pot early on the morning of the 20th when, an hour after sunrise, he hit the spoor of twohuge old buffalo bulls. Riding hard along the tracks in the sandy, dry riverbed, he finally caught up with them. This small mutual admiration society consisted of what the Bamangwato call kwatales, almost hairless with age and tremendous in body. Fred thought that they looked nearly like rhinos.
Reaching a relatively open patch of bush, Fred reined up, sliding from the saddle with his four-bore in hand. At thirty yards, he looked down the barrel of the duck gun and squeezed the trigger. There was the sharp metallic click of the hammer striking the bare nipple of the muzzle loader. Somehow, the percussion cap must have been brushed away by branches.
Remounting, Selous stuck on another cap and took up the chase as the two bulls cantered away with their strange rocking-horse gait. One buffalo had fallen behind the other and Fred decided to concentrate on him. The bull crossed a small, dry gully and turned to face Selous, his bosses looking like oak burls and his worn horns gleaming wickedly in the early sun. He had been chivvied around enough, Selous knew, and he would likely charge. Not dismounting this time, he hoisted the gun and fired. Once more there was the hollow click. Again the percussion cap had fallen off. The buffalo spun around and ran off. Fred put on a third cap and held it on the nipple with his thumb.
After several minutes of chase, Selous got back into range just as the bull disappeared into a patch of mopane scrub. Suddenly the bull stopped short, whirled, and came back out looking for trouble. It found it. It saw the horse and came straight ahead, its nose pushed forward and bass grunts echoing the slam of its dinner-plate hooves against the dry ground. Selous would never forget it:
There was no time to be lost, as I was not more than forty yards from him; so, reining in with a jerk and turning my horse at the same instant broadside on, I raised my gun, intending to put a ball, if possible, just between his neck and shoulder, which,could I have done so, would either have knocked him down, or at any rate made him swerve, but my horse, instead of standing steady as he had always done before, now commenced walking forward, though he did not appear to take any notice of the buffalo. There was no time to put my hand down and give another wrench on the bridle (which I had let fall on the horse's neck), and for the life of me I could not get a sight with the horse in motion. A charging buffalo does not take many seconds to cover forty yards, and in another instant his outstretched nose was within six feet of me, so, lowering the gun from my shoulder, I pulled it right off in his face, at the same time digging the spurs deep into my horse's sides. But it was too late, for even as he sprang forward the old bull caught him full in the flank, pitching him, with me on his back, into the air like a dog. The recoil of the heavily-charged elephant-gun with which I was unluckily shooting, twisted it clean out of my hands, so that we all, horse, gun and man, fell in different directions. My horse gained its feet and galloped away immediately, but even with a momentary glance, I saw that the poor brute's entrails were protruding in a dreadful manner. The buffalo, on tossing the horse, had stopped dead, and now stood with his head lowered within a few feet of me. I had fallen in a sitting position and facing my unpleasant-looking adversary. I could see no wound on him, so must have missed, though I can scarcely understand how, as he was very close when I fired.
However, I had not much time for speculation, for the old brute, after glaring at me for a few seconds with his sinister-looking blood-shot eyes, finally made up his mind, and, with a grunt, rushed at me. I threw my body out flat along the ground to one side, and just avoided the upward thrust of his horn, receiving, however, a severe blow on the left shoulder with the round part of it; nearly dislocating my right arm with the force with which my elbow was driven against the ground; and receiving also a kick on the instep from one of his feet. Luckily for me, he did not turn again, as he most certainly would have done had he been wounded, but galloped clean away.
The first thing to be done was to look after my horse, and at about 150 yards from where he had been tossed, I found him. The buffalo had struck him full in the left thigh; it was an awfulwound, and as the poor beast was evidently in the last extremity, I hastily loaded my gun and put him out of his misery. My Kafirs coming up just then, I started with them, eager for vengeance, in pursuit of the buffalo, but was compelled finally to abandon the chase, leaving my poor horse unavenged.
By 1877, Fred Selous had succeeded in forging his circle of friends from the hunters of the Interior. Although still in his middle twenties, Fred had earned the respect of his peers not only for his bush skills but because of his reputation of fair dealing and not being a gossip. That October, in the company of a soldier of fortune named L. M. Owen, a man who had fought in one of the "Kaffer Wars" against the Xhosa people of South Africa, Selous finalized his plans to make a foray north of the Zambesi into the Mashukulumbwe (Baila) country where he had heard that elephants were behind every bush. Fred had met Owen on the banks of the Chobe River in today's Botswana and perhaps made a too-quick character judgment of the man. He later wrote, "Unfortunately we did not hit it off very well together," and in his soft way, "as much through my fault, no doubt, as his, owing to what I may call incompatibility of temper." This is a classic of understatement even for Selous!
The Mashukulumbwe area of northern Zambia and parts of the thenBelgian Congo were cannibal territory and the people fierce warriors. If you have read my earlier book, Death in the Silent Places, you will recognize this area as the same one in which P. J. Pretorius was ambushed and nearly killed and eaten in 1904.
As soon as Fred and Owen crossed the Zambesi, they realized that the relative order of the Matabele had given way to that of the Portuguese and black slavers. As the thoroughly horrible trek continued through the country, Christmas came and went, leaving both Selous and Owen very sick and starving, their not having found elephants. Little time went by before they realized that far from making a successful hunting trip of the venture, they would be lucky to return the 700miles to the nearest mission station at Inyati alive. They had reached a kraal that was under the chieftainship of a man named Sitanda, a sable rascal if ever there was one. This place was some three weeks' walk north of the Kafue River in what became Zambia, and the first day after their arrival, Owen came down with severe malaria and Selous the same on the third day. Sitanda refused to grant them porters and even their own headman was sick. By January 8th, Owen was "very bad; he had lost all power in his limbs." Selous had been sleeping badly, but the next day he foolishly went lechwe hunting in the marches and got fever himself. There was nothing but Warburg's fever tincturein which Selous had great faithbut no quinine or even decent food or water. On January 15th, Selous noted that he felt somewhat better but Sitanda had refused to sell them food or to help them get porters. Obviously, the old man thought the whites would die and he would get their kit.
They also had little help from a Portuguese slave trader whom they had met earlier and who had come up to Sitanda's kraal. The man would not give them any calico barterwear to buy food, and Selous was forced to sell the man a fine elephant gun, half a bag of powder, and fifty bullets for the ridiculous price of twenty-four feet of shoddy cloth (called "Mericani" in those times as it was made in America). On the 23rd, the Portuguese came by with a slave for sale and since, as Selous noted, it was of vital importance to get carriers, he bought the eighteen-year-old whose teeth were filed to cannibal points. He cost Fred 320 loaded cartridges and he made it clear to the young man through an interpreter that he was not wanted as a slave but could either go free on reaching the Zambesi or continue working for wages. Despite the fact that Fred had had another bout of fever during the night, they began their return trip on the 24th of January, only making a few miles a day in their condition. On the 29th, the slave escaped, taking with him a valuable breech-loading elephant gun and all of Fred's Martini-Henrycartridges. The elephant gun was later recovered by tracking the slave's spoor.
By the 10th of February, reduced to two-and-a-half pieces of the calico, it was obvious that unless Selouswho was feeling betterwent on ahead to try to make Inyati and the missionary station there, the whole party would starve to death. It was decided to leave Owen with two servants and two whole pieces of calico, which should enable him to buy enough food to hold out for a while as Selous went for help as far as a Portuguese place run by one Mendonça, who sent two men with some food for Owen. The sick man reached the small Portuguese island on March 5th. Fred's health ranged from very poor to recovering but there was no way that Owen could walk on. Selous managed to trade with Medonça and got seven pieces of calico with which he hired eight men to carry Owen on a litter from a point on the south bank of the Zambesi. Owen was carried from April 6th until the 17th despite much grumbling from his Banyai carriers. Fred reckoned on at least three weeks walking until he reached Nyati, but on May 3rd, he was told at a small Matabele outpost that Nyati only lay twenty miles away! The next day he staggered into the station practically into the arms of the Reverend W. Sykes.
Within two more days a relief column was sent to rescue Owen and in a few weeks was back with him and Selous's servant, Franz. It took Selous, who was in better health than Owen, two months and three weeks to recover his health and condition. He was alive but much chastened. Selous would never be the same again.
Selous was broke and despondent, almost all of his profit and his family grubstake gone. He considered new ways of making a living, but a rare bit of good news finally came his way in August of 1878 when he was visiting Lobengula at Gubulawayo. It was an interesting little intrigue that the Matabele king worked at, but he realized that Selous had become animportant figure in the circle of Interior hunters and that they would make better friends than enemies. Lobengula amazed him by granting permission to hunt ivory in Mashonaland itself. Carte blanche to hunt the area had also been given to his friends Clarkson, Cross, and Wood. Selous left Gubulawayo and caught his friends, who had left in Junenear the Umfuli Riverin September. He traveled with a partner of Clarkson named Goulden.
A couple of days before Selous and Goulden arrived, there had been a macabre incident with a Zuluappointed by Lobengula to head Wood's Matabele retainersthat involved an overdose of elephant. The man, Quabeet, had been running after a wounded elephant when he was charged from some cover by a budi or tuskless bull. The elephant caught him and was heard screaming as a bull will when it gets lucky. The parts of the body were recovered three days later. Clarkson told Selous what had happened when the body was discovered: "He had been torn in three pieces; the chest, with head and arms attached, which had been wrenched from the trunk just below the breast-bone, lying in one place, one leg and thigh that had been torn off at the pelvis in another, and the remainder in a third. The right arm had been broken in two places and the hand crushed; one of the thighs was also broken, but otherwise the fragments had not been trampled on." As if there were a need ... .
Some days later, Selous almost joined Quabeet in happier hunting grounds ... .
Selous had never hunted elephant on horseback before, all his experience having been on foot in tsetse fly country where a horse would not survive the nagana. He had been warned never to dismount with elephant because of the speed of the charge but to take his shot from the saddle. When quite a large herd was met, they were chased in a circle by the horsemen to tire them, but Fred found that he could not get a bead from the quarterdeck of a nervous horse.
Selous had killed four elephants, but had remounted forthe last shots. The final tusker, a bull, almost caught him as his horse was so bushed, but he managed to pull away from it before his horse collapsed. Had it not been seriously wounded, Fred was sure it would have caught him. But the elephants were also exhausted and, due to the fidgeting of his horse, Selous hadn't opened fire as early as had his companions; he had thirteen cartridges left. He thought that he would be able to kill three or four more tuskers with theseFred reckoned himself only a fair shot as his shooting nerves had been ruined by his early experiences with the horrendous kick of the four-boresand decided that he would have done so except that he almost became part of the day's bag himself.
For his next victim he chose a nearby large cow (cows have finer-grain ivory than bulls although much less weight) and slammed a round in behind her shoulder. Hurt, she left the herd and began to wander away by herself. As Selous cantered up behind her to give her a finishing shot, she swapped ends and faced the hunter, ears spread like gray billboards and her head raised. Fred's horse now being completely whipped, he stood well enough for Selous to deliver another between the neck and shoulderalso his favorite shot on buffaloand he believed this stopped her from charging. At least for a moment it did.
Fred had just extracted his empty cartridge as the elephant took a few steps backward. He was about to chamber a new cartridge when he saw that she was about to charge over the mere thirty yards that separated them. He grabbed the bridle and turned the horse's head away just as she began her rush. Instinctively, Selous dug in the spurs but the pony was so exhausted that he could only crank out a slow walk, which became a moderate canter far too late. The infuriated elephant had caught them.
There were two ear-splitting screams above the man's head and he just had time to think that he had made his last mistake with dangerous game. Both the horse and the man weresmashed to the ground. The first thing he became aware of was the permeating barnyard stench of elephant. The same second, he realized that he was still uninjured but for the initial shock and that he might have a chance to live.
Selous was pressed into the ground by an inexorable weight and saw the cow's two hind legs like gray pillars a few feet away. He knew that he was under the elephant's chest and that the cow had already sunk her tusks into the hard ground trying to gore him. With a tremendous effort, he wrenched himself into a lying position supported by his hands, in much the same posture as that of the classic sculpture, The Dying Gaul. Fred managed to drag himself from under the forelegs, made it to his feet, and ran toward the elephant's rear. She had lost him; or perhaps she had forgotten where she had put him.
But Selous was clever enough not to try a flat-out sprint to safety and ran slowly, watching the cow over his shoulder as the elephant realized that he was not under her tusks. She turned first to one side, then to the other looking for him, but never quite reversed ends. Each time she would whirl, Fred would run obliquely away, keeping the cow's rear straight toward him. Finally, he made the shelter of a small bush as the female, enraged, kept looking for him.
He was sure his horse was dead and his rifle had been knocked from his hand by the impact. As the elephant moved off, Fred saw Cross's gunbearer and ran over to him. He fished some cartridges from his pants pocket and looped them in his belt. As the cow had now moved some 200 yards away, just over a little rise, the two men chanced recovering the rifle and seeing what had happened to the horse. Oddly, except for a bad wound in the rump, which poured blood down his leg, the horse was safe and survived. The native came back with the rifle, but the action was full of sand, having been open for reloading as the cow charged. Using the man's spear blade, Fred took the lever out and managed to clean it. The cow was standing still fifty yards off when Selousmakingsure it was the same onekilled her with a shoulder shot and a final bullet in the back of the head. Perhaps he finally took a deep breath of relief. Not many men see another dawn after being under a wounded elephant.
The party of hunters killed twenty-two elephants that day; no big tuskers but all a very respectable weight totaling about 700 pounds of ivory. As fate would have it, the cow that Selous killed last wasn't the one that had savaged him and his horse after all. It was a similar cow that had been wounded above the eye by Cross. Selous's cow was the only one wounded and lost, it being impossible to sort out her tracks from the jumble of the herd.
Selous's final trip after ivory, to the Chobe and Botletlie (Boteti) rivers of King Khama's CountryBotswanawas the final blow to his luck. It was now 1879 and Fred had gambled what was left of his capital on this trip, taking more than a hundred blacks and hoping to be joined by three pals from South Africa's Transvaal, Clarkson, French, and Collison. By the time the trip was over, two of his three friends would be dead and Fred completely disillusioned about elephant hunting as a vocation.
The three friends started to join Selous, leaving from the diamond fields of the south, but Matthew ClarksonI wonder if it was the same Clarkson who gave his name to the wildebeest of the Luangwa Valley of Zambia?never even came close. He was struck by lightning near Klerksdorp in the Transvaal and thoroughly killed. Selous, who got the story from Collison who was inside the wagon next to the one where Clarkson was killed, advises that the bolt struck him squarely on the head, even putting a neat hole in his hat. The lightning strike then passed out through his side, above the hip, and ran down the iron rung of the wagon and into the earth. Collison was stunned and the horses broke loose in panic, not to be found until the next day.
The death of French, a few months later, was more involvedand probably could have been prevented if an attack of pig-headedness had not come over the man. The episode started when, against Fred's advice, French decided to follow a wounded elephant in the late afternoon. He took two natives with him, including a Bamangwato lad that Selous knew well to have a fine sense of direction and who knew the area. When darkness fell, Selous fired a total of four signal shots when French had not yet returned to camp. Earlier, French had himself fired two closely spaced shots, and then a single shot was heard near to a place where the grass had been set on fire, a couple of hours' walk from the wagons and in the direction of the Chobe River, an area that I have hunted many times close to the then-village of Linyanti, near Lake Liambezi.
Fred walked fifteen miles that night, all the way to the burning grass, but could find no sign of French or his men. Sure that French had struck for the riverhe commented that he would do so if "bushed"Selous returned, but the next morning, September 26th, took a tracking party out.
There was very little spoor but on their return in the afternoon, Selous found a dead giraffe and it had one of French's eight-bore bullets in its paunch. This probably accounted for the two quick shots heard. When French hadn't returned by the 29th, Fred sent a letter to a place called Mamele's advising French, who, it was presumed, had gone to the river, that he would be met in two days at Sasinkoro's town. Fred also sent French's light rifle and blankets. On October 1st, Selous was feeling the first effects of a bout of malaria and was sitting near the wagons when he saw "Boy," the gunbearer at the head of a line of blacks from Mamele's. The first words out of the man's mouth were that French was dead.
The gunbearer told Selous that much of his reasoning had been right. French had shot the giraffe, but instead of making camp, he tried by walking all night to get back to the wagons. "Boy" told his master that the direction was wrong but French told him that it was none of his business. Yes,French had set the grass on fire and even decided to sleep there, but later, like the fool he was, he changed his mind. The rest of the night and the next day were deadly confusion as French insisted on wandering around the bush to the extent that he even disoriented his guides, although "Boy" insisted that he could find the river if only French would stop trying to make for camp. That afternoon, French began to cough up blood and called a halt. Late that night, after more fruitless miles, his internal bleeding became worse and he finally told "Boy" to light some stems of grass so that he could write on his rifle forestock. He was dying. Shortly afterward, he was dead.
French's death is usually attributed to thirst or sunstroke, but it doesn't sound to me as if that was what he died of. True, they were out of water, but not for that long. However, as Selous points out, October on the Chobe is murderous for heat and thirst and mentions that three natives hunting with another friend of his died within twenty-four hours under similar circumstances. I will agree that the Chobe can be as hot as a tamale that time of year.
When Selous received the rifle, he deciphered: "I cannot go any farther; when I die peace with all."
French's body was never found under the small pile of branches that the two blacks heaped over it to keep off vultures and hyenas. According to the men, he had died the night of September 27th and it was not until October 2nd that Selous got the word. The spoor was too old to backtrack and both the gunbearer and the water carrier, Makuba, were too confused to find it. Africa strikes again ... .
Selous blamed himself, although he was not responsible for French's stupidity. Yet, the news almost killed him. His malaria became worse and he was so weak that he had to be carried on a litter. As Fred said, his troubles were very nearly over.
When he joined up with Collison and another friend, a German named Sell, he found both of them severely ill withfever. The journey home was a cold clam sandwich of a nightmare of thirst and dying oxen. Selous made it to the diamond fields and to Klerksdorp, but that was not until March 1880 and he was still too sick to hunt.
Selous made one more trip to the Interior, but it was not the one he had originally planned. He had hoped to make one more great trek to Lake Tanganyika that would take two years to complete, but he was denied in his application for a permit for 300 pounds of powder for himself and 100 pounds for Collison. He also requested permission to have 500 Martini-Henry cartridges. Possibly for personal reasons, perhaps for political ones, Sir Owen Lanyon, Administrator of the Transvaal (Selous always seemed to have bad luck with people named Owen), refused him rather curtly in a note from his secretary: "The Administrator has received instructions not to grant permits for any arms or ammunition whatsoever." Considering that Lanyon had okayed 100 pounds of powder for the 1879 season, Selous was angry and disappointed.
But a different type of trip, which would typify those of the rest of his life, came up. He made a deal with the Irish whiskey heir, James Jameson, to hunt up to the Umnyati River, which I also know well, and the Mashona Plateau. Jameson would foot the cost of the expedition and Selous would act as guide, mentor, professional hunter, and organizer. Happily, Fred and James hit it off splendidly and had a very good hunt together for a mixed bag. Further, Selous was able to fill in a few blank spots on the map of the day as well as to correct errors. Ten years later the seeds of this trip would earn him the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographic Society in London.
But Selous not only scored on future claims to fame in geographic circles; he was the first to hear that Cecil John Rhodes's brother, Herbert, had been killed in a bush fire the year before in Mashonaland and on his next trip to England he stopped off to inform Cecil of the news. The Selous-Rhodesrelationship would become one of the most important liaisons in southern Africa in later years.
As Selous became more aware that ivory hunting had had it commercially, the more he became determined to return to England to write a book of his adventures and to chuck hunting altogether. He thought he might become a farmer in South Africa later, possibly ranching ostriches as his friend Mandy had done, with great financial success. Yet, although not a great student, Selous had always been selectively bookish. Fred admitted that the 1863 book by William Charles Baldwin, African Hunting from Natal to the Zambesi, was responsible for his going to Africa in the first place. Baldwin may have consisted of a large beard wearing a small man, but he was a hell-for-leather action storyteller.
Selous arrived home in England in early April of 1881, just in time to hear of the drubbing the British had gotten at Majuba Hill, the crucial battle of the First War of Independenceas the Afrikaners called itor the First Boer War, as it is better known.
Selous had his journals to work from and he wrote quickly. The first edition of A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa came out before year's end, a thousand copies strong. In a year, they were sold out and have become prime Africana in not only the first, but subsequent two of five editions. But seemingly there was no money in books and Selous wondered if this might be his publisher's fault. In fact, the first year he lost money as he personally financed the seventy-three pounds necessary to have the book illustrated by his sister, J. Smit, and E. Whymper, and he only took in sixty-one pounds in royalties!
When the smoke cleared after some six months of staying in England with his family, Selous was still in financial trouble and was reduced to roughly the same 400 pounds that had been his family's grubstake. Fidgety with "civilized" life, he yearned to get back to Africa but he was not sure what he should do. Happily, the British Natural History Museum inthe form of Albert Gunther came to his rescue with the idea that Selous should collect large fauna for the new department. For the next six or so years, Fred supplied both the British and the South African museums with specimens, although at the time he returned to the Cape in November of 1881 he was still bent on ostrich farming. Practically as his ship docked, he heard that the man who had agreed to finance him in ostrich farming had killed himself after some ill-advised speculation in the diamond fields. Furthermore, the man died broke. While Selous had been away in England, the ostrich market for skins and feathers had collapsed, but maybe it was just as well for Fred. His friends advised him that in six months he would be bored stiffer than a plank with farming and would want to head back to the Interior. Well, thought Selous, at least I have the orders from the British Museum as well as a hefty potential deal with a London dealer in natural history specimens. Coupled with the orders of the South African Museum, Fred decided that he could make a living by collecting animals and immediately headed north even though he had to borrow a considerable sum of money from Thomas Leask, an old friend, in Klerksdorp. Fred took the loan out mostly in goods, including a wide wagon and oxen as well as enough food for a year's expedition. Perhaps the ten years spent elephant hunting were not wasted after all. He would at least be doing the things he loved best in the place where he loved them. In any case, he was past thirty now and it was high time he found something in his life a bit more stable than elephant hunting.
Things went smoothly enough with Lobengula and the Matabele until December of 1883 but then there was a very severe misunderstanding regarding hippopotamuses, which Lobengula had placed on his protected list because his people believed that killing them would cause a severe drought, especially if their bones were not thrown back into the river. This seems picturesque enough a belief todaystranger things are still believed here in Africabut it was not so in1883. The Nguni people of the Zulus, Matabele, Angoni, and Shangaan, all related, had some strange ideas of Englishmen themselves. One Zulu told artist, writer, and hunter John G. Millais, Selous's first biographer, that white men came from the bottom of the sea ten days east of Delagoa Bay where they lived entirely underwater with salt waves splashing over them. Another was certain that they came to get biltong dried meatand took it home to buy wives with it. Another opined that the Englishmen came to his country just to get dry as it was always raining in England. Perhaps that fellow wasn't so far off the mark. During the First Matabele Rebellion, when Cecil John Rhodes had taken over the country with the help of Selous, it is recorded that the Matabele attempted to spear those British artillery shells that were duds, as the tribe was firmly convinced that each shell contained an armed white soldier. So, "sea-cows," or hippos causing droughts, made as much sense as anything else. Whatever the case, the incident known as the "Sea-Cow Row" drove the first major wedge between Selous and Lobengula.
Possibly the Matabele were in a rather poor mood due to the failure of a major raid against the Batawana tribe of western Botswana, but when Selous came through Gubulawayo at the end of the 1883 hunting season, he immediately knew something was up. Lobengula had been told of the slaughter caused by a trader named McMenemy, who had a storehouse crammed with raw sjamboks, the terrible hippo or rhino hide whips of South Africa. As Selous came up to the king's house, McMenemy was leaving under a tirade from Lobengula to the effect that he had sinned and he would pay for it. Discussing the matter with him, Selous mentioned that his driver, John Slaipstein, had killed a hippo for food for his men but Lobengula brushed it off saying that there was no case against Fred. But a devious induna called Makwaikwi had probably been harboring a jealous grudge against Selous for years and now he struck. He influenced the king to have all the white men tried by a court of indunas with the king togive judgment. Selous was blamed as John's boss for killing hippos and fined 60 pounds; ten cattle by the king's reckoning. McMenemy was fined 300 pounds. Fred was furious at what he considered royal perfidy and his relationship with the king as well as the Matabele in general started to decline. Selous had been becoming disillusioned with the bloodshed of lesser tribes caused by the Matabele in their raids, particularly irked by the murder of a man he liked and admired, a native called Lo-Magondi. When the Matabele wiped out to a child an encampment of Mashonas, he was further upset and began to lose his respect for the tribe.
Selous was so upset by the hippo affair that he decided not to hunt in Matabeleland the following season but to the west in King Khama's country. Ultimately he had to stop by at Gubulawayonow being called Bulawayofor some business but did move west to the Mababe (Mobabe) Depression.
Selous had had the usual run of luck that the bushveld offered: in 1883 he fell from his horse and smashed his collarbone; he rode into a game-pit chasing kudu in 1886. The fall broke his horse's back and so badly injured the tendons of one of Selous's legs that he was unable to walk for three weeks. But perhaps the most interesting and painful of his injuries was suffered in October of 1880 when he turned his head while chasing a bull eland and as he turned it back, he got a sharp stick in the eye at full force. Despite the terrible pain and temporary loss of sight in the eye, he killed the eland! As he got to camp he became concussed and although the wound to the side of the eye opened and closed several times, he eventually regained his sight even though the tear duct was destroyed. This in itself is not terribly interesting but what is is that eight months later, while walking down Bond Street in London with the famous taxidermist Rowland Ward, Selous began to sneeze. Ward asked him if he had a cold. After a few more sneezes, Fred felt something slide into the back of his mouth. He spat it into his cupped hand. It was a thick chunk of hardwood, three-quarters of an inchlong! It had originally been rammed through Selous's facial bone and had been in his head all that time until it worked its way into one of the sinuses and then down to his mouth!
Although he had not actually seen any Mashukulumbwe on his terrible trip with Owen in 1877-78, you would think he had had enough of the northern country. Yet Fred was not one to be defeated in his plans, as he was when he was denied powder by the Transvaal Administrator in 1880. He decided to go alone despite the obvious risks of such a trip. He left Bamangwato in April of 1888 with two wagons, five "salted" horsesones that had had distemper and survivedand sixteen donkeys. In May, he reached George Westbeech at Pandamatenga; Westbeech advised him against the trip as the northern areas were badly unsettled politically, especially that of the Barotse, and that he should rather take advantage of an invitation from a Mr. Arnot to whom Selous had given a lift some time before. Fred knew that Westbeech would not give him a bum steer and thus decided to head to the Garangazi area, crossing the Zambesi at Wankie Town. With him there was Daniel, a Hottentot mule skinner; Paul, a Natal Zulu; Charley, an interpreter who had been trained among Westbeech's elephant hunters, and two of Khama's men. All of these had the latest breech-loading rifles and knew how to use them. Selous hired other men at Pandamatenga, the plan being to leave the wagons at Wankie and to proceed by donkey train along his old route of eleven years before. No sooner had they crossed the Zambesi than the usual troubles began with Daniel dying of malaria in only four days. Then, the men hired at Pandamatenga all deserted, probably because they had realized that where they were going wasn't too healthy in terms of bullet lead.
Selous hired some Batonga men to replace his depleted entourage and almost came to grief when a Batonga chief arrived with a small army demanding gifts. Selous saved the situation but got some idea of how difficult the Batonga could be: they had seen no white hunters or traders sinceDavid Livingstone came through thirty-five years before, but several Jesuit missionaries had either died or been maltreated in addition to David Thomas and a Portuguese trader having been murdered close to the Zambezi. Selous was very much aware that if he proceeded as far as the Kafue River junction, he would probably be wiped out so he decided to head due north to the Mashukulumbwe despite their bad reputation. After all, there were reputed to be elephants farther north than he had gotten on his first trip.
The next day, Selous and his party reached Monzi, a Batonga chief who lived on a high plateau said to be filthy with game, and so it was. Fred gave Monzi a zebra and an eland he had shot and the chief gave him two guides to take him to the Kafue, but Selous knew better than to cross it. At the second village he struck, he found himself among the ill-reputed and naked Mashukulumbwe, where he was met with a mixed crowd of the cannibals and Barotse, armed and surly. They had come to buy ammunition and powder, they said, but Selous was wary of their attitude, refusing to sell probably because he thought that the stuff would be used against himself. He was probably right as their spokesman told Selous that, "You will live two days more, but on the third day your head will lie in a different place from your body." Hospitable chaps, what?
Selous ignored them and went on the same day, telling his guides to head east to the Mashukulumbwe villages with the intent of camping in the open veld. Paul and Charley, both of whom had experience with natives north of the Zambesi, agreed that camping in the open was the best policy, but Selous allowed himself to be dissuaded and duped into the "jaws of death" by the guides, who insisted that water was only to be found near the villages and they would be forced to camp there. Yet, all went fairly well through a couple of villages until he reached the village of Minenga, the chief of the district. Minenga absolutely insisted on Selous camping next to the village and would not take no for an answer. Althoughhe knew he was in a bad spot, Fred decided to brave it out and started making a camp and a stockade of flimsy cornstalks and poles to secure the donkeys.
There was a lull and Selous wondered if perhaps he had exaggerated his fears. Weaponsmostly fiercely barbed light javelinswere put away and the Mashukulumbwe even had a dance with the Batonga men. When the women came down to eat with Selous's men, even he gave a sigh of relief as the presence of women usually meant that there would be no violence. Maybe Selous had misjudged the cannibals. Yup, maybe ...
When night fell, Fred decided that he had wronged the "savages." He had already gone to bed when an invitationinterpreted by Charleycame from Minenga to come and drink beer. Selous turned him down with thanks. Later, Selous thanked his stars that he did not go as without a doubt he would have been murdered.
Everything went fine the next day; Selous hunted and was later engulfed by virtual herds of natives in camp. However, they left at sundown. Selous went to bed, where his brain whirled with plans until at about nine o'clock he noticed the figure of a man coming around the edge of the donkey herd and passing on tiptoe along a line of smoking, smouldering fires. He recognized him as one of the guides Monzi had provided. The man knelt down and shook Paul by the leg, urgently whispering to the Zulu in an excited hiss. What the hell was going on? Paul said to Charley, "Tell our master the news; wake him up."
Selous answered in anxious tones, "What is it, Charley? I am awake."
"The man says, sir, that all the women have left the village and he thinks something is wrong." Oh yes. Something was wrong!
Fred shared the guide's opinion and put on his shoes and coat as well as his cartridge belt, which only had four rounds in it. As he was dressing in a quiet frenzy, Selous orderedthat all the fires be put out and doused with sand. An absolute African black engulfed the little camp, only the sounds of insects punctuating the night. Then they stopped.
Selous held a whispered conference with Charley and Paul, who were sitting on their blankets with their rifles in their hands. Fred proposed a reconnaissance of the village to eavesdrop and perhaps find out what was going on. But, first, he had better restock his cartridge belt, he thought, and reached for his ammo bag. As he did so, three shots went off almost in his face and several more gave their flaming muzzle blasts around the little camp. Selous realized that the muzzles were actually in the circle of the camp and that the Mashukulumbwe must have wriggled up to the perimeter and shoved their barrels between the cornstalks of the scherm they had built. Somehow, even though the first three shots were obviously meant for Paul, Charley, and Selous, nobody was hit so far. Selous snatched for his rifle beside him as Charley and Paul jumped up and ducked past him. "Into the grass!" Selous yelled in Afrikaans as a sleet of the javelins thudded and pattered through the large leather bags that held his baggage.
"I can fairly say that I retained my presence of mind perfectly at this juncture," Selous recalled. His rifle was unloaded as it always was to prevent accidents in camp. As he slipped a cartridge in, he ran backward across the furrowed ground that separated his camp from the long grass, but the Mashukulumbwe were already a milling mass among his own men. Three times Selous drew a quick bead with his express sights as one of his own men came between the muzzle and the enemy. He was within thirty feet of the murky grass, his back to it, when with a fierce yell another detachment of the cannibals charged out of it to cut off retreat. At this point, Fred caught his heel and fell backward as two men rushing out of the grass actually fell over him, one over his body the other tripping on his legs. Fred regained his feet in a second and bulled his way across the few yards into the cover. He hadmade it into the grass, which covered him like a dark blanket. It was every man for himself.
In the black miasma of the grass, Fred sat listening. Cautiously, he stood up and heard the Mashukulumbwe looting the camp, but it was too dark to get a shot at any of them; each time a fire would blaze up it was extinguished with sand. He was starting to realize his position: there was no point in firing at the enemy. He had only four shots between him and a terrible death and being eaten.
But I now thought no more of firing at them. I had had time to realize the full horror of my position. A solitary Englishman, alone in Central Africa, in the middle of a hostile country, without blankets or anything else but what he stood in and a rifle with four cartridges ... . Could I only have found Paul or Charley or even one of my own Kafirs, I thought my chance of getting back to Pandamatenga would be much increased for I should then have an interpreter, I myself knowing but little of the languages spoken north of the Zambesi ... .
Fred began to ease through the grass, whistling softlyvery softlyto see if any of his men had taken the same refuge from the attack and might be lying doggo. But there was no one. Reasoning that if there had been any survivors they wouldn't stick around near Minenga's village, he thought this was good advice for himself. He decided to head for Monzi's, where he had been well received because of the meat he had given the chief. As he began his terrible journey, he saw that the Mashukulmbwe had now built up the fires and were dividing his property by their eerie, flickering light. First, Selous made his cautious way to the Magoi-ee River ford, but he was lucky to spot a group of warriors obviously meant to intercept him. Slipping downstream, he eased into the crocodile-swarming water and swam to the other side.
Selous also had a knife and a few matches as well as his watch, but he also had some 300 miles to cover through hostile country where the enemy knew he would likely travel.Alone, perhaps even previously friendly natives might murder him for his gun and shoes.
Fred walked all night until he came to another river. This he crossed by walking on rocks, which left no tracks. He spent all day watching the ford and heard voices on the far side of the small stream. He almost gave a shout, thinking the voices belonged to his own men, but fortunately resisted. Instead, he slipped the safety off his rifle. Soon, he saw the tall, waving conical headdresses that were exclusively Mashukulumbwe and eased down. He couldn't understand how the two warriors didn't see him, so close across the water were they, but, after discussing his boot tracks in the sand, they went away. Selous was ready to kill them both instantly had they seen him as they would have spread the alarm over the countryside.
When the warriors were safely gone, Fred realized how hungry he was and thought he was far enough away from the village to shoot. Happily, a wildebeest wandered by and he was able to kill it with one shot.
He had a good feed and set off again at sunset with a supply of meat, heading south by the Southern Cross. He traveled all night, lay up the following day, and at dusk the next evening he started on his way again. After a hard hoofing, he reached the last Mashukulumbwe village, only about two hours from Monzi's, and decided that as it was far from Minenga's he would risk stopping at it. It was well after midnight and Selous was half-dead of cold when he arrived to find a boy sleeping by the fire near a half-dozen huts. Selous woke him and asked for water and understood the boy when he said there was none. The talking must have disturbed the inhabitants of one of the nearby huts as a man appeared and, as he was unarmed, Fred told him his story. The white man spoke in Sindebele and the native in Satonga so the conversation was something less than satisfactory. Yet, when Fred told him that he was thirsty, the man went to his hut and brought Selous a calabash of water. He had just finished the waterwhen he heard whispering going on in a hut next door and saw a man emerge, scuttle off into the darkness, and return with a muzzle-loader. Shortly after, there was the ominous sound of the gas-pipe being loaded and tamped with the ramrod. But Selous was so comforted on the icy night by the fire that he decided he would spend an hour or two by the fire and warm up. Unfortunately, he fell asleep ... .
Selous didn't know how long he was asleep, but he awoke with a start when he sensed someone near him and leaped to his feet. There were two men of the village, but they were unarmed. Selous understood that they were asking him how he came to be back and he told them of the treachery at Minenga's village. Sitting back down, he told his storyagain in Sindebeleand could not tell how well he was understood. As he explained, he gradually kept turning his body toward the men until his rifle lay almost behind him. He heard a faint sound behind him and before he could grab the rifle it was snatched by a third man who immediately disappeared into the darkness beyond the fire's light. Before he could say anything, a stunned Selous glanced at the hut where he had heard the musket being loaded and sure as hell there was another man aiming a gun at him from less than ten yards away! Instantly, Fred leaped into the darkness, grabbing a chunk of wildebeest meat as he went. He made the long grass near the camp and was not followed. His would-be killer never got off his shot or perhaps the musket misfired.
Selous knew only too well that his chances of getting back across the Zambesi without his rifle were now ten percent of what they had been. An unarmed white man hardly stood a chance. Still, he had no choice but to head for Monzi's village, walking as fast as he could to keep out the cold. He could no longer kill food and knew he was as good as naked prey for any warrior who might wish to spear him to death.
At the first smear of false dawn he reached Monzi's and sat by a fire until the village was awake, not risking a spear thrown in fear. Monzi and his menthank heaven he hadone that could speak a bit of Sindebele and Selous was able to tell his storywere friendly, much to Fred's relief. But old Monzi was quite upset when Selous got to the part about his rifle being stolen at the next village and told the white that he must leave the village immediately as he would be followed and killed. Monzi stuffed Selous's pockets with peanuts and hustled him off with three of his men, who told him in no uncertain terms not to trust the Batongas, who would murder him if they had the chance. After a mile, Fred was on his own again.
Soon after the three had left him, Selous hid in some bush, lit a small fire, and roasted some meat and peanuts. Then a thought hit him as he stared at some hills about ten miles away. Somewhere in those hills lay the village of a friend of Westbeech, a Barotse named, depending upon the language he was addressed in, Sikabenga. Although Selous took many chances asking directions of intervening Batonga villagers, he finally made it to Sikabenga's and then, after days of intrigue with the Barotse, down to the banks of the Zambesi. There he met, to their collective joy, Charley, Paul, and some of his other men. There had been twelve killed and six wounded out of his party of twenty-five. His men greeted him with wonder, kissing his hands and patting his chest. By a miracle both Paul and Charley had made it out of the camp unwounded, and Charley said that he was at one time close to Selous and even heard the shot that killed the wildebeest but was unable to find him. Paul had lost Selous's double ten-gauge Rigby rifle while crossing the river and had nearly drowned. A month later, having replaced some of the things he had lost, Selous was again hunting across the Zambesi!
That Selous finally turned against the tyranny of Lobengula is as much African political history as is his association with John Cecil Rhodes, who prevented the Portuguese from annexing what became Southern Rhodesia. Selous led the first pioneer column of the Charter Company personally, andas they neared their destination, he received from the British South Africa Company a check in the amount of 3858 pounds and 10 shillings, enough money to solve his financial problems. He worked for two years, 1891 and 1892, in Mashonaland making treaties, surveying and such, and in 1892 he returned home to England. In 1893 he published Travel and Adventure in Southeast Africa, which contained not only a riveting account of his many adventures since the publication of his first book, but also glowing descriptions of the many potentialities of Mashonaland and Manicaland. He returned to Rhodesia in 1893 and assisted in the suppression of the first Matabele insurrection. When he went back to England that year, he thought it was for good and married Marie Catherine Gladys Maddy, who became his widow. However, he returned to Rhodesia in 1895 with his wife to manage an estate and was just in time to serve in the Second Matabele War, during which his homestead was burned by the rebels. In 1896 Selous wrote Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia, a chronicle of his experiences as well as a recounting of the causes for the two Matabele wars and the resources of Charterland.
From this time onwardprobably because he both loved the outdoor life and could now afford ithe devoted most of his time to big-game hunting, but now as a passion rather than as a profession. In 1894-95 he visited Asia Minor, and in 1897 and 1898 he made two visits to the Rocky Mountains. He was in Newfoundland three times, in 1900, 1901, and 1905. In 1904 and 1906, he was shooting in the Yukon. In later years he again turned to his beloved Africa, spending time in British East Africa and the Nile regions. But throughout his career, Selous was much more than merely a successful hunter. He once said that he wasn't really a hunter but a naturalist. Wherever he went he took the deepest interest in the habits and personalities of all the animals he encountered. His keen observation, immense patience, and a retentive memory combined to make him a field naturalist of exceptional excellence. These qualities, along with his decades of experience, raisedhim to the position of acknowledged doyen of the whole tribe of modern hunters. He was a close friend of Teddy Roosevelt and came out to Kenya Colony on the same ship as Teddy and Kermit. But despite popular belief that Selous was Roosevelt's white hunter, they did not hunt together. Fred was also a guest at the White House.
One of Fred's best books is his African Nature Notes and Reminiscences (1908), in which he summarizes much of his incredible knowledge of African game as well as such diverse fauna as butterflies. Perhaps The Times (London) of January 8th, 1917, sums him and his writing up best: "All his books are written in a spirit of transparent honesty and in a simple and direct style, reflecting the character of the author, whose straightforwardness, integrity, hospitality, and kindness of heart were as well known to hosts of friends as the qualities which made him so successful a hunter."
That's not a bad thing to have one of the world's most respected newspapers say about one ... .
Selous and Gladys had two children, Freddy and Harold. Freddy became a fighter pilot when he entered the army at seventeen and was killed when the wings of his plane simply folded up in flight as he was diving at 15,000 feet on a German plane, exactly a year after his father's death. Harold must have been sort of a black sheep, as even Selous's friend and first biographer, Johnny Millais, after heaping praise on Freddy, said only that Harold was educated at Radley College and that he was expected to take a commission soon, in October of 1918. My good friend, Brian Marsh, adds credence to this idea when he recounts that a family friend who was with Selous when he was killed ran across Harold Sherborne Selous in Nyasaland in the 1920s. The friend, G. P. Fuller, contacted Harold, who was in the local administration, going some miles out of his way to do so. When they arrived, they found that Harold could care less about the last day of his father's life, his death, and funeral. Harold offered Fuller and his wife tea but they refused and left.
But I get ahead of myself ... .
When World War I broke out, Fred immediately volunteered for front-line duty in France. But despite a medical certificate that showed the sixty-three-year-old was in wonderful health and the fact that he could speak French, quite a bit of German, and could make himself understood by the Belgians with his Afrikaans, he was turned down personally after his case had gotten as far as Lord Kitchener, who was then the British Secretary of State for War. Steaming with rage, he could do nothing else but join the Surry Special Constabulary. He might have spent the war there had it not been for the battle of Tanga, an East African action in which the German Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck with his Schutztruppe whipped almost ten times his strength in empire troops who tried an amphibious assault. It was a massacre. To date, East Africa had been very much a side show compared to Belgium or France but Tanga thoroughly scared the British. The British were also slaughtered at Moshi. To crown things, the retreating, beaten force of Tanga actually had to talk the customs officials at Mombasa out of charging them duty on their equipment!
A personal friend of Selous was a Col. Daniel "Jerry" Driscoll, who had fought in both Burma and later in the Second Boer War, where he had raised his own irregulars, called Driscoll's Scouts. With war looming, he wrote Selous a week before hostilities opened on August 4th, 1914, proposing that he form a "Legion of Frontiersmen," the 25th Battalion of Royal Fusiliers, to fight in German East Africa (Tanganyika later, then Tanzania). In fact, Selous had his physical exam to join this outfit first, but the authorities, wrapped up in the war in Europe, looked askance at such a ragtag group fighting in Africa, and Driscoll's proposal was turned down. But after Tanga, he was advised that perhaps he didn't have such a bad idea after all. The Legion of Frontiersmen, better known as "the Old and the Bold," came into existence.
A stranger or more colorful battalion couldn't be imagined.Naturally it attracted dozens of professional hunters and other Afrophiles, but it was also composed of the zaniest group ever to put on uniforms. In fact, many men, tired of waiting as the war got on, had joined other units but deserted their regular army posts to join when Driscoll was given permission to form the 25th. One of their sergeants was also a well-known writer on things African, C. T. Stoneham, an Englishman:
They were the oddest crew; from music-hall comedians to border gunmen, with some university professors thrown in. There were Moroccan bandits and Chinese generals, all British, but imbued with the exotic customs of their adopted lands. In common, they had knowledge of the remote parts of the Empire, and the will to fight. But their discipline was deplorable and to the last they considered themselves guerillas rather than regular troops.
The Legion had been founded by Roger Pocock as a sort of brotherhood of adventurers and its members were drawn from all the social classes. We had two ex-Members of Parliament, cowboys, prize-fighters, ex-regular officers, a one-time submarine commanderall in my company alone. Distributed elsewhere were painters, singers, acrobats, comedians, and, I should imagine, burglars. We could put on a concert composed entirely of well-known stage professionals and hold a boxing tournament in which famous glove-fighters contended. Professional composers wrote our marching songs, idols of the footlights sang them. Quite a number of them were deserters from other regiments, for whom the police sought desultorily, having other, more important, things to engage their attention.
While we trained there was much speculation as to where this special corps would be employed. It was thought the Near East would be our venue; we might be landed in Egypt to fight the Turks. The presence among our officers of such men F. C. Selous, Cherry Kearton [African wildlife photographer], and George Outram [early professional hunter], all experienced big game hunters, might have suggested Africa, but we never thought of that. It was natural to find hunters and explorers in the Legion regiment [sic], we had them from Chinaand the Rockies, with a few tiger-shooting sahibs of the old school in addition.
Other sources list as Fusiliers: a Honduran general, a Buckingham Palace footman, some French Foreign Legion troops, an opera singer, and a lighthouse keeper. Quite a crew, indeed!
Selous was commissioned lieutenant and was company commander of Company A.
The Frontiersmen were sent to Mombasa in May of 1915 where they were reviewed by General Tighe. One of those present was Captain Richard Meinertzhagen, himself a great hunter and naturalist. Although Selous stood to strict attention, Meinertzhagen was delighted to see him and the two of them got off into a long discussion of the validity of the Nakuru subspecies of hartebeest and the nesting habits of Icelandic ducks. Tighe indignantly cut them off after a while, suggesting that he and Meinertzhagen were present to inspect a battalion and not to hear the debate of a natural history society.
There being little point in refighting in print the history of the East African Campaign of World War I, just let me say that the Fusiliers suffered terribly and had very few victories against the wily will-o'-the-wisp, Lt. Col. (later Major General) Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his black Schutztruppe. In fact, when the war was over and lost, von Lettow was the only German to have a parade in his honor in Berlin. But the biggest cause of fatalities, especially on the British side, which was mostly white, was disease, primarily malaria and dysentery, which killed three times as many men as were taken by the enemy. The Fusiliers arrived in Africa with 1100 men and had been whittled down to 700 in six months, at the start of 1916. Of the 700, Selous opined that no more than 400 were up to a twenty-mile march with full pack. By the first anniversary of the Old and the Bold, only 450 men of the 25th were still left for combat. Selous was quite proud that he was one of them and that his excellent constitution had withstood disease.
After the ferocious Battle of Bukoba, Selous was promoted captain and Driscoll was very proud of him. He even received Teddy Roosevelt's congratulation in a letter for a "first-class little fight."
Selous wrote to Johnny Millais (the only friend he corresponded with on a first-name basis) on May 2nd, 1916, that from May 4th of the year before until February 6th of 1916 he had never taken a day's rest or leave and was never a single day off duty or away from his company. From the last date, he had to lie up for a week because of an infected attack of "jiggers," a type of flea that lays its eggs under a victim's toenails in a small sac. I have had jiggers several times and assure you that they are a matter best left to one's black gunbearer or camp staff. They are marvelous in their microsurgery, removing the sac full of eggs without rupturing it. They use a long, sharp thorn or a steel needle. But Selous wasn't so lucky and the inflammation spread all the way to his groin glands.
Fred was also suffering from a most unromantic malady, hemorrhoids, which he had been able to keep in check for a while with ointment, but it finally got the best of him. On the first anniversary of the 25th's landing at Mombasa, he wrote again to Johnny that he had seen a doctor and that he was advised not to take any long marches. In June, he was invalided home by a medical board for an operation that was completely successful and spent twelve days in the hospital and then home for a short rest. In August, he went to Africa again with a draft of 400 men, going by way of Cape Town, Mombasa, the Uganda Railroad, to the Usambara Valley; then to Tanga where he was stuck with his men for almost eight weeks, until December 2nd. Writing to Abel Chapman, another friend and hunter-writer, Selous says: "With the latest drafts our batallion has had 1400 men out here. All we have left of them are 149 at Kijabe (but these must mostly be unfit for further hard service) and 394 here, of which latter number 101 are sick. Two have died in hospital this week. Of the two fine Rhodesian regiments, it is said that only 68 arefit. The North Lancs Regt. has wasted to nothing in spite of many drafts ... ."
Although it seemed mostly twilight for the British in East Africa, there was one bright ray of sun for Selous: he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for "conspicuous gallantry, resourcefulness and endurance." The British D.S.O. is no small gong to have on your uniform breast.
Selous was adored by his men. Often he gave lectures of reminiscing his elephant hunting days and, as by far the oldest man in the 25th Royal Fusiliers, he must have seemed a father figure to some. Their subsequent comments would have made him blush in life: "He was my hero as a boy and remains so now. He was the easiest of all men to cheat, but no one ever dared to do it. Anything mean or sordid literally shrivelled up in his presence." And, "Everybody liked and admired him."
It was during a British push that began on New Year's Day, 1917, that Selous was killed. The Schutztruppe were fighting a vicious rear-guard action and on January 3rd had made three bayonet charges and fought hand-to-hand. Although more numerous, they were nearly as exhausted as the British at this point. Near Beho-Beho, German East Africa, Selous and his men were ordered to cut off the German retreat on a bush road. However, they were late and the Germans had already started to pull out. Selous and his men attacked them and he was shot through the head and killed. Or, better said, he was finally shot in the head and killed as there may be a case that he was first shot in the right arm or side and fought on for as much as half an hour. His old friend, Denis D. Lyell, a famous writer and hunter in his own right (see the Peter Capstick Library), some time later wrote a piece for The Field, a sporting British newspaper magazine, quoting a soldier who had been actually in the fight in which Selous died.
We were on a crest line at the time with the Germans in front and on both flanks. We were subjected to heavy enfilade fire, and could not locate the enemy properly owing to the wooded natureof their positions. At this stage Selous went forward down the slope about 15 yards, and was just raising his glasses in order to see (more particularly) where certain snipers were when he received his first wound in the side. He was half-turning towards us when he was shot through the side of the head. He died instantly.
This is interpreted by me to mean that he was shot "bang-bang," first through the right side and then through the head. There is another story, among others, that also has meritthat of a Corporal R. Davis, who was actually commended for helping the stricken Selous. Davis says in his report to the Times:
He was not killed instantly, as I fought over him for fully ten minutes. He was shot in the head but this wound was not the cause of his death; this wound was caused by a splinter some half an hour previous and when Captain Selous was asked if he was wounded he stated that it was nothing very much and insisted on going on. He went over the ridges at Beho-Beho and was kneeling near a small tree and was seen after the action had been in progress for about 15 minutes to drop his rifle. I immediately went over to him and stayed with him for fully ten minutes before he received his fatal wound, and then 1 carried or dragged him to the rear of a small hill and there he died. His boy [batman], Ramizani, who had been with him some considerable years, cried when he saw Captain Selous dead, and stood upright on top of the ridge in face of terrible German machine-gun fire and brought out [from] a tree the black sniper who wounded Captain Selous.
I think that any who may have been legitimate snipers during their military careers would agree with me that, in fact, the term "sniper" is flattering the enemy. Accurately aimed fire does not necessarily come from "snipers," and I would be very surprised if there were any formal snipers in that campaign.
Captain R. M. Haines of the South African forces was told by those who were at the action at Beho-Beho that Selouswas first hit in the right arm and that it was broken and bandaged, but that Selous stayed with the company. "A little later he was hit again in the mouth and was killed instantly and apparently painlessly."
General Jan Smuts, who later became Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa and who was the leading general for much of the campaign, told John Millais, "Heavy firing on both sides then commenced, and Selous at once deployed his company, attacked the Germans, who greatly outnumbered him, and drove them back into the bush. It was at this moment that Selous was struck dead by a shot in the head."
Colonel Driscoll, commander of the 25th, wrote of Selous's death, "Captain Selous, the great hunter, was one of the hardest men in battalion, in spite of his sixty-five years. He was shot dead while leading his company through the bush against an enemy four times their strength. Lieutenant Dutch, another very gallant man, took his place and received a mortal wound immediately afterwards."
Whatever the actual technicalities of the action, Frederick Courteney Selous, D.S.O., was dead. Perhaps Millais put it best when he wrote of his friend, "Thus died Frederick Selous of the Great Heart, a splendid Englishman, who in spite of age and love of life, gave up all pleasant things to follow the iron path of duty."
Selous was buried with four of the six who were killed at Beho-Beho and his funeral was one of the most impressive of the campaign. Even von Lettow-Vorbeck later wrote that Selous was "well known among the Germans on account of his charming manner and exciting stories." Some years later, the other bodies were exhumed but Selous's grave was capped with cement and a tablet giving his name and the date he was killed attached. The grave is in modern-day Tanzania, in one of the world's largest game reserves. It is called the Selous Game Reserve.
During his lifetime, Fred gave many specimens to the British Museum (Natural History) as well as keeping what hecalled his own museum. Shortly after his death, his widow, Gladys, gave the entire contents of Selous's "museum" for the British people to enjoy at the Natural History Museum. The sole memorial that was dedicated to Selous was presented by subscribers and unveiled at the Natural History Museum on June 10th, 1920. It is the work of W. R. Colton, Royal Academy, and consists of a fine bust in bronze in a granite setting with a plaque below depicting some of the better-known species of African big game. The stone is a block of syenite from the Bon Accord quarry, presented by the government of the then-Union of South Africa. I have seen it many times while visiting the world's largest known pair of elephant tusks in the cellar of this museum.
Selous's name also was chosen as the name of Rhodesia's special forces unit, the "Selous Scouts," during the bush war that only came to an end when Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980. It is fitting that the elite were named for the elite.
THE AFRICAN ADVENTURERS. A RETURN TO THE SILENT PLACES Copyright © 1992 by Peter Hathaway Capstick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.